2016/17 record: 50-24-8
2017/18 prediction: 2nd in Pacific, Western Conference Finals
A lot has happened for the Oilers to go from perennial bottom feeders to Stanley Cup contenders, but if we think about it, doesn’t the transition feel a little quick?
When people were talking predictions for the Oilers of 2016/17 many came to the consensus that the team might contend for a playoff spot and in the best case scenario, bow out in the first round. But the Hart winning play of Connor McDavid, the emergence of Leon Draisaitl, and the franchise record setting wins of Cam Talbot changed all of that. Now a full year later, the Oilers are considered by many to be the darlings of the NHL, and Stanley Cup favorites. So what has changed from the beginning of last year to this year?
Well, not a whole lot has changed. In fact, you can even make the case that the team got worse. The 2016/17 Oilers had a lot of good luck and karma on their side, no one got injured. Compare that to the Oilers of 15/16 who lost core players Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Jordan Eberle, Oscar Klefbom, and most noticeably McDavid for long stretches. Now the 17/18 Oilers look almost identical to that 16/17 squad, except they lost a consistent 60pt producer in Jordan Eberle and got back Ryan Strome who has scored 50pts one time. Not only that, the injury bug that they avoided last year, hit early as veteran blue liner Andrej Sekera will be gone until at least December. This along with the Eberle trade, the controversial signing of Kris Russell, and seeing the Flames make these great off season moves has gotten a lot of Oilers fans slowly sweating. I also think Oilers fans are not used to seeing the term Stanley Cup Contender and Edmonton Oilers being mentioned in the same breath for a long time, so I’m sure a lot of them have this feeling of unease coming into 17/18.
Here’s the thing though, I think a lot of people slept on the Oilers last year, and did not see their full potential. This was a team that was only a blown lead and a shady non call away from making the Western Conference Finals. They are dynamic, fast, tough and young.
This year McDavid will cement his place as the best player in the league, and Draisaitl will prove he’s worth that monster contract he signed. With these two, plus Strome and Nugent-Hopkins, the Oilers can roll at least three good centers every game. The team has a legitimate starter in Talbot, who is able to steal games and will also have a reliable backup in Brossoit, who is finally feeling his groove. And for the first time in a long time, the Oilers can say they have a confident top two in defence with Larsson and Klefbom. The loss of Sekera is a big blow, but this will also allow youngsters Darnell Nurse and Matt Benning to prove their worth, or for someone new to step in (paging Yohann Auvitu). And Jesse Puljujarvi will play in what could be his first full season as a pro, maybe even stealing a spot on that shallow right side.
If this team stays healthy I can see them contending, if not, leading the Pacific Division, and making a run to the Western Conference Finals (Anaheim and Calgary will have something to say about that). I don’t see them winning it all, but again no one a year ago saw them being a Stanley Cup favorite.