Oilers Gameday: April 12th at Wild

Edmonton (42-25-6) at Minnesota (44-21-6)

 

As we approach the middle of April it marks about a month and a half that the Oilers have been on a roll. As the additions and changes made throughout the season continue to come together and solidify, the team has been able to actually live up the high hopes that we had heading into the season.

 

At points it has looked quite grim, as if some of the concerns about the roster were in fact quite true. Despite this the Oilers have come together in a big way under coach Woodcroft, the additions of Kane and Kulak have fit in very nicely. It’s a fair assessment to say that the team is peaking at the right time, as the playoffs are approaching. With 9 games remaining the Oilers find themselves exactly where most expected them to be, 2nd in the Pacific Division. Although it’s still early enough for things to change it’s becoming hall the more likely the Oilers will be facing off against either the Kings or the Knights in the first round.

 

On the opposite side of the ice, the Minnesota Wild find themselves in a similar position. With some new additions fitting in well with the roster the Wild sit second in the Central and have gone 7-1-2 in their past 10 games. With both teams all but cementing themselves as playoff bound it should be a competitive game and an interesting measuring stick.

 

We’re expecting to see Koskinen and Talbot in net for their teams tonight.

 

KEYS TO THE GAME

 

Edmonton:

  1. Special teams. The Wild are quite strong at even strength, but their penalty kill has been weaker than one would hope. If the Oilers can win the special teams battle it would go a long way towards turning the outcome of the game in their favour.

 

 

Minnesota:

  1. Control the matchups. The Wild have been significantly stronger at home than on the road, in large part thanks to some of their top defensive players being able to neutralize the opponent’s top offensive options. With a deep Oilers forward group opposite they will have to pick their poison wisely, but have the choice nonetheless.

 

EXPECTED LINEUPS

 

Edmonton:

 

Kane — McDavid — Puljujarvi

Hyman — Draisaitl — Yamamoto

Foegele — Nugent-Hopkins — Ryan

Brassard — McLeod — Kassian

 

Nurse — Ceci

Keith — Bouchard

Kulak — Barrie

 

Koskinen

Smith

 

Minnesota:

 

Kaprizov — Hartman — Zuccarello

Fiala — Gaudreau — Boldy

Greenway — Eriksson-Ek — Foligno

Duhaime — Jost — Bjugstad

 

Middleton — Spurgeon

Brodin — Kulikov

Goligoski — Benn

 

Talbot

Fleury

 

PLAYERS TO WATCH

 

Edmonton:

 

It’s a lot of the same for the Oilers, who have found themselves in quite a groove. The biggest change comes deeper into the lineup as RNH and McLeod switch wingers. The duo of Foegele and Ryan is superior to that of Kassian and Brassard in my opinion, but regardless the forward group is about as loaded as one could hope for.

 

I suppose I could mention that there was some Puljujarvi slander across the twitter-verse that is objectively ridiculous. Since the summer I’ve been talking up Jesse’s game at every turn, sometimes a bit too much even, but there’s no doubt he brings a lot of talent to the lineup even before considering his value against such a low cap hit. At this point it’s foolish to put him anywhere but McDavid’s left wing as much as it’s foolish to put anyone else in that spot.

 

Both Puljujarvi and Yamamoto are interesting in that their contributions are in almost every aspect of the game more so than point totals, and honestly that’s probably ideal given the star power the Oilers have in this respect. As they continue to come into their own it’s important for Oilers fans to recognize that. If anything their low offensive totals will help keep their cost lower. Considering how things went early in his career, Puljujarvi has been through a lot, and I would label some of the recent criticisms against him as comically misguided, at least.

 

The defence remains the same, Kulak has been such a good fit with Barrie that they can earnestly push the Keith-Bouchard tandem for minutes, which is exactly what this team needed. For that reason it’s been easy to focus on the newest addition to the blueline.

 

Consequently I probably have not spent enough time talking about how strong the top pair has been. Yes, Ceci has surpassed many of the expectations we might’ve had for him, but it can’t be omitted that Nurse is one of the best and most integral pieces to this roster. Yes, some might be wary of the early extension he signed, both in length and in cap hit. Sure, maybe he won’t be a perennial Norris contender, and sure maybe cherry picking Josi or Makar’s cap hits against his might look a bit unfavourable, but without a doubt it’s his strong two-way play that is the foundation for everything else on this Oiler blueline.

