Milan Lucic

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Why Oilers are struggling, and what needs to change

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Sure, Connor McDavid scored all three of their goals, but it was still electrifying to see the Edmonton Oilers open their season with a 3-0 win against the Calgary Flames.

For those who saw red flags, the last week must have felt like retribution, as the Oilers dropped three straight, with their most recent loss (6-1 to the Ottawa Senators) marking a low point.

With that 1-3-0 record in mind and Leon Draisaitl on the shelf, spirits are low and frustrations might be high in Edmonton. Let’s dig deeper to see which patterns should continue and how much this boils down to bad luck.

Plenty of shots, but maybe the wrong guys shooting?

The Oilers lead the NHL in Corsi For rating with 59.42 percent, and Edmonton sports the classic signs of bad luck: they fall in the bottom five in PDO and team shooting percentage. (Fancy stats via Natural Stat Trick.)

The takeaway there is quite basic: more bounces are bound to go their way. Just consider McDavid alone: he hasn’t scored a goal since that thrilling hat trick to start the season.

A lot of those trends will end merely by playing more games.

That said, the distribution of shots on goal is a bit troubling, and it’s something that Oilers head coach Todd McLellan should address either through tweaking lines or his system (or both?).

Check out the Oilers’ top five players in shots on goal:

1. McDavid (19)
2. Oscar Klefbom (15)
3. Darnell Nurse (13)
4. Draisaitl (12 in three GP)
5. Adam Larsson (11)

Yes, three of the Oilers’ top five shooters are defensemen. McLellan pointed out the team’s most glaring offensive deficit, so far, to Jim Matheson of the Edmonton Journal.

“We’re not getting enough from the wingers or our bottom six and if you’re not scoring (as a team), you can’t be giving up six (goals),” McLellan said.

Indeed, the Oilers need more from their supporting cast.

Most of those players should expect a rebound; the more frightening question is: how much can the Oilers really expect? Even in Milan Lucic‘s best days, he’s never been a volume shooter; his career average is well under two shots on goal per contest.

Ryan Strome hasn’t scored a point so far for the Oilers, but some of that might come down to a lack of opportunities. He’s averaging almost one fewer minute of ice time per game vs. his last season with the Islanders, which is a touch surprising since many expected this to be an opportunity for him to break through.

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins simply needs to do more. While RNH has two goals so far, he’s only fired five SOG in four games. You can explain some of that away by explaining playmaking leanings, but when your team is struggling, sometimes a passer must be a bit more assertive, too.

Again, expect better things from RNH and Lucic in particular, not to mention Patrick Maroon, Kailer Yamamoto, and Jussi Jokinen. Even so, some of this might come down to the makeup of this team.

Depth can often be key for scoring in the NHL, and the Oilers have something to prove in that area.

Frustrations for Cam Talbot

Credit Edmonton Oilers workhorse Cam Talbot for accepting blame for his part in the Oilers’ 1-3-0 start, as the Edmonton Sun’s Terry Jones notes.

“I’ll find a way to fix it. I know I will because I’ve always done it before,” Talbot said. “We’re going to turn this around here, no doubt. It starts with me in net. Once I start making the saves I’m supposed to make, the guys in front of me can do what they’re supposed to do. It starts in net and we work our way out from there.”

If you want to look at the surest spot where things will improve for Edmonton, look to Talbot.

Much like a host of other NHL goalies, he’s off to a shockingly bad start. Talbot’s GAA is just under four (3.96) and his save percentage probably gives Grant Fuhr some unpleasant flashbacks (.880). Talbot’s numbers should rise considerably, even if he fails to match the heights of 2016-17.

In the meantime, the Oilers turn to Laurent Brossoit, who’s off to a solid start.

***

In most cases, the Oilers should settle things down.

Still, it’s important to remember that this team has Stanley Cup aspirations. For all the justifiable criticisms GM Peter Chiarelli receives, if he can identify issues during the season and address at least some of them with savvy “rentals,” then he’ll earn his place as the guy who lucked into having McDavid on his roster.

Things will get better. It’s just going to be a challenge when you consider how high they set the bar for themselves.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

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Fantasy adds and drops: Anthony Mantha is off to a good start

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The fine folks at Pro Hockey Talk will start doing their best to help you win your fantasy hockey leagues.

The “fantasy adds and drops” column will aim to aid fantasy hockey general managers make tough decisions when it comes to picking up players that are available in the majority of leagues and dropping players that have performed below expectations.

We’ll be using Yahoo! Sports fantasy data as the base for this column.

