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Scott Cullen

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The Edmonton Oilers crashed hard last season, dropping 25 points from the 2016-17 season.

Off-Season Game Plan examines what should be an eventful summer for a team that ought to have some urgency to get back to the playoffs.

That urgency does lead to a complicated situation. After missing the playoffs in 2017-18, despite having the best player in the league, it’s hard to imagine that general manager Peter Chiarelli would survive not making the playoffs next season, and that could serve as incentive for Chiarelli to make moves focused on more immediate improvement.

There has already been discussion about the Oilers potentially putting this year’s first-round pick, 10th overall, in play. For the right player, of course, that might be a worthy price to pay, but it’s fair to wonder if the Oilers are going to improve their lot this summer by what they do on the trade market.

Whether the general manager’s priorities align perfectly with the franchise is a legitimate concern, but having a sense of urgency is not an unreasonable position. It would be preposterous to waste prime years of Connor McDavid while waiting on more prospects to catch up.

Immediate help is needed, and it will be fascinating to see how the Oilers go about getting it.

HOCKEY OPS/COACH

Peter Chiarelli/Todd McLellan

HEROES

Connor McDavid – The 21-year-old superstar won his second straight scoring title with 108 points. Coming into the season, his focus was on scoring more goals, and he buried a career-high 41.

Leon Draisaitl – He was criticized in some circles for not matching his 77-point production from 2016-17, but a 22-year-old who puts up 70 points in 78 games is okay, especially when he scored 16 fewer power play points than he had the year before.

Darnell Nurse – In 2015-16, his first NHL season, Nurse was overwhelmed. The next year, he was decent in a third-pair role. Last season, he stepped up and was effective while playing 22 minutes per night. That’s impressive progress.

ZEROES

Milan Lucic – It was a dubious decision from the get-go for the Oilers to sign Lucic to a long-term deal in the summer of 2016 and it took until his second season for the regret to hit hard as the power forward managed just 10 goals and 34 points despite playing in every game.

Cam Talbot – For the first time in his career, the 30-year-old goaltender had a below-average season. How much of that was a residual effect of starting 73 games in 2016-17? If that heavy workload played a part, starting 67 games last season may not be setting Talbot up for success.

Oscar Klefbom – The 24-year-old blueliner played through a shoulder injury, before finally undergoing season-ending surgery, but the results were a dramatic step down from his strong showing in 2016-17.

 

 

RETURNING FORWARDS

 

NAME

GP

G

A

PTS

CF%

RelCF%

PDO

OZS%

ATOI

2018-19 CAP

Connor McDavid

82

41

67

108

52.5

2.9

101.8

54.8

21:33

$12.5M

Leon Draisaitl

78

25

45

70

52.3

2.9

98.4

54.4

19:19

$8.5M

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins

62

24

24

48

49.8

-1.9

101.0

53.1

18:05

$6.0M

Milan Lucic

82

10

24

34

51.1

0.7

99.4

52.8

15:58

$6.0M

Jujhar Khaira

69

11

10

21

50.0

-0.6

97.9

49.5

12:42

$675K

Jesse Puljujarvi

65

12

8

20

50.9

1.8

99.8

50.1

13:22

$925K

Zack Kassian

74

7

12

19

48.6

-3.3

98.0

47.3

11:40

$1.95M

Pontus Aberg

53

4

12

16

46.6

-3.7

100.9

48.1

12:10

$650K

Ty Rattie

14

5

4

9

45.5

-3.0

103.9

54.0

15:28

$800K

 

 

FREE AGENT FORWARDS

 

NAME

GP

G

A

PTS

CF%

RelCF%

PDO

OZS%

ATOI

2017-18 CAP

STATUS

Ryan Strome

82

13

21

34

50.7

0.2

99.2

55.3

15:13

$2.5M

RFA

Mike Cammalleri

66

7

22

29

47.0

-2.7

99.3

48.8

13:46

$1.0M

UFA

Drake Caggiula

67

13

7

20

47.3

-3.3

97.8

52.2

13:33

$925K

RFA

Anton Slepyshev

50

6

6

12

51.5

1.6

99.5

52.4

11:49

$925K

RFA

Iiro Pakarinen

40

2

1

3

47.3

-4.2

101.3

52.9

10:12

$725K

RFA

 

 

My theoretical Hart Trophy winner, Connor McDavid had a tremendous third season in the league, and he sparked a real debate about whether the MVP can come from a team that is hopelessly out of playoff contention. The problem for the Oilers is that last season’s collapse wasted one of McDavid’s entry-level seasons, and it will be more difficult to surround him with sufficient complementary talent now that he’s going to be pulling in $12.5-million per season. That’s entirely deserved, by the way, but it means that the rest of the roster decisions need to be sharp and, it’s fair to say, that hasn’t been the recent standard.

