Oscar Klefbom

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WATCH LIVE: Flyers visit Oilers on NBCSN

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with Wednesday’s matchup between the Philadelphia Flyers and Edmonton Oilers. Coverage begins at 9:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

The Oilers have missed the playoffs 12 of the last 13 seasons, but this year has started successfully under new GM Ken Holland and new head coach Dave Tippett. Edmonton won their first five games of the season before losing on Monday in Chicago, 3-1. Still, with Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl carrying the load as usual, boosted by a torrid scoring pace from James Neal, the Oilers have shown promise early on.

The Oilers’ two superstars both have four goals and eight assists and are tied for the league lead with 12 points. They are tied with Mark Scheifele and Patrik Laine, who have played two more games.

During the Oilers season-opening five-game winning streak, they became the first team in NHL history to win their first five games despite trailing at some point in each of those games.

Tonight, Carter Hart will play his first NHL game in his hometown; Hart was born in Sherwood Park, Alberta, which is just east of Edmonton. Hart did play the Oilers last season, but only in Philly; he was called up to the NHL three days after the Flyers played at Edmonton.

Hart’s mother Shauna will be in attendance, but his father John is in Regina on business and will not be at the game. In addition to Shauna, Hart’s longtime sports psychologist John Stevenson (who also works with Braden Holtby) will be there – the first time Stevenson will see Hart play an NHL game in person.

Prior to the game in Calgary yesterday, the Flyers signed Chris Stewart to a one-year contract after he joined the team on a PTO in the offseason. Stewart had three hits in 9:12 of ice time – his first NHL game since March of 2018.

[COVERAGE OF FLYERS-OILERS BEGINS AT 9:30 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

WHAT: Philadelphia Flyers at Edmonton Oilers
WHERE: Rogers Place
WHEN: Wednesday, Oct. 16, 9:30 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
LIVE STREAM: You can watch the Flyers-Oilers stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

FLYERS
Claude GirouxKevin Hayes – James van Riemsdsyk
Oskar LindblomSean CouturierTravis Konecny
Tyler PitlickScott LaughtonJakub Voracek
Chris Stewart – Michael Raffl – Carsen Twarnyski

Ivan ProvorovJustin Braun
Travis SanheimMatt Niskanen
Robert HaggShayne Gostisbehere

Starting goalie: Carter Hart

OILERS
Leon Draisaitl – Connor McDavid – Zack Kassian
Alex ChiassonRyan Nugent-Hopkins – James Neal
Jujhar KhairaRiley Sheahan – Patrick Russell
Tomas Jurco – Markus GranlundJosh Archibald

Darnell Nurse – Ethan Bear
Oscar KlefbomJoel Persson
Kris RussellMatthew Benning

Starting goalie: Mikko Koskinen

MORE: Oilers’ Neal comfortable again in bounce-back season

Kathryn Tappen will host NHL Live on Wednesday with analysts Patrick Sharp, Roenick and NHL insider Bob McKenzie. Chris Cuthbert and Ray Ferraro will have the call of Flyers-Oilers from Rogers Place in Edmonton, Alberta.

James Neal’s big night brings up unthinkable: Did Oilers win a trade?

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When the Edmonton Oilers landed James Neal in a fascinating, unlikely trade with the Calgary Flames involving Milan Lucic, many thought that Neal’s (once?)-deadly shot could be revived by Connor McDavid, a superstar who happens to make almost everyone look good.

(Except, erp, maybe Lucic?)

Even the most optimistic of Oilers fans and Neal stans probably didn’t see this coming, though.

Neal put on a show against the New York Islanders on Tuesday, scoring four goals, including a natural hat trick from late in the first period to early in the second. This gives Neal an impressive six goals in his first three games as a member of the Edmonton Oilers, with all of those tallies happening in the past two games.

No doubt about it, McDavid is making life easier for Neal, who couldn’t quite beat out Elias Lindholm for a spot with Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan last season, eventually losing a spot altogether at times for the Flames.

