The face of the Edmonton Oilers is a little older this morning, a little more mature. As fans, we can see the coming glory, but nothing helps progress like experience, and experience involves failure. This young team showed us so much, while also giving management clear indications re: path to improvement. We are going to be saying goodbye to some long time Oilers (well, long time for this group) over the coming months, and new hires will renew our hopes. This season, the one just past, was mostly about Connor McDavid in full sail, Leon Draisaitl’s power, and improving up the middle. Next: Balance and real depth. That’s the play here, that’s the culprit last night. Working on a building, a worthwhile one, takes some time. Balance: It’s the real thing.
The key play last night was the 2-1 goal, well executed by the Ducks and putting a young team on their heels after the fact. Edmonton didn’t get a lot of clean air, but last night they also seemed a little nervous and perplexed. The breakouts were a tragedy and this team simply must figure out how to deal with aggressive forechecking.
I know it hurts, I know there are things unfair (officiating, Kesler’s crosschecks, McDavid’s handling). Bottom line: These Edmonton Oilers had no respect from anyone at the beginning of the season, and have earned plenty of it now. Next year, the decade-long trend of getting the shaft on calls will begin to turn. You may say that’s not fair, and I agree. It’s the way it is. Same as it ever was.
YOUR EDMONTON OILERS!
I’m not going to run the numbers this morning, they don’t matter now and we’ve got all summer to chat about the math. Instead, I’d like to spend our time together doing bullet points about the future for each man on the roster. Cool? Here we go.
- C Connor McDavid. The franchise. McDavid won the scoring championship and fought through insane checking to post solid offense in the playoffs. It was a learning experience no doubt, there are things he can improve on (believe it or not!). Connor McDavid is a special player, touched by the hand of God special, and we are insanely fortunate he plays in our city and for the Oilers.
- C Leon Draisaitl. People may get grumpy about the coming contract, but all indications available suggest this man is going to be an impact player and a big part of the coming success in Edmonton. He blossomed beyond any reasonable expectation, showing a range of ability that was not obvious on his draft day. Astounding step forward in one season.
- G Cam Talbot. Having a goalie you don’t have to worry over means a far greater chance for any fan to pass a sanity hearing. Talbot was splendid all year long, I think it’s reasonable to suggest he was one of the 10 best goalies in the NHL this past season.
- LD Oscar Klefbom. A real homegrown defender with the complete range of skills is extremely rare, but Klefbom is such a player. One of the most valuable young defenders in the game, he emerged offensively this year and settled down defensively. Wonderful!
- RD Adam Larsson. He gave the Oilers an edge on the top pairing we haven’t seen in these parts in years. Some sneaky offense also helped and his durability and pain threshold is impressive. I remember Todd Cordell saying last summer that we all had to see him for a year to appreciate him, expect it will turn out just that way.
- L Patrick Maroon. Incredible season for the big man, he scored 27-goals while impacting the cap at $1.5 million. That’s a value contract. Guess what? He will make the same dollars next season! A contract that over performs at this level is a major plus for Edmonton.
- LD Andrej Sekera. They missed him awful in the games recently, the calm feet and the passing no longer available. Sekera was quality all season, had some struggles in the playoffs, and will play a big part on this team in 2017-18.
- LC Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. One of the most disappointing things for me this season came in watching his offense being so far away. Nuge is a splendid two-way center but 43 points for $6 million may not make the cut. I think Todd McLellan is a big fan of his work, so maybe they find a way to make it work for another season or two.
- LD Kris Russell. I think the Oilers may decide to sign him, but the dollar amount would be key to the Oilers. If Russell hits the open market, he’s gone, but there will be a window of opportunity after the expansion draft. One thing Russell taught me: Todd McLellan would value Mark Fayne if he was a little faster, a little quicker in retrieval, and brought a little more physicality to his game. I think he’ll stay.
