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31 in 31

Three questions facing Edmonton Oilers

Neal's ability to rebound, Tippett stopping coaching carousel among concerns

by Derek Van Diest / NHL.com Independent Correspondent

NHL.com is providing in-depth analysis for each of its 31 teams throughout August. Today, three important questions facing the Edmonton Oilers.

 

[Oilers 31 IN 31: Season preview | Top prospects | Fantasy breakdown | Behind the Numbers]

 

1. Will James Neal have a bounce-back season and provide scoring depth?

A 10-time 20-goal scorer, Neal was acquired on July 19 in a trade with the Calgary Flames for forward Milan Lucic and a conditional third-round pick in the 2020 NHL Draft.

The 31-year-old forward scored seven goals in 63 games last season with the Flames, the lowest goals and points (19) of his 11-season NHL career. It was the first season of a five-year contract (average annual value $5.75 million) signed July 2, 2018.

If Neal can get back to at least approaching 20 goals, he will provide necessary secondary scoring for the Oilers, who relied heavily on center Connor McDavid and forward Leon Draisaitl last season.

"We're hoping that Neal can regain his scoring touch playing with the players we have, the playmaking forwards," general manager Ken Holland said.

Video: Holland on Neal acquisition, first season with Oilers

 

2. Can Dave Tippett turn the Oilers around?

Edmonton's ninth coach in 11 seasons, Tippett will try to succeed where so many others fell short. He takes over for Ken Hitchcock, who replaced Todd McLellan 21 games into last season.

Outside of some minor changes, Tippett will have the same core Hitchcock and McLellan were unable to get into the Stanley Cup Playoffs the past two seasons. He'll have to get more out of the bottom half of the lineup than his predecessors.

Tippett has been out of coaching for two years; he was a senior adviser for the NHL expansion team in Seattle. He missed the playoffs in his last five seasons with the Coyotes.

"Someone told me Dave Tippett is [center] Ryan Nugent-Hopkins' seventh coach," Holland said. "That's what happens when you have a new head coach every two years. If you look at my history in Detroit (with the Red Wings) in 22 years, I had four coaches. I'm trying to bring stability to the coaching and that's why I hired Tippett."

Video: 31 in 31: Edmonton Oilers 2019-20 season preview

 

3. Will the goalie tandem of Mikko Koskinen and Mike Smith suffice?

Koskinen is projected to be the starter, but the 31-year-old is expected to have competition from 37-yer-old Smith, who signed a one-year contract July 1.

Koskinen, who played in the NHL last season for the first time since 2010-11 following five seasons in the Kontinental Hockey League, was 25-21-6 with a 2.93 goals-against average, a .906 save percentage and four shutouts in 55 games (51 starts) for the Oilers. Smith was 23-16-2 with a 2.73 GAA, .898 save percentage and two shutouts in 42 games (40 starts) for the Flames; he played for Edmonton coach Dave Tippett for the Dallas Stars and Arizona Coyotes.

With relatively young defensemen, the Oilers will need their goalies to be a strength if they hope to qualify for the playoffs.

"I hope they both play a similar amount of games and they're both really good every one of them," Tippett said. "I thought Koskinen looked tired last season. If you watch the last 20 games, he played a lot and mentally and physically, he looked tired. [Smith] struggled the first half through some personal stuff he had, but the second half, he was a really good player, in the playoffs he was a really strong player. Obviously, I have a history with [Smith], but they're both real competitive guys."

Video: Top 10 saves of 2018-19: Koskinen

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