Embedded Image
Can we get young No. 97 some help?

The criticism of Leon Draisaitl’s 2017-18 season wasn’t really due to his decline from 77 to 70 points, but after he ripped up the 2017 playoffs, scoring a team-leading 16 points in 13 games (while shooting 27.3%!), he was supposed to be running closer to McDavid as a difference-maker. There’s still a lot to like about Draisaitl and last season saw him generate more shots and even-strength points than he did the year before, so he’s still on a pretty nice path.

A move to Connor McDavid’s wing may change Ryan Nugent-Hopkins’s career trajectory, but playing in a featured role is a better fit for his contract than being stuck behind McDavid and Draisaitl as the third centre on the depth chart. He tied a career-high with 24 goals last season, despite missing 20 games, and if he spends a full season on McDavid’s wing, his numbers should take off.

One of the benefits provided by Draisaitl and Nugent-Hopkins is that both can play the middle, so they can be moved around, with one on the wing and one at centre, in order to have one riding shotgun with McDavid.

As the game is getting faster, it’s been more challenging for Milan Lucic, a five-time 20-goal scorer who scored one goal in the last 46 games last season. He went through bouts of looking disinterested and was not as physically engaged as he needs to be in order to be effective. Lucic still has five years left on his contract, so the Oilers had better hope that he can drop some weight and get quicker so that he can at least fill a role as a secondary scorer.

After a couple of uneventful auditions in previous years, Jujhar Khaira took advantage of his opportunity last season and not only proved to be a promising checking forward, but he started working at centre, too. If Khaira can handle the fourth-line centre job that would be a nice shot in the arm for the depth chart.

The fourth pick in the 2016 Draft, Jesse Puljujarvi has made progress in a couple of pro seasons, and the 20-year-old could very well develop into a legitimate scoring winger. At the same time, he’s still at the stage of his development where that isn’t a sure thing, so risk is involved, and it might make sense for the Oilers to consider using Puljujarvi’s potential as a trade chip this summer in an effort to acquire more immediate help.

When the Oilers were busy accumulating muscle, Zack Kassian was part of that plan and he’s compensated a little more than necessary, given his contributions. He can fill a fourth line role and, from time to time, shows some offensive touch, but he has 17 goals in 189 games with the Oilers, so there’s no reason for inflated expectations; by now we know what he is.

Following a decent showing for Nashville in the 2017 playoffs, Pontus Aberg struggled to keep a regular spot in the Predators lineup last season, and he ended up getting traded to the Oilers, where he contributed eight points in 16 games. He will be 25 by the time next season rolls around, but if Aberg could fill a role among the middle six forwards, that would be a win for Edmonton.

Ty Rattie has appeared in five different NHL seasons and has still played just 49 career games. For the most part, he’s been a AAAA player (ie. too good for the AHL, not good enough for a regular NHL role), but after he made the most of his opportunity to play with McDavid, putting up nine points in 14 games, he earned a contract for next season.

The Oilers saved some money by dealing Jordan Eberle to the Islanders for Ryan Strome, but Strome responded with an underwhelming 34-point season. It’s looking like the 24-year-old is a solid enough NHLer, but nowhere near the difference-maker that he was hoped to be when he was drafted fifth overall in 2011. 

Drake Caggiula has scored 20 goals in 127 games over two NHL seasons since coming out of the University of North Dakota. He has good speed, but hasn’t been able to climb the depth chart for an extended period of time. Even so, he should have value to the Oilers because they aren’t exactly overrun with NHL-calibre depth forwards. 

A couple that might have had that handle recently, Iiro Pakarinen and Anton Slepyshev, both have been rumoured to be on the way to the KHL next season, which will create some holes that need to be filled.

Given the lack of organizational depth up front, it would be a great idea if the Oilers could secure the services of some quality AHL scorers that might be able to compete for spots if given a chance. Austin Czarnik, Brandon Pirri and Kenny Agostino are some that are set to be free agents this summer that are worth considering.

