Oilers season preview: Smith, Koskinen must stay healthy, consistent

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The 2021-22 NHL season starts Oct. 12. With training camps open, NHL.com is taking a look at the three keys, the inside scoop on roster questions, and the projected lineup for each of the 32 teams. Today, the Edmonton Oilers. 

Coach: Dave Tippett (third season)

Last season: 35-19-2; second in Scotia North Division, lost to Winnipeg Jets in Stanley Cup First Round

3 KEYS

1. Goaltending must hold up

Mike Smith is 39 years old and has faced durability issues the past three seasons. Mikko Koskinen is 33 and has struggled with consistency. Smith, who signed a two-year contract July 24, emerged as Edmonton’s No. 1 goalie last season, when he was 21-6-2 with a 2.31 goals-against average, .923 save percentage and three shutouts in 32 games (30 starts) after missing the first three weeks with a lower-body injury. If Smith misses games this season, Koskinen will have to step up. He was 13-13-0 with a 3.17 GAA and .899 save percentage in 26 games (25 starts) last season. 

2. Improved forward depth

Zach Hyman, Warren Foegele and Derek Ryan ideally will take some pressure off Connor McDavid, the reigning Hart Trophy winner voted as most valuable player after leading the NHL with 105 points (33 goals, 72 assists) last season. Leon Draisaitl was second with 84 points (31 goals, 53 assists).

Hyman scored 33 points (15 goals, 18 assists) in 43 games for the Toronto Maple Leafs last season. Foegele scored 20 points (10 goals, 10 assists) in 53 games for the Carolina Hurricanes. Ryan scored 13 points (two goals, 11 assists) in 43 games for the Calgary Flames.

Video: Edmonton Oilers 2021-22 Season Preview

3. New look on defense

The Oilers will have three new defensemen in their top six, so building chemistry in training camp and early in the season will be key. Duncan Keith was acquired in a trade with the Chicago Blackhawks on July 12 with forward Tim Soderlund for defenseman Caleb Jones and a conditional pick in the 2022 NHL Draft. Cody Ceci signed a four-year contract July 28. Evan Bouchard is expected to move into a full-time role after the 21-year-old scored five points (two goals, three assists) in 14 NHL games last season. 

ROSTER RUNDOWN

Position battles 

The pecking order at right wing needs clarity between Jesse Puljujarvi, Kailer Yamamoto and Zack Kassian. Puljujarvi likely has the inside track to get first-line minutes with McDavid. Yamamoto agreed to a one-year contract as a restricted free agent Sept. 18 and has shown chemistry with Draisaitl. Kassian is a strong skater and plays with an edge but scored two goals in 27 games last season, when he was twice on the injured list. 

Most intriguing addition 

Keith is 38 and has two seasons left on the 13-year contract he signed with the Blackhawks on Dec. 3, 2009. He was acquired, in part, to provide experience and competitiveness, and show what it takes to win in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, where Edmonton has played beyond the first round once in the past 15 seasons (2017 Western Conference Second Round). Keith won the Stanley Cup three times (2010, 2013, 2015), the Norris Trophy voted as best NHL defenseman twice (2009-10, 2013-14) and the 2015 Conn Smythe Trophy voted as playoff MVP during 16 seasons with Chicago.

Biggest potential surprise 

Puljujarvi played a better NHL-style game last season after returning from Finland. The 23-year-old is a strong skater, has size (6-foot-4, 201 pounds), a heavy shot and developed more willingness to go to the net. His 25 points (15 goals, 10 assists) in 55 games could be a platform for more production this season, especially if he continues to play next to McDavid.

Video: WPG@EDM, Gm1: Puljujarvi wires home rebound

Ready to break through 

Bouchard could see time on the second power-play unit. The 21-year-old scored 17 points six goals, 11 assists) in 23 games last season for Sodertalje SK in HockeyAllsvenskan, the second highest level of pro hockey in Sweden, before joining the Oilers.

Fantasy sleeper

Hyman (fantasy average draft position: 130.3) is coming off the highest points-per-game average (0.77) of his six NHL seasons and has more fantasy appeal with the Oilers than with the Maple Leafs. He will likely play on one of the first two lines with exposure to one of the top five fantasy players in either McDavid or Draisaitl. Hyman, mostly an even-strength scorer for Toronto, has untapped potential if he lands a first power-play role with the Oilers. He also brings strong hits coverage (1.4 per game in NHL career). — Rob Reese

Projected lineup

Zach Hyman — Connor McDavid — Jesse Puljujarvi

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins — Leon Draisaitl — Kailer Yamamoto

Warren Foegele — Derek Ryan — Zack Kassian

Devin ShoreRyan McLeodJosh Archibald

Darnell NurseTyson Barrie

Duncan Keith — Cody Ceci

Kris Russell — Evan Bouchard

Mike Smith

Mikko Koskinen

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