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Pacific Division Overview: Edmonton Oilers ready to build on last season’s success

After making the playoffs for the first time in over a decade, Edmonton has a strong shot at winning the division and making a deep playoff run.

NHL: Calgary Flames at Edmonton Oilers Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

The Golden Knights will square off against Edmonton four times this season. Here’s what you need to know about the Oilers.

Edmonton’s 2016-2017 Season

The Edmonton Oilers finally broke through last season and made the playoffs for the first time in over a decade, finishing the year with 103 points and a 20-6-3 record against division rivals. After a six-game ousting of the Sharks in the first round of the playoffs, Edmonton played admirably against a tough Anaheim team, but ultimately lost the series in seven games. The Oilers were a few controversial calls away from reaching the Conference Finals and will look to make it at least that far this season.

2016-2017 Roster Highlights

Connor McDavid had a dominant season, scoring 30 goals and 100 points and winning his first Art Ross, Hart Memorial and Ted Lindsay awards. Leon Draisaitl was right behind him with 29 goals and 77 points, as well as 16 points in 13 playoff games. The combination was lethal down the stretch.

The most surprising performance of the year came from forward Patrick Maroon, who registered a career-high 27 goals and 42 points. “Big Rig” was a mainstay on McDavid’s wing and has been excellent since arriving in Edmonton in late 2016. Mark Letestu also set career highs in goals (16) and points (35), playing a key role on the team’s first power play unit; he added five goals and 11 points in 13 postseason contests.

Milan Lucic didn’t quite live up to expectations. While he brought physicality and a new mentality to the team and was able to finish the year with 23 goals and 50 points, his production and offensive effectiveness were inconsistent.

Adam Larsson proved to be a great partner for fellow first-pair defenseman Oscar Klefbom. Larsson’s stay-at-home style allowed Klefbom to jump in the play, leading to career highs in goals (12), assists (26), points (38), power play points (16) and shots (201) for the 24-year-old Swede.

Goaltender Cam Talbot had a masterful season, tying Braden Holtby for the lead league in wins with 42. He carried the Oilers at times last year and was a major factor in the team’s success. Talbot finished the year 42-22-8 with a 2.39 goals-against average, .919 save percentage and seven shutouts in 73 starts. Many feel he was robbed of a Vezina nomination.

Most Significant Offseason Moves

For the second consecutive summer, Edmonton traded a star player to the Metropolitan Division for a return of lesser value, this time sending Jordan Eberle to the New York Islanders in exchange for Ryan Strome. Eberle failed to generate strong chemistry with either McDavid or Draisaitl, and his zero goals and two assists in the playoffs sealed his fate. Strome, who has one year remaining at a $2.5 million cap hit, is coming off another down year in which he was a healthy scratch at times and produced just 30 points. He should start the year on the top line, however, giving him an excellent chance to revitalize his career.

General manager Peter Chiarelli also signed the team’s two best players to massive eight-year extensions. McDavid inked an eight-year, $100 million extension, and Draisaitl re-signed for eight years at an annual cap hit of $8.5 million. When McDavid’s contract kicks in after this year, his $12.5 million cap hit will be the highest in the NHL. Both players are vital to Edmonton’s future, though the combined $21 million cap hit will make managing the cap much more challenging moving forward. This is especially true since Chiarelli re-signed defenseman Kris Russell to a four-year, $16 million deal, which was met with heated disapproval given future cap concerns, especially with Maroon’s and Darnell Nurse’s contracts expiring at the end of this year.

In addition to buying out the final two years of Benoit Pouliot’s contract, the Oilers brought in veteran winger Jussi Jokinen on a one-year, $1.1 million deal. Jokinen’s speed will fit right in on this Edmonton squad and he is just one year removed from an 18-goal and 60-point campaign.

Previewing Edmonton’s 2017-2018 Lineup

Anton Slepyshev sustained a lower-body injury before training camp but said he is feeling “80 percent” better and should re-join his teammates in a few days. Once he returns, it’s possible he could slot in at right wing on the second line, pushing Drake Caggiula to the fourth line. Additionally, defenseman Andrej Sekera will be out until at least November, possibly until February. That being said, based on how things have gone thus far in training camp, here’s what Edmonton’s lines might look like to start the season:

Forwards

Maroon—McDavid—Strome
Lucic—Draisaitl—Caggiula
Jokinen—Nugent-Hopkins—Puljujarvi
Khaira—Letestu—Kassian

—OR—

Maroon—McDavid—Strome
Lucic—Draisaitl—Slepyshev
Jokinen—Nugent-Hopkins—Puljujarvi
Caggiula—Letestu—Kassian

Defensemen

Klefbom—Larsson
Benning—Russell
Nurse—Gryba

Goalies

Talbot
Brossoit

Bottom Line

Expectations are high in Edmonton, which means the pressure is on; anything less than a deep playoff run will be a letdown. There are two main questions facing the Oilers this season — will Laurent Brossoit be able to handle backup duties, and how will Strome fare in his new environment? Chiarelli failed to bring in an experienced backup for Talbot, who was forced to start 73 games last season. That workload is unsustainable and will not do Talbot or this team any favors come playoff time. Brossoit finished last year 4-1 with a 1.99 goals-against average and .928 save percentage but played in just eight contests.

As for Strome, it could go either way. While he’s not a replacement for Eberle, he has the potential to put up at least 50 points but has been unable to do so the past few seasons. He has a fresh start on an exciting, skilled team and likely will begin the year on McDavid’s wing. It’s hard to ask for a better place to start. It’s just a matter of whether he takes advantage of the situation.