You can’t totally dismiss Neal’s part of the sniping equation, though. The 32-year-old’s first of four goals on Tuesday was unassisted, and Neal’s fourth goal was assisted by Tomas Jurco and Oscar Klefbom. Ultimately, McDavid and Neal helped the Oilers earn a decisive 5-2 win against the Islanders.

Check out Neal’s four-goal outburst in the video above this post’s headline.

To give you some quick perspective: Neal only scored seven goals and 19 points during all of his disastrous 63-game regular season with Calgary in 2018-19. To add even more perspective, Lucic, 31, only managed six goals in 79 contests during his final year with Edmonton in 2018-19.

Plenty of people felt a little restless regarding Ken Holland’s first offseason as a GM, particularly since the former Red Wings executive seems to be getting paid big bucks. The Neal – Lucic trade could be something Holland could hang his hat on, especially with Neal’s hot start.

So far, the story for Lucic’s start with the Flames hasn’t been very pretty.

While Lucic could break through on Tuesday (Calgary is facing Los Angeles on Tuesday), he went through his first two Flames games without a goal or an assist. He’s instead been racking up trips to the penalty box, generating 21 PIM through those first two games, including a moment where he, uh, “stuck up for his teammate” by punching Nikita Zadorov.

Through those two games, Lucic logged 13:46 and 8:38 time on ice, which was not much more than what Neal logged in his second game with Edmonton alone (19:28).

One would think that Neal might empathize with Lucic a bit there. While the Oilers are, on paper, a pitiful team on the wings — a big reason why people believed that the big forward would get plenty of reps on McDavid’s line – the Flames have superior options, which means Lucic will need to battle for meaningful minutes. So far, it doesn’t seem like Lucic is having much better luck than Neal did last year.

Of course, it’s early.

That time-related point is key, actually, because there’s one way we might look at this more positively for Calgary over the long haul. As you can see from Cap Friendly, Lucic’s salary goes below his $6M cap hit starting in 2019-20, and is quite low after salary bonuses get paid out. Maybe that would open the door for the Flames to get rid of that cap hit over the next few years, which could be crucial in adding the extra oomph that perhaps Lucic won’t provide?

It’s a thought … but even then, it’s a bit of a stretch, especially since Lucic has certain clauses that allow him to decide his future.

In the present, this is looking like a big win so far for the Oilers, even if Neal is almost certain to cool off. Considering the rivalry between Edmonton and Calgary, chances are, Flames fans are going to hear about this disparity. Like, a lot.

MORE:
• Pro Hockey Talk’s Stanley Cup picks.
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.

NHL Fantasy Hockey: Olofsson, Haula highlight this week’s best adds

Welcome to the first Adds/Drops column of the 2019-20 NHL season that actually features me recommending players for you to add/drop in fantasy leagues. The first two columns were preseason previews, but now that the games count, every Monday I’m going to be recommending 10 players who you might want to consider adding and five who you might want to part ways with.

As always, whether you should add/drop any of these players will depend entirely on your situation. You’ll want to evaluate your team needs and what your options are, but this column can help highlight who to look at if you want to make a change.

Players Worth Adding

Trevor Moore, Maple Leafs – LW/RW: Moore got his first taste of the NHL last season, scoring two goals and eight points in 25 games. That might not sound impressive, but keep in mind he was only averaging 9:06 minutes per game. This season he’s playing a significantly bigger role and has capitalized on that early on with two goals and three points in three games. He’s not one of the Leafs’ main offensive threats, but he does highlight their depth and is worth taking a chance on.

Oscar Klefbom, Oilers – D: Klefbom typically does decently offensively, but not quite enough to make him worth much consideration in standard leagues. I’m encouraged by how much the Oilers are leaning on him early on though. He averaged 25:27 minutes over his first two contests and is on the top power-play. He’s registered three assists, including two on the power-play, over those first two games. Obviously he’s not going to keep up that pace, but if you’re hurting for defensive help then he might chip in often enough to be a good fill-in.

