The city of Edmonton hosted the Stanley Cup Playoffs last season, but the Oilers were nowhere to be found.
Roughly five months after they were eliminated in the play-in round by the Chicago Blackhawks, the Edmonton Oilers will host the Vancouver Canucks on January 13th to kick-off two games on back-to-back nights.
The Canucks and Oilers will see a lot of each other during the regular season as the two teams will have played ten times before the end of the regular season. Last season the Canucks went 2-2 in four meetings against the club from Alberta’s capital, and over the previous three years, the two teams have been relatively equal, with the Canucks taking a slight edge, boasting a winning percentage of .583.
Head to Head
Running a modest power play and a below-average penalty kill, special teams are an area the Canucks will want to improve in against the Oilers this season. It’s to no one’s surprise that Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl are tied for first and second in power play points against the Canucks with seven and six over the course of three years. The Oilers like to have one of them at the point and the other at the opposite hashmark making the power play a threat on both sides of the ice. The Canucks will want to limit their trips to the sin-bin to stop a power play that has been in the top ten in the league each of the past three seasons.
Both the Canucks and Oilers have found themselves in the second round of the playoffs in recent memory. However, the past three seasons overall in the league have been eerily similar. It will be up to the Canucks’ depth to edge out the Oilers this upcoming season, with not much separating the two teams.
Top three returning players for the Oilers
Stopping Draisaitl and McDavid won’t be easy, the pair finished first and second in league scoring with 110 and 97 points, respectively. The Oilers need the duo to put up points every night to win games due to the lack of depth up front.
The goal for the Canucks defence is simple you stop Draisaitl and McDavid; you control the Oilers’ offence. Though not an easy task since over the last three seasons, the two are well over a point per game against the Canucks. If we take it a step further since the 2011-12 season, McDavid leads all Oilers with 27 points in 21 games against the Canucks, which is shocking considering McDavid was still three-years away from getting drafted***
At times, Dave Tippett will deploy his top two juggernauts on the same line, leaving Ryan Nugent-Hopkins alone. On pace to set career highs in assists and points, Nugent-Hopkins has found his form under Tippett, be it at centre or wing, giving the Oilers an extra element of attack.
What’s new with the Oilers
The most significant offseason moves made by the Oilers were bringing in two B.C boys. After spending the past three seasons in Nashville, Kyle Turris has returned to Canada to centre the Oilers’ third line. The other significant signing was right-shot defenceman Tyson Barrie who hit the open market this past offseason. It’s well known that Canucks GM Jim Benning tried to acquire Barrie before, so when Barrie became a free agent, rumours swirled around town. Those rumours were laid to rest when the power play specialist signed with the Oilers.
After requesting a trade out of Edmonton, the former fourth overall pick Jesse Puljujarvi hasn’t impressed thus far. After playing in Finland last year, Puljujarvi did sign a two-year deal in the offseason to return to the Oilers, and though not a new player, Puljujarvi will look to make an impact this time around.
While deadline pickups from last season such as Mike Green and Andreas Athanasiou have either retired or signed somewhere else, the biggest loss for the Oilers will be Oscar Klefbom, who will miss the entire 2020-21 NHL season with a shoulder injury.
What to expect from the Oilers
After losing out on the Jacob Markstrom sweepstakes, the Oilers will need to lean on their offence once again. Having depth at the centre position is paramount to have success in the NHL. The Oilers have it with the signing of Turris, which allows Nugent-Hopkins flexibility to play on the wing alongside McDavid or Draisaitl.
Labelled as a defensive coach, Tippett likes to have a sound defensive structure, with the ability to play with and without the puck, while letting his stars flourish by maxing individual talent. He likes to have his defence join the attack and be an outlet while breaking out in their end. Short passes and ample support are how they enter the offensive zone even. Tippett wants his defence with or without the puck to be hard on the forecheck in the offensive zone, which can cause odd-man rushes for the Canucks with an eager defence that will be ready to capitalize on any chances.
Even with a lacklustre bottom six, a mid-tier defence, the Achilles heel will for the Oilers will be in net. Returning with the tandem of Mikko Koskinen and Mike Smith, the pair split the crease last season. The numbers don’t stand out, but Koskinen did manage to edge out Smith in save percentage and goals-against average — .917 and 2.75, respectively. In an unusual year, having two goalies will be crucial. There was a reason why the Oilers wanted Markstrom.
Series prediction: 5-3-2 Canucks