The Oilers were a formidable opponent in the 2017 regular season, finishing 8th in the league in points, goals for and goals against, which all added up to being tough to play against at either end of the ice. The transition game was the team's bread and butter and with the speed and puck moving ability through this lineup, this is what's going to keep them in business, not unlike some former Oilers teams of the past.
Still, it doesn't matter which superstar you have or how good your regular season is, experience is key in the playoffs and as much as these young Oilers didn't have a lot of it, they sure gained a bunch, when they beat the reigning Western Conference champs, the San Jose Sharks, and ending up losing to the well-traveled Anaheim Ducks in the second round.
The Oilers cannot be disappointed with how their 2017 season and playoffs had gone, especially knowing where they were coming from, but now the expectation levels are going to be high and living up to those will be the first challenge of many, come puck drop on the 2018 season.
The buzz was real at the hockey pool draft in October, as 13 Oilers were taken in the first round. Both McDavid and Cam Talbot were 1st round picks and it was all fairly spaced out, all the way down to the last round, number 14. Adjustments were made at the first swap, as a couple of Oilers were dropped for one being picked up and the second swap evened it back out, two dropped for three picks. The Oilers stood pat at the trade deadline and they finished the year with what they started with, 13 players on active pool rosters.
There was no surprise in the team's leading point-getter, as McDavid was worth the 2nd overall pick, finishing 2nd overall in points with 100 on the year, followed by his fellow 1st round pick, Talbot and a third Oilers player finished among the top 25 players, a 6th round pick in Leon Draisaitl. This trio will be a force to be reckoned with, especially at contract extension time.
The Oilers buzz wasn't quite on the pulse, as they had a couple too many players for what was actually pool worthy in the 2017 regular season. Only 11 Oilers finished within the ranks of their position to get the nod here in the blog post, but to be fair, a goon was taken as well. Jordan Eberle, Milan Lucic, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Patrick Maroon and Mark Letestu were also among the pool worthy forwards on the year, while Oscar Klefbom, Andrej Sekera and Adam Larsson were the trio of pool worthy defenders. Talbot was the busiest goalie in the NHL, not leaving much time for his back-up to gain many points at all, so he was the only worthy keeper.
What I Said Last Year, At This Time...
Now is truly the time for the Oilers management to really get serious about rounding out their lineup. Even with a healthy McDavid and Klefbom all year, there isn't enough in that lineup that says that this team is going to finally make the next step. The Oilers are in a division that is now ruled out of California, the Canucks and Flames have potential to be a little bit better next season, so it will take some immense strides to find a divisional playoff spot, let alone try and keep up with the Central Division, which owned the wild card spots this year. If there are significant changes made to the blueline, we could revisit an improved prediction, but today... no dice. I'm expecting another down year at this rate.
So many people underestimated the value of trading for Adam Larsson from New Jersey, but the Oilers certainly got what they needed from him and there's still more to come from him. The addition of Kris Russell also panned out to be a very complimentary move and the blueline all of a sudden turned around. Of course, the addition of Milan Lucic was also a pretty big help, bringing some much needed playoff experience to the table, the Oilers did a lot of the right things in the off-season, which led to massive improvements.
2018 Pool Outlook
|Jordan Eberle||6.000||Oscar Klefbom||4.167||Cam Talbot||4.167|
|Milan Lucic||6.000||Adam Larsson||4.167|
|Benoit Pouliot||4.000||Mark Fayne||3.500||Nick Ellis||0.925|
|Drake Caggiula||0.925||Matthew Benning||0.925||Dylan Wells||0.759|
|Anton Slepyshev||0.925||Darnell Nurse||0.863||Laurent Brossoit||0.750|
|Jesse Puljujarvi||0.925||William Lagesson||0.742|
|Patrick Russell||0.925||Ethan Bear||0.722|
|Ryan Mantha||0.870||Caleb Jones||0.705|
|Kyle Platzer||0.735||Ben Betker||0.683|
How high will these Oilers go in next year's draft? It's not a matter of if, it's a matter of when. McDavid went 2nd this past season, could he possibly go 1st overall? Well, of course he could... there are enough Oilers fans in the regular roster of teams that would certainly see to it. The impact from the rest of the lineup however, will be fairly swift I'm thinking, as Talbot and the rest of the forwards found ways to get points and that's the name of the game.
Potential Losses in the Expansion Draft
Three no-movement clauses are sprinkled through the Oilers' roster and they are all pool worthy, so there isn't too much concern with Lucic, Sekera and Talbot being pre-protected. The rest of the defense is rather academic, protecting Larsson and Klefbom, but required exposure could very well leave Benoit Pouliot and newly-signed Iiro Pakarainen. I don't think that would hurt very many feelings. It's hard to say what the Oilers would lose, their lack of quality players exposed would likely make them one of the last teams to choose from, likely filling in a gap or two in the Vegas lineup.
Free Agency and the Salary Cap
Lots has already been made about contract talks and the Edmonton Oilers, not only for their only pool worthy free agent this summer, RFA-to-be Leon Draisaitl, but when July 1st kicks over, they will be able to negotiate the first extension for McDavid. Draisaitl should be the main focus, before July, since he will be without a deal, but both these players are going to be getting paid here soon, it will be a matter of how much of that hometown discount gets applied.
I would imagine that re-signing fringe defenseman Kris Russell will be high up on the priority list, as the potential UFA did make an impact with this club and they would be hard pressed to replace him with as tight as the defenseman market it.
The Oilers aren't in salary cap hell, yet. The nine contracts on top of the table above, for the pool worthy players, are only coming in at $35.2 million. Andrej Sekera will start the season on the injured reserve and will likely count against, unless the Oilers spending goes out of control this summer. That brings it up to $40.7 million, still plenty of room under the current $73 million ceiling, plus whatever gets added, to fill out that 23-man roster.
The Oilers don't have a lot of rookie qualified talent to watch out for, as they have started players too far into their statuses, to keep their qualifications for the Calder Trophy, but that doesn't mean they're not short on young players coming through. Everyone is still wondering if Jesse Puljujarvi is going to be the next best thing, as he was demoted after 28 games by the Oilers this past season, but it sounded like he did okay down in the minors. At defense, we're now waiting to see if Griffin Reinhart can make that jump to a full-time NHL'er, but he'll need a new deal and whether or not it's a one-way or a two-way deal, will be the indication of how the Oilers feel about that.
Needs at the 2017 Entry Draft
The Oilers will be picking a ways down, at the 22nd overall spot and by this time, it should be more about the best player available, as they could restock their shelves at either the forward or defensive positions, trying to find more depth in their system. Finnish defensemen seem to be all the rage right now and Urho Vaakanainen seems to be a kid that could fit the bill of a safe puck mover, with pretty good vision. The Oilers wouldn't necessarily need this kid right away, so he can toil in Europe, gain that physical maturity and then find his way over down the line, which would make him a very solid pick.
It's scary to think of what the Oilers could be capable of here in the next year, two and/or three. We've seen most of the Pacific Division already in these outlook posts and there shouldn't be a lot there that scares the Oilers moving forward. They gained some regular season experience with a big year, they played two playoff seasoned teams before getting eliminated this year, so most of that should add up to something fantastic, before too long. Undoubtedly, the Oilers are going to score a lot of goals and Cam Talbot will play as much hockey as he can, but the long-term results will always stem from the blueline here and with Sekera starting the season hurt and Russell unsigned right now, there are holes to fill and a division title and/or playoff success will hinge on what the Oilers do to help their defense. Everything is possible for these kids right now,, they just need help.