COACH: Todd McLellan
2014-15 RECORD: 24-44-14, 62 points (sixth in Pacific, missed playoffs)
VITAL SIGNS: 2.35 goals-for per game (26th); 3.37 goals-against per game (30th); 17.7 power play pct. (19th); 76.7 penalty kill pct. (28th); PDO: 97.0 (30th); Corsi For pct.: 48.9 (22nd); Fenwick For pct.: 48.4 (23rd); face-off pct.: 48.2 (25th)
PROJECTED DEPTH CHART
Benoit Pouliot – Ryan Nugent-Hopkins – Teddy Purcell
Taylor Hall – Connor McDavid – Anton Slepyshev
Nail Yakupov – Anton Lander – Lauir Korpikoski
Matt Hendricks – Mark Letestu – Rob Klinkhammer
Andrej Sekera – Mark Fayne
Oscar Klefbom – Justin Schultz
Andrew Ference – Eric Gryba
OUTLOOK: New GM. New coach. New players.
This won’t be the season that everything changes for the Oilers—their nine-year absence from the postseason will surely stretch to 10—but it’s certainly the season when everything starts to change.
A dramatic organizational retooling—new CEO Bob Nicholson brought in new GM Peter Chiarelli, who brought in new coach Todd McLellan—sets the stage for long-term stability, but that was a shifting of deck chairs compared to the arrival of Connor McDavid, the future savior who was gifted to the Oilers via the NHL draft lottery. But even as Steven Stamkos stoked the hype by saying, “He's better than me right now,” the 18-year-old phenom is still just one part of a puzzle that’s short a few key pieces. He’ll certainly make this a much more entertaining team though, and it’s entirely possible he winds up among the league’s top 10 scorers.
Expect big years as well from Taylor Hall (who looks healthy after a leg injury limited him to 53 games last season) and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, both of whom should benefit from the distraction of McDavid’s presence. The loss of Jordan Eberle (shoulder) for the opening months hurts, but the arrivals of rookies Anton Slephyshev and Leon Draisaitl (who will start the season in the WHL) could compensate during his absence. Edmonton’s bottom-six looks stronger as well, with Mark Letestu and Lauri Korpikoski adding skill and two-way smarts to a group that’s been heavily outgunned the past few seasons.
While there’s much hope for improvement up front, Edmonton’s blue line remains a revolving door of fading glory and unreached potential. Free-agent signing Andrej Sekera will likely see first pair duty after signing a six-year, $33 million deal, but that’s a stretch for his skill set. Justin Schultz hasn’t generated the offense to mask his defensive-zone struggles. There’ll be high expectations placed on Oscar Klefbom after he signed a massive seven-year extension, but his best days are still somewhere down the road. Darnell Nurse could make the club out of camp, but he has to prove himself reliable in his own end to become a significant player for this team.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Cam Talbot
Sure, McDavid will draw the headlines but on a team that hasn’t had reliable goaltending in years, but Talbot is the player who can most significantly impact Edmonton’s immediate fortunes. The 27-year-old former Ranger is the latest in a long line of former backups who have been asked to graduate to a starting role for the Oilers. The fact that he’s here shows how well that approach has paid off in recent years (as does the fact that 29 teams posted a better team GAA than Edmonton in 2014-15).
Talbot has only 57 games of NHL experience but he cashed in on a brilliant stretch in relief of Henrik Lundqvist (8-3-1 in March with a .946 save percentage) to land this opportunity. Can his potential be projected from a sample that limited? Chiarelli better hope so. The Oilers don’t need another failed experiment between the pipes.
PREDICTION: 80 points, sixth in Pacific