Here’s a list of players that are all owned in less than 50 percent of Yahoo! leagues that I’d consider picking up this week:

Anthony Mantha-LW/RW-Detroit Red Wings (owned in 49 percent of leagues)

Mantha has picked up seven points in five games this season. He’s been held off the scoresheet in two of five games, but he’s made up for it by recording two three-point games already. Mantha is averaging over two minutes of ice time per game on the power play.

–Jesper Bratt-LW/RW-New Jersey Devils (owned in 41 percent of leagues)

Bratt was arguably the biggest surprise in the league during the first week of the regular season. No expected this former sixth-round pick to score six points in his first three games, but that’s exactly what happened. In his last two games, he’s failed to record a point, and that’s a little concerning.

Ryan Hartman-LW-Chicago Blackhawks (owned in 35 percent of leagues)

Hartman has eight points in five games so far this season, but keep in mind that five of those points came in one game. His offensive production will definitely dry up, but his ability to rack up penalty minutes make him an intriguing addition in leagues that award point for PIM.

Mikko Rantanen-LW/RW/-Colorado Avalanche (owned in 20 percent of leagues)

The 10th overall pick in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft is off to a good start this season, as he has one goal and four assists in six games. He’s played over 17:30 in three of his last four contests, which means the Avalanche coaching staff believe they can rely on him. He needs to be owned in a lot of dynasty leagues, too.

[More Fantasy: Check out RotoWorld’s weekly Waiver Wired column]

Sven Andrighetto-LW/RW-Colorado Avalanche (owned in 12 percent of leagues)

Avalanche GM Joe Sakic has been criticized for a lot of the moves he’s made, but getting Andrighetto from Montreal for Andreas Martinsen was one of his best. Andrighetto is an undersized, speedy forward with offensive ability. He’s up to six points in six games already this season. He won’t continue on a point-per-game pace, but he’s good enough to a productive NHLer. I’d rather have Andrighetto than Nail Yakupov on my fantasy team.

Jan Rutta-D-Chicago Blackhawks (owned in 29 percent of leagues)

Rutta’s NHL career is off to a fantastic start. He’s accumulated two goals, two assists, a plus-6 rating and six penalty minutes in six contests. The 27-year-old rookie has averaged 18:59 of ice time, which isn’t insignificant for a first-year blue liner.

Connor Hellebuyck-G-Winnipeg Jets (owned in 47 percent of leagues)

The goaltending picture in Winnipeg wasn’t exactly clear going into the season. Hellebuyck was supposed to be the goalie of the future, while Steve Mason was going to be the short-term solution. Well, the future appears to be now. Hellebuyck has done well for the Jets and although Mason isn’t out of the picture, the youngster will be the go-to option for now.

[Fantasy Podcast: RotoWorld on Ovechkin’s hot start]

Here are a list of players that are owned in more than 50 percent of Yahoo! leagues that could be dropped:

Milan Lucic-LW-Edmonton Oilers (owned in 76 percent of leagues)

At this point, most hockey fans know what Lucic brings to the table. He’s a tough customer that can chip in offensively every so often. His offensive numbers would be better if he’d be lining up with Connor McDavid, but he’s not. So unless you’re getting points for penalty minutes, you can drop Lucic in most leagues.

Andre Burakovsky-LW/RW-Washington Capitals (owned in 63 percent of leagues)

Burakovsky tends to get off to slow starts, and that’s been the case this season. Some Caps players have been filling up the net, but he hasn’t been one of them. He has two assists in six games so far this season.

Robin Lehner-G-Buffalo Sabres (owned in 63 percent of leagues)

Many expected the Sabres to be one of the more improved teams in the NHL this season, but they’ve disappointed so far. The disappointment doesn’t all fall on Lehner’s shoulders though. Unfortunately, when a team doesn’t win, it impacts their goalie’s fantasy value.

Jakob Silfverberg-RW-Anaheim Ducks (owned in 58 percent of leagues)

It’s been a disappointing start to the season for the Ducks forward, who has just one assist in six games. He’ll get his offensive totals up at some point, but he’s still never hit the 50-point mark in his career, so there’s a cap to his upside.

————

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

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PHT Power Rankings: Making sense of the early standings

Plea to the NHL: You can nix the All-Star Game, just keep skills competition

Oilers, Golden Knights, Cali teams, and more in PHT’s Pacific preview

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Let’s cut to the chase and wrap up these division previews.

Check out these other previews: Atlantic DivisionCentral Division, Metropolitan DivisionPHT’s picks and predictions.

