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Five Oilers questions ahead of the 2023-24 NHL season

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Photo credit:Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports
baggedmilk
6 months ago
Now that we’re only days away from the start of the new NHL season, I’m finding myself looking ahead at what’s to come and wondering what kind of year is in store for us. And since the expectations are sky-high around here this fall, looking ahead has my brain coming up with all kinds of “what if” scenarios that can only be answered with time.

1. CAN CONNOR McDAVID HIT 1000 CAREER POINTS?

Last season, Connor McDavid took his game to an entirely new level, registering 153 points in 82 games. That total cleared his previous career-high by 30 points and put him in a position to become the 3rd fastest player ever to hit 1000 career points, provided that he can do it again. Sitting at 850 career points through 569 games played, McDavid has the opportunity to cement himself among the best to do it at the NHL level if he can match what he did a year ago, and I, for one, will not be betting against him doing it. Putting up 150+ points isn’t something that happens very often anymore — McDavid was the first to do it in decades — but now that we know he’s capable of getting there, what’s to stop him from doing it again? Obviously, a repeat performance of the magic he created a year ago will take a lot of skill and luck, but from my side of the computer screen, if there’s anyone in this league who would be up for the task, it has to be Connor McDavid.

2. CAN LEON DRAISAITL WIN THE ROCKET RICHARD?

One of the funniest things about Leon Draisaitl’s career is that he never gets credit for being an absolute stud from anyone outside of the Edmonton market. Yeah, he’s won a Hart Trophy and an Art Ross Trophy before, but even when he brought home the hardware, some claimed it only happened because he plays with Connor McDavid. We all know that’s silly, but every other fanbase seems to struggle with figuring out how good this guy is on a nightly basis. Looking ahead at the 2023-24 season, though, the biggest question I have for Leon Draisaitl is whether or not he can put himself in contention to win the Rocket Richard Trophy as the league’s deadliest scorer. With four 50-goal seasons already in his pocket — he would have had five or six had it not been for the pandemic-shortened seasons — we know he can fill the back of the net, but can he score enough to pass the likes of Auston Matthews, Alex Ovechkin, David Pastrnak, et al.? Last year, Draisaitl’s 52 goals were good enough for fourth in the league, and I don’t think it’s that big of a stretch to believe he has even more to give, especially if the Oilers’ power play can maintain its dominance with Leon being a key shooter from his office in the right circle.

3. CAN JACK CAMPBELL GET BACK TO HIS CAREER AVERAGE?

Through three pre-season appearances, Jack Campbell stopped 101 of 104 shots he faced, which was good for a .971 save% and a 0.99 GAA. No matter how you slice it, those are excellent numbers. Full stop. That said, excelling in the pre-season when there’s literally no pressure to win is a different animal than doing it when the games mean something, and I’m endlessly intrigued to know whether or not Soup can keep this run going. If he can — I really want to cheer for a redemption tour — it’s reasonable to assume the Oilers would be able to improve upon the 21 wins Soup put up last year. Campbell’s record of 21-9-4 wasn’t horrible by any means, but he was also getting a lot of run support in those wins, if you remember, and many of the losses resulted from being unable to outscore his issues. But if Campbell can return to his career average .910 save%, many of those issues will disappear, and the wins will follow. Am I overthinking this whole thing? I don’t think so.

4. CAN TEAMS ADJUST TO THE OILERS’ POWER PLAY?

It goes without saying that the Oilers’ power play is a major source of their offence, and I wonder if teams will be able to do a better job defending against it in 2023-24. That’s not to say that I think the power play is going to be bad by any means — it’s still going to be one of the best PPs in the league — but I do wonder how much of a decline we’ll get from the historic 32.4% success rate we saw last season. In total, Edmonton scored 89 of their 325 goals on the power play and having a decline of even 5% wouldn’t be that much of an impact on the number of goals scored (89 would turn into 84), but you have to think teams across the league are going to do everything they can to limit the damage. Can they even be stopped? Given the quality of players, the Oilers can throw over the boards on the man advantage, I feel like it’s safe to assume that even if the power play does come down from where it was a year ago, Edmonton will still rank near the top of the league.

5. CAN THE OILERS AVOID THE PRE-CHRISTMAS LULL?

I don’t know what it is about late November/early December, but the Oilers always have a lull in that window before eventually cranking things up when the calendar flips. If you remember, our boys found themselves out of a playoff spot at the American Thanksgiving marker in 2022, and that had plenty of us stressing about whether they’d be able to climb out of that hole. My boy, Tyler Yaremchuk, was walking around Nation HQ with the idea that the boys would miss the playoffs, and I’d very much like to avoid that this time. We know the Oilers will be good again this year, but it would be really lovely to see them eliminate some of the ebbs and flows from their overall game. That’s why my fifth question ahead of Wednesday’s kick-off is whether or not the Oilers can work their way through the first half of the season without falling off a cliff for two or three weeks in the middle. I know in my heart they have the skill to do it, but we’ll have to wait and see whether they can match that skill with the required level of execution.

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