How the Edmonton Oilers take a step forward
Last season was a huge success for the Edmonton Oilers. Even though they didn’t make the Stanley Cup Final, they made it to the Western Conference Final for the first time since 2006 and that’s still a big bright spot in my books.
Now the team will look to build on that success in the 2022-23 season and show that their run to the last four was far from a fluke.
When you look at their roster as it is currently constructed, it’s easy to see a way for the Oilers to be a much better regular season team than they were last season when they posted 104 points. and finished second in the Pacific Division.
There are a few players who could potentially take a step back next season, and I’ll have an article on that next week.
Usually when teams go on long runs, like the Oilers did, they’re forced to make a bunch of really tough decisions in the offseason.
Well, the Oilers are bringing back the exact same group of forwards, only lost Duncan Keith from their blue line, and actually managed to improve their goaltending tandem from Mike Smith and Mikko Koskinen to Jack Campbell and Stuart Skinner. .
Another thing that usually causes teams to go on wild runs are crazy player warm-ups that you wouldn’t expect and honestly, the Oilers didn’t take advantage of that much last season. In fact, there are a handful of players on their roster who could very easily perform better than last season.
First of all, they have young players who should really benefit from the experience of last season.
Evan Bouchard can be trusted to handle tougher minutes than he did last season and although his main job will be to get the puck off the back of the team and produce runs in the zone offense, which he was great last season, it’s very realistic to expect his game on his side to improve next season.
I don’t think Bouchard will ever be the type of player whose defensive game is better than his offensive game, but he had a lot of tough nights last season in his own zone and now that he has his first full season of work in the NHL under his belt, I think it’s more than fair to say we could see some big improvements from Bouchard in his own area.
Elsewhere on the blue line, Darnell Nurse is an interesting option to step forward next season. He should be in good health, which will obviously help. I reached out to our resident analytics guru, NHL Sid, for his take on Nurse and Bouchard:
Nurse and Bouchard had some offensive luck on the ice at 21-22. I think they could both produce more next season, especially Bouchard, who should take the next step.
Up front, there are also a few candidates.
Jesse Puljujarvi produced a lot of attack at the start of the season but his production really slowed down after he was bought with COVID and an upper body injury. Whether he’s playing on a line with Connor McDavid or on the third line with someone like Ryan McLeod, the Oilers could very well have a 20-goal scorer on their hands with Puljujarvi.
Kailer Yamamoto is in a similar place. After a rocky 2022-23 season he still needs a new contract, but as he matures as a player I think we’ll see him find some kind of consistency. I love his tenacity on the forecheck and when he’s on his game he has the same decent scoring touch. He just needs those two things to be present more often in his game.
Warren Foegele could very well be traded before the start of next season, just like Puljujarvi, but assuming he’s still around, I think it’s fair to expect the Oilers to get a few more goals. of the 26-year-old winger.
On top of that, I think the Oilers will be looking for Foegele to be a more consistent physical presence in their final six. If he can be more disruptive on the forecheck, I think he could actually be part of a pretty solid third line with pieces like Ryan McLeod, Jesse Puljujarvi, or maybe even Dylan Holloway (although that would require having Foegele on his wing).
NHL Sid also had some thoughts on the Oilers’ final six options that could improve next season:
Foegele should produce a bit more, he was at a career low in SH%. McLeod’s on-ice SH% was near the bottom of the team. With the right linemates, his production could increase.
I would also add a player like Ryan Nugent-Hopkins into that mix. He scored 50 points in 63 games, but almost half of them, 24 to be exact, came on the power play. If he can increase his production 5-for-5, that will definitely help the Oilers win more hockey games.
To conclude, I’ll share another note from Sid:
Despite leading the league in scoring, McDavid’s on-ice SH% was surprisingly at a career low. It’s crazy to think about, but he could break even more production records next season.
This should make every team in the Pacific Division shiver in fear, and the entire Western Conference for that matter.
If Connor McDavid can sustain his playoff production for 82 games, we could be in for an absolutely historic Oilers captain’s season.