The 2017-18 season is still over 2 months away but if you compare this team going into this season as opposed to where they were last year it is almost a night and day difference. We now know it is a very tight knit group who believe in one another and stick up for each other. They have a goalie capable of handling a heavy workload, a very solid and unheralded defensive core and TWO of the best young forwards in the league. It is a playoff tested group who consistently responded to adversity positively last year and who still has room for growth. It is now a more confident and experienced group looking to build on a successful campaign and who coming into this year has a lot less uncertainty about it.
The only real burning question for me going into this season is who will be McDavid’s RW? With plenty of options I’m sure that will work itself out in camp with the most likely candidates being Strome, Hopkins, Caggiula, Puljujarvi and Slepyshev. Compare that to all the uncertainty around the team last year and I’d say this team is poised to have another big year. But in case you are not convinced, here are a few more reasons why I think the 2017-2018 Oilers will be successful:
- This team is now battle tested having gone thru two grueling playoff rounds and should have more confidence this year. Last year, they TALKED about being confident and not letting negative results affect them in the locker room and on the ice. Now they should actually believe it. Confidence is a huge ingredient for success and success breeds confidence so this team should not be lacking it going into the season. If anything, they should be playing with a bit of a chip on their shoulder after how their series went down with Anaheim (they were screwed). They’ve bought into TMac’s system and were rewarded so there’s no reason to think that every guy isn’t all in this year. This being the 2nd or 3rd year in Todd’s system for most of the guys on the roster certainly should also help.
- Draisaitl at #2C should give the Oilers TWO bonafide scoring lines something this team hasn’t had in many years. Let’s face it, the Looch-Nuge-Ebs line had little chemistry and rarely put any fear in opponents (or offensive zone pressure). Meanwhile, the Lucic-Draisaitl-Slepyshev line showed in the 2nd round of playoffs they could do some real damage. All 3 seem to have good chemistry together as the line consists of the classic Driver, Shooter, Banger (YES, Draisaitl is a Driver). If Slepy struggles and Puljujarvi shows good in camp he could even slide in that #2RW and not miss a beat. Either way, that is a very exciting and dangerous trio for opponents to deal with after facing the McDavid line. Moving Draisaitl to McDavid’s wing again should only be a last resort and avoided at all costs if possible if this team is going to consistently roll two scoring lines. With Connor admitting he needs to shoot more and Draisaitl running the 2nd line permanently I would expect the GF to be even higher this year.
- Milan Lucic should be much better this year. So much pressure & off the ice drama last year had to affect player this player mentally at least a bit. For more u can read here if u like: Looch should still get #1PP time this year & if he plays with Draisaitl consistently I’d expect his 5×5 goal total to be closer to career average and him to push 30 goals. People already giving up on this player after one year are insane. He’s an emotional spark plug and huge leader on this team who should only get better as he gets more comfortable not worse. Bank on a better conditioned Looch like Maroon year before too.
- The progression of Klefbom and Larsson. Last year, question was if Larsson was a top pairing guy and if Klefbom could stay healthy and also prove he could handle those big minutes. After some shaky moments early in season the two progressed very nicely and were fantastic in the playoffs. Now coming into this season they should click right from the beginning and form a reliable (and relatively cheap) top pair capable of logging big minutes. It is critical for any successful team to have a reliable top pair to lean on and the Oilers certainly have a good one.
- The emergence of Darnell Nurse, Matt Benning or both. While you may favour one over the other I’ve yet to meet any Oiler fan who dislikes both. They each have shown flashes of brilliance and have 2 rounds of playoff experience under their belts. One of them is going to get a big opportunity playing in the Top 4 till Sekera is back which will just strengthen the bottom pair and solidify the group as a whole when he does. Both are young there may still be a few growing pains but don’t kid yourselves both can play the game at a high level. Just keep giving them the minutes and enjoy the progression.
