We are six years into Connor McDavid’s career, and the Edmonton Oilers have won just one playoff series in that time.
McDavid leads the NHL in assists (307) and points (469) since coming into the NHL and his teammate Leon Draisaitl is sixth in points (413) and seventh in goals (166) in that same timeframe. The foundation is set, but the Oilers have struggled to provide talent around their two stars. A McDavid-Draisaitl duo is eerily similar to the Pittsburgh Penguins duo of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. It took until Crosby’s third season before they ever won a playoff series, but they went to the Stanley Cup Final that year and won the Stanley Cup the following season. Overall, they have brought three Stanley Cups to Pittsburgh in 14 years.
That’s the type of success that the City of Edmonton hopes that McDavid and Draisaitl can bring them. In a strange offseason, GM Ken Holland has done a tidy job trying to get his stars more help. Despite having minimal cap space, Holland made some shrewd signings, getting value on players who are coming off of a down year. He brought in Kyle Turris, who was bought out in Nashville, at 27.5 percent of his previous cap-hit. Tyson Barrie was signed to a one-year “show me” deal that is perfect for both the team and the player. Former No.4 overall pick Jesse Puljujarvi returns after one year in Finland at an extremely reasonable $1.175M, and Dominik Kahun solidifies their top-6 at $975K AAV. However, Holland did strikeout in the most loaded goalie market in recent memory, but this team now packs a lot more offensive punch behind McDavid and Draisaitl.
Projected Forward Lines
The days of McDavid and Draisaitl playing together appear to be over, and the Oilers are better for it. Adding Kahun will allow head coach Dave Tippett to play Ryan Nugent-Hopkins with McDavid. Nugent-Hopkins spent most of last year with Draisaitl but played with McDavid in the playoffs. They dominated possession vs. Chicago (54.07 CorsiFor%) but had 44.44 GoalsFor% thanks to putrid goaltending (.808 on-ice SV%).
The real question is: who will be the RW on this line? It could be anyone from Puljujarvi to Zack Kassian. No player played more with McDavid last season than Kassian, but with new-found scoring depth, perhaps he is better suited for a rugged, bottom-6 role. James Neal, who also played with McDavid quite a bit in 2020, is a candidate as well, but he too is probably better in limited minutes with PP1 time. In a perfect world, Puljujarvi brings new-found confidence back to North America and slides right in with RNH and McDavid. He led Karpat in goals (24) and points (53) and is the type of player that could make this one of the best lines in hockey.
Kahun then slots in with fellow German, Draisaitl, and Kailer Yamamoto, who has found a permanent home on Leon’s RW. After Yamamoto was called-up, EDM2 was one of the best lines in hockey. Draisaitl led the NHL from that point forward with 49 points (21G / 28A) and Yamamoto was tied for 39th with 26 points (11G / 15A) in 27 games. Kahun is not Nugent-Hopkins, but his skill set is similar, and he should fit well with Draisaitl and Yamamoto.
The Oilers have been searching for a quality No.3 centre for years and finally found it in Turris. He immediately elevates their third line, but it’s a mystery whom he plays with. If Kassian plays on the top line with McDavid to start the season, then 3RW is a logical spot for Puljujarvi. The combo of Neal and Alex Chiasson had a lot of success last year, so both of them flanking Turris is an option as well. They won’t want Tyler Ennis in a checking-line role though, so I’ve plugged him and Neal on EDM3 for the time being.
That leaves Chiasson and Kassian to play with Jujhar Khaira/Gaetan Haas and Josh Archibald on the outside looking in. This lineup is capable of getting offence from their top-9 with a heavy fourth-line, a recipe that worked well for the Tampa Bay Lightning last year. It’s their most balanced look on paper, but Tippett will have a lot of options. Something that couldn’t be said about the Oilers in years previous.
Projected Defensive Pairings
The Oilers are in a tough spot on defence. Oscar Klefbom is expected to be out long-term. Klefbom is dealing with shoulder issues and could undergo surgery and miss all of 2020-21. Losing their top defensemen before the season is less than ideal but they have emerging young defensemen that should step up.
With Klefbom out, their top-pair figures to be Darnell Nurse and Ethan Bear. Nurse and Bear played together more than any pairing in the NHL last season, logging 1157.5 5v5 minutes together. Of the 40 D-pairs that played at least 500 minutes together, Nurse and Bear ranked ninth in GoalsFor/60 (2.85) but struggled defensively, giving up the third-most GoalsAgainst/60 (3.16).
Barrie will likely pair up with Caleb Jones and play the most sheltered minutes of the group. Barrie has started 57.0 percent of his shifts in the Offensive Zone throughout his career. He was brought to Edmonton to replace Klefbom on the top power-play unit. His time in Toronto didn’t go as he planned, so playing on a PP unit with McDavid and Draisaitl should boost his numbers and build his value back up before he hits the market again next season.
Larsson loses his D-partner but expect him to remain in a shutdown role. Kris Russell is a potential partner for Larsson but the duo has struggled together over the years, so it may not be a long-term solution.
William Lagesson is a candidate to make the full-time leap to the NHL in 2021 and could replace Russell. He’s a big (6-foot-2, 207 lbs.) defenseman that can play a physical brand of hockey, similar to Larsson. The two could form a sturdy bottom-4 pairing.
Salary Cap Figures via PuckPedia.com