It is now established we have left the past behind, venturing forth into a new world, in search of a place in the sun. How far up the table will the Edmonton Oilers go? If we agree second division is No. 17 and lower, this year’s journey may not get us all the way to the second season. At some point, I am going to have to retire legion references, from Donner Party to Nadir’s Raiders. For now, I will pack them away with the summer clothes, and perhaps they will stay there until such time as we have forgotten they once existed. We all come from somewhere, but some of us come from places with few good memories. This is us.
BEEP BEEP, HEY MISTER, YEAR OVER YEAR
- Oilers in October 2015: 3-5-0, goal differential -5
- Oilers in October 2016: 7-1-0, goal differential +12
A year ago Game 9, the Oilers lost 3-2 to LAK on a late goal by Tanner Pearson. The Oilers have a chance tonight to complete a statement month that will echo down the canyons of the Pacific Division, leaving the rest of the division in an eternal double take.
Edmonton leads the Pacific Division in everything: Points, ROWs, goal differential, shock and awe. The Oilers are ten points up on the Coyotes, and this is in the Bettman league—where clearance Clarence takes a month of Sundays. No sir, whatever happens from this point forward, it can be said here today that this Oilers team turned north in a tremendous way October 2016. Now, what happens in the next chapter of this book?
DEFENSE, AFTER EIGHT
- Oscar Klefbom looks pristine by the numbers 10 percent into the season. He is healthy, making plays with or without the puck, facing tough opposition and battling those warriors to a standstill. Corsi is real rel gone. Nice.
- Darnell Nurse is coming along nicely (as he did in the first 11 games one year ago), with the key being Todd McLellan’s usage. The young man is displaying calm feet while also having momentary lapses of youth, and that should be expected. Tomorrow is promised to no one on a young and emerging team, but he does appear to be earning a long term role.
- Adam Larsson has been a solid if unspectacular addition to the Oilers. I am most impressed with his decision making, he is efficient on the highest with or without the puck. He makes so many little passes in a game, chips and saucers and such, it is fun to see him get out of what could be trouble in such simple ways. We need to see him for a longer swath, but the arrows are good and plentiful.
- Eric Gryba is the one player on the team who appears more comfortable without the puck. He is a good defender, noticeable mostly on the penalty kill and hammering opposition forwards along the wall until they cough up the puck. He is not a sexy player, but I like his experience and defending.
- Kris Russell’s possession numbers have faded a little since the early days of the season (Edmonton’s team Corsi for 5×5 today is 47.3) but he has been a positive force so far to my eyes. One of the big benefits of Russell is his foot speed—he can get back to retrieve pretty well—and his veteran savvy. He fits this team, and may be around for more than one year.
- Andrej Sekera is the one defender whose Corsi at 5×5 is an area of concern. He is battling tougher opposition and does have a new (and left-handed) partner, but you would like that possession number to be stronger. I am biased—love his work—but he needs to be closer to 50 than 40 in possession.
FORWARDS, AFTER EIGHT
- Connor McDavid is the most exciting player I have ever seen. His shifts are the most anticipated item in hockey, and his scoring rates are beautiful. There isn’t much to say, except luck never got it so right.
- Tyler Pitlick has enjoyed some early success and may be able to stretch it beyond the Pakarinen return. The young winger has cooled recently, but there is appeal for the Oilers playing him (making TP eligible for the expansion draft) so he could be here a lot longer if things break right.
- Benoit Pouliot has not been his usual consistent self, but does seem to be rounding into form in recent games. His scoring is solid, his aggressive forecheck has ebbed and flowed (he seemed tentative after the benching, understandable) over the eight games. I think a smart NHL team calls and asks after him before or at the deadline.
- Zack Kassian has been a solid addition to the Oilers, perhaps playing too high in the order currently. His scoring at evens has been good, but the line (Nuge) needs to be stronger in possession and more offensively ribald. Kassian may not be able to help enough in those areas.
