It was October of 2016, and the Oilers still had several decisions to make. I was sure Kris Russell would be signed, Kris Versteeg too, was uncertain if Mark Fayne would win the job over a hard charging Matt Benning, and knew for sure that only one of Tyler Pitlick or Anton Slepyshev would make the team.
It’s the time of year to remind ourselves we don’t know what we don’t know.
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’s the latest!
- New Lowetide: What should Oilers fans expect from Zach Hyman in his first season?
- Lowetide: Dylan Holloway headlines new arrivals for Bakersfield Condors in 2021-22
- Lowetide: Will the Ethan Bear trade be the latest shortsighted move that haunts the Oilers?
- Lowetide: Why Oilers fans should expect more trades and a deep playoff run this season
- Lowetide: How much playing time will Evan Bouchard get with the Oilers this coming season?
- Lowetide: What are reasonable expectations for the 2021-22 Oilers?
- Lowetide: What are the Oilers’ ‘perfect lines’ for next season?
- Lowetide: The Oilers and value contracts. Three now, two later
- Jonathan Willis: A resurgent Zack Kassian could be an important part of the Oilers’ scoring
- Lowetide: Oilers sign Darnell Nurse to a massive 8-year contract extension
- Lowetide: How many goals will Jesse Puljujarvi score for the Oilers next season?
- Lowetide: 8 unsigned free agents who could help the Oilers
- DNB: Rating the Oilers’ offseason
- Lowetide: What are Oilers’ ideal defence pairings for 2021-22?
- Lowetide: The future may come early for three Oilers prospect defencemen
- DNB: What I’m hearing about the Oilers offseason, 4.0
- Jonathan Willis: Oilers 2021-22 depth chart
- Lowetide: Warren Foegele acquisition possible key to improving the Oilers third line
- DNB: Ethan Bear on being traded, his time with the Oilers
- DNB: Ethan Bear out, Cody Ceci in, Tyson Barrie stays
- DNB: ‘Ultimate competitor’ Zach Hyman signs with Oilers
- Lowetide: Oilers top 20 prospects, summer 2021
- DNB: Oilers draft day notebook
- Jonathan Willis: Zach Hyman, by the numbers
- Lowetide: 5 players outside the NHL who could help the Oilers
- Lowetide: Why Oilers defenceman Evan Bouchard is poised to exceed expectations
On October 10, 2016 I wrote the following. It’s called Riesen to Believe, you’ll see the first of this year’s editions tomorrow.
- Cam Talbot, 29. A massive start for Talbot opening night this week, he was rock solid in Game 1 last season. Chances of Making the Oilers: 100%. Note: Talbot did in fact start the game against Calgary on October 12. He stopped 37 of 41 for the victory and had a major impact on the team in 2016-17 and the 2017 playoffs.
- Jonas Gustavsson, 31. Played very well in his final tune-up game on Thursday, looking at the schedule he may not get another start for some time. Chances of Making the Oilers: 100%. Played first game October 16, last NHL game January 8 and was replaced by Laurent Brossoit. Played in Bakersfield for the rest of 2016-17 then signed in Sweden. Possibly the most unusual July 1 signing in team history
- LD Oscar Klefbom, 23. I am thinking 20-22 minutes a night in game one, hopefully most of it at evens. The man can wheel. Chances of Making the Oilers: 100%. Played almost 25 minutes opening night, had a career season (12-26-38) and didn’t miss a game. Scored a memorable (and loud!) playoff power-play goal.
- LD Andrej Sekera, 30. I think he has some real jump coming off the WCoH, looks terrific. I am less thrilled about handing him a partner who just started his training camp in the Vancouver game. Chances of Making the Oilers: 100%. A splendid season and everyone knew he was valuable, but the tailspin the franchise experienced after his playoff injury was a powerful reminder of what good defensemen are worth even if we can’t yet complete corral how to measure them.
- LD Brandon Davidson, 24. Based on the current depth chart, he might start on the third pairing but that won’t last more than a period. Chances of Making the Oilers: 100%. Davidson did start opening night on the third pair, playing under eight minutes. He would play 28 games and got dealt at the deadline to Montreal for David Desharnais.
- LD Kris Russell, 29. He had some good moments, looks mobile. I think it is reasonable for him to sit out game one based on his lack of training camp. Chances of Making the Oilers: 100%. He played 20 minutes opening night, had a pair of assists and was on the ice for three even-strength goals for the Oilers. Played 68 games and then signed a long-term contract. Remains with the Oilers, having signed his third contract with the team.
- LD Darnell Nurse, 21. Had an uneven game on Saturday, I think he gets the start on Wednesday, third pair and probably with Brandon Davidson. Chances of Making the Oilers: 100%. He played 16:08, had an assist and would play 44 games during the regular season. His most common partners were Eric Gryba and Matt Benning.
- RD Adam Larsson, 23. He has played well so far, bet he gets a ton of playing time if the Oilers stay in the game against Calgary. That is a big damned game, getting off to a good start is vital. Chances of Making the Oilers: 100%. He played 21 minutes, had an assist, +2 on the night and he played a strong season plus a solid playoff for the Oilers. I think his exit this summer will be a storyline all season long in Edmonton. And Seattle.
