There is stability in Edmonton with Art Ross winner Connor McDavid now signed long-term. 2016-17 sidekick Leon Draisaitl who finish eighth-best in scoring with 29 goals and 48 assists, and 27 power play points.
Expect Islander import Ryan Strome to assume top right wing duties and top his career-best 50-point 2014-15, with Draisaitl dropping to second-line pivot.
Patrick Maroon likely continues as first-line left wing following his 178 shots, 189 hits, and 27 goals, by far career highs, last year. He could increase all three with a healthy 2017-18, although it will be hard to duplicate his 15.2 shot percentage.
Flanking Draisaitl will be vet Milan Lucic (left), likely again hitting 50 points and 200 hits and second-year pro Drake Caggiula (right) whose smallish stature, massive grit and blazing speed should flourish.
Entering his seventh NHL campaign Ryan Nugent-Hopkins loses frequent linemate Jordan Eberle to NYI, yet assumes a third-line center role with 34-year-old Jussi Jokinen, just one year removed from 60 points, to his left. 2016 fourth-overall pick Jesse Puljujarvi who, at 6-4, 203-pounds just turned 19 and oozes promise at right wing.
Mark Letestu and Zack Kassian anchor a solid bottom line with big Jujhar Khaira’s board-battle skills and solid work in front of the net joining them. After three playoff goals 6-2, 218-pound Anton Slepyshev should vie for bottom-six work as well.
Edmonton’s defense improved drastically in 2016-17 allowing almost two fewer shots per game. Jersey import Adam Larsson (a plus-19, 251 hits, and 159 blocks) and Oscar Klefbom (38 points with 16 on the power play, and a plus-five) will again form an effective first pairing.
Andrej Sekera’s torn ACL creates a major blue line void as his veteran presence, 21:29 TOI, plus-14 and scoring prowess (eight goals, 27 assists) were crucial to the Oilers’ success.
Returning blocked shot king Kris Russell will help. He can play on the right or left side, the flexibility that will help Edmonton adjust to their thinned ranks. Expect young Matt Benning initially on the right of that second pairing.
A bulked up Darnell Nurse, and hit-machine Eric Gryba should form the bottom pairing.
There’s also WHL Defenseman of the Year Ethan Bear who, after 28 goals and 42 assists in 67 games probably spends much of next year with AHL Bakersfield.
Cam Talbot was ridiculously durable in goal, decreasing his GAA from 2.55 to 2.39 despite logging over a thousand more minutes and twenty more starts than in 2015-16. Expect nearly the same, with promising Laurent Brossoit working more.
Looking ahead to trade deadline – if sellers who could be on the move, if buyers what area might they need to improve? With Sekera out, they may look for defense, although he’s predicted back before the deadline. Talbot needs more rest. If they don’t want to start Brossoit more, perhaps they’ll target an established number two.
What rookies could make the team? While three games over the rookie-eligibility limits, Puljujarvi may contribute well in perhaps a full NHL campaign. An undermanned blue line could draw Bear from the AHL. Kharia looks an inside candidate for fourth-line duty.
Which player could take a step forward this season? Strome in a big way if he’s on that top line. Puljujarvi and Caggiula are in the right spots for some solid NHL play as well. Nurse has impressed in training camp; perhaps he hits the next level.
Which players could regress? Sekera’s injury will hamper his season. Other than that, Edmonton feels on a major upswing. Kassian and Letesu helped form one the better NHL bottom lines last year. There’s may be room for regression.
Are there any training camp battles expected? Much is set, but anticipate the younger wings to jockey for position. Thin defense provides darkhorse opportunities to rise into a bottom or even second-pairing.
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