Can a Young Edmonton Oilers Squad Pave a Way to the Playoffs in 2018?
Taylor Maxston (2L)
It seems like a distant memory when hockey analysts and fans were talking about the resurgence of the Edmonton Oilers after a solid run in the 2016 playoffs that ended an 11-year postseason drought. After defeating the San Jose Sharks in the first round with a 3-1 win in Game 6, the Oilers managed to push the Anaheim Ducks to a Game 7 but were eliminated in a heartbreaking 2-1 loss. Still, with a young player core headlined by superstar Connor McDavid, the future was incredibly bright and a return to the postseason seemed almost inevitable if the team could continue to build off of its success.
Then came the 2017-18 season where it was made blatantly clear that the Oilers still have plenty of room to grow. After finishing the previous year with a record of 47-26-9 and ranking second in the Pacific Division, the team experienced a noticeable drop-off with a record of 36-40-6 and did not qualify for the playoffs. Although Connor McDavid should be praised for leading the league in total points in back-to-back seasons, the sting of going from being hyped up as a Stanley Cup contender to just another team in the NHL is something that fans are more likely to have on their minds.
With hockey season just under a month away, head coach Todd McLellan is on a blistering hot seat to turn the Oilers around from last year’s disappointing conclusion. Unfortunately, due to a number of salary cap issues and long-term contracts, the greatest amount of turnover has taken place among the coaching staff. Assistant coaches Jim Johnson and Ian Herbers will not be returning to the team and Jay Woodcroft will fill the head coaching position of the Oilers AHL affiliate in Bakersfield. Aside from a couple of signings, including a backup goaltender and veteran winger, the young roster that fans see on the ice for the upcoming season should heavily resemble the squad they saw in 2017/18.
What does Edmonton need to do to make a return to the postseason? It certainly starts with finding ways to reduce the gap in offensive production between its top two scorers and the rest of the roster. Connor McDavid factored in on a ridiculous 46 percent of the Oilers goals en route to leading the team in points and forward Leon Draisaitl put up 70 points of his own. However, the next player on the list was Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, who missed 20 games and still managed to garner the third highest amount of points on the team.
In addition, the Oilers need to drastically improve in their special teams play after ranking dead-last in the NHL on power plays and seventh worst in penalty killing last season. A bounce-back year from goalie Cam Talbot certainly wouldn’t hurt either, as he saw his goals-against average increase from 2.39 two seasons ago to 3.02. All-in-all, an Oilers playoff run in the 2018/19 NHL season will be highly contingent on the team’s best players continuing to play at a high level, several of their young players breaking out, and critical progress in the areas of special teams and goaltending.