One of the biggest surprises so far this season is the Edmonton Oilers’ strong start. So far, the only team who has been able to figure them out was the injury riddled Buffalo Sabres when they traveled to Edmonton on October 16th.
Edmonton was a noisy team during the off-season, with some moves that were questioned league-wide and some familiar criticism coming from its fan base. However, with their strong start, is this the beginning of a whole new Oilers team? In this article we will take a look at some of their moves and how Edmonton has been playing so far this season.
Edmonton was involved the first of three major blockbuster trades the Wednesday prior to the 2016 NHL Entry draft, trading away first overall pick Taylor Hall in a one-for-one trade for New Jersey defenseman Adam Larsson. The trade was immediately followed by Oilers fans voicing their disapproval of the loss of one of their top forwards for a defenseman who averaged just over 22 minutes per game in the season prior. Fans from around the league were confused at this seemingly one-sided deal, and Oilers fans are still very much up in arms over the loss of a player who has 0.86 points per game in his first six seasons. After signing Milan Lucic, however, the trade seemed to make a bit more sense. Larsson’s cap hit was $4.167 million AAV versus Hall’s $6 million AAV, freeing up $1.833 million. Regardless, the trade has been seen around the league as a steal for New Jersey, but with the lack of defensive depth on the Oilers, perhaps a 4th overall pick filling in as a top-two defender isn’t such a bad idea.
After spending a season with the L.A. Kings, the Edmonton Oilers signed Milan Lucic to a 7 year $42 million contract. After the loss of Taylor Hall, the Oilers were looking for someone to fill the scoring void that would be left. Lucic jumped right into the top line with teammates Connor McDavid Centering and Jordan Eberle at right wing. McDavid got 48 points in 45 games last season, despite suffering a broken clavicle, and Eberle had two back-to-back 60+ point seasons before the 2015-16 season, where he missed the beginning of the season from a shoulder injury sustained in the preseason. Needless to say, this new line is a scoring powerhouse, and Lucic will be sure to make sure that nobody messes with either of his line-mates.
Jesse Puljujärvi, the Oiler’s first round pick in the 2016 NHL Entry draft was signed to a three-year entry-level contract. During the season opener, Puljujärvi scored his first NHL goal on a forced turnover in the Calgary zone. However, he was relatively quiet during the next three games, and ended up being a healthy scratch during the match-up against Carolina and St. Louis. The Oilers put him back into the line-up during the heritage classic, where he got just over 12 minutes of ice-time and registered four shots on net.
The 2012 first overall pick, Nail Yakupov, was traded to St. Louis for 22-year-old forward, Zach Pochiro, and a conditional pick. Yakupov is regarded as a big draft bust for the Edmonton Oilers, earning just 111 points in 252 career games with the team. However, his game might be turning around in St. Louis, where he has gotten two goals and two assists in the first six games of the season.
Oilers Performance this Season
Oilers fans are pleased to see a strong start this season from their team. It has been over a decade since Edmonton has last made the post season, and since then they have had more 1st overall picks than any other team in the league. In the past four seasons, it has taken at least 12 games for the Oilers to get their fifth win on the year. This year, they were able to do it in only six, making them the first NHL team to record five wins.
In their first six games, the Oilers have been an offensive threat to every team they’ve played against. In each of their wins, they have gotten at least three goals, averaging 3.83 goals per game so far. Connor McDavid already has four goals and five assists on the season, totaling nine points. Jordan Eberle and second line center, Leon Draisaitl, are both sitting at a point per game.
Cam Talbot is playing his second year as an Oiler, and has started all six games so far for the Edmonton team. Talbot has let in 16 goals on 198 total shots, averaging 2.75 goals per game. The Edmonton defense is relying pretty heavily on Talbot to play well in net, as they are tied for fifth most shots against per game in the league with Nashville. Cam Talbot recorded his first shut-out of the season against the Winnipeg Jets during the Heritage Classic, where he made 31 saves.
Long-shot forward Tyler Pitlick made the roster this season after a promising performance in the preseason for the Oilers. Pitlick played only 10 games in 2014-15 and 17 games last season, earning a total of three goals over his first 27 games. So far this season, he has already doubled his number of NHL goals, getting three goals in the first six games.
Edmonton vs. Washington
Edmonton is very reliant on their top two lines for offensive generation. Starting center Connor McDavid is averaging 1.5 points per game so far, and second line center Leon Draisaitl has started out the season strong with a point per game. There is plenty of scoring power in the top six, but the bottom six have been relatively quiet so far this season. The Capitals will have to utilize their depth lines when matched up against the quieter Edmonton lines. The Oilers have been able to give their top two lines plenty of rest in their recent victories due to more comfortable leads, so Washington will have to put the pressure on early and hopefully tire out the Oilers’ talent.
One of McDavid’s key elements is his speed. This young star has the ability to blow by most of the defense that he’s matched up against, and has no problem using his quick hands to get the puck past any netminder. On Wednesday, the Capitals’ defense will have to step up their game and do their best to keep up with this speedy forward, because there is a good chance that he will score if he is alone against Holtby.
Edmonton gives up a fair number of scoring chances each game, partly due to their lack of good defense. In fact, more often than not, Edmonton has gotten out-shot by their opponents each game. The Capitals will need to capitalize on the opportunities that they get and not overpass the puck like they have recently. For this game, Washington will have to turn into a shoot-first team and hopefully generate rebounds to put heavy pressure on Talbot. If the Caps can set up in the offensive zone, they will be able to generate offense against Talbot and get solid scoring chances, so it’s imperative that they enter the zone cleanly and don’t give the puck away.
Washington will have a tough time against the Oilers and their offensive prowess, and they will have to utilize their strength to exploit the Oilers’ weaknesses. The biggest keys to the game for Washington will be puck possession, speed, and depth performance.
By Marcus Boutilier and Justin Green