Anaheim Ducks

Poll/looking to make the leap

Arizona Coyotes

Poll/looking to make the leap

Calgary Flames

Poll/looking to make the leap

Edmonton Oilers

Poll/looking to make the leap

Los Angeles Kings

Poll/looking to make the leap

San Jose Sharks

Poll/looking to make the leap

Vancouver Canucks

Poll/looking to make the leap

Vegas Golden Kngihts

Poll/looking to make the leap

Draisaitl shrugs off pressure of new deal, starts on different line than McDavid

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If nothing else, Leon Draisaitl is saying all the right things about how he’ll handle the contract he received from the Edmonton Oilers.

Deep down, he might be nervous about justifying an $8.5 million cap hit over eight years, but as Robert Tychkowski of the Edmonton Sun reports, the German forward insists that he won’t change the way he plays.

“I think that’s the worst thing I could do right now, try and do too much,” Draisaitl said on Friday. “I’m going to try and be myself, play the same way, do the same things I did last year, but still try and improve my game.

“For me (the contract) doesn’t change much.”

More: Under Pressure – Leon Draisaitl

Todd McLellan discussed that situation in the same story, making a fair point: sometimes people assume that a player struggles because of contract pressures, when it could be something else.

In Draisaitl’s case, the “something else” could be fairly obvious: carrying his own line rather than being on Connor McDavid‘s wing.

You can go blue in the face debating nature vs. nurture regarding Draisaitl, but it’s undeniable that he spent about half of his even-strength minutes with McDavid in 2016-17, his breakthrough season.

So far, it looks like Draisaitl will line up with a relative unknown (Drake Caggiula) and a guy with an equally polarizing contract (Milan Lucic), at least early on in training camp. As you might expect, Draisaitl’s saying the right things about that, and he’s impressed Lucic.

“He has showed he can help take this team to another level and we’re going to need him to be the same type of player he was last year,” Lucic said, via the Oilers site. “He’s a lot of fun to play with. He uses his linemates, he uses his size, he uses his speed and I’m excited to see what kind of player he’s going to be for us this season.”

Edmonton noted that McDavid and Draisaitl could pair up again, but if you look at teams like the Pittsburgh Penguins, they often manage their rosters by having their high-priced players bring along younger, cheaper players and veterans alike.

The comparisons will be there for years when it comes to Draisaitl, and some might not be so flattering.

Give him credit for having a good attitude, though.

Under Pressure: Leon Draisaitl

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This post is part of Oilers Day on PHT…

In a fairer world, most of the pressure in Edmonton would be on Oilers GM Peter Chiarelli.

After all, Chiarelli could have conceivably locked up Leon Draisaitl to a far cheaper contract extension if he was a little more proactive about it. The Oilers barely wasted a second in signing Connor McDavid to an extension when they got the chance – and justifiably so – but you wonder if they dropped the ball in allowing Draisaitl to pump up his value with a breakthrough contract year.

And, beyond discussions of Draisaitl + McDavid at $21 million compared to Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane at that price (not to mention the cheaper duo of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin), Chiarelli is the one who’s been handing out questionable contracts to the likes of Milan Lucic and Kris Russell.

Anyway, when you leaf through reactions to the $8.5 million per year price, the debates don’t seem to revolve around whether or not the Oilers overpaid Draisaitl; instead, much of the bickering centers on how excessive the contract is.

That’s not great for a 21-year-old who still boasts a pretty small resume, especially if his bloated contract eventually forces other, talented players out of Edmonton.

The big concern is that the Oilers paid big for Draisaitl in large part based on his production alongside McDavid, while cap realities would likely prompt Edmonton to ask each player to center their own line.

In 2016-17, Draisaitl’s most common linemates were Patrick Maroon and then McDavid, and by a large margin.

Just like with virtually any talented forward, Draisaitl saw a significant boost with McDavid vs. without him, as Jonathan Willis illustrated in detail for Oilers Nation. That’s not the big German forward’s fault, really, but it makes it scarier to hand him a massive extension without a large body of evidence that he can be a difference-maker on his own.

The Oilers gave Draisaitl a bigger deal than a scorer with a larger body of work (and thus more proof that he’s a true top center) in Ryan Johansen and generally made him one of the highest-paid centers in the NHL.

Now, it’s not all doom and gloom. After all, part of the reason for the big raise was how well he played in the playoffs, sometimes without McDavid goosing his numbers.

Even so, that’s a small sample size, and now many people will expect Draisaitl to be the Malkin to McDavid’s Crosby.

That’s a dangerous proposition, and the Oilers might not have a ton to fall back on if Draisaitl has trouble dealing with the stresses that come with getting a huge contract. No doubt about it, he’s under a lot of pressure.