Oh to be bold, or rather how to be bold? Coming out of the offseason virtually all the NHL’s franchises are reinvigorated with a certain level of optimism, the Oilers included. Many bold predictions for teams across the league will reflect this optimism, a reminder that some will be left disappointed by reality. Nevertheless, let us look forward to some bold claims that could well become reality over the course of the season ahead.
Evan Bouchard is the Oilers’ top defenceman
Right now the Oilers best defenceman is, and has been, Darnell Nurse. Though he is not on a sweetheart cap hit at $9.25 million, Nurse has carried the load of a relatively underwhelming Oilers blueline, relatively unchallenged as the team’s top option. With a strong season of continued development and buoyed by top power play time, Bouchard could feasibly start forcing us to ask the question more nights than not.
Naturally, the offensive flair is there with Bouchard, but he will still need to show an improved impact on team defence. Some might argue this would happen on its own through maturity and having a stronger partner in Brett Kulak or potentially Philip Broberg (or even Jakob Chychrun?), but some early usage on the penalty kill (mostly under Tippett) showed that there is definitely some tools for Bouchard to leverage into being a more well rounded defender.
The Oilers finish top ten in goals against
As much as one might look at the UFA signing of Jack Campbell, this prediction instead leans into the improved level of team defence under Jay Woodcroft. Of course Campbell and fellow broth brother in the crease Stuart Skinner will need to live up to their billing. If the Oilers are to live up to their end of the bargain, they will need to embrace and thrive off the consistency of a championship level commitment to defence.
Including the strong work on the penalty kill under Woodcroft, as well as the improved play and deployment of the blueline as a whole, there is good reason to think the Oilers have all the ingredients to reach the top tier in raw goals against by season’s end.
Connor McDavid earns a Selke vote
The aforementioned commitment to defensive detail and commitment is mirrored in the Oilers’ captain Connor McDavid. Over his career so far, McDavid’s otherworldly offensive abilities have been on full and irrefutable display, though the same can not be said for his defensive impacts.
We have seen the tides shift recently, as McDavid took on a new level of defensive and physical intensity down the stretch and into last season’s playoffs. McDavid can continue to build on this side of his game and one day even contend for the Selke trophy outright.
A notoriously, or perhaps historically, difficult award to define and award, Selke candidates are often built through years of consistent play as much as anything else. McDavid will have to work his way into the conversation over the coming years, but he’s taken enough strides to start earning a vote or two across the voting body.
Jay Woodcroft wins Jack Adams for coach of the year
This is a fairly bold prediction because the Jack Adams is often awarded to a coach that exceeds expectations and the Oilers are already expected to do great things. Simply put, Woodcroft changed the Oilers reality during his brief stint last season. If that level of success can continue, he might have enough success to warrant some attention for the award this year.
He won’t be alone in such rarefied air, as a number of coaches will author strong narratives. Should a team vault into playoff contention, say Buffalo, Seattle, New Jersey, or even Vegas, their storylines might capture more attention than the team with two MVPs.
Dylan Holloway is a top six forward
The Oilers have a deep and talented group of forwards, so this will be no small feat. I wouldn’t go as far as to call Holloway a leading Calder favourite, but the ability is certainly present for Holloway to push up the Oilers lineup.
With enough experience and success to seem poised to perform, Holloway is primed to make a serious impact on the forward group. Ryan McLeod, even Kailer Yamamoto and Jesse Puljujarvi, have all proven to be strong contributors up front, but Holloway might assert himself above a couple, if not all, sooner rather than later.
Even if he is able to make such conversations more common, it will have helped the Oilers elite forward depth even stronger.
Evander Kane, Zach Hyman, and Jesse Puljujarvi have career years
Speaking of forward depth, the Oilers have an interesting group that might well be in line for career years. Outside the obvious and ever improving ceilings of McDavid and Draisaitl, Kane, Hyman, and Puljujarvi are quite well positioned to have their best offensive seasons.
Perhaps most surprisingly, Kane has never been on a team near as good as the Oilers were last season. Not only is he well supported, he is simultaneously an important and almost fundamental piece of the Oilers top six. Kane has reached 30 goals twice, and has highs of 27 assists and 57 points. These are all marks Kane might surpass this season.
Hyman has continued to improve his game each season and there’s no reason to think that won’t continue to be the case this season. His 27 goals, 27 assists, totalling 54 points were all career highs last season, and I’d wager he finds a way to set a new high for at least one of them.
Puljujarvi’s production has been a point of contention over the years, capping out at a high of 15 goals and 36 points. At his best, he looks ever bit a player capable of 20 goals and 50 points, if not more, although 20 goals and 40 points would be a strong total for the forward.
All three will likely be fighting for a role on the power play, but it is still possible for all three to set some new career highs when it comes to offensive production.
Photo by Curtis Comeau/Icon Sportswire