Edmonton Oilers 2020-21 NHL season preview

Edmonton Oilers 2020-21 NHL season preview
Getty Images
The 2020-21 NHL season is almost here so it’s time to preview all 31 teams. Over the next few weeks we’ll be looking at how the offseason affected each team, the most interesting people in the organization, and the best- and worst-case scenarios. Today, we preview the Edmonton Oilers.

Edmonton Oilers 2019-20 Rewind

Record: 37-25-9 (83 points); second in the Pacific Division; fifth in the Western Conference.

Leading scorer: Leon Draisaitl (43 goals, 110 points).

It’s not unusual to describe an Oilers season as “shaky for a team, great for an individual.” It is unusual when it’s someone other than Connor McDavid dominating the headlines.

Granted, McDavid soared and scored in 2019-20. Number 97’s 97 points ranked second in the NHL. However, McDavid was looking up at Draisaitl. For all the deeper criticisms of Draisaitl’s overall game, his season remains astounding. Not only did Draisaitl become the only player to reach 110 points, he was also the only one to clear the 100-point barrier. He was even starting to push for the Maurice Richard with a late surge in goals. (Draisaitl’s 43 left him fourth in the NHL.)

So, the specifics of who ranked at the tippy top of Oilers scoring changed. Also, with a stronger regular season, Edmonton seemed to make some progress. With a few bounces, they might have been able to fight for seeding.

Unfortunately, those positives dissolved when the games mattered the most. During the Qualifying Round, the Oilers got outgunned by a Blackhawks team that was basically an alternate version of themselves. Like Edmonton, Chicago struggled mightily on defense, hoping to make up for that with scoring. In Chicago’s case, they could lean more on goalies to bail them out.

Between keyed-in top players (including vintage Jonathan Toews) and sloppy Oilers play, the Blackhawks bounced the Oilers in just four games. Such a finish soured much of the optimism — muted or not — that the Oilers built up.

Shackled by salary cap constraints, the Oilers settled for incremental improvements. If everything works out, they might finally give McDavid, Draisaitl, and a few others at least some more support than usual. It’s unclear if that will be enough for a deeply flawed team to look closer to complete this season.

Additions

Tyson Barrie (free agency), Kyle Turris (free agency), Dominik Kahun (free agency), brought Jesse Puljujarvi back to North America (free agency).

Subtractions

Andreas Athanasiou (free agency), Matt Benning (free agency), Riley Sheahan (free agency).

Edmonton Oilers 2020-21 NHL season preview Puljujarvi McDavid
(Photo by Nick Wosika/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

3 Most Interesting Edmonton Oilers

• Draisaitl – McDavid

Filling up two of the three most interesting Edmonton Oilers spots with McDavid and Draisaitl would take too much away from what’s changed. Not mentioning them at all when they’re the engines that run this team would also feel wrong. So let’s combo the two.

After all, Draisaitl winning the Hart Trophy could drive some friendly competition against McDavid. As explosive as the two were on the same line, that volatility burned Oilers on defense one too many times. Once they centered a line apiece, the Oilers become a more threatening team overall.

Asking Draisaitl to follow up that 110-point masterpiece would be a little much. Still, he might be able to clean up his defense a bit, and opponents face headaches in trying to account for one superstar line each.

Honestly, it feels bold to ever wonder if McDavid isn’t the best player in the world. With players like Nathan MacKinnon pushing him, and Draisaitl outscoring him as a teammate, McDavid likely feels as challenged as ever. That tension could translate to some must-watch hockey from McDavid.

• Tyson Barrie

It’s tempting to look at Tyson Barrie as something of a missing piece for the Oilers defense. Think of it as a classic situation where both sides need each other. Powering the Oilers power play could redeem Barrie’s free agent market value. Meanwhile, having a defenseman with Barrie’s offensive skills may help the Oilers at least approach last year’s seemingly unsustainable 29.5-percent power play success rate.

Unfortunately, this isn’t just a case of pure improvement.

For one thing, Barrie’s difficulties in the defensive end are well-documented. Barrie has a chance to be a net-positive overall, but those criticisms are justified.

The larger concern is really outside of Barrie’s control. With Oscar Klefbom expected to miss the season, the Oilers defense could be even worse. Perhaps someone like Evan Bouchard can step up and help, but in this context, Barrie feels more like a Band-Aid than a boost.

