Let’s recap the biggest takeaways from week 1’s action, as the Oilers got wins against the Canucks and Flames.
- Ready to Play: although there are some legitimate concerns about certain areas of the roster, the team as a whole has shown a lot of competitiveness and attention to detail, and it’s clear while all hands are healthy the Oilers are strong enough to put together an impressive season. The team has shown some defensive structure already, including on the penalty kill, so nothing is stopping them from accumulating points early and often.
- Another Olympian?: Jesse Puljujarvi is ready for the next level, and I hope you got him in your fantasy leagues while you had the chance. His journey to this point has had twists and turns, so it’s amazing to see him start to achieve what we have all been hoping for. Finland will have a great team, but Jesse might have enough to get the call to Beijing (FWIW I would reunite Laine-Aho-Puljujarvi).
- Timeless: speaking of things you love to see, the Oilers have, at least, a pair of veterans that defy the age curves in Mike Smith and Derek Ryan. It speaks to their hockey I.Q. and dedication that they are in prime position to be huge contributors on a contending team. Ryan always seems to be a step ahead of the play, and might be the Oilers best depth centre in a long while. Both are truly unique players and very easy to cheer for.
- Super Line?: a lot of fanfare has surrounded the decision to play McDavid and Draisaitl together, with plenty of spicy opinions bandied about. Personally I’m inclined to think separating the pair is the way to go, but especially early on it’s important for everyone to remain flexible. Most importantly, the Oilers finally have the depth to pull it off one way or another. Moons ago when the Penguins acquired Kessel, the thought was that he would play with either Crosby or Malkin. Of course, he ended up on the 3rd line as the Penguins won back to back Cups, which is to say, give your lineup the time and space it needs to sort itself out instead of becoming enamored with hypotheticals.
- Connor “Richard”: the one-timer has been shown off. A hat trick against Calgary. Normally McDavid winning an individual award isn’t that surprising, but leading the league in goals is a possibility.
- …Yeah but: of course it’s still early, and there’s all kinds of ways things can go wrong for any team, but the Oilers are not perfect. Yes Smith is older than most starters, yes Tyson Barrie is still Tyson Barrie, yes maybe Keith and Ceci won’t keep up their pretty solid (solid enough?) play so far, yes things can get frenetic or high-event, but no team is without doubt (or at least not many). More than that, there appears to be, at least, potential answers to these questions. The team plays tight enough to “load manage” Smith to taste, Bouchard is driving play on the 3rd pair, the Oilers can score with anyone. I know some are critical of Holland and/Tippett, but it’s important to remember the Oilers were not even making the playoffs when they took over, a far cry from the expectations that are now held.
- A Look Ahead: the Oilers host the Ducks on the 19th before travelling to Arizona on the 21st and Vegas on the 22nd, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday respectively. With the nature of the back to back, we should expect to see Koskinen start one of these games, perhaps the Coyotes game to maximize rest for Smith. It’s still early, and teams are finding out a lot about themselves, let alone their opponents. It’s reasonable to aim for 5/6 available points, Vegas has had a rough start and Mark Stone is injured, while the Ducks have a young roster that could surpass the low expectations most have for the team.