The Edmonton Oilers had a solid regular season in 2021, finishing second in the one-off North Division. Connor McDavid let us know yet again that he is the best hockey player on the planet, scoring a ridiculous 105 points in 56 games. Leon Draisaitl also impressed, putting up 84 points in 56 games. That was good for first and second in league scoring by a wide margin (Brad Marchand finished third with a nice 69 points). Things seemed promising in Edmonton.
Then the playoffs happened. The Oilers entered their series against the Winnipeg Jets as favorites, teasing a potential dream matchup against the Toronto Maple Leafs in the second round. Edmonton proceeded to get swept by the Jets in four games. McDavid was completely mauled by the Jets and shut down, and the hockey world was let down yet again (the Leafs suffered a potentially worse fate).
GM Ken Holland set about addressing the Oilers needs in… quite frankly, a head-scratching fashion. Adam Larsson, he of the one-for-one Taylor Hall trade fame, was allowed to walk in free agency. Promising young defenseman Ethan Bear was traded for third line winger Warren Foegele. Caleb Jones, another young defensive prospect, was traded for 38 year old Duncan Keith. Embattled defenseman Cody Ceci was brought in on a 4 year contract. Zach Hyman was brought in via free agency, and signed a 7 year contract.
We won’t know if all of these moves were the right ones until the season ends. But looking at them on paper, it does not look great. Let’s take a closer look at this enigmatic team as we continue Championship Sports Media’s team by team NHL season preview series!
According to capfriendly.com, the forward lines project as follows:
Zach Hyman- Connor McDavid- Jesse Puljujarvi
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins- Leon Draisaitl- Kailer Yamamoto
Warren Foegele- Derek Ryan- Zack Kassian
Brendan Perlini- Devin Shore- Kyle Turris
Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl are going to be amazing. They will put up points and drive the offense, most likely leading the league in scoring. That has never been the problem in Edmonton. What is the problem is the depth after those two players. While it is hard given the cap hits McDavid and Draisaitl command, it is still surprising more hasn’t been added. The bottom six feature players that truly do not scare opposing teams. Derek Ryan is a fine player, but he is 34 and scored 2 goals last year. Warren Foegele is an energy player that you hope bangs in 10 goals, but it will be hard given his linemates.
McDavid and Draisaitl will still be able to deliver. Zach Hyman on McDavid’s wing will be an interesting experiment. But it does not change the fact that when McDavid and Draisaitl are not on the ice, the Oilers are most likely not scoring.
Also of note, Josh Archibald will be missing the season due to developing myocarditis, a heart condition that has been seen in people that battled Covid-19. Prospect-wise, look for Raphael Lavoie to get a call-up if he performs in the AHL. Lavoie, a second round pick from the 2019 draft, and a pure sniper with excellent size (6’4) and good hands. 2020 first round pick Dylan Holloway is battling a wrist injury, but could get a look once recovered.
According to capfriendly.com, the defensive pairings project as follows:
Darnell Nurse- Tyson Barrie
Duncan Keith- Cody Ceci
Kris Russell- Evan Bouchard
The Oilers defense corps will struggle. Nurse and Barrie both received contract extensions over the summer, and make a pretty nice pairing. Barrie moves the puck well and is quick to jump in the rush. Nurse plays a great two-way game and is punishing physically. Look for this pair to log heavy minutes this season.
After the top pairing, there are nothing but question marks. Duncan Keith provides a nice bit of veteran leadership and a winning pedigree. But at 38 years old, Keith is very likely cooked as far as being an effective hockey player. Keith’s projected partner, Cody Ceci, gained himself a bad reputation coming out of Toronto last summer. However, Ceci had a surprisingly solid season in Pittsburgh, producing decent defensive numbers. How they will perform together is anyone’s guess, but given Ceci’s history and Keith’s age, it’s doubtful it will be good.
Bouchard finally gets his shot at a full time gig in the NHL after being a first round pick back in 2018. He has a big shot and good offensive instincts, but the defensive side has been an issue. Bouchard projects to pair up with veteran Kris Russell, though he is currently injured and it is uncertain if he will be ready to start the season. 2019 first round pick Philip Broberg is an option to step in, though the Oilers would prefer to have him play in the AHL and assimilate to the North American game.
Oscar Klefbom remains injured after having shoulder surgery last offseason. There isn’t any timeline for his return. If Klefbom is able to recover enough to play this season, he will be a difference-maker.
According to capfriendly.com, the goaltending tandem project as:
Mike Smith and Mikko Koskinen
Instead of signing any of the numerous decent goaltenders in free agency, Ken Holland decided to re-sign 39 year old Mike Smith to a two-year contract. On the one hand, Smith did have a decent season, recording a .923 save percentage and a 2.31 goals against average. On the other hand, Mike Smith will be 40 before the season ends, and the opportunity to improve was completely ignored. Smith will be backed up by the massive Finn, Mikko Koskinen. Koskinen is on the last year of a three year deal signed by former GM Peter Chiarelli. Fun fact: both Koskinen and Smith spent time in the ECHL!
The Bottom Line
This roster is kind of a mess. But when you have two of the best players in the world on your team, it keeps you competitive. McDavid alone makes this team worth watching on a nightly basis. In a weak Pacific division, there’s a good chance Edmonton makes the playoffs. McDavid could drag them kicking and screaming past the first round, but it’s highly unlikely.