NHL.com is providing in-depth roster, prospect and fantasy analysis for each of its 31 teams throughout August. Today, the Edmonton Oilers.
Expectations are high for the Edmonton Oilers entering this season, and why not?
They came within one game of reaching the Western Conference Final last season behind 20-year-old center Connor McDavid, who won the Hart Trophy as the NHL most valuable player and the Art Ross Trophy as its leading scorer with 100 points (30 goals, 70 assists).
They have a budding star, 21-year-old forward Leon Draisaitl, who finished eighth in the League in scoring with 77 points (29 goals, 48 assists) and led the Oilers in the Stanley Cup Playoffs with 16 points (six goals, 10 assists) in 13 games. They have a workhorse goaltender, Cam Talbot, who started a League-leading 73 games and tied Braden Holtby of the Washington Capitals for the NHL lead with 42 wins.
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Their foundation appears solid after strides in coach Todd McLellan's second season were dramatic in several areas. The Oilers finished eighth in the NHL in goals (243) and goals-against (207), and had the fifth-best power play (22.9 percent).
"It's a very up-and-coming team and we showed last year what we were capable of," McDavid said on July 5, the day he signed an eight-year, $100 million contract extension. "We're only going to get better; we're still a young team and our young guys are only going to keep getting better."
But there is plenty of work to be done to keep the Oilers strong this season and beyond. General manager Peter Chiarelli said McDavid's extension served two purposes: It locked up the Oilers captain long-term and provided NHL salary cap space to build a winning team around him.
"This may be one of the largest contracts ever given in the NHL, but I can assure you, it could easily have been a lot higher in value and shorter in term," Chiarelli said after McDavid signed the extension. "Building a team to win the Stanley Cup championship was a constant discussion point in this negotiation."
Video: 31 in 31: Edmonton Oilers 2017-18 season preview
Draisaitl remains a restricted free agent, and a contract likely will come at a hefty price. But the Oilers made moves this offseason to offset future salary-cap issues.
Right wing Jordan Eberle was traded to the New York Islanders for forward Ryan Strome on June 22, providing a cap savings of $3.5 million this season. The Oilers also signed defenseman Kris Russell for four years (average annual value $4 million), and right wing Zack Kassian for three years (average annual value $1.95 million). Forward Jussi Jokinen, whose contract was bought out by the Florida Panthers, signed with the Oilers for one year ($1.1 million). Left wing Benoit Pouliot had the final two years of his five-year, $20 million contract bought out.
Strome, who had 30 points (13 goals, 17 assists) in 69 games with the Islanders last season, shares McDavid's excitement about the Oilers' future.
"I feel like a little bit of a kid again, getting my new gear at Christmas," Strome said Aug. 4. "Going to the rink with my new Oilers gear, I thought it was pretty awesome. Little things like that get you excited, and coming to a team that I think is so close to winning is very exciting as well.
"I've always been a winner growing up, I've always been on winning teams, and I think that's what defines great players, and that's what I'm looking to do. I don't think you want to change too much about yourself or put extra pressure on yourself. I want to win, that's what it's all about, and it makes everyone happy, and I think I'm going to get an opportunity to do that here."
Video: Connor McDavid is awarded the Hart Memorial Trophy
McLellan has pushed hard for the Oilers to be tougher mentally, a vulnerability he believed was central to their 10-year-long playoff drought that ended last season. The Oilers pushed the Anaheim Ducks for first place in the Pacific Division through March and early April.
"The thing I like about our team is the stress we've been under," McLellan said.
That stress eventually proved too much in the Western Conference Second Round, a seven-game series won by the Ducks. The Oilers led the series 2-0 but lost four of the last five games, including a 4-3 double-overtime defeat in Game 5 after leading 3-0 with less than 3:30 remaining.
The Oilers hope it will serve as a learning experience and leads to them being a force for years to come.