- RD Mark Fayne, 29. He is in real danger now, at least long term. Chances of Making the Oilers: 80%. He made the team but was a healthy scratch opening night. Fayne played in just four games in 2016-17, his final NHL game December 6.
- RD Matt Benning, 23. I sincerely believe he has a chance. Chances of Making the Oilers: 20%. He made the team as a healthy scratch opening night, got sent down for two AHL games and made his NHL debut November 1. He has played another 300 NHL games since.
- RD Eric Gryba, 28. Waiting for the UFOs. Chances of Making the Oilers: nil. He signed a one-year, two-way contract and was assigned to Bakersfield October 11. Recalled two days later, as the club was doing some shuffling around Fayne and Benning. Gryba played 40 games as Edmonton’s extra defender in 2016-17.
- C Connor McDavid, 19. Very high on my list of things to be thankful for on Thanksgiving. I am astounded by his speed and ability. A shocking player. Chances of Making the Oilers: 100%. He was 2-1-3 opening night, 30-70-100 on the season and won the Hart, Lindsay and Art Ross. We knew he was great, 2016-17 showed just how great.
- C Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, 23. The only worry is offense—his line has to deliver 55+ goals, and that is a very large number for an Oiler 2line. Chances of Making the Oilers: 100%. He scored 18-25-43 in 2016-17, his most common linemates were Milan Lucic and Jordan Eberle. He was in the “Dave Keon is concentrating more on checking than offense” phase of his career, but would recover the following season.
- C-R Leon Draisaitl, 20. He had a strong late summer and fall, needs to be productive for the entire season. In many ways, the Oilers playoff chances ride on LD posting a strong year. Chances of Making the Oilers: 100%. Had one assist opening night, posted a “Mahovlich” season for the first time (29-48-77) and played most often with McDavid and Maroon on a very strong offensive trio. He has done some things since. I kid. He has been one of the best value draft picks in the history of the Oilers, even considering they took him early.
- C Mark Letestu, 31. Quietly scored well in preseason, I believe he is a solid 4C. Chances of Making the Oilers: 100%. Played 12:59 to begin his best Edmonton season, Letestu was a very useful player across disciplines. He hit the cliff the following year but Letestu was rock solid in Edmonton’s playoff season.
- C-L Drake Caggiula, 22. Impacted training camp in a big way, can he keep it going? Chances of Making the Oilers: 100%. He was placed on IR to begin the season, he wouldn’t make his NHL debut until November 19. His speed combined with some skill got him opportunities, but the Oilers eventually dealt him for defensive help. He played for two teams last season, Arizona and Buffalo. Those are the kinds of teams that end careers. Ask Robert Nilsson.
- C Anton Lander, 25. Every day that passes without a center added increases Lander’s odds. Can he score enough to stay in the lineup? Chances of Making the Oilers: 70%. Lander was a healthy scratch opening night and played 22 games for Edmonton during the regular season. He also played 42 games in Bakersfield, before heading to Europe.
- L Milan Lucic, 28. Starting to come around, passes are quality and effective. People are still looking for him to be the shooter on the 1line, despite the fact Lucic has never been the sniper on any line, at any time. For such a famous player, he certainly is misunderstood. Averaged 1.53 shots per game last season—does that sound like a sniper to you? Chances of Making the Oilers: 100%. He went 23-27-50, the big surprise was his power-play numbers. Never a major player with the man advantage, he posted solid numbers there but could not get untracked at even strength.
- L Benoit Pouliot, 29. Sublime forechecker, throwback winger, and he is more of a shooter (1.98 shots per game) and is also misunderstood by many fans. Chances of Making the Oilers: 100%. Played 16:42 in the opener. He was a fine winger for two seasons, but his forechecking was a key to his success and he started taking penalties at bad times. It cost him his job in Edmonton.
- L Patrick Maroon, 28. I keep wondering what the devil Anaheim didn’t see in him, suspect we are seeing May 1995 Jeff Fassero. He sure has been in a groove for an extended period. Chances of Making the Oilers: 100%. He scored 27 goals during the regular season, including a goal opening night. He outplayed Lucic but there wasn’t enough money to keep him. Until we see what Zach Hyman can do, Maroon remains the top McDavid LW so far (assuming Draisaitl counts as a RW).
- R Tyler Pitlick, 24. Wins the Hendricks job. Chances of Making the Oilers: 100%. He scored a goal opening night playing less than 10 minutes, and would deliver eight goals before getting hurt again. Ironically, his injury made it possible for him to become a free agent, so he signed in Dallas and played an 80-game season. The Gods, they mock.
- R Anton Slepyshev, 22. So close, my guess he is final cut. Chances of Making the Oilers: 70%. He made the cut, and the opening night lineup. I remember being pleased that Edmonton had a genuine goal-scoring winger who had been drafted and (at least a little) developed in the minors. He played 41 games, 4-6-10, the popped three in the playoffs.