Pavel Buchnevich, Rangers – RW: The Rangers have an impressive top line duo in Artemi Panarin and Mika Zibanejad, which has already gotten off to a stunning start. Buchnevich is a significantly less exciting player, but his presence on that line does make him noteworthy.  So far he has two assists in two games while averaging 17:27 minutes, up from his career-high of 15:10 minutes in 2018-19. As long as he’s with Panarin and Zibanejad, Buchnevich will likely be worth owning in most standard leagues.

[Ready for the season? Get the Rotoworld Draft Guide]

Victor Olofsson, Sabres – LW/RW: When people were talking about rookies going into this season, the focus was often on Jack Hughes and Kaapo Kakko. So far though, Moore and Olofsson are tied for the scoring title. Moore was mentioned above, but Olofsson has even more potential in 2019-20. Olofsson averaged 18:20 minutes per game over his first two contests of 2019-20, which is a crazy amount for a rookie forward to get early on. To put that in perspective, Hughes has averaged 14:48 minutes and Kakko has averaged 14:43 so far. Among other things, Olofsson is playing on the top power-play unit and has scored twice as a result. In short, he’s a great rookie to gamble on.

Zack Kassian, Oilers – RW: Kassian isn’t someone you’re going to want to pick up long-term. He’s been around for a while now and though he does combine grit and skill, he leans far more towards the prior than the latter. The reason why he’s worthy of being on standard fantasy league teams right now is because he’s playing on the second line with Leon Draisaitl. Kassian has a goal and two assists in two games and all of those points have involved Draisaitl. If that line breaks up, then Kassian’s fantasy value could very well plummet, so this is a situation you’ll want to monitor closely.

James Neal, Oilers – LW/RW: Neal had just seven goals and 19 points in 63 games last season with Calgary, but the trade to Edmonton should do him a lot of good.  It’s a fresh opportunity and a role he’s more familiar with. With the Flames, Neal fell into a supporting role, averaging 14:57 minutes while he’s averaged 16:50 minutes in two contests with Edmonton. Neal has already scored two goals with the Oilers, which already matches his goal total for the entirety of October 2018.

Sammy Blais, Blues – LW/RW: Blais is one of the players I highlighted during my preseason preview because of how well he had been doing in the exhibition games. He’s carried that momentum into the regular season with two goals and three points in his first two games. Like Moore, Blais’ playing time was very limited in 2018-19, but he’s playing a bigger role this season and is capitalizing on that.

Neal Pionk, Jets – D: Over the summer, Winnipeg lost defensemen Jacob Trouba, Tyler Myers, and Ben Chiarot and to add to all that, Dustin Byfuglien isn’t playing because he’s considering retirement. That’s a huge hole in their defense, but they did add one notable defenseman over the summer in Pionk. He came over in the Trouba trade and the Jets have been leaning on him hard, giving him an average of 24:42 minutes over three games, which has contributed to him scoring a goal and an assist. He had a modest (at least by fantasy standards) 26 points in 2018-19, but his expanded role with the Jets coupled with his natural development make him an interesting defenseman this season.

[For more fantasy sports analysis, check out Rotoworld.]

Erik Haula, Hurricanes – C/LW: Haula broke out in 2017-18 with 29 goals and 55 points in 76 games, but was limited to just 15 contests last season due to injury. It seems many have soured on him in the meantime given that he’s only owned in 15% of Yahoo leagues, but he’s been showing what he can do when healthy. Now with the Hurricanes, he’s scored a goal in each of their first three games while averaging 18:08 minutes.

Alex Galchenyuk, Penguins – C/LW: Galchenyuk had just 19 goals and 41 points in 72 games last season, but he didn’t have much to play off offensively in Arizona. Now that he’s with Pittsburgh, it’s a very different situation. Galchenyuk has seen ice time on the second line with the likes of Evgeni Malkin and if he continues to play with either Malkin or Sidney Crosby, he should improve on those 2018-19 numbers.  So far he has two assists in two games.

