Even though the Edmonton Oilers have had
numerous top-10 draft picks over the past decade they’ve still managed to miss
the NHL playoffs every season since 2005/06. In fact, the Oilers have had the
first-overall draft choice four times between 2010 and 2015 and have selected
Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Nail Yakupov and Connor McDavid with those
prized selections. Edmonton also chose another top prospect in this summer’s
draft when they selected forward Jesse Puljujärvi of Finland.
There has been a light at the end of the
tunnel for Oilers’ fans in the past few seasons as the franchise has stockpiled
the cupboards with some fine young talent. However, the that light has burned
itself out year after year as the club’s streak of utility never came to an
end. Once again there will be optimism in Edmonton when the 2016/17 season
faces off as McDavid has already shown he’s one of the best players in the
league and he’s just 19 years old. In addition, the 18-year-old Puljujärvi was
a worthy first-overall pick in this year’s draft by according to many experts.
Peter Chiarelli, the Oilers’ general
manager and president of hockey operations, stated the team is headed in the
right direction, but some fans have questioned this due to his recent moves.
Chiarelli had a habit of trading away young prospects while he was GM of the
Boston Bruins as he shipped out Blake Wheeler, Phil Kessel and Tyler Seguin. He’s
now done the same thing in Edmonton since being hired in April of 2015 as the
GM has shipped out former number-one picks Taylor Hall and Nail Yakupov.
Critical fans aren’t particularly
questioning why Hall and Yakupov were sent packing, but are questioning the
minimal return the Oilers got for the two young forwards. Chiarelli took
defenceman Adam Larsson back in return from New Jersey for the 24-year-old Hall
who scored 328 points in 381 contests. The 23-year-old Larsson was the
fourth-overall pick in the 2011 draft and has played just 274 regular-season
games since then with nine goals and 69 points to his name. However, compared
to the Yakupov trade, the Larsson deal looks like a steal.
For some reason, Chiarelli decided not to
give Yakupov another shot at playing with McDavid to start the 2016/17 season
after the two created some chemistry together last campaign. The 23-year-old
Yakupov was traded to the St. Louis Blues for a conditional third-round draft
pick in 2017 and forward Zach Pochiro. The Oilers will receive a second-round
pick in 2018 instead of a third-rounder in 2017 if Yakupov scores at least 15
goals in 2016-17. Yakupov managed to score 50 goals and 61 assists for 111
points for Edmonton in 252 games.
The return was very little though for a
good young forward who has the skills and potential to break out at any moment.
Pochiro is a 22-year-old American-born centre who was drafted 112th
overall in 2013. He’s yet to play an NHL game and had just nine goals and 17
assists in 44 games with the Quad City Mallards of the ECHL last season and was
held pointless in one game in the AHL. Oilers’ fans are having a hard time
believing that Chiarelli offered Yakupov to all other 29 teams in the NHL and
this was the best deal he could get in return for Yakupov.
Chiarelli has also come under fire for
naming McDavid as the team’s captain after just 45 games of NHL experience. He
became the youngest fulltime captain during the preseason at the age of just 19
years and 266 days. Critics feel the move sums up the franchise’s problems as
McDavid doesn’t have enough experience at this stage of his career and the club
should have waited until naming a new captain. There’s no doubt McDavid is a
world-class player though and he’ll have to prove it year in and year out if
the Oilers are to make the playoffs on a consistent basis. Edmonton will also
be relying on Nugent-Hopkins, Larsson, Puljujärvi, Jordan Eberle, Leon
Draisaitl and newcomer Milan Lucic.
McDavid played just 45 games as a rookie
last season due to injury, but racked up 48 points. Draisaitl scored 51 points
last season as a 20-year-old and the 26-year-old Eberle has scored an average
of 28 goals over the past four seasons. Defensively, Larsson will be a key
player along with fellow blueliner Kris Russell, who signed year-long deal for
a reported $3.1 million as a free agent a week before the season was set to
begin. There’s also no doubt that goaltender Cam Talbot will also have to be at
his best. Over the past three season, teams needed an average of 92 points to
make the playoffs in the Western Conference.
This means the Oilers need to improve by 22
points over last year’s total of 70, which was second-worst in the league and
just one ahead of last-place Toronto. Minnesota reached the postseason with 87
points last campaign, but that’s still 17 more points than the Oilers had. For
Edmonton to reach the playoffs they need to improve on last year’s losing
streaks as the team lost at least three games in a row on 11 different
occasions. They also surrendered the most goals five-on-five goals last season.
If the Oilers improve in those areas and still fail to end their 10-season playoff
drought, perhaps Chiarelli should start looking over his shoulder.
Labels: Ian Palmer