Everything about the Oilers franchise is focused on maximizing the results of having two Hart Trophy winners in their prime, in McDavid and Draisaitl. For years, despite having several other high draft picks, Edmonton’s forward group has largely disappointed outside of those two, but to his credit GM Holland has what looks to be the best forward group the Oilers have had in a while. Yes, ideally McDavid and Draisaitl are each driving their own lines, a la Crosby and Malkin, but circumstantially the chemistry they have together is impossible to ignore. This means having enough flexibility in the top 6 F group to support both of these proposed options based on the flow of the game.
Flanked by stalwart veterans Nugent-Hopkins and Hyman, as well as the ascending pair of Puljujarvi and Yamamoto, there is a strong mix of talents to completely support the superstars. In particular, early into this preseason Coach Tippett has already mentioned the viability of a Hyman-RNH-Yamamoto line, which looks to be reliable in any and every situation, offensively and defensively.
As for the lines when McDavid and Draisaitl are separated it seems likely to be Hyman-McDavid-Puljujarvi and RNH-Draisaitl-Yamamoto. Puljujarvi seems likely to be a fixture on McDavid’s wing thanks to how well the two have played over the years. Together with Hyman giving McDavid a pair of wingers that can win puck battles and get to areas to capitalize off of McDavid’s inevitable playmaking prowess, especially near the net front. Meanwhile, Draisaitl’s shooting ability is well supported by the pair of RNH and Yamamoto, who are both strong playmakers and should be able to get Draisaitl the puck in shooting positions.
The bottom 6 have seen a lot of strong performances in the preseason, particularly Perlini, who seems poised to rediscover his NHL viability under his former Coach. Ryan and Foegele are a great start to a strong 3rd line, where Kassian figures to be supported well. Sceviour has looked like he might be able to fill a big PK role, while Shore and Turris are certainly capable of filling out 4th line spots. This means, at least while everyone is healthy, the Oilers don’t leave much to be desired up front. The Perlini-Shore-Turris line has produced really strong play through the preseason and thus might have the inside track to start as the 4th line, and should be able to contribute above their usage.
With most of their PK leaders from last season’s strong performance gone, it will be important for players in the bottom 6 F group to make themselves useful in the vacant roles. Ryan and Foegele seem likely to contribute, while Yamamoto and RNH can chip in from time to time, as last season. Within the group of Shore, Perlini, Sceviour, and McLeod ability to play big PK minutes will be vital to their staying in the lineup.
Of course there are young players who are in contention for spots in Ryan McLeod and Tyler Benson. The fact that the spots ahead of them are spoken for is a testament to the win-now philosophy that the Oilers have. McLeod in particular seems close, and his being a centre might help as well. Regardless, injuries are inevitable, so it’s likely we’ll see one or both get into some action over the course of the season.
In all the F group is clearly the strength of this team. Although GM Holland has made some questionable moves during his tenure, the pieces are in place up front for the Oilers.
Onto more contentious position groups, starting with a blueline that has experienced some turnover. Personally I find some of the moves made this summer as inefficient, to say the least, as I dwell on how moving on from young, inexpensive, ascending options like Jones and Bear bears resemblance to Jeff Petry’s leaving Edmonton, especially for Bear, who was moved out after 1 not-quite-as-good season amidst the strangeness of COVID and a late start to his season due to contract talks. Nevertheless, losing a strong defensive defender in Larsson to expansion and Klefbom to long term injury definitely puts a bit of a damper on things from the outset.
With that being said, all that’s in the past, and it’s time to focus instead on what could be with the D group at hand. GM Holland insinuated that adding more veteran presence was a concern for both management and players, and he most certainly did accomplish adding that to the blueline.
The top pair is likely to start out with what worked so well last season, a Nurse-Barrie pairing. Both signed new deals and would do well to equal their results again this season, which will be a tall task. Regardless, Nurse is a hugely important piece of this team, a leader in the dressing room, a contributor on both ends, and could easily garner Norris attention and an appearance on Canada’s Olympic team. Barrie is offensively minded and found ways to contribute a lot last season. There’s a lot of metrics that point to Barrie being of less-than-first-pairing quality, but at least for now he has been able to pull it off. He may not last with Nurse playing top minutes over the course of his contract, but in the spirit of winning-now-for-McDavid Barrie makes sense for this team.