- Jordan Eberle and Benoit Pouliot are gone. Like it or not, Eberle was a line killer for this team as he really struggled to find his niche in this system. He was supposed to be 97’s go to guy & a PP weapon but he couldn’t hang on to either job. He was completely ineffective on the forecheck, could not cycle the puck at all and too often peeled out of the offensive zone early to not get caught defensively. Too many nights he was a passenger which clearly upset the coach. Nice guy, poor fit in this system. Pouliot, who was invisible the first half of the season got better on the forecheck as the season went on but clearly wasn’t very effective. Both players were considered too lazy by the fans and too often in the coach’s doghouse. Addition by subtraction without those distractions.
- Ryan Strome should be able to take Letestu’s spot on #1PP. This is important as it lowers Letestu’s ice time so he can focus on 5×5 and the PK while it gives Strome the opportunity to have early success with this team. Of course, if he struggles the fallback option could always be to put Letestu BACK on the Top unit but having Strome out there makes sense and should help his progression and confidence. The fact he can also play Center may also give Hopkins an opportunity in the Top 6 with ether Draisaitl or McDavid which is certainly not a bad thing.
- Colonel Talbot. Some may be concerned by the workload Talbot had to carry last year and are predicting an automatic regression. I would argue the opposite. I would expect Brossoit now in his 5th year in organization to spell Talbot more than last year keeping Talbs fresh all year. Talbot had his share of off ice distractions and awful on ice performances yet always responded admirably. His confidence this year should be sky high. Not getting nominated for the Vezina was probably a good thing too keeps that little chip on his shoulder. He just turned 30 so he is hardly getting old and if you consider he didn’t play a lot in New York, 1 year of a heavy workload hardly means regression this year. I think it’s very possible he gets even stronger and puts up better overall numbers with a few less GP and gets that Vezina nomination that he deserved last year.
- Todd MacLellan as coach. Some fans constantly bicker about his lineups so much so that some call for his firing. LOL. Give me a break. Todd has a great feel for his team and often rewards guys for hard work but isn’t afraid of calling them out if they deserve it. I especially love his transparency with the media and the fans. If you don’t listen to his pre-game and post-game interviews I highly recommend you do so this year you could learn a lot about him and this team. Many questions you may have about him or his decision making he addresses in those media sessions. For example, listening to him talk about Draisaitl and how he reminded him not to be so self-critical and challenged him to be the best player on the ice spoke volumes to me. They often say a team takes on the persona of it’s coach and I think it certainly applies to the Oilers. They never seem to get too high or too low. MacLellan is a calming influence, is always quick to temper expectations and never seems to panic. That is extremely important once adversity hits a team and judging by the way this team responded to such adversity consistently last year it speaks highly of the coach in my opinion.
- The Depth in the Organization. I’d be remissed if I didn’t mention the depth Chiarelli has put together in this organization in a relatively short period of time. The depth on defense especially is astonishing considered where it was when he took over. Just looking at Bakersfield’s projected lineup it is hard not to get excited seeing LD Caleb Jones, RD Ethan Bear, LD Ziyat Paigin and RD Ryan Mantha. All those players have a nice mix of size and skills capable of making an impact soon hopefully. Right Wing seems to be a bit of a mystery for now but with the likes of Jesse Puljujarvi, Kailer Yamamoto and Kirill Maksimov the future looks bright. As for players knocking on the NHL door this season: Juhjar Khaira, Joseph Gambardella, Ty Rattie, Joey Laleggla, Dillon Simpson and Nick Ellis all have shown enough to be considered serious contenders to make the team full time at best or be quality call-ups if injuries occur.
We’ve established this team has two LEGIT scoring lines no matter who the #1RW is and a LEGITIMATE Top pair. Not to mention, a fantastic goalie who is capable of carrying the load. This young team is battled tested, has a chip on their shoulder and has rid themselves of a couple of underachieving leftovers from a losing culture. It is a tight knit group brimming with confidence that also has the best young player in the World leading the charge. For most, it will be the 2nd or 3rd year now in this system so there isn’t much of a learning curve anymore just more experience is required. They believe in each other, they stick up for each other and are as talented as any team in the NHL. They can score, they can defend and they can compete in their division.
So while there are many offseason detractors this year just like there was last year I would remind those ‘glass half empty’ fans that the Top 3 teams in each division make the playoffs. Can you honestly tell me this is the 4th best team (or worse) in it’s division this year? The constant drag from negative fans on social media can be exhausting but I refuse to listen to it. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again:
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