One of my favourite things about the end of every season is looking back on the young players to see if they progressed. Today we’ll look at this year’s candidates, but first let’s look back at the 2016-17 group.
Feature article at The Athletic today: Adam Larsson arrived in Edmonton with fans outraged over the loss of Taylor Hall. Almost five years later, he is universally popular with fans. (Click on link for incredible subscription offer). Link is here.
I’m proud to be writing for The Athletic, and pleased to be part of a great team with Daniel Nugent-Bowman and Jonathan Willis. Here is our recent work.
- New Lowetide: Adam Larsson contract talks give us a glimpse into Oilers’ offseason plans
- Lowetide: How the Oilers can improve their depth in a trade with the Rangers
- Lowetide: Ideal Edmonton Oilers lines and pairings for the 2021 NHL playoffs
- DNB and Jonathan Willis: ‘It’s kind of Gretzky-like’: Oilers star Connor McDavid’s 100-point season puts him in rarified air
- Jonathan Willis: Oilers’ Mike Smith is putting himself in the all-time old-guy goalie conversation with a stunning season at 38
- Lowetide: Oilers’ Adam Larsson playing his best hockey with playoffs on horizon
- Lowetide: What should the Oilers do to get Kailer Yamamoto back on track?
- DNB: How Jesse Puljujarvi 2.0 is making an impact
- DNB: What are the Oilers’ pressing questions ahead of the Seattle Kraken expansion draft?
- Lowetide: Oilers complete April report card
- DNB: A 2nd Hart Trophy is firmly in Connor McDavid’s grasp
- Jonathan Willis: Which Oilers need to step up down the stretch?
- Lowetide: A look at the best value contracts on the 2021 Oilers
- Lowetide: An early look at ideal Oilers’ free-agent targets for the offseason
- DNB: Re-sign Ryan Nugent-Hopkins? Free-agency targets? Oilers mailbag
OILERS AFTER 56 GAMES
- Oilers in 2015-16: 21-29-5, 47 points; goal differential -31
- Oilers in 2016-17: 29-18-8, 66 points; goal differential +10
- Oilers in 2017-18: 23-28-4, 50 points; goal differential -27
- Oilers in 2018-19: 24-27-5, 53 points; goal differential -21
- Oilers in 2019-20: 30-20-6, 66 points; goal differential +2
- Oilers in 2020-21: 35-18-2, 72 points; goal differential +23
In terms of winning percentage, using the Bettman math, this is the best Oilers season since 1987. I wore dockers and Hugo Boss. Should have invested. Anyway, this has been a fun year.
WHAT TO EXPECT IN MAY
- At home to: Calgary (Expected: 1-0-0) (Actual 1-0-0)
- On the road to: Vancouver, Vancouver (Expected: 1-1-0) (Actual 2-0-0)
- At home to: Vancouver, Vancouver (Expected 1-0-1) (Actual 1-1-0)
- On the road to: Montreal, Montreal (Expected 0-1-1) (Actual 2-0-0)
- At home to: Vancouver (Expected 1-0-0) (Actual 0-0-0)
- Expected May record: 4-2-2, 10 points in 8 games
- Actual May record: 6-1-0, 12 points in 7 games
It’s been a wonderful year. I’m looking forward to the postseason, not in a “they better win or else” or “if they lose it’ll be due to not playing Evan Bouchard” way, but more in a “I’m genuinely curious to see if Holland’s bets work” kind of way.
I mean, Holland arrived in Edmonton spring 2019, hired several depth penalty killers, Mike Smith to play goal as 1A, and got lucky when Ethan Bear and Kailer Yamamoto arrived on time.
In the most recent offseason, he rehired Mike Smith, used the Oscar Klefbom money on an insane value deal (Tyson Barrie) and made a nice signing of Dominik Kahun. He also benefited both seasons from Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl playing out of this world hockey.
And it worked, or at least to a point.
I’m curious to see how it plays out. Look, I know some of you want the GM to be John Houseman from The Paper Chase, but God sent Harry Morgan from Mash. Ken Holland is a good man. He’s not your dream choice, but he’s closing the gap. Lets see how this plays out.
I projected Evan Bouchard to play 18 games, William Lagesson to play 20, Jesse Puljujarvi to play 45. How did they do? Before that, let’s look back to the 2016-17 season and see how the non-regulars entering that year performed. The words below were written right after G82, 2016-17:
- F Drake Caggiula (60, 7-11-18). It took him forever and a day to finally catch a wave, but this young man was a late season delight. Went 3-5-8 in his final 15 games and we’ll see where he lands during the playoffs and in the fall. I still haven’t marked him as an offensive player, but am curious to see him over another full season.
- F Anton Slepyshev (41, 4-6-10). I’m not certain he’ll make it, seems the Oilers have a bunch of wingers looking for work and they are obscured by each other. For me, Slepy is the guy who looks to be emerging, but his handling suggests the coach prefers another. These things happen, but there’s a player here. Pretty sure.
- R Jesse Puljujarvi (28, 1-7-8). Our mannish boy learned the blues during a cold California winter and we’ll see what the fall brings to us. As is the case with Caggiula, I can’t mark JP as an offensive player yet. He was 0.59/60 scoring 5×5 without McDavid (200 minutes) and that’s not a big sample size and he’s 18 and and and. Edmonton needs him to be a legit scorer and there’s a pile of bonus money here too. I don’t think they can send him to the AHL again this fall without admitting the bloom is off the rose. People keep telling me his AHL numbers are fine, and that may be. I am less bullish on this player than on draft day, while remaining hopeful he’ll be a long term answer.
- Matt Benning (62, 3-15-18). A tale of two seasons, with the early (larger) portion being sublime play with and without the puck. After his concussion (and recovery) there has been more wobble in his game, but overall this was a terrific addition.
- Laurent Brossoit (8, 1.99 .928). Impressive numbers, but he remains untested. The Oilers have to play him 20 games next season to find out about him.
Puljujarvi is just emerging now, but that’s on the 2016-19 Oilers organization. Brossoit, Benning and Caggiula played depth roles in 2020-21 and Slepyshev could play in the league but has been flourishing in the KHL instead.
The Oilers deployed just three pure rookies for 10 games or more:
- Evan Bouchard 13 games, 2-3-5
- William Lagesson 19 games, 0-2-2
- Ryan McLeod 10 games, 0-1-1
- Stuart Skinner 1 game
Bouchard and McLeod could be 5-10 year solutions, Lagesson went from fringe to feature to distant bell so it’s uncertain where he lands next season. The players who spent time in the NHL previous to this season but still had some work to do in establishing themselves:
- Jesse Puljujarvi 54 games, 15-10-25
- Kailer Yamamoto 52 games, 8-13-21
- Caleb Jones 33 games, 0-4-4
Puljujarvi had a strong season, he has reached a point where you can see several areas of productivity (goals, turning pucks over). He’s an important part of the line.
Yamamoto is doing everything right but his scoring totals are a little shy. He isn’t the next Caggiula but he isn’t the next Eberle either. I love the entire Yamamoto story, his being drafted represented a sea change for the Oilers organization, but he has to score goals, contribute to goals and deliver outscoring (32-24) numbers five on five. In his most recent 82 games, Yamamoto scored 19-28-47. If he can do that again, he’ll be an established NHL player.
Jones is having a tougher year than last season, inconsistent play has been an issue. In his most recent 82 NHL games, his on-ice goal differential is 41-51. He is 11-18 this season. I remain convinced he’ll have a career, but I’m not certain he’ll play a regular role in the postseason.