Edmonton Oilers 2020-21 Season Preview

 

       A big conversation around the Buffalo Sabres is that the team is wasting Jack Eichel\’s prime. But, the same could be said about the guy drafted before Eichel, Connor McDavid. McDavid will be 24 on the day the season starts, and he\’s won one playoff series. The Oilers looked like they could make some noise last year, but fell in the wild card round in an embarrassing fashion to the Chicago Blackhawks. Goaltending was a big issue, and that wasn\’t fixed. The Oilers offseason was very mixed, with some good, some bad, and some ugly moves. 

Additions: D Tyson Barrie, F Dominik Kahun, F Kyle Turris, D Slater Koekkoek, F Alan Quine.

Subtractions: F Andreas Athanasiou, D Matt Benning, F Riley Sheahan, F Markus Granlund.

Best Move: Signing Dominik Kahun to a one year deal.

Worst Move: Bringing back Mike Smith on a one year deal.

One Move I\’d Make: Sign Jimmy Howard to a PTO.

Best Contract: Leon Draisaitl, five years remaining with an $8.5 million cap hit. 

Worst Contract: Zack Kassian, four years remaining with a $3.2 million cap hit. 

New Division Rivals: Calgary, Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, Vancouver, Winnipeg.

Pending UFAs: Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Adam Larsson, Tyson Barrie, Alex Chiasson, Slater Koekkoek, Mike Smith, Tyler Ennis, Joakim Nygard, Gaetan Haas.

Pending RFAs: Kailer Yamamoto, Dominik Kahun, Jujhar Khaira.

Current RFAs: Ethan Bear.

Forwards

Connor McDavid is good at hockey. That should not be a controversial take. His defense may not be superb, but in just 64 games last year, he scored 34 goals with 97 points and finished 5th in Hart voting. In the previous three seasons, he led the league in points twice, and hit the 100 point plateau all three times. He also averages over 21 minutes on ice a night. His spotlight was stolen from him by his teammate Leon Draisaitl, who captured the Hart trophy. Draisaitl scored 43 goals, and led the league with 67 assists and 110 points. The duo of McDavid and Draisaitl will be split up this year, and besides them, the team has a lot of holes. Former first overall pick Ryan Nugent-Hopkins could be entering his final season as an Oiler. He scored 22 goals with 61 points in 65 games. Former 4th overall pick Jesse Puljujarvi will return to North America after spending last year in Finland. He had nine points in 46 games in 2018-19, but for Karpat last year, he scored 24 goals with 53 points in 56 games. This season in Finland, he has 12 points in 16 games. The Oilers signed Dominik Kahun after the Sabres questionably didn\’t tender him a contract as an RFA. He scored 12 goals with 31 points in 56 games for the Sabres and Penguins last year. Kahun and Draisaitl were teammates as teenagers in Germany. Five-foot-eight forward Kailer Yamamoto played in just 27 games last year, but he really produced, scoring 11 goals with 15 assists for 26 points. He\’ll get a bigger role alongside Draisaitl or McDavid this year. The Oilers got James Neal in a cap dump trade for Milan Lucic, and in his first season, Neal did what he used to do: score goals. Neal scored 19 times in 55 games, and if the season didn\’t get cancelled, he would have hit 20 goals for the 11th time. His center will be Kyle Turris, who Neal just missed in Nashville by a season. Turris didn\’t work out for the Predators, but his 31 points in 62 games would be fine third line center numbers. He\’s only earning $1.65 million this year, so it\’s a worthy investment for Edmonton. Alex Chiasson has scored 33 goals over two seasons for the Oilers. 11 of those came this past season, and he finished with 24 points. Tyler Ennis played well for the Senators before the Oilers brought him aboard at the trade deadline. Combined, he scored 16 goals with 37 points in 70 games. Zack Kassian was a vital part in restarting the Battle of Alberta, and when he played with McDavid, he scored. Kassian finished with 15 goals and 19 assists. Josh Archibald scored 12 goals for the second consecutive season, but with the Oilers high on wingers and low on centers, Jujhar Khaira has a better chance to make the roster. Khaira scored 10 points in 64 games, and spent time on the penalty kill. Gaetan Haas is an option to start over Khaira. Haas played in 58 games last year, but averaged less than 10 minutes on ice a game. Of Khaira, Haas and Joakim Nygard, Nygard had the best points per game of the trio, with nine in 33 games. 

