2014-15 NHL season preview: Edmonton Oilers

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This 2014-15 NHL season preview features the Edmonton Oilers.

What was Stanley Cup worthy in 2013-14?

Taylor Hall followed up his breakout season in 2012-13 with an 80-point campaign (in 75 games), good for 7th in the NHL. He also led the Oilers in even-strength goals, assists and shots on goal. He has cemented himself as one of the premier scorers in the league.

After coming over from the St. Louis Blues, David Perron got more of a chance to showcase his offensive skill in Edmonton. He led the team with 28 goals including 8 on the powerplay, and managed to avoid the injury bug for a second consecutive season.

Speaking of injuries, after having missed 28 games over his first two NHL seasons, many have wondered if Ryan Nugent-Hopkins could be durable enough to be a top 2 centre in the NHL. While he only put up a modest 56 points, he did play in 80 games and seems to have answered any remaining questions about his shoulder. He was especially effective early on, racking up 42 of his points in his first 54 games.

Goaltending has been a sore spot for Edmonton since Dwayne Roloson left town in 2009. Last season they traded for not one, but two goaltenders in Ben Scrivens and Viktor Fasth. Between the two, they played 28 games, 18 of which had a save percentage of .900 or better, with a record of 12-13-1.

While those numbers are a far cry from being Stanley Cup worthy, considering how unstable the position has been in their recent history, I think the Oilers are simply glad to have two capable netminders going into next season.

What was draft lottery worthy in 2013-14?

I could simply say “everything”, and end it there. The Oilers finished no better than 25th in the NHL in goals for, goals against, 5-on-5 scoring, shots for, shots against and giveaways. The goal scoring issue is the hardest to understand, given how many offensively gifted players were on this roster.

Remember all that hype two years ago about a young defenseman from the University of Wisconsin that became an unrestricted free agent after the Anaheim Ducks couldn’t sign him? He’s -39 in 122 games so far with the Oilers. Justin Schultz is going to need to score a lot more than 33 points in 74 games if he’s going to be able to justify being as bad as he’s been in his own end.

Remember all that hype about how former first overall pick Nail Yakupov reminded everyone of Pavel Bure? He recorded fewer goals (11), assists (13) and points (24) in his 63 games last season than in his 48 game rookie season. On top of all that, his -33 was better than only 3 other players in the entire league.

Remember when Sam Gagner tied Wayne Gretzky’s franchise record with 8 points in one game? After finally breaking out in his 6th NHL season with 38 points in 48 games, everyone thought Gagner would finally be able to fill the second line centre spot for Oilers. The result was just 10 goals and 37 points in 67 games. That led to him becoming the answer to a Tampa Bay Lightning trivia question, as he was traded to the Bolts and then to the Coyotes in the same day.

So what did they do to get better?

Defensemen Mark Fayne and Nikita Nikitin both will add size to the Oilers’ defense. They also bring a stay-at-home presence which Edmonton hopes will complement the more offensive minded blue-liners on their roster.

The most interesting moves came at forward. Most fans agree that the Oilers need to be harder to play against, and less fancy on offense. So it makes perfect sense that the two major additions up front are Teddy Purcell and Benoit Pouliot, two offensive players right?…

Perhaps the most important addition is yet another high first round pick: Leon Draisaitl. The young German centre will likely take Gagner’s spot on the second line as soon as this season. After scoring 163 points in 128 games in two WHL seasons, Draisaitl went 3rd overall to the Oilers in the 2014 draft. He’s a highly skilled playmaker who protects the puck well, something the Oilers clearly need to do much better.

Player to watch

Draisaitl is the sexy pick here, but I’m gonna go with Nail Yakupov. Yes, he’s largely been a bust since going first in the draft. Yes, he looks disinterested some nights. But those people who compared him to Pavel Bure weren’t crazy. He’s got a similar explosive skating ability, the same passion for scoring goals, and the same wicked wrist shot.

The issues with Yakupov are all between the ears. I submit that it’s somewhat normal for a 20 year-old NHL player to be a little immature, both in attitude and on the ice. If Yakupov grows up a little this season, we could begin to see some of what everyone saw in him when he played in the OHL.

The Oilers will be better in every way this season.

They will make the playoffs if…

Someone on this team learns how to play some defense. From their top 20 scorers, only two players were NOT negative players: Ryan Jones (even in 52 games) and Corey Potter (even in 16 games). Not a single player was positive. Not one.

They will miss the playoffs if…

Everything goes according to plan. For 8 seasons now, we’ve watched playoff hockey without the “young, up-and-coming” Oilers. I cannot see how this defense and these goaltenders get them in, especially out West.

What should we expect this season?

The Oilers, while disappointing many of their fans the last few years, still have loads of potential.

Hall, Nugent-Hopkins, Jordan Eberle, Draisaitl, Yakupov and Perron give Edmonton a young, very talented crop of forwards to build around. Justin Schultz along with Oskar Klefbom and Darnell Nurse are all solid young defensemen with good upside as well.

The theme here is, this team simply isn’t ready. Everyone wanted to anoint them the next Chicago Blackhawks or Los Angeles Kings a few years ago when Eberle and Hall revitalized the franchise. What they didn’t want to do is give the kids time to grow into men.

That process is still ongoing. The Oilers will be better in every way this season. With a little health and a lot of luck, they might even be in the playoff race.

Having said that, I think they’re one more year away from cracking the top 8 in the Western Conference.

Prediction

37-34-11 85 points, 5th in the Pacific Division, 10th in the Western Conference

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Tags: 2014-15 NHL Season Previews Edmonton Oilers NHL

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