Edmonton Oilers training camp doesn’t begin until Thursday, September 22nd, yet many veterans have been in Edmonton skating together since the start of September. Today, Connor McDavid, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Zach Hyman joined the group that already consisted of Leon Draisaitl, Jack Campbell and others. Arriving in town early — in some cases, two full weeks before training camp begins — isn’t the norm, but it illustrates the desire and belief this group has in its ability to compete this coming season.
Edmonton hasn’t been a legitimate contender at the start of the season in a long time. In 2018, after winning one round in 2017, people felt the Oilers were trending up, but they crashed down to earth missing the playoffs. This is different. Pundits across the NHL view the Oilers as a legitimate contender to win the Pacific Division and contend in the west. It has been over 30 years since that was the case, but unlike 2018 I don’t foresee the Oilers tripping over their skate laces.
I don’t expect them to dominate the regular season like the 2019 Tampa Bay Lightning, but a 50-win season is very realistic.
The Oilers have won 50+ games three times in their previous 42 seasons. They won 57 in 1984, 56 in 1986 and 50 in 1987. They won 49 last season, so a 50-win campaign isn’t unrealistic. They have a very good chance to tally 110 points for only the fourth time in franchise history and first since 1986.
The fact McDavid and Draisaitl are in town and on the ice for informal skates this early is a good thing, in my eyes. When your two best players arrive early it sets the tone for the entire group, and after reaching the Conference Finals last season the expectations, and belief, from the players is likely higher than it has ever been for the core group. McDavid and Draisaitl took their games to new heights in the playoffs — which is quite remarkable considering how good they’ve been over the past four seasons.
McDavid averaged 2.06 points per game in 16 games scoring 10-23-33, while Draisaitl averaged exactly two points/game scoring 7-23-32 in 16 games. Only three other players in NHL history averaged 2+ points/game in a minimum of 10 playoff games. Wayne Gretzky did it four times (47 points in 18 games in 1985, 38 points in 16 games in 1983, 43 points in 19 games in 1988 and 22 points in 11 games in 1989), Mario Lemieux scored 34 points in 15 games in 1992 and Paul Coffey scored 37 points in 18 games in 1985.
In the 2000s the highest PPG prior to McDavid and Draisaitl was Jake Guentzel and Sidney Crosby each at 1.75 PPG when they tallied 21 points in 12 games in 2018.
McDavid and Draisaitl were amazing last season. Obviously, it will be difficult to produce at the same levels in future playoffs, but the fact they elevated their games to even higher heights last year will only push them to want to match it. Draisaitl scored 32 points despite suffering a high ankle sprain in game six of the opening round against LA. He scored 24 points in 10 games after his injury. Ridiculous. He had to adjust his game due the injury as he couldn’t push off with much force or instant acceleration.
“It was interesting though,” he said to Jeff Marek and Elliott Friedman on their podcast. “I liked it because I had to change my game and it kind of showed me there’s a way I can become better in a way with doing almost less. I was very interested by that part of the game that when you’re healthy, you try and play your best, you try and play with speed, you try and play fast. I didn’t have that to my game. I tried to find a way to be productive in a different way. I thought I did a pretty good job of it.”
If the injury allowed Draisaitl to find different ways to exploit the opposition that should only help him moving forward.
Meanwhile, McDavid’s playoff performance was outstanding. Even in games when he “only” scored one point, he dominated. He was outstanding in games six and seven v. Los Angeles when the Oilers needed two victories. McDavid enters this season coming off the best playoffs of his career and a career-best 123 points in the regular season, yet he still has room to improve.
Last season he produced 123 points despite having the lowest 5×5 SH% of his career at 10.63, after averaging14.0 in his first six seasons. His also had the second lowest 5×5 on-ice SH% of his career at 8.30. Despite him scoring 123 points, when he was on the ice the Oilers only scored on 8.3% of their shots. In his first six seasons, his on-ice SH% was 10.5%.
It is very likely McDavid will produce more points this season based strictly on previous averages. Having a better pure finisher in Evander Kane for the entire season will also help.
When you combine McDavid’s point totals from last season, his SH% and OISH% as well as his playoff performance, I think 130 points is very realistic.
MORE RANDOM THOUGHTS…
The Oilers offered Zach Aston-Reese a PTO, but he opted to sign one with Toronto. That doesn’t mean he can’t pull a Kris Versteeg and still sign an NHL contract with the Oilers during training camp/preseason. Versteeg signed a PTO with the Oilers before training camp in 2016, but then signed a contract with the Calgary Flames on October 11th. The Oilers liked him, but couldn’t offer a contract until they can clear out some cap space.
I still think it is more likely Jesse Puljujarvi gets moved instead of Warren Foegele, and when that deal occurs, the Oilers will look to sign another forward. Ideally, Edmonton would trade Puljujarvi for a draft pick and a player with a cap hit around $1m. But I’m not sure that type of trade is available when I look at other teams’ payrolls. The Oilers might just end up dealing him for a draft pick and the cap space. They could sign a UFA like Aston-Reese and then use the draft pick as trade capital at the deadline.
I fully expect the Oilers to alter their blue line at or near the trade deadline. Currently, the Oilers own their 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 5th, 6th and 7th round picks in 2023. They’ve already traded their 3rd in 2024 and 2nd in 2025, so gaining a 2nd round pick in a trade will help that at the upcoming deadline.
When Jack Campbell arrived in Edmonton a few weeks ago, one of his first priorities was to get to know Stuart Skinner. They went golfing, went out for dinners and practiced together. Skinner has been very appreciative of Campbell, and while much of the focus this year will be on Campbell, this is a huge opportunity for Skinner. He enters camp as the clear backup. It is his job to lose, and after making 13 starts last season he wants to prove he can be a reliable backup, and maybe even push for split duty as the season progresses. Ideally, the Oilers will give Skinner 25-32 starts, but he has to earn them and he is up for the challenge. Don’t overlook how important Skinner’s play will be for the Oilers this season. They need him to be steady.
Zach Hyman had career highs in goals, 27, and points, 54, last season. Does he surpass both again this season? Discuss.
- When: On Thursday, January 12th, we’re jumping on a flight at the Edmonton International Airport and making our way to Vegas. On Sunday evening, we’ll fly back from Vegas to Edmonton. So the dates that you need to block off for this trip are January 12th to 15th.
- Where we’re staying: After landing in LV, we’ll jump on the free shuttle and make our way to the Park MGM before settling in for a good night’s sleep. 😉
- What you get: Your roundtrip flight, hotel, shuttle, viewing party (Friday night), game entry — we got seats this time (Saturday night), and exclusive entry into our pre-trip ‘get to know everyone’ event.
- How Much: The total cost for the trip, flight, hotel, and entry to the game is $1499 per person (based on double occupancy)
- Tickets: Ready to dive in? Click this link.
Recently by Jason Gregor:
- Long Read: Brad Holland On His Career Path and Analytics
- Ten Tuesday Questions About the Oilers
- Could A Patrick Kane Trade to Edmonton Work?
- How Many Points Will McDavid and Draisaitl Produce?
- Monday Musings: Should Foegele Play On The PK?
- Where Can the Oilers Offence Improve