- RD Matt Benning. One of the most pleasant surprises we’ve seen in exactly one forever. Benning was unknown to Oilers fans until we got word the club was in the running for his services. Smart, mobile, skilled, rugged, he is a born Oiler and a perfect fit for what this team needs so badly. As is the case with Nurse, another season third-pair seems best.
- LD Darnell Nurse. Made good progress during the regular season, his mobility a welcome addition to a blue line that is perhaps a little slow on the third pairing. He has a big future on this team, another year on the third pair (with Benning) is ideal.
- R Jordan Eberle. When the tight checking of the playoffs arrived, Eberle had no separation gear and that’s a worry. People focus on the dusting off of the shot, I worry about his boots. The fan vitriol aside, Eberle’s future with the team may not involve another season. Trading him gives the team a fairly naked RW depth chart, but the Oilers need cap help in a quick hurry.
- L Milan Lucic. He had a truly strange year, impressive power-play numbers attached to a career crisis at 5×5 offense. He is going to need to hurry up his foot speed and we need to see more of that impressive passing he delivered with the Bruins. We all agreed the end days of this contract were going to be poor, but this is too soon for low boxcars.
- R Zack Kassian. An impressive season and likely a contract that could be two or three years in length. Kassian is a physical winger with some skill, and a 12-to-15 goal season doesn’t seem out of the question. Start him on 4R and move him up as needed? Seems reasonable.
- R Jesse Puljujarvi. One of the things about this season that really surprised me was JP’s length of time in Bakersfield. I sincerely thought he would get called up later in the year. Very talented player, he will get a top 9F role in the fall barring something rash.
- RC Mark Letestu. One of the best seasons by a fourth-line Oiler in the team’s history, Letestu has a unique ‘Casey Candaele’ role on the team. Utility forwards who score this often are very valuable, suspect he may play less at 5×5 but remain a big part of special teams next season.
- R Anton Slepyshev. One of the really encouraging things about the late season and playoffs is his emergence as a bona fide option on the skill lines. Can he emerge as a 15-goal winger? It would help the cap immensely, and give Edmonton that depth and balance we are going to talk about all summer. Again.
- L Drake Caggiula. It took a long time for him to find his way, probably injury had something to do with it. Caggiula’s future isn’t likely at center, but he is in the mix for extended minutes with Connor McDavid next season. Is he going to be Dave Lumley or Pat Conacher as an Oiler? It’s out in the ether, waiting for us to find out.
- R Tyler Pitlick. I think there’s a reasonable chance they sign him. Pitlick stayed with the team, skated, was a part of it. That’s a tell.
- LC Jujhar Khaira. A disappointing season, not due to performance but rather injury. He is probably on the protected list for the expansion draft, but if the Oilers expose him, good chance they lose Khaira. He is likely a plug-and-play at 4L this fall.
- LD Griffin Reinhart. Ideally, I think Peter Chiarelli would like him as 7D in the coming year. I’ve mentioned this before, and gotten some push back, but 7D play quite a bit and I can’t see him passing Klefbom, Sekera or Nurse. We know he isn’t strong RH side, so 7D is his probable landing spot. He is also the most likely man on this roster to be a Golden Knight come the fall.
- G Laurent Brossoit. The Oilers are probably wise to bring him in as de facto backup, give him two starts a month, and then see how things look at the deadline. He is not yet established, but has also done everything asked and this is the next logical step.
- RD Eric Gryba. I suspect he will move along, perhaps to LV, if Griffin Reinhart survives the expansion draft. If not, we could be seeing him right back in Edmonton as 7D.
- R Iiro Pakarinen. It’s diffiult to see where he fits, which is different than saying there is no fit at all. I think a lot will depend on what happens with Tyler Pitlick, who is a better player at this point in his career.
- L Joey Laleggia. His season, especially after the move to LW, should not be forgotten. I think the Oilers are going to need cheap scoring this coming season and JL is a candidate.
- LD Jordan Oesterle. If he’s smart, Oesterle takes that back door UFA option and shops around. If he signs in Edmonton, Oesterle could be a 7D option.
