I’m known as one of the more negative Oilers bloggers when it comes to this team, I won’t dispute that one bit. You see, I want this group to win, I love this team, and seeing them lose nightly and fall down the standings again is extremely frustrating. I know it’s frustrating for a lot of you too.
Ten years out of the playoffs is extremely tough for any fanbase to handle, this decade of futility is the result of years of inept management and failed plans. That’s honestly the best way I can put it.
That said, it really isn’t all doom and gloom with the Edmonton Oilers. Yes, my emotions get to me, but the analyst in me sees something special with this group. There are young players in key positions who are going to make this Oilers team a force in the near future. My brain AND heart believe that.
Why The Optimism?:
The Edmonton Oilers have a number of dynamic young players who should be here for the long haul. Up the middle, they have Connor McDavid and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, two bright young stars. McDavid actually OUTDID his expectations through 13 games, he was already the best player on the team and on his way to being the best player in the NHL.
RNH will be one of the top second-line centers in this league for a long, long time, I believe he is already a number one on a majority of teams.
Outside of that, Edmonton has a perennial 60 point right winger in Jordan Eberle and the second best left-wing in hockey in Taylor Hall, a man currently in the top-ten of NHL scoring and who can push the river just like McDavid can.
Add in a capable veteran like Benoit Pouliot, a guy in Nail Yakupov who has chemistry with McDavid and a few solid bottom six players like Matt Hendricks and Mark Letestu and the Oilers have something kicking up front. Oh, did I mention Leon Draisaitl? The 3rd overall pick in 2014 is absolutely killing it for the Oilers right now, he’s going to thrive with this group moving forward.
On defense, the current situation is rather bleak. Moving forward, however, Edmonton has some prime pieces that could come together in quick order.
Darnell Nurse is going to be a number one defender in the NHL, I’m convinced of that. He dominated the OHL, dominated the World Junior’s as Canada’s number one last year, and was sensational in the AHL playoffs last spring for Oklahoma City. After a solid first few games in Bakersfield this year, he’s come up and been very good for the Oilers.
Yes, he still makes mistakes, but he’s a big and physical defender who can move the puck and provide a little bit of offense from the blue-line. He’s sound in his positioning and is, for a lack of a better term, the horse Edmonton has been waiting for.
Oscar Klefbom is a solid young defender too, one learning some tough lessons now but who should be a bonafide top-four guy in short order. That’s two homegrown top-four defenders that could have a huge impact.
Add in Griffin Reinhart, the man aspiring to be the modern day Jason Smith, and Edmonton has a trio of young defenders who all should be able to handle top-four minutes in the near future. With Andrej Sekera already in the fold, that gives Edmonton four of seven needed defenders for the future.
Five if you want to count young Brandon Davidson in the mix as a depth-option and possibly six if Justin Schultz gets his act together after returning from injury.
The core of the Oilers is there. Up front, it’s McDavid, Hall, RNH, Eberle, Pouliot, Yakupov and Draisaitl with Nurse, Klefbom and Reinhart helping on the back end. It’s a young group, but it’s also a very, very talented one.
Best part about this? These have been Edmonton’s best players all year long.
But Why No Winning?:
This is because the Oilers still lack a proven top-pairing defender, a starting goalie and a solid veteran cast of forwards. Nurse is going to get there, but he simply is not there yet. Same goes for Oscar Klefbom, he just is not there yet.
In net, Cam Talbot has fallen flat on his face and Anders Nilsson is clicking at a below-average rate early on. Goaltending is still an issue, there isn’t a true calming presence in there just yet. Nilsson is making his case however, and I’d love to see more of him.
Lastly, the Oilers don’t have contributing veterans up front. Matt Hendricks is a solid player, someone who needs to stick around as this team moves forward, but outside of that it’s been bad. Mark Letestu, Lauri Korpikoski, Anton Lander and even to a degree Teddy Purcell have disappointing this season. That’s killing Edmonton and hindering their core.
The Oilers must solve the goaltending question and must build a legitimate bottom-six unit that can help the big dogs up front. Scary how these issues are so similar to the past three or four years.
Craig MacTavish identified these issues, so credit where it is due. The problem? He never properly addressed them and they still haunt this team today. The Oilers failed to identify NHL talent to help them, it’s a real problem.
That problem should be less now with Peter Chiarelli taking the helm in Edmonton. Chiarelli built a winner in Boston and before that was part of building an elite team in Ottawa. The guy knows how this game works, he knows how to build good hockey teams.
It’s going to take time, it’s going to take trial and error too. Chiarelli already one-upped MacTavish by signing Sekera this past summer, he’s making some progress.
That said, he needs to keep building. He needs to build up a bottom six and solidify Edmonton’s defensive group. Luckily for the Oilers, that’s exactly what he specialized in as GM of the Bruins.
The Oilers have a very solid, young core in place right now, that’s the good news. The pieces they need are the usually easier to find ones, the bottom-six guys, the defenders. It’s up to Chiarelli now to make the right calls on guys.