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Reasons for optimism, questions facing Oilers

by NHL.com Staff / Edmonton Oilers

The wheels continued to spin for the Oilers last season despite a change in management and the hiring of an experienced NHL coach. Edmonton finished 29th in the NHL standings and missed the Stanley Cup Playoffs for a 10th consecutive season.

General manager Peter Chiarelli is attempting to transform Edmonton from a small, skilled team to a bigger, heavier club.

The transition continued with the selection of 6-foot-4, 203-pound left wing Jesse Puljujarvi and free agent signing of 6-foot-3, 233-pound forward Milan Lucic . Along with Patrick Maroon (6-3, 230) and Zack Kassian (6-3, 217), the Oilers believe they now have size to complement their talented offensive forwards.

Here are four reasons for optimism entering this season:

1. Connor McDavid 's second season

Photo by Andy Devlin / Edmonton Oilers Hockey Club.

Had McDavid not fractured his collarbone and missed 37 games last season, he likely would have been the runaway winner of the Calder Trophy as the NHL's top rookie.

Edmonton has never had a Calder Trophy winner (Wayne Gretzky was deemed ineligible in his first NHL season because of his time in the World Hockey Association).

McDavid had 48 points (16 goals, 32 assists) in 45 games for the Oilers, and his 1.07 points per game was the best of any rookie and fourth in the League last season. There has not been this much excitement over a player going into his second year in Edmonton since Gretzky.

2. Cam Talbot 's stability in goal

The Oilers took a calculated risk a year ago, acquiring backup goaltender Talbot in a trade with the New York Rangers and giving him a starting job for the first time in his NHL career.

Talbot got off to a slow start, but once he became comfortable as a starter often was Edmonton's best player. He was 21-27-5 with a 2.55 goals-against-average and .917 save percentage behind a weak defence.

Going into his second season as a starter, the Oilers expect Talbot to be even better, giving them reliable goaltending for the first time since Dwayne Roloson left after the 2008-09 season.

3. The addition of Milan Lucic

Photo by Getty Images.

The Oilers passed on Lucic in the 2006 NHL Draft and then spent the next 10 seasons looking for a forward like him.

A star player (McDavid), a new arena (Rogers Place) and his former GM (Chiarelli) were enough to attract Lucic to Edmonton as an unrestricted free agent.

Lucic is hoping he and Chiarelli can duplicate the success they had with the Boston Bruins, where they won the Stanley Cup in 2011.

"He's going to be a big piece to our team," Oilers centre Ryan Nugent-Hopkins said. "He's a big guy and has a lot of upside offensively, and he's a great team guy from what I've heard. It's another veteran older guy (28) that has been around the League and won at all levels, so I think he's going to be huge for us."

4. Consistency on the coaching staff

Edmonton had six coaches in seven years before Todd McLellan was hired prior to last season. McLellan brings coaching stability to Edmonton along with a consistent message.

The multiple coaching changes have not allowed Edmonton to build from one season to the next, constantly having to adopt new systems. McLellan put an end to the cycle, which should allow Edmonton's prospects to develop at a better pace.

Here are three key questions facing the Oilers:

1. Will Milan Lucic make the necessary impact?

Lucic provides size and grit to the lineup, but can he keep pace with McDavid, and likely Jordan Eberle , on the top line? Lucic had 55 points (20 goals, 35 assists) last season with the Los Angeles Kings, and with Taylor Hall gone, the Oilers need Lucic to help fill the offensive void.

2. How much will Adam Larsson help the Oilers defence?

Photo by Getty Images

Larsson was acquired from the New Jersey Devils to improve a struggling defence, and the Oilers paid a heavy price to get him. The 23-year-old has upside, but expectations will be high considering the Oilers gave up Hall in the trade.

As far as McLellan is concerned, Larsson just needs to be reliable in his own zone and not worry about expectations.

"He'll come in and quietly do his thing," McLellan said. "We think he can play 20, 22 minutes a night against top-level competition. Is he going to be a [Kris] Letang-type player, where he puts up 70 points? We don't expect him to do that. We think he can be a little more like Marc-Edouard Vlasic (of the San Jose Sharks) and play very good minutes against other teams' top players, play consistently and continue to grow to his game with our team as it grows."

3. Will the Oilers end their 10-year playoff drought?

Edmonton will be a bigger, stronger team this season with solid goaltending and better defence. Yet it has a lot of ground to make up to qualify for the playoffs for the first time since 2006.

The Oilers finished 17 points out of a playoff spot last season and were 28 points behind the Sharks for third place in the Pacific Division.

With McDavid going into his second season, Lucic on the roster and a new arena, there is plenty of excitement heading into this season. But there is a lot of work ahead to make the Oilers playoff contenders.

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