Edmonton Oilers season preview: Brighter days are ahead
Plus: With the addition of Connor McDavid, Edmonton all of a sudden has a glimmer of hope. The team went out and hired a GM in Peter Chiarelli, and he went to work right away. He added defenseman Andrej Sekera and Mark Letestu via free agency and traded for goaltender Cam Talbot, defenseman Griffin Reinhart and defenseman Eric Gryba. The defensemen unit went from suspect at best to relatively average within a night. With a crop of young forwards, fueled by McDavid, Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Jordan Eberle and Nail Yakupov, the Oilers should be a fun team to watch with new head coach Todd McLellan at the helm.
Minus: With the additions of Gryba, Sekera and Reinhart, the Oilers have nine different NHL-caliber defensemen, yet they still have an average unit overall. Sekera can step in and be a top-pairing defenseman, but who joins him? Justin Schultz has been underwhelming defensively. Andrew Ference and Mark Fayne take up a roster spot, but aren’t anything to get excited about. Oscar Klefbom is certainly capable of top-pairing minutes, but he’s better suited on the left side, much like Sekera. The logjam could also means that Darnell Nurse spends time in the AHL with the Oklahoma City Barons. He’s already NHL ready. The Oilers are better off shipping out one of their defensemen to make room for Nurse. The likely candidates? Nikita Nkitin and newly acquired Gryba.
X-Factor: Cam Talbot
Saying the X-factor is McDavid is simply too easy. The Oilers allowed 283 goals last year, the most in the league. They put all of their eggs in Talbot’s basket to fix their porous goaltending situation. Talbot has 57 games on his NHL resume, all while playing behind one of the strongest defensemen groupings in the NHL in the New York Rangers. Can he step in and become a franchise goaltender behind a significantly weaker unit, or will his career .931 save percentage take a hit?
Prediction: The Oilers won’t be fighting for a playoff spot, but they won’t be the basement dweller team that we’ve seen in years past. McDavid will lead the team offensively and comfortably win the Calder Trophy as the league’s top rookie. And the Oilers, despite having minuscule odds, will win the top pick in the lottery selection for the 2016 draft.