As we keep our 2021 Canadian Division preview going, we move on to the other half of the Battle of Alberta for a look at how the Oilers did in the draft, whether Connor McDavid might want to leave, and the overall expectations of the team going forward. All questions bere were answered by Jeff Chapman, Managing Editor of The Copper and Blue.
1) How do you feel about how the Edmonton Oilers performed in the 2020 NHL draft, and which pick other than Dylan Holloway are you most excited for?
I think the Oilers did fine in the draft. If I could pick one selection other than Holloway to place a bet on, it’d be fourth round winger Carter Savoie. Selected 100th overall, Savoie is having a heck of a start to his collegiate career at Denver. Already, he picked up rookie of the month honours for the month of December. Savoie played with Sherwood Park in Alberta Junior and finished with 99 points last year, so I think there is the potential for him to really make some noise in Denver (and hopefully Edmonton down the road).
2) The new Canadian division format is going to be fun and different to watch; what advantages/disadvantages do you feel the Oilers might have in this format?
I’m not sure that there are a whole lot of advantages for any club in this 56 game season. For the Oilers, I think the disadvantages start with 10 back-to-back games. Edmonton will need to be extra careful with their goaltending deployment in back-to-backs, three-in-fours and four-in-sixes, as clubs that struggle early will have a tougher time than usual trying to make up ground in a season with only 56 games being played. Mikko Koskinen had a lovely .917 SV% in 2019-20 while Mike Smith had a less lovely .903 SV% during that same time. I wouldn’t be too awfully surprised to see the Oilers have a third goaltender (Anton Forsberg) hanging out on the taxi squad just in case things get a little spicy.
3) Connor McDavid’s contract takes him through the 2025-26 season and he’s showing no signs of slowing down. Do you get the sense there is pressure on the organization to make sure McDavid stays happy? Is this a real thing or a media creation?
From the moment that the Edmonton Oilers won the draft lottery in 2015, there’s been a full court press from various sources that want to depict Connor McDavid as the unhappiest person in Alberta. I don’t believe this to be the case at all. McDavid wants to grab the Stanley Cup and hoist it high in the sky as many times as he possibly can, I’m sure he’d tell you that. I think it’s abundantly clear that he’s perfectly happy to be an Edmonton Oilers now throughout the end of his contract. Hopefully he’ll be happy to be an Oiler for the next contract after this one too.
4) Jesse Puljujarvi has had a shaky start to his career with the Oilers, but what kind of season do you expect from him? Is he a likely trade target?
Jesse Puljujärvi’s time with the club could nicely be described as “tumultuous”. After frittering away his entry level contract where he spent most of his time with Milan Lucic (during which time he played less than 60 games at the AHL level), followed by a double hip surgery, Puljujärvi spent time in Finland where he grew his game. During this time I do believe that there was some interest to acquire an asset in a trade, but it never materialized. Now back in Edmonton on a two year deal, I think there’s a real chance that he could become a fixture in Edmonton’s top six. He’s looked good with new Oiler Kyle Turris so far this training camp, and I think there’s a real chance that he could end up on Connor McDavid’s right side if the situation presents itself before too long.
5) From a fan perspective, what are the expectations for the team this season? Is simply making the play-offs enough? Do they need to make a deep run? Are fans dreaming of a Cup?
Oilers head coach Dave Tippett was asked this question after the first day of informal skating on January 3rd. His response was to “take a step forward”. That’s kind of an ambiguous answer, so I’ll try to quantify it by suggesting that the Oilers need to win a playoff round. They did this in 2016-17 when they took down the Sharks before falling to the Ducks in round 2, but it’s been no dice since then. Finishing in the top four of this year’s North Division ought to be a given, but the Oilers need to start showing some progress along the way. Winning a round would go far in showing that they’ve taken a step towards being a cohesive hockey club, plus it’d be lots of fun to watch too.
Thank you again to Jeff from taking the time to answer our questions. You can follow Jeff @newWaveOil on Twitter as well.