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Edmonton Oilers

How far can Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl carry the Edmonton Oilers in ’21-’22? (image from Jason Franson/The Canadian Press)

Edmonton Oilers 2021 – 2022 Season Preview: Connor, Leon, and Who?

Edmonton Oilers
How far can Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl carry the Edmonton Oilers in ’21-’22? How big of a role does Tyson Barrie play? (image from Jason Franson/The Canadian Press)

Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl Deserve Success With the Edmonton Oilers

Yikes. Yikes to the performance of the Edmonton Oilers in each of the past two seasons. In ’19-’20, the Oilers lost in the qualifying round to the Chicago Blackhawks in four games. Last year, they were swept out of the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs by the Winnipeg Jets. How does that happen when the two best hockey players in the world were healthy for both postseasons? Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl and their back-to-back Hart Memorial trophies can only do so much. McDavid went berserk last season with 105 points in just 56 games – something reminiscent of the days Wayne Gretzky was rocking the orange and blue. Draisaitl has 124 goals over the last three seasons. No other duo can come close to what these two can do on a nightly basis, but they cannot do it all themselves.

Edmonton has been the same team for a few seasons now. They are extremely top heavy and lack reliable offensive depth and goaltending. It’s a formula that wins games in the regular season but gets exposed come postseason. McDavid and Draisaitl will turn just 25 and 26 this season and are locked up long term, but hockey is played with more than two players, and the Edmonton Oilers had themselves a busy offseason.

Offseason Moves

Let’s start with contract extensions, shall we? The Edmonton Oilers extended a handful of notable names this summer. To start, former number one overall pick Ryan Nugent-Hopkins signed an eight-year, $41 million extension. Not a bad deal considering he will have a $5.125 AAV and was expected to want more. Darnell Nurse is a 26-year-old defenseman who was given an eight-year, $74 million extension that is set to start in ’22-’23. A $9.25 AAV is huge and is shockingly higher than Leon Draisaitl’s $8.5 million. His line mate Tyson Barrie is also back after he performed well in his one-year contract of last year. Barrie, 30, signed a three-year deal worth $13.5 million and carries a $4.5 million AAV. Goaltender Mike Smith will turn 40 in ’21-’22 and was handed a two-year deal worth a total of $4.4 million.

Edmonton brought in some new guys, too. Zach Hyman is here on a seven-year, $38.5 million deal. Over the past two seasons, he’s put up 70 points in 94 games playing alongside Auston Matthews in Toronto. Now he will play with Connor McDavid – what a life that must be. The two of them are showing early signs of chemistry this preseason:

Veteran Duncan Keith is a three-time Stanley Cup champion and was acquired in a trade for Caleb Jones and a 2022 conditional third-round pick. Keith is 38 and has two years left on his contract that pays him $5.5 million annually. Cody Ceci will play with him on the blue line after signing a four-year, $13 million contract in free agency. Forwards Derek Ryan and Warren Foegele are now in Edmonton. Ryan signed a two-year for a total of $2.5 million, while Foegele was acquired in a trade with the Carolina Hurricanes and immediately signed a three-year contract with an AAV of $2.75 million.

Overall, the Edmonton Oilers lost more than they gained this offseason. They lost defensemen Adam Larsson (expansion draft), Ethan Bear (Foegele trade), and Dmitry Kulikov (free agency to Minnesota Wild). Forwards that are in different cities for ’21-’22 include Dominik Kahun (Switzerland for Euro league), Alex Chiasson (free agency and remains unsigned), and James Neal (buyout). Chiasson is always an option to bring back, if need be, but he wants more than his previous $2.15 million AAV deal – something Edmonton cannot do because they are pretty much right up to the salary cap ceiling. Neal’s buyout will cost the Oilers just under $2 million per year through ’24-’25.

Lineup Projection

Here are my projected lines for the’21-’22 Carolina Hurricanes:

Zach HymanConnor McDavid (C)Jesse Puljujarvi
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (A)Leon Draisaitl (A)Kailer Yamamoto
Warren FoegeleDerek RyanZack Kassian
Darnell NurseRyan McLeod (R)Kyle Turris

McDavid and Draisaitl make everyone around them better, which is why it’s worth splitting them up five-on-five. Puljujarvi needs to take a step forward this season, and he has plenty of potential to do so. He’s just one year younger than McDavid, and Hyman will be a stable winger next to them, which was something the Oilers struggled to find down the stretch last year. Ryan McLeod should crack the roster this year as a rookie. The former 40th overall pick in 2018 is a big bodied, two-way forward that can play on both the powerplay and penalty kill. Edmonton is going to miss Josh Archibald for some significant time, as he is dealing with a heart condition. Dylan Holloway has a chance to make the team as a 20-year-old, but he suffered a wrist injury and will miss around three months.

The Oilers were the league’s best powerplay team in each of the past two seasons, converting on 29.5% and 27.6% of their chances, respectively. They’ve also finished in the top-10 for penalty kill percentage both years. This team is top heavy but has been winning by outplaying opponents on special teams.

Darnell Nurse (A)Tyson Barrie
Duncan KeithCody Ceci
Kris RussellEvan Bouchard

Slater Koekkoek also signed an extension this offseason for two years at $925k AAV. He should play over Kris Russell because he is better, but I think they’ll compete for the spot into the first week or two of the season. Barrie will run the top powerplay unit and, Nurse will run the second. Barrie put up eight goals and 40 assists in ’20-’21, with four and 19 coming on the man advantage. Bouchard will finally start this season. He had a lot of hype when drafted 10th overall in 2018. Oskar Klefbom will miss the entire season due to shoulder surgery.

Mike SmithMikko Koskinen

Smith is coming off one of his best seasons as an NHL goaltender. He went 21-6-2 with a .923 save percentage and 2.31 GAA. Because he’ll turn 40 this year, it’s illogical to expect him to pay at that high of a level again. Despite Smith’s amazing year, Koskinen still played in 26 games, going 13-13-0 with a .899 save percentage and 3.17 GAA. Being 33, he’ll likely be out of Edmonton after his contract expires this year. Alex Stalock, the third string, will likely miss the whole year with a heart issue.

Other names that could be in and out of the lineup include Brendan Perlini, Tyler Benson, and Colton Sceviour, who the Oilers brought in on a professional tryout.

Where Will They Finish?

The Pacific division is not that impressive top to bottom, and neither was the North division of last season. The Oilers cruised through the Canadian teams of ’20-’21 and still disappointed in the playoffs. They finished second in the Pacific two seasons ago and will likely compete for playoff seeding this year with the Vancouver Canucks and Calgary Flames. The Vegas Golden Knights should win the division easily, but I would consider the Edmonton Oilers the second-best Pacific team. They’ll make the tournament, no doubt.

McDavid and Draisaitl deserve a deep playoff run. So does the entire hockey world. Watching these two play is an absolute luxury for the Edmonton Oilers, and they need to start making significant progress towards a championship. They’ve taken their licks, and now it’s time for them to learn from and overcome their losses.

The Edmonton Oilers open the ’21-’22 NHL season at +2800 odds to win the Stanley Cup.

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