With their 2016-17 breakout in the books, plenty is going to be written between now and the start of the NHL season about what we can and should expect from the next edition of the Edmonton Oilers. With the final pre-season game yet to play and final roster decisions still to be made, most hardcore fans are already deep into projecting what’s next.
One of the things I’m looking at is who among the core group might improve on what they did last season and who might fall off what they did, if only a little bit. I’m not looking at newcomers like Ryan Strome, acquired from the New York Islanders for Jordan Eberle, surprising rookie Kailer Yamamoto or second-year man Jesse Puljujarvi, who’ll try to stick around for more than 28 games this season. I’m looking at the proven go-to guys.
I’ve come up with three players I expect to be better than they were last season and three who might have difficulty coming up with an encore. There might be more in each category when all is said and done, of course, but I’ve got my six. Feel free to chime in with your own and tell me if you think I’ve got it wrong.
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THREE UP

Feb 14, 2017; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; Edmonton Oilers forward Connor McDavid (97) skates against the Arizona Coyotes at Rogers Place. Mandatory Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

CONNOR MCDAVID

McDavid delivered as promised, and likely earlier than promised, with 30-70-100 last season as a sophomore on the way to winning the Art Ross Trophy, Hart Memorial Trophy and Ted Lindsay Award. While McDavid is always going to be a pass-first playmaker, I think he’ll up take the rubber to the net himself more often and I expect his shot total will surpass last season’s team-leading 251. I don’t see any reason why he can’t bump his shooting percentage of 12.0 by a point or two as well. We haven’t seen McDavid’s top end yet. Not even close. He’ll win the Art Ross Trophy again.

MILAN LUCIC

Much has been made about Lucic not being as good 5-on-5 as he had been in previous years, and with good reason. He scored just 11 goals at even strength and got another dozen on the power play to finish 23-27-50 – not terribly far off where you’d expect him to be overall in terms of points, but something less than stellar. I’m not giving Lucic a free pass for having to adjust to new teammates and linemates, but finding a fit is a factor. I expect Lucic will be more productive at even strength, get more top-six minutes, be in the 55-point range and be more impactful all around.
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OSCAR KLEFBOM

At 24, Klefbom is only now entering primetime as a blueliner and I think he’s got more of what we saw from him last season. Much of Klefbom’s production, of course, was a product of him staying healthy and playing all 82 games. Klefbom easily enjoyed career-bests with 12-26-38 to lead Oiler D-men. He’ll do that again this season, and likely by a bigger margin because Andrej Sekera, the runner-up, will be on the shelf to start the season. Klefbom was productive on the PP with 3-13-16. I can see those numbers going up with Sekera out. I see Klefbom at 40-45 points.

THREE DOWN

Mar 23, 2017; Denver, CO, USA;
Edmonton Oilers center Leon Draisaitl (29) shoots and scores an empty net goal in the third period against the Colorado Avalanche at the Pepsi Center. The Oilers defeated the Avalanche 7-4. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

LEON DRAISAITL

I don’t think there was anything fluky about Draisaitl breaking out with 29-48-77 during the regular season and then dominating in the post-season. That said, if Todd McLellan’s plan is to have Draisaitl carry his own line in the middle away from McDavid, as it appears to be, I can see a marginal dip in his even-strength production. That doesn’t mean he can’t drive his own line, but it’s yet to be proven. The other thing is I can see a drop in Draisaitl’s shooting percentage, however slight. Draisaitl had a 16.9 per cent shooting percentage on 172 shots last season (he was 14.3 in 2015-16).  He needs to shoot more. I still think he scores in the 70s.
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PATRICK MAROON

The Big Rig scored 24 of his 27 goals at even strength, so it’s not like he was padding his totals with PP tap-ins. Even so, Maroon’s shooting percentage with the Oilers has far exceeded his previous bests. He was 20.5 in 16 games here in 2015-16 and 15.2 in 81 games last season. His previous best was 11.8 with Anaheim in 2013-14. If Maroon gets as much time alongside McDavid as I think he will, we’re not going to see a big drop-off in production but I won’t be surprised if he finishes in the 22-24 range for goals. Nothing wrong with that.

CAM TALBOT

I’m talking wins here. This is a bit of a chintzy call on my part because we’re not likely to see Talbot get into the 73 games he played last season on the way to a franchise record 42 wins with a .919 save percentage and 2.39 goals-against average. That’s not Talbot’s fault. If back-up Laurent Brossoit can carry the mail for 14-16 games and keep Talbot in the high-60s in appearances, his win total will dip into the 30s. At the same time, I can see a jump up in save percentage (Talbot was .931 in the 57 games he played for the New York Rangers).
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WHILE I’M AT IT

To many of our younger readers, the name Clare Drake might not ring that many bells, aside from the fact it’s the name on the rink out at the University of Alberta. That’s understandable as it’s been 30 years since the great Drake retired as head coach of the Golden Bears hockey program.
Drake, at long last, is finally being inducted in the HHOF as a builder this November. It’s a case of better late (by at least a decade) than never, but not by much. Drake, now 88, is living in an assisted care facility in Edmonton and isn’t well enough to attend his induction ceremony. With that in mind, the HHOF delivered his blazer this week. Terry Jones wrote about it here.
Talk to coaches anywhere around the hockey world, from the university level to the NHL and the likes of Ken Hitchcock and Mike Babcock, and they’ll tell you what a great mentor, teacher and innovator Drake was – not to mention all those CIAU titles he won during his tenure at the U of A.
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Drake’s inability to attend his own ceremony won’t diminish his many accomplishments and the profound mark he left on the game, his players and the coaching fraternity, but mercy, I wish he was able to be there surrounded by his peers and many admirers. This is a call that could’ve and should’ve been made by voters long ago.