The Edmonton Oilers are loaded with young talent, but none of the potential has been realized. It may all come together eventually, but we’re betting it’s not going to be this season. THN has the Oilers finishing sixth in the Pacific Division.
2013-14 record: 29-44-9
Acquisitions: Mark Fayne, Benoit Pouliot, Keith Aulie, Teddy Purcell, Nikita Nikitin
Departures: Ben Eager, Taylor Fedun, Sam Gagner, Denis Grebeshkov, Anton Belov
Top five fantasy players: Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, David Perron, Justin Schultz
Boom, Bust and Bottom Line: The best, worst and most likely scenario
Boom: One of these years, it’s all going to come together for Edmonton’s skilled kiddie corps of first-overall picks. For that to happen, the Oilers are going to need warrior-type efforts from the third and fourth lines, as well as more responsible two-way play from the top two lines.
There’s also going to have to be a coming of age on the blueline. Nobody will mistake Mark Fayne and Nikita Nikitin for Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook, but solid minutes from the newcomers will go a long way to shoring up the black hole on the back end.
Goalies Ben Scrivens and Viktor Fasth have been known to have hot stretches in their limited starting duties, so having two capable stoppers can only help the outlook in the crease.
For Edmonton to really surge this season, though, Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Jordan Eberle and Nail Yakupov will need continual improvement. Only then will the playoffs be a possibility.
Bust: Losing can be a habit, and there’s been a ton of losing in Edmonton lately. The Oilers haven’t made it to the playoffs since trading Chris Pronger to Anaheim eight years ago. The top teams in the Western Conference aren’t going anywhere, and middle-class teams like Dallas, Minnesota and Colorado beefed up in the off-season. So few people are expecting Edmonton to make the post-season.
Nail Yakupov is a world-class talent, but will he translate that into consistent production and a trustworthy game? If he doesn’t, the frustration of the team and the player will be palpable.
The addition of the two experienced defensemen and bigger forwards Benoit Pouliot and Teddy Purcell will make the Oilers tougher to play against. But unless the Oilers are more competitive and playing meaningful games in February and March, fans are going to be unhappy with another year treading water. Second-year coach Dallas Eakins – and maybe even GM Craig MacTavish – probably won’t survive a season that sees the Oilers challenge for a top-five pick.
Bottom Line: Like Calgary, the Oilers will face a lot of California creamin’ this season. As much as we liked Edmonton’s chances of moving up the standings the past few years, we now think the team is capable of making positives strides forward, but that’s coming on an escalator that’s moving downhill. Any gains the Oilers make this season will have to be in the form of spiritual and psychological advancement rather than in the standings.
Prospect To Watch: The Edmonton Journal called Leon Draisaitl the “biggest question of Oilers’ training camp.” The third overall pick in this summer’s draft, Draisaitl is a center with good size (6-foot-2, 209 pounds) and scoring ability. Everyone has an opinion on what the Oilers should do here. Should they handle him conservatively and return him to WHL Prince Albert where he scored 38 goals and 105 points last season? Or, if he plays well in camp, should he crack the lineup as a No. 3 or even No. 2 center. Eventually he’ll be the second option behind Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, but is 2014-15 too soon?
THN’s Prediction for 2014-15: Sixth in Pacific Division
Contributors: Brian Costello, Rory Boylen