If nothing else, Barrie headlines the Oilers’ push for interesting reclamation projects. Maybe Kyle Turris will benefit from a change of scenery even more?

• Jesse Puljujarvi

Over the last couple of years, it sure seemed like Jesse Puljujarvi’s Oilers days were over. This wasn’t Hall of Fame GM Ken Holland’s first rodeo with a slightly/very unhappy young free agent, and eventually the two sides patched things up. At least for now.

While Puljujarvi struggled at the NHL level so far, it’s also fair to wonder how much of the blame should fall on the Oilers. After all, the franchise hasn’t always hit all the right notes with player development. At least beyond no-brainers like McDavid and Draisaitl.

More than anything else, it’s been frustrating to see Puljujarvi stuck in limbo. His best chance to prove himself is in the NHL, even if he may have regained some confidence overseas.

At first, Puljujarvi may still need to battle for ice time and opportunities. The Oilers seemed to find some nice linemates for McDavid and Draisaitl, so Puljujarvi seems likely to land in the bottom six, and maybe the fourth line. Eventually, he might get shots with the top guys.

Can Puljujarvi make the most of these opportunities? It will be intriguing to see how that goes.

Best-Case Scenario

When you have two absolute superstars, and some nice players like Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, it’s not outrageous to dream big. The Edmonton Oilers benefited from a top-heavy Pacific Division, and the all-Canadian North Division presents other potential perks. Maybe the Oilers pieced together just enough of a supporting cast to allow McDavid & Co. to have a deep playoff run?

Worst-Case Scenario

Despite observing one of the most robust free agent goalie markets in recent memory, the Oilers instead stuck with the same shaky ingredients in net. Mikko Koskinen quietly performed nicely, but at 38, Mike Smith might be well beyond his expiration date. This isn’t necessarily the most nurturing atmosphere for goalies, either, unless Dave Tippett finds magic he couldn’t conjure in 2019-20. Quite a few elements of the Oilers seemed to max out potential last season. What if Draisaitl and that power play cools off? Could we experience another disastrous season where people are left wondering if McDavid is subtly or not-so-subtly angling for a trade? This imbalanced roster often seems to be wobbling toward collapses.

Pointsbet – Edmonton Oilers Stanley Cup odds

Edmonton Oilers +2600 (PointsBet is our Official Sports Betting Partner and we may receive compensation if you place a bet on PointsBet for the first time after clicking our links.)

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.

Scroll Down For:

    Stars expect to open camp without unsigned scorer Jason Robertson

    Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports
    0 Comments

    FRISCO, Texas — Young 40-goal scorer Jason Robertson is expected to miss the start of training camp for the Dallas Stars because the team and the restricted free agent haven’t agreed on a new contract.

    General manager Jim Nill said there’s been steady, ongoing negotiations over the last couple of weeks with Robertson and his representatives. Nill wouldn’t say what has kept the two sides from reaching a deal, adding there have been “very good discussions.”

    The Stars, with new coach Pete DeBoer, open camp Thursday in Cedar Park, Texas, at the home of their AHL team. They have three days of work there before returning to North Texas for their exhibition opener at home on Monday night. They open the regular season Oct. 13 at Nashville.

    “I think he’s disappointed he’s not at camp, we are too,” Nill said before the team departed for the Austin area. “I think it’s very important for a younger player and as you mentioned, the (new) coaching staff. … We do have some time on our side, but we wish he gets here as soon as he can.”

    Robertson had a base salary of $750,000 last season, the end of a $2.775 million, three-year contract. He still has five more years before he has the opportunity to become an unrestricted free agent.

    The left wing turned 23 soon after the end of last season, when he had 41 goals and 38 assists for 79 points in his 74 games. Robertson joined Hockey Hall of Famer Mike Modano, Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin as the only 40-goal scorers since the franchise moved to Dallas in 1993.

    A second-round draft pick by the Stars in 2017, Robertson has 125 points (58 goals, 67 assists) in his 128 NHL games. He had one goal and three assists in his first postseason action last season, when Dallas lost its first-round playoff series in seven games against Calgary.

    DeBoer said he looks forward to coaching Robertson, but that the forward’s absence won’t change his plans for camp.

    “It doesn’t impact what I’m doing,” DeBoer said. “Listen, I laid awake at night with the excitement of coaching Jason Robertson, 40-plus goals, but he’s not here. So, you know, until he gets here, I can’t spend any energy on that.”

