The Edmonton Oilers were expected to be more competitive in 2015-16, thanks to phenom Connor McDavid, a new coach and GM, and off-season acquisitions Cam Talbot, Andrej Sekera, and Griffin Reinhart. Unfortunately, McDavid was hurt in early November, and by the time he returned in February, the Oilers were out of the playoff picture. Reinhart struggled early and spent the middle part of the season in the AHL. Top defender Oscar Klefbom spent more than half the year on IR after a broken knuckle and two successive staph infections. The Oilers struggled and finished 29th, mainly because of injuries and a porous defence. Stop me if you’ve heard this story before.
GM Peter Chiarelli has made several moves, with mixed results. Acquiring Talbot for picks has given the Oilers their starter for the next several seasons. Sekera is a solid second-pairing defenceman, but the Oilers are still missing two top 4 defensive options. The Reinhart trade is tough to call at this time, because of the Oilers depth of left-handed defensemen and Reinhart not being NHL-ready.
Adding Eric Gryba, Zack Kassian, and Patrick Maroon made the Oilers harder to play against, something that has sorely been missing in Oil Country. Big center Leon Draisaitl rebounded from a tough rookie season to put up 51 points despite spending a month in the AHL. Former 6th round pick in 2010 Brandon Davidson made the team as the 8th defenceman and played his way into a top 4 role, earning an extension and praise from around the league.
Chiarelli compared the team’s improvement to a “taller midget”.
Cap space: $10.3MM, 22 players under contract
Key RFAs: none
Clendening and Gazdic were not qualified and will become UFAs.
Key UFAs: none
Outlook: The Oilers don’t have any key players to re-sign, but need to drastically improve their back end through trades or free agency. Watch for Chiarelli to be involved in a few dealings around the draft.
High profile names like Travis Hamonic, PK Subban, Tyson Barrie, Jacob Trouba, Hampus Lindholm, Sami Vatanen, Seth Jones, Jason Demers, and Justin Faulk have all been linked to the Oilers at different points. While the ask for those players would be high, the Oilers have organizational depth in NHL forwards and prospect defensemen.
Besides defence, the Oilers need a right-handed centre with skill, more depth on right wing, and a backup goalie to allow Laurent Brossoit to develop further in the AHL. Big UFA winger Milan Lucic is a player of interest, as he would allow the Oilers to trade one of Jordan Eberle or Benoit Pouliot for defensive help.
Former first overall pick Nail Yakupov asked for a trade, and will likely be dealt on the draft floor. TSN 1260’s Jason Gregor reported the Ducks and Oilers were close to a trade involving Yakupov and Pouliot heading to Anaheim, but Pouliot’s season-ending injury ended those talks. In the end, Maroon was sent to Edmonton for project prospect Martin Gernat and a 4th round pick.
Former captain Andrew Ference will likely spend the year on LTIR, freeing up an additional $3.25MM under the cap. Ference underwent hip surgery in March.
Fourth overall pick Jesse Puljujarvi will likely make the team, but could spend some time in Bakersfield to adjust to North America. In any case, don’t expect any other rookies to crack the opening night roster, but college free agent signing Drake Caggiula and AHLers Oesterle, Reinhart, Anton Slepyshev, Bogdan Yakimov, and Jujhar Khaira should see some NHL time during the season. Finnish winger Jere Sallinen was signed from the KHL and could be a dark horse to make the team as an extra forward.
Expansion draft wise, the Oilers are likely able to protect everyone they want to on their current roster with the exception of Brossoit, but he won’t be among the top 3 goaltenders available based on his struggles at the NHL level. Issues could come up after a summer of improving the roster, but Chiarelli won’t be too concerned about that yet.