For the Edmonton Oilers to make the Playoffs in 14-15, watch:
10. Darnell Nurse. I sincerely hope this kid makes the team. But if he does, it will be because a number of other prospects on defence did not progress as forecast, most notably Martin Marincin and Oscar Klefbom, or because a veteran sustained a serious injury. This team can’t afford either.
9. Nail Yakupov. The Oilers needs secondary scoring. It‘s just too easy for other teams to focus only on Hall-Eberle-Nugent-Hopkins. They need a line the other guys can’t afford to ignore. And Yakupov is the next best, pure goal scorer on the team.
8. Boyd Gordon. He promises to see a back-breaking amount of D-zone starts, tough competition and a man-killer amount of responsibility in the face-off circle. I’m a big fan of Gordon, we’re lucky to have him, but there is a LOT riding on him.
7. Justin Schultz. An Oilers defencemen needs to have a breakout season. I believe it can be Schultz. I saw key improvement in his game the last half of the season. Plus it’s more likely we’ve seen his sophomore jinx already, versus Klefbom or Marincin.
6. Leon Draisaitl. Craig MacTavish’s failure to bring in a 2nd Line Center is a miss. But if this kid can sustain the level of play he appears capable of over a full NHL season, history may eventually be a little kinder to the Oilers General Manager.
5. Mark Fayne. He is NOT the second-coming of Chris Pronger. I’m only using Fayne as the poster child for the entire re-built blue-line. On paper, they do look better, but they HAVE to be. Anything resembling last year, the Oilers will be picking Top 5 again.
4. Taylor Hall. The straw that stirs the drink. As we saw in Pittsburgh last Spring, if your best player is not your best player, you will not succeed. I’m confident that Taylor Hall will perform at the required level. But the pressure on the rest of his teammates, if he doesn’t, will be substantial.
3. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. If he gets hurt or is out of the lineup for any significant stretch, it will be close to fatal. The organization has no substantial depth at center. They may even be able to succeed with last year’s version of Nugent-Hopkins. But with no Nuge at all? Shudder.
2. Ben Scrivens. This team could grow a lot, and still have it all go South if they do not get consistent goaltending. Nothing saps confidence and allows momentum to ebb more than surrendering a softie at the wrong time. And since Scrivens is more proven than Victor Fasth, the target goes on his back.
1. Dallas Eakins. Let’s face it: A lot of things have to go right, for this squad to make it to the post-season. See the above. But none of it, none-of-it, happens without the head coach pressing enough of the right buttons to win enough games to be in the conversation in May.