Defensemen

The Oilers have already lost Oscar Klefbom for the season. To replace him on the top power play unit, the Oilers signed Tyson Barrie, who will try to rebuild his value after a down year in Toronto. Barrie actually had a career high 53.8 CF%, but scored a career low five goals with 39 points. The top pairing will now consist of Darnell Nurse and Ethan Bear, who are promoted from the second pairing. Nurse contributes more offensively than defensively, and he had 33 points in 71 games last year. The same could be said for Bear, who had a much higher GAR than his partner last year. Still an RFA, Bear had 21 points in 71 games. Caleb Jones, the brother of Seth Jones, had nine points in a career high 43 games last year. The 2015 4th rounder is looking to cement himself on the second pairing. His partner could be Adam Larsson, who lost Klefbom as his partner. Larsson will forever be known for his one-for-one trade for Taylor Hall, and he\’s basically a defensive defenseman who contributes little offensively. He rebounded last year after a bad 2018-19, and had six points in 49 games. There\’s only one year left of Kris Russell owning a $4 million cap hit. He did sign a one year extension worth $1.25 million for the 2021-22 season. Russell still has a good amount of defensive value. The Oilers recently signed Slater Koekkoek, the 10th overall pick in 2012 who has had good analytics when he\’s played, which isn\’t often. Last year for Chicago, Koekkoek had 10 points in a career high 42 games. Top prospect Evan Bouchard should be a regular by the end of 2021-22. He had 36 points in 54 AHL games last year, and in Sweden right now, he\’s put up 17 points in 23 games. 

Goalies

The weirdest move of the offseason for Edmonton was bringing back veteran goalie Mike Smith when there were many quality goalies available on the open market, including old friend Cam Talbot. Now 38 years old, Smith was below average in the regular season, with a .902 SV% and a 2.95 GAA in 39 games. His one playoff start helped lead to the end of the season for the Oilers, as he allowed five goals on 23 shots. He\’ll be a 1B to Mikko Koskinen, whose a much better option. Koskinen had a .917 SV% with a career best 9.25 GSAA in 38 games last year. 

Projected Lines

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins – Connor McDavid – Jesse Puljujarvi

Dominik Kahun – Leon Draisaitl – Kailer Yamamoto

James Neal – Kyle Turris – Alex Chiasson

Kyle Turris – Jujhar Khaira – Zack Kassian

Extras: Josh Archibald, Gaetan Haas, Joakim Nygard

Darnell Nurse – Ethan Bear

Caleb Jones – Adam Larsson

Kris Russell – Tyson Barrie

Extras: Slater Koekkoek, Evan Bouchard

Mikko Koskinen

Mike Smith

Projections

The Oilers are trying to resemble the 1980s Oilers with Connor McDavid as Wayne Gretzky and Leon Draisaitl as Mark Messier, and with a whole lot of goals scored and goals let up. The main difference between the eras of Oilers is that the 80s had Jari Kurri, Glenn Anderson and Grant Fuhr. The Oilers\’ depth shallows out easily. The Canadian Division is weak, but there is little difference between five of the seven teams, with the Maple Leafs and Senators on opposite sides of the spectrum. The two teams (besides Ottawa) who miss the playoffs will come down to a coin flip, but I think Edmonton will just barely get in, finishing fourth. 

Published by carterhud

Carterhud.com. SI Kids Kid Reporter, Prime Time Sports Talk writer

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