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Season Preview

Oilers season preview: McDavid, Draisaitl look for secondary scoring

Neal, new coach could help boost attack, get Edmonton back to playoffs

by Derek Van Diest / NHL.com Independent Correspondent

The 2019-20 NHL season begins Oct. 2. With training camps open, NHL.com is taking a look at the five keys, the inside scoop on roster questions, and the projected lines for each of the 31 teams. Today, the Edmonton Oilers.

Coach: Dave Tippett (first season)

Last season: 35-38-9; seventh place Pacific Division

 

5 KEYS
1. Star power

Centers Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl each had his most productive offensive season in the NHL in 2018-19, but it still was not enough to get Edmonton into the Stanley Cup Playoffs. McDavid, who hopes to be in the lineup on opening night after sustaining a knee injury in the the final game of last season, had 116 points (41 goals, 75 assists) in 78 games and Draisaitl had 105 points (50 goals, 55 assists) in 82 games. Draisaitl was the first Oilers player to score 50 goals since Wayne Gretzky scored 62 and Jarri Kurri scored 54 in 1986-87. The Oilers need McDavid and Draisaitl to put up big numbers again to keep from missing the playoffs for a third straight season and 13th time in the past 14 seasons.

Video: Top 10 plays of 2018-19: McDavid

 

2. Under new management

Longtime Detroit Red Wings general manager Ken Holland was hired by Edmonton on May 7 to replace Peter Chiarelli, who was fired Jan. 22. Dave Tippett was hired as the Oilers' ninth coach in the past 11 seasons on May 28.

 
3. Neal's impact

Forward James Neal was acquired in a trade with the Calgary Flames for forward Milan Lucic and a conditional third-round pick in the 2020 NHL Draft on July 19. Neal is coming off the fewest points in his 11-season NHL career: 19 points (seven goals, 12 assists) in 63 games with Calgary last season. In 2017-18, he had 44 points (25 goals, 19 assists) in 71 games for the Vegas Golden Knights. The Oilers are looking for the 32-year-old to have a bounce-back season; he entered training camp following an extended offseason after going to the Stanley Cup Final in 2017 with the Nashville Predators and 2018 with the Golden Knights.

Video: Neal nets his first as an Oiler

 

4. Goalie tandem

Edmonton enters the season with goalies Mikko Koskinen and Mike Smith expected to share the workload. Koskinen is in the first of three-year contract extension signed last season after winning the No. 1 job over Cam Talbot. Koskinen was 25-21-6 with a 2.93 goals-against average, .906 save percentage and four shutouts in 55 games (51 starts) last season. Smith signed a one-year contract after he played the past two seasons for the Flames. The 37-year-old was 23-16-2 with a 2.73 GAA, .898 save percentage and two shutouts in 42 games (40 starts) with Calgary last season. Tippett said he would like to see the two play an equal number of games.

 

5. Defensive approach

Edmonton allowed 271 goals last season, tied for sixth-most in the NHL. Tippett is instituting a new defensive philosophy with the Oilers, who look to be on board during training camp. Edmonton needs to improve its penalty kill, which ranked 30th in the NHL last season (74.8 percent), ahead of only the Chicago Blackhawks (72.7 percent).

 

ROSTER RUNDOWN

 

Making the cut

There are openings at right wing on the top two lines to play with McDavid and Draisaitl, and with Neal and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. Zack Kassian will start on the right wing on the Oilers top line but will need to produce to keep his spot. Competition for right wing on the second line will be intense; Sam Gagner will start with Neal and Nugent-Hopkins, but Alex Chiasson, Joakim Nygard and Tyler Benson will be in the mix. 

At defenseman, Darnell Nurse and Adam Larsson will be Edmonton's shutdown pair. The Oilers are looking for a partner for Oscar Klefbom and hope Joel Persson, a free agent from Sweden, can fill the role. The third pair should have Kris Russell and Matt Benning, meaning there will be competition for the seventh defenseman between Brandon Manning, Caleb Jones, Ethan Bear and Evan Bouchard.

Video: WPG@EDM: Nugent-Hopkins tucks home goal in tight

 

Most intriguing addition

The Oilers hope Neal will form a strong tandem with Nugent-Hopkins on the second line. Lack of secondary scoring was an issue for Edmonton last season and it is looking for Neal to provide that.

 

Biggest potential surprise

Bouchard is projected to start the season with Bakersfield of the American Hockey League but could force Edmonton's hand and earn a top-six spot out of training camp. Selected by the Oilers with the No. 10 pick in the 2018 NHL Draft, Bouchard could be the best option in a bottom-pair role despite his inexperience, He has been impressive thus far at training camp.

 

Ready to break through

Joakim Nygard said there was an opportunity to come to the NHL last year but felt he was not ready after five seasons with Farjestad BK of the Swedish Hockey League. The 26-year-old forward played a sixth season with Farjestad and had 35 points (21 goals, 14 assists) in 52 games. Signed as a free agent by Edmonton on May 24, Nygard has impressed during camp with his speed and offensive abilities. The Oilers hope he can be an effective third or fourth-line player this season.

 

Fantasy sleeper

Bouchard (average draft position: N/A) has an outside chance to emerge as Edmonton's top defenseman, considering he was better than a point per game (140; 41 goals, 99 assists in 112 games) over the past two seasons with London of the Ontario Hockey League. -- Pete Jensen

 

PROJECTED LINEUP

Leon Draisaitl -- Connor McDavid -- Zack Kassian 

Sam Gagner -- Ryan Nugent-Hopkins -- James Neal 

Markus Granlund -- Gaetan Haas -- Alex Chiasson  

Jujhar Khaira -- Riley Sheahan -- Josh Archibald

Oscar Klefbom -- Joel Persson 

Darnell Nurse -- Adam Larsson 

Kris Russell -- Matt Benning 

Mikko Koskinen 

Mike Smith

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