 

One way or another the offseason is not far away, and with that comes many conversations about value relative to cap hit. Although I understand being skeptical of every dollar I think it’s completely misguided and unreasonable to focus on the Nurse extension. He is their top option now, when the window of McDavid and Draisaitl’s prime is wide open. On top of that he is widely regarded as perhaps the most important leader in the dressing room. With all kinds of talk about who could or should win individual awards I think it’s important for Oil Country to recognize Nurse’s contributions and to value his steady and immensely influential play on the ice.

 

Minnesota:

 

The Wild are a very interesting team in that they are built differently than most of their playoff bound counterparts. Of a particular note the weakest part of the team, at least on paper, would be their centre group.

 

Although the Wild have long been known as a defensive team, their goals for and against have been higher than usual. In part this is due to the increased level of talent on the wings, an area that has grown over the past few seasons. That being said they are still limiting chances against at 5 on 5 thanks to some of their usual defensive contributors.

 

Kaprizov is a star, and looks to have followed in Panarin’s footsteps when it comes to an elite talent coming over from the KHL. There were some doubts in getting him signed to his longer term big money deal, with just one season of NHL experience, but he’s more than lived up to the positive assessments of his game. Easily one of the top forwards in the league and truly a pleasure to watch. Zuccarello is extremely used as a complimentary offensive player in this role, it’s always great to see skilled veterans extend the top level contributions in new roles towards the back half of their careers.

 

Ryan Hartman has been a revelation as both a centre and as a top line player. His ascension into this role most definitely fits the narrative that the Wild’s strength on the wings and on the blueline allows them to get the most out of their centres, but one has to give credit to Hartman specifically as well. He has a straightforward game built off of intensity as we will see with Frederick Gaudreau on the 2nd line.

 

Gaudreau finds himself between two skilled wingers as well. Fiala has great hands and a good shot and fits really well into a role as a second line scorer. Boldy, a rookie, has surpassed a lot of expectations in how effective he’s been already. Although his icetime has decreased since his torrid debut midway through this season, it’s beyond encouraging to see how his game has translated to the pros so well. With his size and skill, who knows how high he will rise and how quickly he might get there.

 

It’s hard to call this a 3rd line, but perhaps this is one of the best checking lines in the league right now. Eriksson-Ek is the Wild’s top centre, a strong, big, smart player with some offensive upside. Ultimately his biggest contributions come on the defensive side of things, especially through the neutral zone as he’s able to leverage his skillset into shutting down the centre of the ice. His prowess in this area is likely a big part of why the Wild have so much more success at home than on the road, as being able to control his matchups can alter the complexion of the game. Needless to say either McDavid or Draisaitl will be in tough against his line tonight.

 

Greenway has been stapled to Eriksson-Ek’s wing the past 2 seasons, to great results. His offensive numbers are down from last year but he’s still had a very successful season. Another big body, Marcus Foligno, is perhaps reaping most of the offensive rewards for the strong all around efforts of this line. This is a line that will be a huge factor in the postseason.

 

Personally I thought the addition of Jost at the deadline was quite shrewd, and he might very well be the Wild’s most offensively skilled centre. He had a limited role in Colorado, as he does here, but there’s a lot of reason to believe he can blossom into a legitimate top 6 forward. When he is afforded a larger opportunity. If not, he’s already proven he can be a contributor in the top 9 for a contending team.

 

With Dumba out day-to-day the Wild are left with two stalwarts on the back end in Brodin and Spurgeon. They’ve long been significant pieces to the Wild’s strong team defence and are likely two of the more under-appreciated defenders in the league.

 

Middleton was acquired from the Sharks and has been fantastic alongside Spurgeon. He’s a big, physical presence, as is Benn, as the two fill a gap in the overall skillset of the group. Speaking of which, veteran puck movers Kulikov and Goligoski have held up nicely in complementary roles after a few seasons of less than stellar results on lesser teams.

 

Equally fascinating as the roster on the ice tonight is the future outlook for the Wild. With a unique cap recapture thanks to the dual Suter/Parise buyouts on the horizon, as well as one of the more exciting prospect pools across the league. This is hardly the time for me to be going on about that.