- LC Joe Gambardella. Don’t forget about this player, he could push up for playing time in the coming season. Definitely a Chiarelli type, suspect McLellan notices him early in training camp.
- G Nick Ellis. Had a strong AHL debut and may see some action this coming season. Brossoit’s performance may lead to an opening, and Ellis has real promise.
- RD Ethan Bear. Still playing in the WHL playoffs, Bear’s handedness combined with a big shot makes him a little unique. A very long shot, but worth listing.
- LD Caleb Jones. He makes my list because of his foot speed. That’s going to give the Oilers a chance to fast-track him in case of trade or injury. Watch out for Jones.
- RD Mark Fayne. Buyout seems likely, although the club could muddle through one final year as things are (if required). Perhaps they can move him at the deadline, there are defensemen in the NHL with less to offer.
- C David Desharnais. Scored a massive goal and had moments, but I think PC will probably go for a more substantial (size) two-way type at the position. Moving Leon to center full time may mean Nuge plays here.
- L Matt Hendricks. His absence from the playoffs is telling. Noble warrior, sail on.
- L Benoit Pouliot. If they could put him on a garbage barge or sheet of ice, I’m sure it would have been done by now. Suspect PC will attempt to trade him and a buyout is possible. I still like his ability, one of the things the Oilers might want to review is their handling of this player. Very little confidence offensively, he was a productive player in previous seasons.
- LC Anton Lander. Sail on, Anton Fanders, I still think you can play.
OILERS 2017 DRAFT
- First Round: No. 22 overall
- Third Round: No. 84 overall (FROM ST. LOUIS—this is payment for Nail Yakupov)
- Third Round: No. 86 overall
- Fourth Round: No. 115 overall
- Fifth Round: No. 126 overall (FROM Vancouver—this is payment for Phil Larsen)
- Fifth Round: No. 146 overall
- Sixth Round: No. 177 overall
- Seventh Round: No. 208 overall
I believe this to be correct, will cast about over the day and correct if my math is wrong (I did reach out to Steve Kournianos for direction). I think we’ll see Edmonton pick a forward at No. 22 overall (I’ll guess LC Michael Rasmussen of the Tri-City Americans), but last night taught us that this team is going to need more puck movers. There are a bunch in this draft, so we could see PC use No. 84 and No. 115 to move up to No. 70 and grab someone like Mario Ferraro.
- Red Line Report, March 2017: Took this smooth, offensive blueliner a while to settle in to a new level of competition, but he has been dynamite since Christmas. Source
Edmonton needs mobile puck movers who can make the outlet pass quickly and under control. On the current team, I count Oscar Klefbom, Andrej Sekera and Matt Benning as being quality (Darnell Nurse can transport, but needs to improve on the head-man pass). Among AHL types, Jordan Oesterle impresses me, and we hope Ethan Bear and Caleb Jones can do it (both men were strong in this area during their junior careers). Ferraro makes a lot of sense for Edmonton.
THIS TEAM, THIS SEASON
I want to thank the Edmonton Oilers this morning. This season was a pure pleasure to witness, incredible to see through the lens that 10 years of failure have brought us. Thank you Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, thanks to all players who made this season the best one in a long time. I’ve seen Stanley years and I saw 2009-10, and can say with authority that this one was badly needed and so very welcome. We’ve had a lot of bad crops in a lot of years, but the rains came on time and the sunshine too, and this harvest will sustain us all summer. Next year, the Finals!
LOWDOWN WITH LOWETIDE
A busy Oilers-heavy show today and some moving parts as well. Scheduled to appear:
- Bruce McCurdy, Cult of Hockey. I can’t think of a better man to talk to after last night, Bruce will make sense of it all.
- Jason Rogers, Japers Rink. Brave man will talk about the Capitals.
- Alex Thomas, The Oilers Rig. Alex will help break down last night, and begin the look ahead to summer.
10-1260 text, @Lowetide on twitter. Talk soon!