Players You May Want To Drop

Gustav Nyquist, Blue Jackets – LW/RW: Nyquist is actually off to an okay start with a goal in two games, but I’m discouraged that he’s averaged just 14:13 minutes so far. After the summer the Blue Jackets had, their offensive group isn’t particularly scary, but the plausible silver lining there for Nyquist was that he might be getting a significant role. So far that doesn’t seem to be the case, so I wonder if he will really have much fantasy value.

Eric Staal, Wild – C: Staal has no points, one shot, and a minus-five rating in two games, but as is the case with Nyquist, my bigger concern has been his playing time. He has averaged just 13:02 minutes so far, which is a huge dive from his 18:08 minutes in 2018-19. To put this in perspective, he logged 15:23 minutes or over in 75 of 81 games last season and never got under 13:44 minute in a single contest.  So in other words, each of his first two games of 2019-20 have been lower than any of his games in 2018-19. If Staal’s not going to get top minutes anymore then obviously his value will drop accordingly.  For what it’s worth though, Bruce Boudreau did offer something of a defense.

Read into that as you will, but at the very least you’ll want to monitor this situation closely if you have Staal.

Mackenzie Blackwood, Devils – G: Taking Blackwood was a risk to begin with. He doesn’t have much NHL experience and he’ll be competing with Cory Schneider, so it was always a long shot that he would be a favorable option. So far though he’s been particularly rough, posting a 6.58 GAA and .800 save percentage in two games. Obviously it’s still early and he can bounce back, but in a lot of cases, there should be better options available on the free agent market.

Pierre-Luc Dubois, Blue Jackets – C: Dubois had 27 goals and 61 points in 82 games last season, but he was commonly paired with Panarin. Now that Panarin is in New York, Dubois has lost a valuable linemate and the Blue Jackets didn’t place him with anyone who plays even close to that level. It’s still early of course, but so far Dubois has been limited to no points and one shot in two games. Given how deep centers are to begin with, if you’re going to hold on to a player who is eligible for no other position, you really want them to bring a lot to the table, so even a mild decline on his part would be a significant problem for fantasy owners.

Mats Zuccarello, Wild – RW: Zuccarello did well when he was with the Rangers last season, scoring 11 goals and 37 points in 46 games, but it helped that he was averaging 20:01 minutes. Now with Minnesota, he’s gotten just 14:45 minutes per game so far and hasn’t recorded a point. Of course, the points will come eventually, but if the Wild intend to playing him in more of a supporting role, then it’s unlikely that he’ll be as significant an offensive producer as he has been in the past. Keep in mind that when he recorded between 53-61 points in each of three seasons from 2015-16 through 2017-18, he was logging well over 18 minutes per contest.

If you’re looking for more fantasy hockey information, Rotoworld has got you covered, including Michael Finewax’s “The Week Ahead” column.

If you’re on the hunt for rankings, projections, strategy and advice on how to dominate your drafts, check out the all-new Rotoworld NHL Draft Guide. Now mobile-optimized with a new look and feel, it’s never been easier to take our award-winning advice with you to your drafts for that extra competitive edge! Click here to learn more!

For everything fantasy hockey, check out Rotoworld’s Player News, and follow @Rotoworld_ HK and @RyanDadoun on Twitter.

Same old questions remain for Oilers

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Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to identifying X-factors to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the Edmonton Oilers.

Pondering three important questions for the 2019-20 Edmonton Oilers.

1. Who will help Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl?

Our Joey Alfieri already touched on this when he looked at the Oilers’ depth scorers being under pressure to produce more, but this really is the single biggest question facing the Oilers this season. Just as it was last year. And the year before. And the year before that.

Unless James Neal finds a time machine and goes back to his age 26 or 27 seasons, or the team figures out a way to salvage the development of Jesse Puljujarvi before it sends him away for some magic beans it’s hard to see where this improvement comes from.

How top-heavy has the Oilers’ lineup been over the past two years? Some numbers for you.