The Oilers could dive into the big ticket free agent market in an effort to secure a proven scoring threat. James Neal might fit, if the term isn’t unreasonably long, since he will be 31 by the time the puck drops on the 2018-19 season.

2017 first-round pick Kailer Yamamoto made the Oilers out of camp last season, and flashed potential in his nine-game trial. He had a strong finish in the Western Hockey League, so he could be in consideration for a spot next year.

 

RETURNING DEFENCEMEN

 

NAME

GP

G

A

PTS

CF%

RelCF%

PDO

OZS%

ATOI

2018-19 CAP

Oscar Klefbom

66

5

16

21

51.6

0.5

97.5

52.5

22:51

$4.167M

Kris Russell

78

4

17

21

48.2

-3.9

98.6

50.9

19:04

$4.0M

Adam Larsson

63

4

9

13

50.6

-0.2

99.8

46.3

21:56

$4.167M

Andrej Sekera

36

0

8

8

48.6

0.8

93.0

56.8

16:20

$5.5M

Eric Gryba

21

0

2

2

55.0

1.9

98.2

57.5

14:44

$900K

 

 

FREE AGENT DEFENCEMEN

 

NAME

GP

G

A

PTS

CF%

RelCF%

PDO

OZS%

ATOI

2017-18 CAP

STATUS

Darnell Nurse

82

6

20

26

51.1

0.8

100.6

49.0

22:15

$863K

RFA

Matthew Benning

73

6

15

21

51.3

1.5

100.5

56.7

17:17

$925K

RFA

Yohann Auvitu

33

3

6

9

52.5

-0.1

103.2

60.2

13:33

$700K

UFA

 

 

A bad shoulder contributed to Oscar Klefbom’s miserable 2017-18 season and, from the sounds of things, that leaves him in the crosshairs for a potential trade this summer. For the record, I would not be inclined to deal Klefbom, because his value is surely at a low point, but he is young enough that his potential would fetch some value on the trade market.

In the Hurricanes’ Off-Season Game Plan, I already had the Oilers trading (Puljujarvi+) for Justin Faulk, so could Klefbom be used to get the Oilers a scoring winger with multiple years of team control? Names like Anthony Mantha, Brandon Saad, Chris Kreider, Kevin Hayes, Mike Hoffman, Alex Galchenyuk, Josh Anderson, Anthony Beauvillier or Andre Burakovsky could have varying levels of appeal.

If Klefbom is moved for a defencemen, names like Torey Krug and Rasmus Ristolainen have been mentioned as possible targets.

The Oilers couldn’t help themselves from signing Kris Russell to a four-year contract last summer, and he provided the expected results. He gets consistently outshot and blocks a lot of shots, but he ended up playing 19 minutes per game last season, his lowest average time on ice since 2012-13. Three more years, at $4-million per, is a lot for a third-pair defenceman, but that’s where Russell fits.

Last season was challenging for Adam Larsson, whose father died during the season, and while he wasn’t as effective as his first year in Edmonton, he is as advertised: a physical defensive defenceman.

Veteran blueliner Andrej Sekera suffered a torn ACL in the 2017 playoffs, and when he returned to the Edmonton lineup last season, he was a shell of his former self. He turns 32 this summer, so it’s possible that he bounces back with more time since the injury, but it’s also possible that it will be difficult to get his game back to what had previously been a solid top-four level. Given that he’s signed for three more years, the Oilers probably hope that Sekera can bounce back.

Six-foot-4 Eric Gryba has been a part-time option on the Oilers blueline over the past three seasons, but he dressed for just 21 games last year and was eventually waived. As hockey gets faster, it’s harder for a mauler like Gryba to keep pace.

Embedded Image
Darnell Nurse's breakthrough season was lost somewhat amidst the Oilers' struggles.

The seventh pick in the 2013 Draft, Darnell Nurse started to put it all together last season, improving his defensive game, handling big minutes, and chipping in offensively. His career path is on the right trajectory, and the Oilers desperately need him to keep moving forward as a shutdown option. He’s also due for a new contract this summer.

A puck-moving, third-pair defender, Matthew Benning wasn’t able to fill a top-four hole that the Oilers had on their blueline last season, but he’s still quite effective playing 17 minutes a night.

There have been reports that the Oilers are signing Swedish defenceman Joel Persson, a right-shooting puck-mover, so he would add some depth to the group.

