If 2020 was difficult for any particular NHL team you would be hard pushed to find a more deserving winner than the Edmonton Oilers. Second place in the Pacific Division when the season was halted, the Oilers headed into the playoffs with a ton of confidence. They only missed out on the Round Robin tournament on points per game. Then came the crushing blow against the Chicago Blackhawks and that is where our 2021 preview shall begin.
The Oilers were clear favorites for a reason against the Blackhawks in their five-game series. Leon Draisaitl was on his way to a Hart Trophy while they also had another decent player by the name of Connor McDavid on the roster. However, like their previous playoff appearance in the 2016-17 season, the fan base was left underwhelmed as a young Chicago Blackhawks team led by a veteran presence sent the Oilers packing.
There’s no doubt the talent is available in Edmonton but this year they have to get over whatever mental block is in place. With a generational talent like McDavid, it’s unacceptable to not be going deeper into the playoffs. With that said, it was all about adding a supporting cast this off-season which is what they did.
The Edmonton Oilers signed offensive defenseman Tyson Barrie as an unrestricted free agent. The former Colorado Avalanche defenseman signed a one year deal and will be expected to see major powerplay time with Oscar Klefbom out for the season. Ethan Bear could also be a contender for those minutes, but given he’s currently an RFA and the Oilers are over the Salary Cap they are going to have to work quickly to have him start the season.
They also signed center Kyle Turris on a 2 year $1.65 AAV. This will be the 31-year-old’s fourth team in the NHL and has struggled with form in recent years with the Nashville Predators. He will likely play third line minutes in Edmonton which may suit the BC native.
The Oilers biggest addition though could end up being someone they already had… Jesse Puljujarvi. The 2016 NHL Draft fourth overall pick looked like he was all but done with the Oilers but resigned with the franchise in the offseason after a change of heart. The right-winger had been playing in Finland with Karpat where he put up 65 points in 72 games.
While not a huge loss it was surprising that the Oilers didn’t tender a qualifying offer to Andreas Athanasiou. Considering they had given up two second-round picks to acquire the forward at the deadline it was thought they would try to re-sign him. The salary cap situation probably came into play but it still looks like bad team management for a player who only put up two points in nine regular-season games.
FORWARD LINE PROJECTIONS:
DEFENSIVE LINE PROJECTIONS
Those top two forward lines are pretty easy to pick and honestly, you could probably move Neal and Yamamoto up if things aren’t working. The defense is different. Ethan Bear and Caleb Jones both need ice time to develop and you didn’t bring Tyson Barrie in to play third-line minutes given his offensive talents.
That is why I put Russell and Larsson as the bottom pairing. If that ends up being the case the Oilers need to offload Larsson to help them build a fourth line as that is their biggest weakness at the forward position. You could also look to trade Russell given the young blood of Philip Broberg and Evan Bouchard coming through.
This would also help you re-sign Bear with no problems. It would leave you very light and inexperienced though which I don’t think is the plan for the Oilers. With McDavid at 23 years old, they are certainly entering ‘win-now’ mode for General Manager Ken Holland. At the very least a deep playoff run is needed.
Playoffs won’t (or shouldn’t) be a problem. The top two lines alone should drag the rest of the team kicking and screaming if need be. If everything clicks you could be even talking Division winners, which would give them a somewhat easier route to the final four. As we’ve seen before with the Oilers though, that means literally nothing.
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