Pacific Division 2014-15 Preview: Edmonton Oilers
COACH: Dallas Eakins
2013-14 RECORD: 29-44-9, 67 points (seventh in Pacific, missed playoffs)
VITAL SIGNS: 2.43 goals-for per game (T-24th); 3.26 goals-against per game (30th); 17.0 power play percentage (21st); 82.1 power play pct. (15th); shootout record: 4-3 (23rd)
PROJECTED DEPTH CHART:
Taylor Hall — Ryan Nugent-Hopkins — Jordan Eberle
Benoit Pouliot — Boyd Gordon — David Perron
Matt Hendricks — Anton Lander — Teddy Purcell
Luke Gazdic — Leon Draisaitl — Nail Yakupov
Justin Schultz — Mark Fayne
Nikita Nikitin — Jeff Petry
Martin Marincin — Andrew Ference
OUTLOOK: The long anticipated youthful resurgence in Edmonton just can’t seem to get off the ground, but the team's prospects are still fairly bright even in the Western Conference grind house. Riding the advanced analytics wave with the hiring of blogger Tyler Dellow, the Oilers hope they're finally figuring everything out. Patience has worn thin with the ultra-talented but enigmatic Nail Yakupov, a player who is capable of scoring 40 goals but saddled with concerns about his attitude, yet he remains an integral part of the Oilers’ vision of a high-flying, young offense that also features budding stars Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jordan Eberle. If coach Dallas Eakins can nudge Yakupov into the production he’s capable of and improve last season’s woeful defense that basked in the glow of more red lights than any other team, the Oilers may at last commence the upward trajectory their fans have been waiting for. The playoffs are still a long shot after eight early summer vacations in a row, but Edmonton has two talented goalies to help ease the pressure on the defense, some productive size (Teddy Purcell) and firepower that is capable of improving on last year’s 67-point disaster. Rebuilds are long and slow, but Edmonton should stay out of the basement this season.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Ryan Nugent-Hopkins
Yakupov is the most fascinating case study on the roster, but Nugent-Hopkins is a potential franchise center who could anchor the Oilers’ top line for years. He enters the second season of the seven-year, $42 million deal he signed in September 2013 and has shined on the ice, when healthy, since his rookie season of 2011-2012. He's determined to improve his performance in the face-off circle and take his game to the superstar level that is expected of him. If he succeeds, the beneficiary will be Taylor Hall, an established scorer who would be set up for a career year.
PREDICTION: 78 points (sixth in Pacific)