 

 

RETURNING GOALTENDERS

 

NAME

GP

W

L

T

SV%

EV SV%

2018-19 CAP

Cam Talbot

67

31

31

3

.908

.916

$4.167M

Al Montoya

13

4

3

2

.893

.916

$1.063M

 

 

FREE AGENT GOALTENDER

 

NAME

GP

W

L

T

SV%

EV SV%

2017-18 CAP

STATUS

Laurent Brossoit

14

3

7

1

.883

.906

$750K

UFA


OATLENDER

After a sensational 2016-17 season, during which he started 73 games, Cam Talbot’s performance dropped off last season and he heads into the final year of his current contract with something to prove, namely that he’s still a legit starting goaltender.

Embedded Image
The Oilers need Cam Talbot to bounce back.

Al Montoya joined the Oilers in a trade with Montreal, but it was a strange season for him, as he started just eight games, appearing in 13, between the two teams. He still has a year left on his deal, and figures to get moved this summer because the Oilers have already been active on the goaltending front.

A former Islanders prospect who had an outstanding season in the KHL, posting a .937 save percentage in 29 games for St. Petersburg SKA (then a .935 save percentage in 15 playoff games), Mikko Koskinen signed a one-year deal for $2.5-million. There’s a chance that he could be really good, but the Oilers are paying a relatively significant price to find out.

 

TOP PROSPECTS

 

PLAYER

POS.

GP

G

A

PTS

+/-

TEAM (LEAGUE)

Kailer Yamamoto

RW

40

21

43

64

+22

Spokane (WHL)

Caleb Jones

D

58

2

15

17

-25

Bakersfield (AHL)

Ethan Bear

D

37

6

12

18

-8

Bakersfield (AHL)

Tyler Benson

LW

58

27

42

69

-1

Vancouver (WHL)

Kirill Maksimov

RW

62

34

46

80

+23

Niagara (OHL)

Cooper Marody

C

40

16

35

51

+20

Michigan (Big 10)

Ostap Safin

RW

61

26

32

58

-29

Saint John (QMJHL)

Dmitri Samorukov

RW

62

11

23

34

-10

Guelph (OHL)

Stuart Skinner

G

56

 

 

 

.905

Swift Current (WHL)

Phil Kemp

D

26

3

5

8

+7

Yale (ECAC)

Filip Berglund

D

44

3

10

13

+12

Skelleftea (SHL)

William Lagesson

D

49

1

12

13

+13

Djurgardens (SHL)

Ryan Mantha

D

41

3

7

10

0

Bakersfield (AHL)

Nick Ellis

G

22

 

 

 

.898

Bakersfield (AHL)

Dylan Wells

G

56

 

 

 

.896

Peterborough (OHL)

 

DRAFT

10th – Jesperi Kotkaniemi, Joel Farabee, Joe Veleno, Noah Dobson

FREE AGENCY

The Oilers have approximately $64.9M committed to the 2018-2019 salary cap for 16 players.

NEEDS

Two top-nine forwards, power-play quarterback

WHAT I SAID THE OILERS NEEDED LAST YEAR

Two top-nine forwards, one top-four defenceman, backup goaltender

THEY ADDED

Ryan Strome, Jussi Jokinen, Yohann Auvitu, Laurent Brossoit

TRADE MARKET

Milan Lucic, Jesse Puljujarvi, Oscar Klefbom, Al Montoya

 

PROJECTED 2018-2019 DEPTH CHART

LEFT WING

CENTRE

RIGHT WING

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins

Connor McDavid

Ty Rattie

Pontus Aberg

Leon Draisaitl

Andre Burakovsky*

Milan Lucic

Ryan Strome

Kailer Yamamoto

Drake Caggiula

Jujhar Khaira

Zack Kassian

Brandon Pirri*

Brad Malone

Austin Czarnik*

Tyler Benson

Cooper Marody

Patrick Russell

 

LEFT DEFENCE

RIGHT DEFENCE

GOALTENDER

Darnell Nurse

Adam Larsson

Cam Talbot

Andrej Sekera

Justin Faulk*

Mikko Koskinen*

Kris Russell

Matthew Benning

Nick Ellis

Caleb Jones

Ethan Bear

 

Eric Gryba

Ryan Mantha

 

 

Many of the advanced stats used here come from Natural Stat TrickCorsicaHockey Viz, and Hockey Reference.

Scott Cullen can be reached at scott.cullen@bellmedia.ca