Last Season: 31-43-48 (70 points), 7th in the Pacific, 14th in the West
Edmonton entered the 2015-16 season with a lot of newness. They had a new coach, a shiny new superstar and a new general manager. But a lot of the issues that plagued Edmonton in the past were the same. It ended up being another rebuilding year for the Oilers.
Almost all of the questions surrounded Connor McDavid and how the No. 1 overall draft pick would perform. When healthy, he was arguably the team’s best forward with 48 points in 45 games played. Unfortunately for the Oilers, McDavid missed 37 games with a left clavicle injury.
There was a stretch in December where the Oilers won six games in a row with McDavid out and appeared to actually make some tangible progress as a hockey club. But then they lost seven of their next eight games.
Taylor Hall, who has since been traded to the New Jersey Devils, led the team with 65 points in 82 games played. Leon Draisaitl is Edmonton’s highest returning scorer and had 51 points in 72 games played in 2015-16.
The Oilers acquired Cam Talbot during the 2015 offseason to be their starting goaltender, and he mostly delivered for them with a 2.55 goal-against average and .917 save percentage in 56 games played.
One year the Oilers will finally break through thanks to all their high draft picks but that season wasn’t 2015-16.
2015-16 Season, In One Picture
Did They Get Better, Worse, Or Are They About The Same?
Better. For one, Connor McDavid is a year older and more mature. If he’s healthy he could challenge for a scoring title. At the World Cup, McDavid was arguably Team North America’s most exciting player and had three assists in his three games with the group.
The Oilers traded away Hall for Adam Larsson, which is a downgrade for them, but they also added forward Milan Lucic in free agency with a seven-year, $42 million contract. Lucic rediscovered some of his form last season with the Los Angeles Kings, scoring 20 goals and notching 55 points. He’ll be a good veteran voice in the locker room.
Despite those transactions, much of the Oilers’ success again hinges on whether their younger players, other than McDavid can finally have breakout seasons. Can Leon Draisaitl give them steadier depth down the middle? Can Ryan Nugent-Hopkins stay healthy? Can Nail Yakupov find a role on the team?
Five Most Fascinating Players
Connor McDavid. At the World Cup of Hockey, McDavid looked like he had arrived as the most dominant offensive force in hockey. His speed led Team North America to a surprise showing that included wins over Finland and Sweden. If McDavid had kept up his pace from last season over a full year, he would have been one of four NHL players who averaged over a point per-game. Is he ready to assume his role as the face of the league and leader of the Oilers? If the World Cup is an indication, all signs point to yes.
Leon Draisaitl. It’s easy to forget that Draisaitl is the highest returning scorer from last year’s team. Much of this was because McDavid missed almost half the season and Jordan Eberle was also hurt, but Draisaitl took the next step in his development with 51 points in 72 games after struggling his rookie year with nine points in 37 games. Draisaitl isn’t an electric talent like McDavid, but he’s a two-way threat who could be add even more center depth for the team. A season of 60 points or more is certainly a possibility for Draisaitl.
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.The 23-year-old center is staying put in Edmonton – for now. His name has constantly been mentioned in trade rumors and especially with the Oilers’ young depth at center it seemed possible that he would get dealt. But Nugent-Hopkins will be given another opportunity with the Oilers to turn into the offensive playmaker they envisioned when they drafted him No. 1 overall in 2011. His best points per-game season was as a rookie with 52 in 62 games. The talent is there and he has played at a high level before. He just needs to show he can do it again.
Oscar Klefbom. He enters the first season of a seven-year, $29.169 million contract. Much of that deal was given on the potential, that Klefbom can turn into a solid all-around defenseman. That hasn’t happened yet. Last year he missed 52 games with an infected foot. When healthy he had 12 points in 30 games played while averaging 21:53 of action per-game. Klefbom has notched just 35 points in 107 games played. The Oilers have an awful lot invested in a guy that’s an unknown commodity.
Milan Lucic. Edmonton’s big free agent signing picked the Oilers for potential instead of a win-now location elsewhere. Last season with the Los Angeles Kings, Lucic showed he hadn’t lost a step with 20 goals and 55 points. But Lucic has been used to teams that are built for Cup runs, not rebuilding groups. Will he have the patience to deal with Edmonton’s younger players or will they get to him?
Mascot Hijinks Video Break
The Oilers technically don’t have a mascot, so this will have to do
Can We Trust Them At Even Strength?
Despite their poor record, the Oilers weren’t as miserable from a puck possession perspective as one might think. They held a 48.17 score, venue and zone adjusted 5-on-5 CF%, which ranked 20th in the NHL. This put them ahead of playoff teams like the New York Rangers and Minnesota Wild. McDavid held a plus-4.42 CF% last season, which led Oilers regulars. Eberle was a plus-3.19. A healthy Klefbom (plus-4.11 score, venue and zone adjusted CF%) should also help. Overall when their big offensive guys are on the ice, they tend to do better by a fair margin and as they improve as a team they’re overall puck possession numbers should get better, though losing Hall, plus-3.05 CF% 5-on-5 could hurt.
Can We Trust Them On Special Teams?
Eberle was the Oilers’ top special teams goal scoring threat with seven. McDavid was tied with defenseman Andrej Sekera with14 power play points to lead the Oilers. A healthy McDavid and Eberle (seven goals to lead the team on the PP) should certainly help the Oilers on the man-advantage. The Oilers converted on the power play at 18.1 percent, which ranked 18th in the NHL last season.
With all the offensively charged forwards the Oilers have drafted the group’s roster doesn’t exactly lend to strong penalty killing. Last year Edmonton was tied for 17th in the league with the Vancouver Canucks at 81.1 percent on the penalty kill. The addition of Larsson should help a bit. He’s known as an all-around defender who ranked second on the Devils in penalty kill ice-time last year at 3:20 per-game.
Can We Trust Their Goaltending?
Probably. Generally, Edmonton Oilers goaltenders often find themselves with bad numbers thanks to a porous defense. Starting goaltender Cam Talbot held a 2.55 goal-against average and .917 save percentage, which is pretty decent overall for an Edmonton netminder. Last season, the Oilers allowed 2.95 goals per-game. This was Talbot’s first year as a starter and he didn’t seem to struggle with the transition. Edmonton rewarded Talbot with a three-year contract extension mid-season. The Oilers signed Jonas Gustavsson in the offseason to back up Talbot. Gustavsson has proved more than capable as a backup throughout his NHL career throughout 172 games.
Player Mostly Likely To Be In Vegas Next Season
Mark Fayne is 29 and has two seasons left at a salary cap hit of $3.625 million. At very least he’s a likely candidate to be left unprotected in the expansion draft.
Coach Hot Seat Rating (1-10, 10 being scorching hot)
3. The seat under coach Todd McLellan is rather cool at the moment. But the Oilers need to make tangible progress this season or his chair will warm up quote a bit. Edmonton hasn’t made the playoffs since a 2006 run to the Stanley Cup Final. They hired McLellan, after a revolving door of coaches over several years, to help them return to the postseason. If they don’t make a big step this season, then there will be questions surrounding him moving forward.
The Oilers will improve, but won’t make the playoffs. A full season of McDavid should further electrify the fan base in Edmonton’s new arena. Larsson will prove better than expected, but still won’t be the team’s answer on the blue line. Lucic will struggle as he adjusts to life in Edmonton with a rebuilding team. Overall the steps Edmonton takes next season will lay the groundwork for a playoff season in 2017-18.
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