The Edmonton Oilers begin their 42nd NHL season with renewed confidence, but also with an aura of “we need to win.” No one is talking Stanley Cup. Pump the brakes. But they have an aura of confidence, combined with an understanding they need to take a step forward this year.
“We have a good team,” said Leon Draisaitl. “We know that and we have to make sure we remember that. We have many options and can use different combinations (lines), and it gives Tipp options to make us unpredictable.”
Draisaitl added he feels this is the deepest group they’ve had since 2017, and possibly deeper. He, along with fellow Art Ross and Hart trophy winner Connor McDavid, are better players than they were in 2017. So too is Darnell Nurse. Their core leaders are better, and on paper the supporting cast looks better.
Now they have to show it. This season is about results. Potential means nothing anymore. Edmonton has had years of potential and it is time to turn that into success. Edmonton has had regular season success the previous two seasons. They were 12th in points% in 2020 and 11th overall last year. Their focus is to become a top-10 team and push to be top-five.
They have more experience up front and on the blue line, but experience isn’t an asset if those players don’t play well. General Manager Ken Holland spoke with his leaders in the off-season and his biggest takeaway was they felt they needed more players who had playoff experience and the ability to thrive in pressure situations. In previous seasons the new faces in the lineup didn’t have much NHL experience and the results were not good.
There are no excuses for this group. They have to be a playoff team, and then they need to win at least one playoff round. But that is over seven months away and the Oilers have 82 games to become more consistent and assertive. The strengths of the team are clear. They have an elite power play and the two best offensive players in the NHL. They’ve had a very good penalty kill the previous two seasons (third best) and despite many new faces they are confident their special teams will still be elite.
They need to reduce their 5×5 goals against (21st in NHL) and they need more scoring from the 10 forwards not named McDavid and Draisaitl. It is unrealistic to ask those two to improve in that area. They have more talent overall, and now it is up to the players to show it.
They need to show progress this year. Patience is in the rearview mirror. Their time to win starts now.
Draisaitl – McDavid – Puljujarvi
Hyman – RNH– Yamamoto
Foegele – Ryan – Sceviour
Perlini – Shore – Turris
Nurse – Barrie
Keith – Ceci
Russell – Bouchard
Five new forwards and three different D-men from last year’s opening night roster — significant changes which should improve the team. Not to mention Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl are still improving, and with the improved depth on the left wing look for Tippett to experiment with different line combinations. Draisaitl believes it will help them. “We have a lot of options. We can got with a many different combinations. We’ve added a lot of guys who have played a long time in this league and have had success. I think it gives Tipp more options and more possibilities to make our team more unpredictable.”
There is a different sense of belief around the club. They will hold each other more accountable, while also having some fun. “It is fluffing off really nice (smiles),” replied Draisaitl when asked about McDavid’s work on his one-timer.
Zack Kassian was placed on IR today, but is eligible to come off before the next game. Devin Shore skated this morning, but according to Tippett they don’t want to rush him. They believe he might be ready for Saturday. Colton Sceviour was signed to a two-way contract this morning ($750K-$450K) and will play tonight. Kyle Turris was recalled while Philip Broberg was reassigned to Bakersfield.
With Shore injured, Ryan McLeod will draw in. On Sunday, Tippett said Brendan Perlini and Shore had played better than Tyler Benson and McLeod. McLeod needs to do more if he wants to remain in the lineup when Shore is healthy.
I asked Tippett what he needs to see from McLeod.
“He is sound positionally and skates well, but he needs to have more impact on the game,” replied Tippett. “He needs more impact in a critical times. If he plays 10 minutes, he can play the same for nine minutes, but have a minute where it makes you think, Wow he is taking it to another level. When he starts doing that more and more, suddenly he is doing that for two minutes, then three minutes. He was a little careful. He has to feel confident in what he is doing. He is a good player. He is going to be a good NHL player for a long time. He just needs to push that on a little more. That will come with growth and maturity in his game.”
It was a good response. I didn’t see McLeod engaged enough or making enough plays. His speed will force players to back off, and he needs to use it more. He will in time, and if he is sent to the AHL to get playing time when Kassian is activated that could be a good thing. He needs to play, and I’d rather have Kyle Turris in the pressbox than McLeod.
Miller – Pettersson – Chiasson
Pearson – Horvat – Garland
Highmore – Dickinson – Hoglander
Dowling – Lammikko – Podkolzin
Hughes – Poolman
OEL – Myers
Rathbone – Burroughs
The Canucks have a bevy of new faces as well, with six new forwards and four new D-men. Brock Boeser and Tyler Motte are on IR, while Brandon Sutter and Brady Keeper are on LTIR. Travis Hamonic was reassigned to the AHL, although he has yet to report to the team.
They have nine new faces in the lineup tonight. I suspect Tippett will try to get the McDavid line out against the Canucks third pairing when he can.
WHAT THEY’RE SAYING…
Alex Chiasson visits his old team again tonight. The newly-signed Canucks forward who won a job with the Canucks and on PP1 spent the last three seasons with the Oilers.
“It was a little weird here in the preseason, a little awkward,” said Chiasson. “We made unbelievable friendships. That group gave me an opportunity to ask some of my best years in my career, I’m super grateful for that.”
Oliver Ekman-Larsson is going to be asked to play some big minutes for the Canucks this season. It will be interesting to see if the Canucks elect to match up the Quinn Hughes-Tucker Poolman pairing against Connor McDavid and Leon Draisatl rather than the OEL-Tyler Myers pairing.
“It’s a good hockey club,” said Erkman-Larsson. “A lot of high skill and a couple of superstars in that lineup so it’s gonna be a good test for us right away. We’re up to the challenge and I know if we play our game and come out like we want to come out with I think it’s gonna, it’s gonna be a good game for us.”
Elias Pettersson, understandably so, cannot wait to get back into regular season action. He suffered a frustrating wrist injury and hasn’t appeared in a regular season game for the Canucks in roughly seven months.
“Last year wasn’t close to where we want to be. This year, we just want to get back as a winning team. I like our team and like our chances, it’s a good feeling in the group coming into the season, so hopefully we can get a good start.”
GAME DAY PREDICTION: Edmonton improves to 2-3 in season-opening home games against Vancouver with a 4-2 win.
OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: McDavid picks up his 50th career point against Vancouver. He has 16-33-49 in 31 games and tonight Vancouver becomes the first team he’s scored 50 points against in his young career.
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