Edmonton Oilers: 5 questions heading into the new NHL season

Edmonton Oilers: Five questions surrounding the Oilers in training camp and into the new NHL season.

The Edmonton Oilers took a big step forward in 2016/17. After missing the playoffs for 11 straight years and were one game away from reaching the Western Conference Finals last season.

Heading into a new NHL season, expectations in the Alberta capital will be a lot higher. The Edmonton Oilers are one of the few teams in the NHL with a legitimate shot at the Stanley Cup next season.

Five questions that surround this team from training camp into the 2017/18 NHL season include:

1) Will Jesse Puljujarvi become a top-six winger for the Edmonton Oilers this year?

Despite making the Oilers right out of training camp last season, the first year of playing in North America wasn’t memorable for forward Jesse Puljujarvi.

The 2016 4th overall pick had a tough time getting acclimated to the NHL. As an 18-year-old, he suited up for 28 games and managed to only score one goal, and notch seven assists.

Puljujarvi briefly saw time on the Oilers’ top line with Connor McDavid but his overall play wasn’t good enough to keep him there. Eventually, the Finn was demoted to a bottom-six role.

As his playing time gradually decreased, Puljujarvi was inevitably sent down to the AHL Bakersfield Condors by the new year and ended up staying there for the rest of the 2016/17 season.

Heading into the 2017/18 season, the Edmonton Oilers will give Jesse Puljujarvi another shot at securing a top-six winger spot on the team’s top two lines.

Over the summer, Oilers’ general manager Peter Chiarelli traded Jordan Eberle, bought out Benoit Pouliot, and lost Tyler Pitlick in free-agency. The departure of these names gives Puljujarvi more time to secure a top-six winger spot this season.

Ideally,  Edmonton would like to see Puljujarvi ride shot-gun on Connor McDavid’s line but at the same time, he is still just 19-years-old, and may not be ready yet.

At camp, we have seen Puljujarvi spend time on a line with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jussi Jokinen. Perhaps that is where he will start the season for the Oilers.

2) Can Ryan Strome become a solid secondary scorer for the Oilers?

Over the summer, the Oilers traded long time forward Jordan Eberle to the New York Islanders in exchange for Ryan Strome.

Strome struggled offensively the past two seasons, averaging only 29 points and around 10 goals a season.

The former fifth overall pick of the Islanders, development in the NHL has been inconsistent, but he has shown glimpses that he can produce at the top level.

During the 2014/15 season, Ryan Strome had his best year in the NHL, scoring 17 goals and 50 points in 81 games. For whatever reason, he wasn’t able to build off that strong campaign and the Islanders decided to let him go in exchange for a more proven player in Eberle instead.

Perhaps a change of environment is what Strome needed to revive his NHL career. He is coming into a great situation in Edmonton and will get a chance to play with two elite young centers in Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl.

Acquiring Strome was a risk Peter Chiarelli was willing to take, in that he is still young at only 24-years-old and has plenty of untapped potential. Now the question becomes, whether he can become a solid secondary scorer for the Oilers starting in 2017/18.

If Strome is able to put up the same type of numbers he did in 2014/15, the Edmonton Oilers might have found themselves a decent complimentary player to grow with their young offensive core.

3) Is Matt Benning or Darnell Nurse ready to take on a top-four role on the Oilers’ defense?

Matt Benning and Darnell Nurse both had a decent year on the Oilers’ blue-line last season. They both played mostly on the team’s bottom pairing defense, giving the Oilers a solid 16-17 minutes every night.

However, heading into the new NHL season, the Oilers have a huge hole to fill on their back-end as veteran Andrej Sekera suffered a torn ACL during the Stanley Cup Playoffs and is expected to miss the first several months of the season.

The projected lineup for the Edmonton Oilers’ defense looks to be as follows:

Oscar Klefbom – Adam Larsson

Kris Russell – Matt Benning

Darnell Nurse – Eric Gryba

Andrej Sekera (IR)

Although, there have been rumors circulating around that Peter Chiarelli might add another veteran defenseman… nothing has come to fruition yet.

Assuming that the Oilers decide to go with the current roster they have, Benning or Nurse will likely see minutes on the team’s second pairing.

Benning has shown the potential that he can be a solid-pairing defender in the NHL. Can it be as early as this October?

Meanwhile, Nurse, the former Oilers 7th overall pick in 2013 has been projected to be a top-pairing defenseman in the NHL. Although he is still young at 22, is it too early to ask Nurse to jump into a second-pairing role next season?

4) Should the Oilers play Cam Talbot as much as they did last season?

Cam Talbot led all NHL goalies in games played last year at 73. He also led all goalies in shots against and minutes played. On top of that, Talbot played another 13 games for the Oilers in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

To sum things up, the 30-year-old Edmonton netminder had a very heavy workload last season.

Nonetheless, Talbot had a spectacular season and was a big reason why the Oilers were a playoff team last year.

Heading into the new NHL season, the Oilers might want to ask themselves if they plan to rely on Talbot to play another 70 plus games during the regular season. Although Talbot has shown he is able to handle the workload, it might be in the team’s best interest to give him more nights off to keep him fresh for the playoffs.

In that regard, it will be interesting to see if Laurent Brossoit is ready to become a full-time NHL backup. There are obviously some uncertainties as Brossoit has only played 14 NHL games in his entire career.

It remains to be seen if he is able to give the Oilers 20-25 games next season. If Brossoit is able to do that, it will definitely increase the Edmonton Oilers’ chances of advancing deep into the Stanley Cup Playoffs next postseason.

5) Can Jujhar Khaira become a full-time NHL player?

Jujhar Khaira split-time with the Edmonton Oilers and their farm team in Bakersfield last season.

Heading into the 2017/18 season, Khaira has a good chance to show the Oilers’ management that he is ready to become a full-time NHL player.

With Matt Hendricks out of the picture, the Oilers have an opening on the left side of the team’s fourth line with Mark Letestu and Zack Kassian. The opportunity is there for the 23-year-old from Surrey, BC.

At 6’3” and 214lbs, there is a lot to like about Khaira’s game. He can skate quite well for a big guy and has the skillset to become an effective power forward in the NHL. He is also a very versatile player who can play both center and wing, take face-offs, kill penalties and is a reliable checker.

The main focus for Khaira right now is to show the Oilers that he belongs in the NHL. After that, it would be ideal to see him give the Oilers consistent bottom line minutes every night.

Khaira has had a great training camp so far and looks to be on the brink securing a full-time spot.

We will know very soon if  “J. J” will be on the Edmonton Oilers’ roster on opening night.

What do you expect the Edmonton Oilers to achieve this season? Let us know in the comment section below and be sure to vote in our poll as well.

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