It was a pretty dismal season with the Oilers finishing 28th and securing yet another high draft pick. It’s unfortunate for fans and the city, as this will be the 9th consecutive year that the club failed to make the post-season. Meanwhile, five other Canadian teams, including Calgary of all teams, will get set for playoff hockey.
The negatives of the season are pretty straight forward: the team was poorly built in September (at defence and center), lost a lot, had yet another coaching change, had poor goaltending, and traded away TWO NHL players in Perron and Petry. What the club does with the acquired draft picks remains to be seen, but it’ll take years to replace the talent and skill-set of those two.
This might shock some, but there were some positives from this season. This is not meant to put any sort of spin on the Oilers losing ways, but is intended to highlight what I think are things the team can build on going forward.
- Nail Yakupov looks like an NHL player. There’s no question he wants to be the go-to guy every night and will be a star player in a few years. For now though, he’s still finding his way, often getting outshot when he’s on the ice. But he’s making small improvements each game, which will hopefully mean we’ll see a complete player in the next year or two. His new two-year deal is fair for both sides and reflects well on the team’s overall perception of Yak.
- Anton Lander has arrived. We’ve been waiting for a while for this guy to be an NHL player, haven’t we? From his draft day to his time in OKC, we heard how good and smart of a player he was, and the leadership qualities he brings to a team. It was about time he got some NHL linemates and a chance to succeed. His ability to play the tougher minutes and have a presence in front of the net gives me a lot confidence in our center depth next season. Just hoping that the Oilers still add another center, who could play wing and transition to center if an injury occurs.
- We also saw Nugent-Hopkins make some significant strides in his game. He may not have reached that “star” status quite yet, but we can expect big things from him in the next year or two. Night and day difference compared to last season, especially how he was along the boards and in puck battles. We’re actually entering next season with a legit number one center.
- A couple of our key prospects were given the opportunity to develop. Both Nurse and Draisaitl spent time in juniors and have done extremely well. Both are playing pivotal roles in their respective clubs playoff runs, and should be in top shape at training camp. I’m just hoping the team is patient with both of these players and acquires NHL caliber talent this summer so both can develop at the AHL level.
- MacTavish is headed into his third year as GM and has some key decisions to make this summer. Coaching, goaltending and adding some pieces to the defence core is hopefully at the top of his list. He has, in my opinion, taken some well-deserved lumps, for good reason, as some of his decisions have backfired. The promotion of Schultz, the signing of Nikitin, the acquisition of Fasth and Scrivens have all proven to be poor decisions on his part. His most recent press conference, I thought, demonstrated his maturity as GM. There weren’t any phrases like “bold moves” uttered. Instead MacT tried to downplay things and keep things as vague as possible. Frustrating from a fan’s perspective, absolutely. But keep in mind these press conferences are not just for fans, but for sponsors, players, agents and rival GM’s. I think part of the reason why he didn’t make a deal was because he just said too much publicly when he first got hired. Hopefully he plays things a little tighter to the vest.
Following the end of last season, my only positives were that the Oilers acquired veteran players and MacTavish took some risks, The positives following this season were much better. Doesn’t make anything better considering how poorly they finished. But the fact that our players are progressing is something worth noting. We’ll have to wait and see if MacTavish can acquire the right players this summer and really get this club back on track.