- Ryan Nugent-Hopkins has performed well this year, I give him credit for hanging in when some of his wingers seems less than stellar. Scoring is fine if inconsistent, love his attention to detail when without the puck. He has been a very useful player in Todd McLellan’s lineup, as always.
- Anton Lander is the modern Rasputin, he keeps finding a way to climb that hill. I give him all kinds of credit, the man learned how to get in there and make himself useful—then became consistent at those things. A lesson to be learned for everyone.
- Jordan Eberle has been the quiet member of the top line so far, but contributed on offense and appears to be working extra hard in other areas, too. The maturation of his game coincides with better health, and we should probably acknowledge there are things he can do this season that were not possible a year ago. He is sometimes overlooked by the fanbase, including this blog’s author.
- Anton Slepyshev is losing ground—as he did a year ago—but remains an intriguing piece of a possible future. Todd McLellan likes him and there is some evidence of usefulness—he is big, fast and strong—so we will see how this plays out.
- Leon Draisaitl is having a nice start, but I find myself impatient for him to dominate the soft parade. Part of the issue is wingers—as is the case with the Nuge—and the boxcar numbers overall are good to great. So, maybe it is a case of not being satisfied with what should in fact be just that from the young center. He has greatness in him, I believe that—and that back checking play against the Canucks is recent proof.
- Mark Letestu is having a solid start to the year, using his skills (faceoffs, utility, special teams) to make a difference. Some don’t like what he brings, I think he and Lander could be a fantastic penalty killing team for years to come.
- Milan Lucic has delivered strong performances after waking from a sleepy start and may end up posting a strong offensive number. Many talk about his enforcing skills, I love that pass to McDavid to spring him for the winner against Vancouver. Lucic is a very good player with the puck on his stick, both because it is difficult to win it back, and because he makes good decisions. Fine player.
- Patrick Maroon needs to get going a little, but I like his game and think he is a nice match for Leon. The problem (as I see it) is getting that line going offensively. The possession numbers and flow of play are not a problem for this line, but 5×5 scoring against the softs needs to be stronger.
- Jesse Puljujarvi is a mannish boy who clearly has great possibilities. I think we may be getting a little different player than the scouting reports implied. He may end up being shy offensively according to scouting reports, while also delivering a more complete game. Someone mentioned he might be a strong center option down the line, and I can see the responsibility in his game. I like this player very much, while also understanding he may need some time in Bakersfield to hone his skills.
WHEN THEY RETURN
The Oilers have several players on IR, and one thing that came up yesterday on SSE surrounded what to do when that happens. Who goes to Bakersfield? Does anyone get traded?
- L Matt Hendricks—I think he goes right back into the lineup, possibly replacing Tyler Pitlick. The time to trade Hendricks—he is UFA at the end of the year—is the deadline. I think Lander is more useful than Pitlick at this time, so it is TP to the pressbox, Anton Slepyshev to Bakersfield.
- R Iiro Pakarinen—I believe the Finn probably goes to Bakersfield. They might call it conditioning but there are things about his game that put him (imo) behind Pitlick.
- C-W Drake Caggiula—One suspects a stretch in the AHL—maybe two weeks—will be required before he makes his NHL debut. At that point, we may see Pitlick sent down to make room.
- RD Mark Fayne—It doesn’t sound like he is coming back soon, but I believe he needs to play in a certain number of games to qualify for the expansion draft—Edmonton will get him those games.
- LD Brandon Davidson—One suspects we see Matt Benning return to the minors when Davidson is activated, with Eric Gryba heading to the press box.
- LD Andrew Ference—I enjoyed his years with the Bruins very much, the Oilers years were difficult for both player and team. These things happen, and it is clear he got everything he could (including a Stanley) out of his body before age took its toll. Sail on, Mr. Ference.
The Senators should be in trouble, one of three pairings are going to be able to handle the speed that is coming. That said, there is a danger here, Edmonton has been playing a little more loose than one would like and that could be a problem tonight. Ottawa has a terrific group of forwards and will get good-to-great goaltending tonight. Important to hammer those second and third pairings. What a start to the season!