    Nill said the Stars are open to a long-term extension or a bridge contract for Robertson, who was part of the team’s top line last season with veteran Joe Pavelski and Roope Hintz. They combined for 232 points, the second-most in franchise history for a trio.

    “We’re open to anything. But other than that … I’m not going to negotiate through the media,” Nill said. “As I said, we’ve had good conversations. We’ll see where it goes.”

    Training camps open around NHL after another short offseason

    Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports
    2 Comments

    Training camps open around the NHL after another short offseason, a third in a row squeezed by the pandemic. That doesn’t bother Colorado Avalanche star Nathan MacKinnon one bit.

    For one of hockey’s best players and his teammates, it’s already time to get back on the ice and defend their Stanley Cup title, less than three months since they knocked off the back-to-back champion Tampa Bay Lightning.

    “I still feel like I just was playing,” MacKinnon said. “I took two weeks off, and then I started skating again. It’s just fun. I enjoy it, and I like the short summer. It feels like the season’s just kind of rolling over again.”

    The NHL rolls into fall coming off an entertaining playoffs and final with the chance to finally get back on a normal schedule. That means full camps for teams that got new coaches and the benefits of a regular routine.

    That means a mere 88 days between Game 6 of the final and the first-on ice practice sessions.

    “We’re kind of used to it now,” Tampa Bay goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy said after he and the Lightning lost in the final for the first time in three consecutive trips. “It’s a little harder, of course, because you don’t have that much time to rest. It’s basically a few weeks and you have to get back at it. But, yeah, I can’t complain. You want your summers to be short every year.”

    It was a little longer for Connor McDavid and the Oilers after losing to Colorado in the West final. Despite the lack of downtime, McDavid “wouldn’t trade that in for anything” and aims to make it even further since Edmonton shored up its goaltending situation by adding Jack Campbell.

    A few spins of the goalie carousel ended with the Avalanche acquiring Alexandar Georgiev from the New York Rangers and Cup winner Darcy Kuemper landing with Washington. Joining new teammates, many of whom hoisted the Cup in 2018, Kuemper is not worried about less time off.

    “It was definitely a very unique summer,” Kuemper said. “With how short it was, you start getting back into the gym and you’re kind of a little bit worried that your training’s going to be so short. But you kind of felt like you weren’t getting back into shape. You were already there.”

    NEW COACHES

    The Oilers are one of several teams settling in for training camp under a new coach. Jay Woodcroft took over as interim coach in February but has the full-time job now.

    “Looking forward to a camp with him,” McDavid said. “He did a great job coming in during the middle of the season, but it’s never easy on a coach, for sure. I’m sure there’s things that he wanted to touch on that you wasn’t able to kind of in the middle of the year, so he’ll be able to to touch on all of it this year.”

    The same goes for Bruce Boudreau in Vancouver, 11 months since being put in charge of the Canucks. Philadelphia’s John Tortorella, Boston’s Jim Montgomery, Vegas’ Bruce Cassidy, Dallas’ Peter DeBoer, Florida’s Paul Maurice, Chicago’s Luke Richardson, Detroit’s Derek Lalonde and the New York Islanders’ Lane Lambert are all starting the job fresh.

    CAMP TRYOUTS

    Roughly 40 players are attending a camp on a professional tryout agreement with the chance to earn a contract for the season. James Neal has that opportunity with the Blue Jackets, and Derek Stepan returned to Carolina to seek a job with the Hurricanes.

    The most intriguing situation involves 37-year-old center Eric Staal, who agreed to the tryout with Florida the same time brother Marc signed a one-year contract. Younger brother Jordan was with Eric and Marc on the 18th green at Pebble Beach to witness the occasion.

    “They’re both just super pumped, as was I,” said Jordan Staal, who is the captain of the Hurricanes. “Eric is excited about the opportunity and Marc, as well. Really cool. Really cool thing.”

    EARLY START

    Before the puck drops on the NHL season in North America on Oct. 11, the Nashville Predators and San Jose Sharks play twice in Prague on Oct. 7 and 8. And those are not exhibitions.

    “We still play two important games,” said Sharks forward Tomas Hertl, who is a native of Prague. “It’s not just preseason where you coming here to warm up.”

    Colorado and Columbus will also play two games in Tampere, Finland, on Nov. 4-5 as part of the NHL’s Global Series.

