Edmonton Oilers 2020-21 NHL season preview
The 2020-21 NHL season is almost here so it’s time to preview all 31 teams. Over the next few weeks we’ll be looking at how the offseason affected each team, the most interesting people in the organization, and the best- and worst-case scenarios. Today, we preview the Edmonton Oilers.
Edmonton Oilers 2019-20 Rewind
Record: 37-25-9 (83 points); second in the Pacific Division; fifth in the Western Conference.
Leading scorer: Leon Draisaitl (43 goals, 110 points).
It’s not unusual to describe an Oilers season as “shaky for a team, great for an individual.” It is unusual when it’s someone other than Connor McDavid dominating the headlines.
Granted, McDavid soared and scored in 2019-20. Number 97’s 97 points ranked second in the NHL. However, McDavid was looking up at Draisaitl. For all the deeper criticisms of Draisaitl’s overall game, his season remains astounding. Not only did Draisaitl become the only player to reach 110 points, he was also the only one to clear the 100-point barrier. He was even starting to push for the Maurice Richard with a late surge in goals. (Draisaitl’s 43 left him fourth in the NHL.)
So, the specifics of who ranked at the tippy top of Oilers scoring changed. Also, with a stronger regular season, Edmonton seemed to make some progress. With a few bounces, they might have been able to fight for seeding.
Unfortunately, those positives dissolved when the games mattered the most. During the Qualifying Round, the Oilers got outgunned by a Blackhawks team that was basically an alternate version of themselves. Like Edmonton, Chicago struggled mightily on defense, hoping to make up for that with scoring. In Chicago’s case, they could lean more on goalies to bail them out.
Between keyed-in top players (including vintage Jonathan Toews) and sloppy Oilers play, the Blackhawks bounced the Oilers in just four games. Such a finish soured much of the optimism -- muted or not -- that the Oilers built up.
Shackled by salary cap constraints, the Oilers settled for incremental improvements. If everything works out, they might finally give McDavid, Draisaitl, and a few others at least some more support than usual. It’s unclear if that will be enough for a deeply flawed team to look closer to complete this season.
Tyson Barrie (free agency), Kyle Turris (free agency), Dominik Kahun (free agency), brought Jesse Puljujarvi back to North America (free agency).
Andreas Athanasiou (free agency), Matt Benning (free agency), Riley Sheahan (free agency).
3 Most Interesting Edmonton Oilers
• Draisaitl - McDavid
Filling up two of the three most interesting Edmonton Oilers spots with McDavid and Draisaitl would take too much away from what’s changed. Not mentioning them at all when they’re the engines that run this team would also feel wrong. So let’s combo the two.
After all, Draisaitl winning the Hart Trophy could drive some friendly competition against McDavid. As explosive as the two were on the same line, that volatility burned Oilers on defense one too many times. Once they centered a line apiece, the Oilers become a more threatening team overall.
Asking Draisaitl to follow up that 110-point masterpiece would be a little much. Still, he might be able to clean up his defense a bit, and opponents face headaches in trying to account for one superstar line each.
Honestly, it feels bold to ever wonder if McDavid isn’t the best player in the world. With players like Nathan MacKinnon pushing him, and Draisaitl outscoring him as a teammate, McDavid likely feels as challenged as ever. That tension could translate to some must-watch hockey from McDavid.
• Tyson Barrie
It’s tempting to look at Tyson Barrie as something of a missing piece for the Oilers defense. Think of it as a classic situation where both sides need each other. Powering the Oilers power play could redeem Barrie’s free agent market value. Meanwhile, having a defenseman with Barrie’s offensive skills may help the Oilers at least approach last year’s seemingly unsustainable 29.5-percent power play success rate.
Unfortunately, this isn’t just a case of pure improvement.
For one thing, Barrie’s difficulties in the defensive end are well-documented. Barrie has a chance to be a net-positive overall, but those criticisms are justified.
The larger concern is really outside of Barrie’s control. With Oscar Klefbom expected to miss the season, the Oilers defense could be even worse. Perhaps someone like Evan Bouchard can step up and help, but in this context, Barrie feels more like a Band-Aid than a boost.
If nothing else, Barrie headlines the Oilers’ push for interesting reclamation projects. Maybe Kyle Turris will benefit from a change of scenery even more?
• Jesse Puljujarvi
Over the last couple of years, it sure seemed like Jesse Puljujarvi’s Oilers days were over. This wasn’t Hall of Fame GM Ken Holland’s first rodeo with a slightly/very unhappy young free agent, and eventually the two sides patched things up. At least for now.
While Puljujarvi struggled at the NHL level so far, it’s also fair to wonder how much of the blame should fall on the Oilers. After all, the franchise hasn’t always hit all the right notes with player development. At least beyond no-brainers like McDavid and Draisaitl.
More than anything else, it’s been frustrating to see Puljujarvi stuck in limbo. His best chance to prove himself is in the NHL, even if he may have regained some confidence overseas.
At first, Puljujarvi may still need to battle for ice time and opportunities. The Oilers seemed to find some nice linemates for McDavid and Draisaitl, so Puljujarvi seems likely to land in the bottom six, and maybe the fourth line. Eventually, he might get shots with the top guys.
Can Puljujarvi make the most of these opportunities? It will be intriguing to see how that goes.
When you have two absolute superstars, and some nice players like Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, it’s not outrageous to dream big. The Edmonton Oilers benefited from a top-heavy Pacific Division, and the all-Canadian North Division presents other potential perks. Maybe the Oilers pieced together just enough of a supporting cast to allow McDavid & Co. to have a deep playoff run?
Despite observing one of the most robust free agent goalie markets in recent memory, the Oilers instead stuck with the same shaky ingredients in net. Mikko Koskinen quietly performed nicely, but at 38, Mike Smith might be well beyond his expiration date. This isn’t necessarily the most nurturing atmosphere for goalies, either, unless Dave Tippett finds magic he couldn’t conjure in 2019-20. Quite a few elements of the Oilers seemed to max out potential last season. What if Draisaitl and that power play cools off? Could we experience another disastrous season where people are left wondering if McDavid is subtly or not-so-subtly angling for a trade? This imbalanced roster often seems to be wobbling toward collapses.
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