The 2020-21 NHL season is scheduled to begin on Jan. 13. With training camps opening this week, NHL.com is taking a look at the three keys, the inside scoop on roster questions, and the projected lines for each of the 31 teams. Today, the Edmonton Oilers, who will play in the North Division.
Coach: Dave Tippett (second season)
Last season: 37-25-9 (.585 points percentage); fifth in Western Conference, lost to Chicago Blackhawks in Stanley Cup Qualifiers
1. Replacing Klefbom
The Oilers will need to find a way to make up for the loss of their top defenseman, Oscar Klefbom, who is out for the season because of a chronic shoulder injury. One player who should help take his place is Tyson Barrie, who signed a one-year contract with Edmonton on Oct. 10. Barrie could run the Oilers power play, which led the NHL at 29.5 percent last season, but Klefbom’s key defensive minutes are likely to be assumed by the defense pair of Darnell Nurse and Ethan Bear.
2. 5-on-5 defense
The Oilers allowed 154 goals at 5-on-5 last season, sixth most in the NHL, and they were even worse in the Stanley Cup Qualifiers, when they allowed 12 goals at 5-on-5 in four games to the Blackhawks.
As a result, improvement in their game at even strength will be the priority for the Oilers because it will be a challenge to improve, or even maintain, their power play and penalty kill (84.4 percent), which was second in the League last season behind the San Jose Sharks (85.7).
3. Balancing top two lines
The Oilers found their best results came when Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid, who finished first and second in the NHL in points last season, each was the center on his own line, so the challenge now will be finding which wings complement them the most. It is likely that Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Zack Kassian will play with McDavid, who scored 97 points (34 goals, 63 assists) in 64 games, and Dominik Kahun and Kailer Yamamoto will play with Draisaitl, who scored 110 points (43 goals, 67 assists) in 71 games. McDavid and Draisaitl will still play together on the power play and at other urgent moments, but Edmonton is a tougher opponent when each is mostly leading his own line at even strength.
Making the cut
Forward Kyle Turris signed a two-year contract with Edmonton on Oct. 9 and should provide more scoring among the bottom six forwards. However, the combinations on the third and fourth lines will be intriguing with the Oilers having 17 forwards on one-way contracts. One player who should make his return to the lineup is Jesse Puljujarvi, who hasn’t played in the NHL since his entry-level contract expired at the end of the 2018-19 season. Puljujarvi, who signed a two-year contract with Edmonton on Oct. 7, was tied for fourth in Liiga, Finland’s top professional league, with 53 points (24 goals, 29 assists) in 56 games last season.
At defenseman, Philip Broberg, who was selected with the No. 8 pick in the 2019 NHL Draft, impressed during training camp in July. The 19-year-old could earn a spot in the top six if he can outplay Caleb Jones or Kris Russell.
Most intriguing addition
Barrie was signed on the second day of free agency and should complement McDavid and Draisaitl, who have won three of the past four NHL scoring titles (McDavid in 2016-17 and 2017-18).
The 29-year-old defenseman is a strong skater with an offensive mind, scoring 39 points (five goals, 34 assists) in 70 games for the Toronto Maple Leafs last season. He scored 12 power-play points (one goal, 11 assists) in his only season with Toronto but had a reduced role on the man-advantage (2:40 average ice time per game) compared to his final two seasons with the Colorado Avalanche. In 2018-19, he scored 25 power-play points (two goals, 23 assists) averaging 4:03 of ice time per game, and in 2017-18, he scored 30 power-play points (seven goals, 23 assists) averaging 3:44 of ice time per game. Klefbom’s probable absence — he led Edmonton in power-play ice time per game last season (3:38) — gives Barrie the opportunity to again have a considerable impact on the man-advantage.
Biggest potential surprise
Turris will be in a different role than he was with the Nashville Predators for the past three seasons, when he almost always played on the top two lines. With the Oilers, the 31-year-old center will be behind McDavid and Draisaitl on the depth chart, but that could allow him to bounce back (he was bought out after scoring 31 points in 62 games last season) given that opponents’ best checkers will be regularly focused on McDavid and Draisaitl.
Ready to break through
Puljujarvi, who was the No. 4 pick in the 2016 NHL Draft, scored 37 points (10 goals, 27 assists) in 139 games in his first three seasons with the Oilers but asked them to trade him after his contract expired in 2019. When that didn’t happen, Puljujarvi decided to go play in his native Finland. However, Holland, who became Edmonton general manager after Puljujarvi departed, convinced the 22-year-old to give the Oilers another shot, and as a more mature player on and off the ice, Puljujarvi has plenty of upside to offer.
Puljujarvi (average draft position: 172.0) could skate in a top-six role with either McDavid or Draisaitl (second and fourth, respectively, in NHL.com’s fantasy rankings) this season, and he is off to another strong start with Karpat (12 points in 16 games) after he tied for fourth in Liiga in scoring last season. Because of his potential exposure, Puljujarvi is worth selecting as a sleeper pick in late rounds of standard 12-team drafts. — Rob Reese
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins — Connor McDavid — Zack Kassian
Dominik Kahun — Leon Draisaitl — Kailer Yamamoto
Tyler Ennis — Kyle Turris — Jesse Puljujarvi
Josh Archibald — Jujhar Khaira — James Neal
Darnell Nurse — Ethan Bear
Caleb Jones — Adam Larsson
Kris Russell — Tyson Barrie