NHL.com is examining where each team stands in preparation for the 2021-22 regular season, which starts Oct. 12. Today, five questions facing the Edmonton Oilers:
1. Will their offseason moves help them get over the hump in the playoffs?
The Oilers have lost in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs in each of the past two seasons, including being swept by the Winnipeg Jets last season after finishing second in the seven-team Scotia North Division. It’s been a frustrating result for a roster that features the past two Hart Trophy winners voted as NHL MVP, Connor McDavid (2020-21) and Leon Draisaitl (2019-20).
In search of the elements that will improve their chances of making a deep run, the Oilers made two key additions this offseason, signing forward Zach Hyman to a seven-year contract July 28 and acquiring defenseman Duncan Keith in a trade with the Chicago Blackhawks for defenseman Caleb Jones and a conditional pick in the 2022 NHL Draft on July 12.
“We obviously [like] where our group is at, we’ve got lots of guys that are just stepping into their primes that’s a core group, and we’ve got lots of pieces around that,” McDavid told TSN on July 12. “[General manager Ken Holland] has a big offseason with some money to work with, so you never really know when what can happen.”
2. How much better is their forward depth?
McDavid led the NHL with 105 points (33 goals, 72 assists), and Draisaitl was second with 84 (31 goals, 53 assists), but third among Edmonton forwards was Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, who scored 35 points (16 goals, 19 assists).
McDavid and Draisaitl will continue to score at an elite level, and the Oilers believe they have improved their forward depth by adding Hyman, who scored 33 points (15 goals, 18 assists) in 43 games for the Toronto Maple Leafs last season. As a top-six forward, he could make it easier for coach Dave Tippett to have McDavid and Draisaitl each center his own line.
Along with Hyman, Edmonton added Derek Ryan, who signed a two-year contract July 28 after scoring 13 points (two goals, 11 assists) in 43 games for the Calgary Flames last season, and Warren Foegele, who was acquired in a trade with the Carolina Hurricanes for defenseman Ethan Bear on July 28 after scoring 20 points (10 goals, 10 assists) in 53 games last season.
3. Where does Keith fit in the defenseman group?
Keith’s best NHL days are likely behind him, but the 38-year-old still has his intelligence, experience and competitive edge. In 16 seasons with the Blackhawks, he won the Stanley Cup three times (2010, 2013, 2015) and was voted winner of the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP in 2015 and the Norris Trophy as the best defenseman in the NHL twice (2009-10, 2013-14).
Keith’s role will be to support and complement Darnell Nurse and Tyson Barrie, and to mentor 21-year-old Evan Bouchard, who was selected with the No. 10 pick of the 2018 NHL Draft and should move into a full-time role this season.
Edmonton also signed defenseman Cody Ceci to a four-year contract July 28 after he scored 17 points (four goals, 13 assists) in 53 games for the Pittsburgh Penguins last season.
The Oilers will be relying on Keith and Ceci to replace Bear, Adam Larsson, who was selected by the Seattle Kraken in the 2021 NHL Expansion Draft on July 21, and Oscar Klefbom, who is likely to miss a second straight season after shoulder surgery March 25.
4. Can the goaltending hold up?
Mike Smith, who signed a two-year contract July 24, emerged as the clear No. 1 last season, going 21-6-2 with a 2.31 goals-against average, a .923 save percentage and three shutouts in 32 games (30 starts). It was a nice bounce-back season for the 39-year-old, who proved that he still has plenty of game left after he had a 2.95 GAA and .902 save percentage in 2019-20, his first with the Oilers.
Smith’s backup will again be Mikko Koskinen, who was 13-13-0 with a 3.17 GAA and .899 save percentage last season in 26 games (25 starts), but Edmonton also has Alex Stalock under contract for depth and insurance.
5. Which young players will produce?
There will be some urgency from the Oilers to get bigger contributions from Bouchard, 21; and forwards Jesse Puljujarvi, 23; Kailer Yamamoto, 22; and Ryan McLeod, 21.
Puljujarvi scored 25 points (15 goals, 10 assists) in 55 games last season; Yamamoto scored 21 (eight goals, 13 assists) in 52 games; McLeod had one assist in 10 games; and Bouchard scored five points (two goals, three assists) in 14 games.
“Part of being good in a [salary] cap world is you need younger players, cheaper players, that’s a part of the puzzle,” Holland said. “If that’s not part of the equation, then it gets to be much more difficult.”