- R Jordan Eberle, 26. If he scores 40, Oilers probably make the playoffs. Edmonton doesn’t have a winger on the roster who can score that many, no matter the center. Chances of Making the Oilers: 100%. He scored opening night, and posted 20 for the season. Eberle’s 51 points were third on the team. He struggled in the playoffs, and was traded. He had a strong run with the NY Islanders and is now a member of the first Seattle Kraken team.
- R Zack Kassian, 25. Strictly 4line imo, the trade of Yakupov and injury to Versteeg may mean he moves up the depth chart temporarily. Chances of Making the Oilers: 100%. He went 79, 7-17-24 and had a huge goal in the playoffs against the San Jose Sharks. That goal is the highlight of his career with Edmonton.
- R Kris Versteeg, 30. The only thing left is the contract. Chances of Making the Oilers: 100%. The contract came, and he was in the lineup for opening night. However, he was dressed for the Calgary Flames.
- R Jesse Puljujarvi, 18. He gets better with each game, and actually plays a pretty good two-way game. I think the Oilers are probably in good shape either way, but he is not a substantial offensive option at this time, which speaks to lack of roster strength. Chances of Making the Oilers: 50%. He would score opening night, but after 27 more games JP was sent to Bakersfield. The line about lack of roster strength was true, perhaps signing Versteeg would have allowed him to develop in the AHL. We’ll never know.
- L Matt Hendricks, 35. Tough break for the veteran winger, sounds like weeks instead of days. Chances of Making the Oilers: nil. He would play 43 games for Edmonton and move on to Winnipeg the following year.
- R Iiro Pakarinen, 24. Injury did not look good, out for some time. Chances of Making the Oilers: nil. He would play in 14 games, score twice, and then sign in the KHL where he remains.
- LD Andrew Ference, 37. Only question now is in regard to IR vs. LTIR. Chances of Making the Oilers: nil. His career was over.
What did I have wrong? I didn’t see the Versteeg wrinkle, didn’t see both Slepyshev and Pitlick making the team, couldn’t see the wild state of affairs that was the shuffle on defense.
Looking back, there were some bewildering decisions by Peter Chiarelli. The choice of backup goalie, and on July 1 mind, was flummoxing at the time and is just as curious these years later. The Oilers and goaltending will be a chapter in Connor McDavid’s autobiography, pretty sure.
The Oilers of this era had a wonderful LHD depth chart, with Andrej Sekera’s importance now in 20 font, bold and written across the sky. Oscar Klefbom’s brilliant season is bittersweet looking back, but we saw him at his very best in the most important season for the franchise in 15 years. Darnell Nurse was just establishing himself and made some errors, and his improvement while in the NHL is an impressive story.
Adam Larsson is going to make us miss him just as much as Sekera did after his injury, I expect. Larsson’s acquisition cost was dear, but he was a fine player when healthy and gave the Oilers what will be his best years. The RHD is a weak spot, Fayne could defend but Russell had better foot speed and coach Todd McLellan didn’t deploy Fayne for 10 seconds longer than needed. Fayne showed a flaw in Corsi while with the Oilers: He always changed at the right spot, with the puck heading north, so the good things that happened after the puck cleared the zone belonged to another defender. Matt Benning was an astute bit of business by Chiarelli.
Connor McDavid belonged in a higher league as a teenager, he’s about two leagues above that level now. An absolute blast to watch, we ran out of words to describe him long ago. I don’t believe there’s a more entertaining athlete on the planet, his sorties up the ice are a universal adrenalin rush for all hockey fans. Music? He’s all hits, all the time. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins has entered the period where we can say he is no longer at his peak, while still being productive. Leon Draisaitl would be called the Cologne Crusher if not for those cherry passes and his hammer of the Gods shots from impossible angles. A stunning talent with the reflexes, determination and fearlessness of a Karelian bear dog, he’s incredible.
Patrick Maroon is the one that got away despite being a journeyman when he arrived in Edmonton. If there’s ever a question about why chemistry matters, examine Maroon with 97. Milan Lucic seemed like a good idea, especially since the organization had been pursuing the next Lucic for a decade. It didn’t work out. Benoit Pouliot was a good player for the Oilers, but I’m the only one who will tell you and you’re going to have to take my word for it and ignore everyone else.
Jordan Eberle shouldn’t have been traded, but I knew he was gone as soon as that puck went in the net. Never mind that it skipped over Mark Letestu’s stick, Eberle had a poor playoff, that mistake was a dagger, and losing organizations do losing things even when they fall ace over tea kettle into McDavid and Draisaitl. I liked Tyler Pitlick a lot.
Tomorrow: Riesen to believe, 2021-22.
LOWDOWN WITH LOWETIDE
I’m back! At 10 this morning, TSN1260, we hit the ground running with massive Elks news and more. At 10:40 Jordan Baker of the Edmonton Stingers will join us to talk about the club’s second CEBL championship in a row! Jason Gregor pops in at 11 to talk Elks, Oilers and more. 10-1260 text, @Lowetide on twitter, I’ll also make Tyler Yaremchuk tell me how many food drops I missed while on holidays! How many burgers did he eat? Find out at 10!