  • With McDavid and Draisaitl on the ice together during 5-on-5 play the Oilers have outscored teams by an 88-67 (plus-21) margin and controlled more than 52 percent of the shot attemepts.
  • With only ONE of them on the ice the Oilers have been outscored 136-115 (minus-21) and controlled only 49 percent of the shot attempts.
  • With NEITHER of them on the ice the Oilers have been outscored 151-106 (minus-45) and controlled just 48 percent of the shot attempts.

When their top two players are not on the ice the Oilers are playing at the level of an early 1990s expansion team.

It is appalling to have what might be the best offensive duo in the league and still be so far away from the playoffs.

Does acquiring James Neal in a swap of bad salaries (in what should be an upgrade) and signing some cheap, reclamation project free agents do enough to help move the needle closer to the playoffs?

[MORE: 2018-19 Summary | Under Pressure | X-Factor]

2. How will they stop teams?

Here is a set of numbers for you to ponder: 25, 25, 8, 28, 30, 30, 19, 23, 28, 30, 22, 26, 16

What are those numbers representing? They are where the Oilers have ranked in goals against (starting with this past season on the left and moving backwards) dating back to the start of the 2006-07 season. Average finish: 24th. The one outlier (the eighth place year) was when Cam Talbot pretty much stood on his head in net and was eventually run into the ground due to a ridiculous workload.

The Oilers are bringing back mostly the same cast of characters on defense that haven’t been good enough, and barring an unexpected miracle they don’t really have a goalie that should be a serious threat to steal games. Mikko Koskinen‘s contract looks to be a mess, while Mike Smith is coming off the worst season of his career and is entering his age 37 season.

This all seems like a tough recipe to make work.

Dave Tippett has a reputation for being a defensive coach (a reputation he doesn’t really seem to like) and is very respected around the league, but how much of an impact can a coach make with a thin defense and two massive question marks in goal? Even if McDavid and Draisaitl repeat their magic and they find some respectable second-line scoring can they actually stop enough teams for any of it to matter?

3. What changes will Ken Holland make?

Holland has two cornerstone players that are already among the best in the league and haven’t even hit their peak years in the NHL yet. It is a great starting point. That is the good news. The bad news is that even though he has McDavid and Draisaitl to start building around he still has what might be the most daunting rebuilding job of any general manager in the NHL. Not only because he has a ton of holes to plug, but because he has to deal with the pressure that is not wasting anymore of McDavid’s best years in the league.

In the past, the Oilers have tried to shake things up by dealing players that were once considered part of the core (Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, Justin Schultz). They not only failed to capitalize on those trades, but they have quickly run out of such players to deal.

Will Ryan Nugent-Hopkins be next? Oscar Klefbom? It seems to only be a matter of time until Puljujarvi gets moved.

No matter who it is, he is going to have to make significant changes to get this team out of its current situation.

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Oilers’ Nugent-Hopkins scores first-period hat trick vs. Kings

The second half of back to backs suck. Just ask the Los Angeles Kings.

They don’t suck for the team getting to play the tired team, however. And Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and the rest of his Edmonton Oilers teammates feasted on a Kings team that was still coming down from an impressive (and unlikely) win against the Calgary Flames on Monday.

Yes, the one-night world-beating Kings returned to their familiar digs in the NHL’s basement as ‘The Nuge’ and Co. orchestrated a five-goal first period, including a hat trick from Nugent-Hopkins on three shots and a trio of assists from Oscar Klefbom.

Leon Draisaitl also continued his charge to catch Alex Ovechkin in the goal-scoring race, potting his 44th to sit one behind John Tavares and five back of Ovi, who ended a four-game drought with his 49th earlier in the night. (Update: Draisaitl has 45 46 now after recording the game’s second hat trick — his first as an NHLer).

Oh, and some guy named Connor McDavid set a new career high with his 109th point on an apple Nugent-Hopkins’ hat-trick marker. (Update: McDavid now has 112 points after a one-goal, three assist night).

The Oilers are still talking playoffs, and if they can hold on against the Kings, will move five points back of the Colorado Avalanche as the turtle derby/log jam in the Western Conference wildcard race roars on.

Their chances are low, but who knows. The West has been weird this season.

Edmonton won the game 8-4.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck