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Season Preview: Edmonton Oilers

Connor McDavid, addition of Adam Larsson could lead to playoff return

by Derek Van Diest / NHL.com Correspondent
At a glance

2015-16 record: 31-43-8, 7th in Pacific Division, 14th in Western Conference.

2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs: Did not qualify

Additions: F: Milan Lucic, Jesse Puljujarvi, Kris Versteeg; D: Adam Larsson, Kris Russell; G: Jonas Gustavsson

Subtractions: F: Taylor Hall, Rob Klinkhammer, Lauri Korpikoski, Nail Yakupov; G: Anders Nilsson

 
Projected opening night lineup

Forwards

Milan Lucic -- Connor McDavid -- Jordan Eberle

Benoit Pouliot -- Ryan Nugent-Hopkins -- Jesse Puljujarvi

Patrick Maroon -- Leon Draisaitl -- Kris Versteeg

Matt Hendricks -- Mark Letestu -- Zack Kassian

Drake Caggiula

Defensemen

Oscar Klefbom -- Adam Larsson

Andrej Sekera -- Kris Russell

Darnell Nurse -- Brandon Davidson

Mark Fayne

 

Goalies

Cam Talbot

Jonas Gustavsson

Laurent Brossoit

Video: VAN@EDM: McDavid puts puck past Markstrom for a PPG

 

The Edmonton Oilers now are center Connor McDavid's team.

The No. 1 pick in the 2015 NHL Draft became the de facto leader of the Oilers when left wing Taylor Hall was traded to the New Jersey Devils for defenseman Adam Larsson on June 29.

On Oct. 5 the Oilers formalized it, naming McDavid captain. At 19 years, 266 days old, he became the youngest captain in NHL history.

McDavid won't be alone in his attempt to turn around the Oilers, who have not qualified for the Stanley Cup Playoffs in the past 10 seasons. He will have a strong supporting cast after second-year general manager Peter Chiarelli continued to revamp the roster.

The Oilers added three major pieces to a team loaded with young talent which has yet to reach its full potential. Edmonton felt fortunate to be able to select Finnish right wing Jesse Puljujarvi at the 2016 NHL Draft. Puljujarvi (6-foot-4, 203 pounds), 18, was considered a top-three prospect, but the Oilers were able to take him with the No. 4 pick after the Columbus Blue Jackets selected center Pierre-Luc Dubois at No. 3.

Chiarelli then made his boldest move to date as Oilers GM, trading Hall for Larsson, designed to help Edmonton fill a void for a puck-moving, right-shot defenseman who can play top-pairing minutes.

Initially, the trade was very unpopular in Edmonton; Hall was the Oilers leading scorer and a fan favorite. But the disappointment was short-lived when Chiarelli signed unrestricted free agent left wing Milan Lucic to a seven-year, $42 million contract on July 1, helping ease the loss of Hall.

Lucic, 28, is part of a bigger, stronger group of forwards assembled by Chiarelli to compete in the heavy Western Conference. With Lucic (6-3, 233), the roster also includes physical forwards Patrick Maroon (6-3, 230), Zack Kassian (6-3, 217) and Matt Hendricks (6-0, 207). The Oilers still have plenty of offensive talent with McDavid, Jordan Eberle, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Benoit Pouliot and Leon Draisaitl.

The Oilers subtracted forward Nail Yakupov from that group, trading him to the St. Louis Blues on Oct. 7 for minor-league forward Zach Pochio and a conditional third-round pick in the 2017 draft. Yakupov, the first pick of the 2012 draft, had eight goals and 23 points in 60 games last season. 

Defensively, Larsson will be expected to play a lot of minutes for the Oilers and is likely to be used against the opposition's top line.

Larsson likely will start the season on the Oilers' top pair with Oscar Klefbom, 23, who returns after missing the second half of last season with a broken finger and then a staph infection in his foot.

Kris Russell, 29, signed a one-year contract Oct. 7 to join Andrej Sekera, 30, as veteran mentors for an otherwise young defense with Darnell Nurse, 21 and Brandon Davidson, 25 expected to play significant roles.

 

Why they should make the Stanley Cup Playoffs

The Oilers have one of the brightest young stars in the game in McDavid, who is capable of elevating his game to another level. With Eberle, Nugent-Hopkins, Draisaitl and Lucic, they have a strong supporting cast. If they can get consistent scoring throughout the lineup and get their young defensemen to play up to their potential, Edmonton should end a 10-year playoff drought.

Video: NYR@NJD: Larsson scores on the empty net

 

Why they could miss the Stanley Cup Playoffs

The Oilers finished 17 points out of a playoff spot last season, which is a lot to make up in one year. Edmonton struggled to keep the puck out of its own net, the biggest reason it was willing to part with Hall to acquire Larsson.

Anything that could go wrong for the Oilers has gone wrong in the past few years, which included McDavid sustaining an injury that forced him to miss 37 games. If the bad luck continues, the Oilers will set an NHL record for years out of the playoffs.

 

Breakout candidate

Puljujarvi. He's new to the North American game and may need an adjustment period, but has all the tools to be a dominant forward in the NHL. With plenty of offensive talent on the roster, the Oilers will not rush Puljujarvi's development, but he is capable of making an impact this season, particularly if he gets an opportunity to play on a line with McDavid.

 

On the hot seat

Talbot. The Oilers goaltender had a strong first season as the undisputed starter after being a backup to Henrik Lundqvist with the New York Rangers the previous two seasons. Talbot needs to have another strong year in order for the Oilers to succeed. If he struggles, the Oilers do not have many options behind him with journeyman Jonas Gustavsson expected to be the backup and unproven Laurent Brossoit as the third goaltender.

 
Trophy candidates

McDavid (Hart); Puljujarvi (Calder)

 

Quotable

"I got to play with [McDavid] last season and got to see him play in Russia at the World Championships and at the World Cup and what I see, is his game rises to the occasion. He gets better in bigger games. You watch him play at the World Cup, against the best players in the world and he gets better and better and better. He wants to be the best player in the world, he wants to win championships, that's the kind of people I want to be surrounded by on my team." -- forward Matt Hendricks

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