    And just as the league gets used to a regular schedule, work is ongoing between the league and NHL Players’ Association to stage a World Cup of Hockey in February 2024, which is popular among players even if it knocks the calendar off kilter again.

    “I think they missed out on a huge, huge portion of the international game that’s really going to be missed,” McDavid said. “We need to figure out a way to get an international tournament in as quickly as possible.”

    Matthew Tkachuk, Panthers ready for 1st training camp together

    Candice Ward-USA TODAY Sports
    0 Comments

    CORAL SPRINGS, Fla. — Aleksander Barkov was sound asleep at his home in Finland when the trade that brought Matthew Tkachuk to the Florida Panthers was finalized, which isn’t surprising considering it was around 4 a.m. in that part of the world.

    He woke up and read texts from friends reacting to the deal.

    And it wasn’t too long before he got a message from Tkachuk.

    “The first message was `(expletive) right’ and how he was excited to come to Florida,” Barkov, the Panthers’ captain, said at Florida’s media day. “`Let’s take this next step, let’s be a winning team for many years to come.’ That’s who he is. He wants to win. He wants to bring that character to this organization. And I think he’s done some damage already.”

    With that, Barkov was sold.

    And after a few weeks of informally skating with one another, the Panthers start the process of officially seeing what they have in Tkachuk when the team’s training camp – the first under new coach Paul Maurice – opens.

    “We’ve basically had everybody here for a few weeks,” Tkachuk said. “I feel like I’ve been in training camp for a couple of weeks. So today doesn’t feel that new to me. I’ve gotten to know everybody … so let’s get these games going. I’m sick and tired of just practicing and working. I want to start playing some games. I think everybody feels the same way.”

    Maurice was hired over the summer as well, inheriting a team that won the Presidents’ Trophy last season and went to the second round of the playoffs — the first series win for Florida since the run to the Stanley Cup Final in 1996.

    He’s as eager as the players are for the first formal practice, calling it “our first Christmas.”

    “The house is bought. Most of the boxes are unpacked,” Maurice said. “I’ve got two kids that kind of came with me; one’s in Coral Gables, one’s in Estero. Their places are unpacked. They’re out of our house. Once you get down here, for me, you spend most of your days at the rink. So, experiencing all of South Florida, we haven’t gotten to that yet.”

    As part of the deal that went down on July 22, the 24-year-old Tkachuk signed a eight-year, $76 million contract. That’s not the only big cost that the Panthers had to agree to while executing the trade; they also sent Jonathan Huberdeau, the franchise’s all-time scoring leader, and defenseman MacKenzie Weegar to the Calgary Flames in exchange for a left wing who had career bests of 42 goals, 62 assists and 104 points last season.

    “I wish all the best to Huby and Weegs,” Barkov said. “They’re great. Everyone loved them. Only good things to say about them. It happens, and for sure, it was best for the team and organization to do this. We move on, and we’ll get ready for a new season.”

    BOBROVSKY’S SUMMER

    Panthers goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky is Russian, still makes his home in St. Petersburg, and went there for the bulk of his offseason.

    He said it was not logistically difficult to travel there (or return to the U.S.) this summer, even as the war that started when Russia invaded Ukraine continues. Bobrovsky said last season that he was not trying to focus on anything but hockey, and when asked if it was difficult to be back in Russia as war continues he kept the same approach.

    “I had a good summer,” Bobrovsky said. “I saw friends, I saw family. It’s all been fine. I don’t want to talk about what’s going on. I’m not involved in that stuff.”

    CAMP ROSTER

    Florida is opening camp with 56 players – 31 forwards, 19 defensemen and six goalies. That group includes brothers Eric Staal and Marc Staal; Marc Staal signed as a free agent in July; Eric Staal is with Florida on a tryout contract.

    Coyotes sign Barrett Hayton right before training camp

    Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports
    1 Comment

    SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — The Arizona Coyotes signed forward Barrett Hayton to a two-year contract right before the start of training camp.

    Terms of the deal were not released.

    The 22-year-old Hayton was a restricted free agent and not initially listed on Arizona’s roster for camp.

    Hayton had 10 goals and 14 assists in 60 games with the Coyotes last season, all career highs.

    Arizona drafted the Peterborough, Ontario native with the fifth overall pick of the 2018 NHL draft. He has 13 goals and 18 assists in 94 career games with the Coyotes.