We’ve spent close to 11 months speculating about the 2015/16 season, so it’ll be nice to get things started on Thursday. The team was dead in the water by November last season, winning only 6 of 24 games in the first two months. I was feeling optimistc that things would get better last September. But unfortunately, MacTavish failed to provide his coaching staff with a legitimate NHL roster and the rest was history. The goaltending faltered, the defence was still being sorted out (Petry was a healthy scratch, remember that?) and Leon Draisaitl was our second line center.
Next to the addition of Connor McDavid, I think the next significant addition to the organization is the coaching staff. I really have high expectations knowing that Todd McLellan is behind the bench with assistants that he selected. I have full confidence that he’ll be the guy leading the Oilers into the playoffs down the road (and hopefully beyond). There’s definitely a renewed sense of hope and urgency in the city, and hopefully the players can deliver.
That defence core I just can’t get behind. Sekera and Fayne should be the top pairing and should excel against tough competition. I like the Klefbom signing a lot, but I don’t know if I’m okay with him being paired with Schultz to start the season. Klefbom is great at breaking up plays, but I’d rather a young player be paired with an experienced one. I do want to see Schultz have a great year…always been a fan of the offensive defencemen. But he would be better served being paired with an experienced shut down type. I hope I’m wrong and the two young guys can hold their own. The bottom pairing really needed to be enhanced over the past few weeks and really could have been. Reinhart never stood out to me this training camp, and should be developing in the AHL until he’s 100% ready. I do think he’s being rushed because of what the Oilers traded for him. Gryba, Ference and Davidson are 7th options at best, but will likely be playing a few levels above what they should be playing. In an ideal situation, each line would have a puck mover and a physical, stay-at-home type, similar to what McLellan ran in San Jose, but I guess we’ll have to see how things play out.
I’m good with the current tandem. I just think both Talbot and Nilsson will continue to see high-danger scoring chances more often than other goalies. Despite the popular perception, Talbot did not have elite defencemen in front of him in New York. They were better than the Oilers, but it wasn’t as if Talbot was never tested. It’ll be interesting to see how the existing defence core does and if Chiarelli is willing to make moves right away if need be. Now that the forward core is set, I think we’ll see some movement.
I’ve always suspected it, but I think it’s been confirmed now: training camp isn’t about winning jobs, it’s about keeping them. Players who are brought in as “Group B” types, those that are destined for the AHL, are there to show they haven’t regressed and that the development system is working. There’s nothing wrong with that, as it’s just a good way to sharpen your “Group A” roster. After seeing the low level of competition the Oilers faced in exhibition games, I don’t see how a coaching staff can properly assess their players. I’d much rather see how a player does in 35 regular season games in the AHL than a two-week training camp.
I’m a huge fan of Leon Draisaitl, mainly because he’s a center that has size and skill. Those don’t come around very often, making it critical that they develop at their position in the appropriate environment. I didn’t expect him to make the roster, but I think he showed enough talent and production that the team should not hesitate to call him up when he’s needed. I understand that argument for keeping him in the NHL, but if experienced people like Chiarelli and McLellan say he isn’t quite ready, I’ll take their word for it.
It’s great that Anyon Slepyshev made the team. I’m just not convinced that he’s a long-term solution on wing just yet. I’m always skeptical when guys make the team in training camp as they don’t often pan out, especially for the Oilers. Patrick Thoresen, Lennart Petrell and Anton Lander come to mind. It’ll be interesting to see how they handle the wingers once Jordan Eberle is back. Really hate to say it, but I’m suspecting that Yakupov might become expendable if Slepyshev performs well or if the team wants to bring up a physical player like Iiro Pakarinen.
Despite the addition of McDavid and new the coaching staff, I don’t see the Oilers making the playoffs just yet. There are too many question marks on defence and the goaltending is largely unproven. Having said that, I would be thrilled if the Oilers can remain competitive past December and finish 10th in the western conference. That would be a major jump for the franchise, so it’s not like I’m being overly pessimistic.
14th in the West
10th in the West
Top Scorer: Connor McDavid (70 points)
Best defenceman*: Oscar Klefbom
Likely to get dealt: Nail Yakupov
*Based on boxcars and advanced stats
PS. Quick shout out to the Oilogosphere. You guys are awesome.