Acquiring Keith and Ceci for ~$9 million per season combined was probably the most polarizing development of the Oilers’ offseason. From scouts and statisticians of all kinds, a large chorus of skepticism hangs over the pair, especially Keith who has been a significant part of a porous Chicago blueline for the past 3 seasons or so. Stranger things have happened than a player reinvigorating their play upon joining a new, and better team. Keith will have to bring a lot more to the table than he has recently, especially regarding his checking off the rush, but most definitely provides championship experience and undeniable intensity.
Meanwhile his likely partner Ceci has been the subject of much evaluation during his time in both Pittsburgh and Toronto over the past 2 seasons. Despite the fact that some metrics don’t seem to rank him highly, Coaches and GMs continue to advocate for his usefulness as a player. At least he is slotted more appropriately that his top-billing in Toronto and Ottawa, and as a big defensive defender could compliment Keith well, as well as taking over some of the responsibilities Larsson was able to handle last season. Regardless this pair should be more effective in the playoffs than the regular season thanks to their toughness, nastiness, and veteran savvy (aka extra playoff cheating).
The 3rd pair is likely built around young Evan Bouchard, effectively the Oilers best prospect. His high skill level and ascending trajectory (not to mention rookie contract) are a great fit considering the Keith and Ceci acquisitions. Maybe it won’t be this season (it’s like me to get ahead of myself) but Bouchard could easily be pushing up the depth chart, as high as taking Barrie’s spot with Nurse and on PP1. Koekkoek, Russell, and Lagesson could all be reasonable partners for Bouchard, as they
could form a pair that pushes Keith-Ceci for minutes.
Eventually Broberg will be ready to push for a spot, but for now we shouldn’t take for granted that the Oilers are doing the right thing by giving him time in Bakersfield. Samorukov likely would’ve been pushing for an NHL spot deep into camp were it not for his injury. He should be back up and running in a huge role for Bakersfield, but could feasibly run with a job if he gets a chance at some point this season. Samorukov is the more likely of the 2 to be called up thanks in part to his more defensively oriented style of play and his being older and more experienced than Broberg. At the very least it’s nice to see that there’s at least some interesting talent on its way.
In all it’s tough to say if this group is better than last season’s. It is certainly more expensive and experienced. Ultimately it’s a middling group throughout the league, although not without notable bright spots and the potential for more. It’s important to remember, I think, that Tippett will likely be able to get strong defensive play from his team as a whole, as he always seems able to.
As with the blueline there are some questions as to what the Oilers were able to accomplish this offseason, although in net it’s the lack of change that is the subject of conversation. The tandem of Smith and Koskinen returns after they somehow pulled together a decent season in the North Division in 2021. Smith has consistently delivered for Coach Tippett, and despite his age should be able to reproduce some of his strong play, at least for year 1 of his new 2-year contract.
Koskinen, meanwhile, has failed to live up to the starter’s level of play the Oilers were expecting when they signed him, and fans have no doubt been frustrated by the fact. Now, in the last year of Koskinen’s deal, the combined cost of their goalie tandem is under $7 million per season, which isn’t bad considering the cost of signing veteran tandem backups like Jonathan Bernier this offseason.
Yes, it’s understandable that many were hoping the Oilers would be more aggressive in the offseason goalie carousel, but it’s clear the cumulative cost of acquiring someone and moving out Koskinen, who’s perceived value is probably lower than it should be, was too high for Holland to consider, especially given the money spent on adding Hyman, Keith, Ceci and buying out James Neal.
Holland noted over the summer that the goal would be to manage Smith’s workload this season, meaning Koskinen will be called upon often. Getting quality play across 82 games at a near-even split between the two seems plausible, if not a bit optimistic, but having a structured and responsible group in front of the tandem will be critical in increasing the likelihood of success.
Despite Stalock being unable to play this season, the Oilers are in decent shape lower in the depth chart as both Skinner and Konovalov seem ready to start seeing some NHL time, potentially pushing for regular jobs as Koskinen and Smith’s contracts expire after this year and the next, respectively. The biggest concern for this position group is probably the durability of an older Mike Smith, so these low cost options are very important for Edmonton.
At first glance, the outlook of this group is questionable, but the more I think about it the more I understand why Holland is comfortable with the situation for now. Whether you agree with the players that he’s signed or not, it’s clear Holland has “shot his shot” on skaters throughout the lineup, but not so much in the crease. For that reason it will be the case that the Oilers are linked to bigger names rumoured to be on the trade block, such as the Blue Jackets’ Jonas Korpisalo, who would compliment the already strong roster with an authority in net.
As Koskinen’s contract is expiring at this season’s end it’s likely that Holland will stick with the current situation until acquiring a potential starter next offseason.