Taking A Step Forward
Photo credit:Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports
10 months ago
Last season was wildly successful for the Edmonton Oilers. Even though they fell short of making the Stanley Cup Final, they made the Western Conference Final for the first time since 2006 and that’s still a big positive in my books.
Now, the team will look to build on that success in the 2022-23 season and show that their run to the final four was far from a fluke.
When you look at their roster as it’s currently constructed, it’s easy to see a way for the Oilers to be a much better regular season team than they were last season when they posted 104 points and finished second in the Pacific Division.
There are a few players who could potentially take steps back next season, and I’ll have an article on that next week.
Usually, when teams go on long runs, like the Oilers did, they’re forced to make a bunch of really tough decisions in the offseason.
Well, the Oilers are bringing back the exact same forward group, only lost Duncan Keith from their blueline, and actually managed to upgrade their goaltending tandem from Mike Smith and Mikko Koskinen to Jack Campbell and Stuart Skinner.
Another thing that usually causes teams to go on wild runs are crazy heaters from players that you wouldn’t expect and honestly, the Oilers didn’t get a lot of that last season. Actually, there are a handful of players on their roster that could very easily produce better results than last season.
First off, they have young players who should really benefit from the experience of last season.
Evan Bouchard could be trusted to handle tougher minutes than he did last season and while his primary job will be getting the puck out of the team’s end and producing points in the offence zone, which he was tremendous at last season, it’s very realistic to expect that his play in his own end will improve next season.
I don’t think Bouchard will ever be the type of player whose defensive game is better than his offensive game, but he had plenty of rough nights last season in his own zone and now that he has his first full season of NHL work under his belt, I think it’s more than fair to say that we could see some big improvements from Bouchard in his own zone.
Elsewhere on the blueline, Darnell Nurse is an interesting option to take a step forward next season. He should be healthy, which will obviously help. I reached out to our resident analytics guru, NHL Sid, for his take on Nurse and Bouchard:
Both Nurse and Bouchard had a bit of poor on-ice offensive luck in 21-22. I think both of them could produce more next season, especially Bouchard, who should take the next step.
Up front, there are also a few candidates.
Jesse Puljujarvi produced a lot of offence early in the season but his production really slowed down after his bought with COVID and an upper-body injury. Whether he’s playing on a line with Connor McDavid or down on the third line with someone like Ryan McLeod, the Oilers could very well have a 20-goal scorer on their hands with Puljujarvi.
Kailer Yamamoto is in a similar spot. Coming off an up and down 2022-23 season, he still needs a new contract but as he matures as a player, I do think we’ll see him find some sort of consistency. I love his tenacity on the forecheck and when he’s on his game, he same decent scoring touch. He just needs to have both of those things present in his game more often.
Warren Foegele very well could be traded before the start of next season, as could Puljujarvi, but assuming he’s still here I think it’s fair to expect that the Oilers will get a few more goals from the 26-year-old winger.
On top of that, I think the Oilers will be looking for Foegele to be a more consistent physical presence in their bottom six. If he can be more disruptive on the forecheck, I think he could actually be a part of a pretty solid third line with pieces like Ryan McLeod, Jesse Puljujarvi, or maybe even Dylan Holloway (although that would require having Foegele on his off wing).
NHL Sid also had a few thoughts on the bottom-six options on the Oilers that could improve next season:
Foegele should produce a bit more, he was at a career-low in SH%. McLeod’s on-ice SH% was near the bottom of the team. With the right linemates, his production could increase.
I would also add a player like Ryan Nugent-Hopkins into this mix. He did post 50-points in 63 games but almost half of them, 24 to be exact, came on the powerplay. If he can up his 5v5 production, it will certainly help the Oilers win more hockey games.
To wrap this up, I’ll share one more note from Sid:
In spite of leading the league in points, McDavid’s on-ice SH% was surprisingly at a career low. It’s crazy to think about, but he could break even more production records next season.
That should have every team in the Pacific Division, and the entire Western Conference for that matter, shivering in fear.
If Connor McDavid can keep up his playoff production for 82 games, we could be in for an absolutely historic season from the Oilers Captain.
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