Edmonton Oilers: Nine Training Camp Questions

Oct 27, 2015; Saint Paul, MN, USA; Edmonton Oilers defenseman Oscar Klefbom (77) against the Minnesota Wild at Xcel Energy Center. The Wild defeat the Oilers 4-3. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 27, 2015; Saint Paul, MN, USA; Edmonton Oilers defenseman Oscar Klefbom (77) against the Minnesota Wild at Xcel Energy Center. The Wild defeat the Oilers 4-3. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports /

Edmonton Oilers camp is weeks away. I’ve always loved training camps. The attachment goes back to when I was a kid, as brothers and cousins attended junior camps, sometimes making the grade, sometimes not.

I would sit in the stands, transfixed, infatuated with the process, filling countless pages of loose leaf with what I thought would be the club’s opening day roster. Eventually, I would be on the ice in the same situations…but that’s another column.

Decades have past, and I’ve since been paid to cover NHL training camps, but my fascination with “camp” has not lessened. Earlier in the week, I had a conversation with the excellent David Staples over at The Edmonton Journal. David has a column in which he contends that, for Bob Nicholson and Peter Chiarelli to be considered to be doing their jobs, 85 points this season are in order.

My response was that surely, .500 has to be the least “acceptable” result. 82 points would be a 12-point improvement, year-over-year. I think they are good enough for 90 points, which would leave them in playoff contention in April. But there was an “if” “If” they are healthy.

That got me thinking: What will be the key developments in Edmonton Oilers training camp, which will have the biggest impact on my own predictions?

Nine Things

9. Todd McLellan and Jay Woodcroft coaching Team North America is not ideal for the Edmonton Oilers. Their attention WILL be divided. The rest of McLellan’s staff will need to be at their best, in order to compensate.

8. If I am Todd McLellan and Peter Chiarelli, I put the whole “Captain” issue
to bed the first day of camp. This team already has an abundance of distractions, it does not need one more, especially with a key player like Connor McDavid.

7. Whittle the lineup down early, giving the core ample time to sharpen systems play before the Flames come to Rogers Place on October 12th. A soft start is not an option. The Edmonton Oilers do not have the horses to catch up.

6. Jordan Eberle is the only lock at right wing. I expect him to be with McDavid and Milan Lucic. Whoever grabs that 2RW spot will need to be able to play tough minutes with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and (likely) Benoit Pouliot. Nail Yakupov, Jesse Puljujarvi and Zack Kassian are contenders.

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5. I expect the Edmonton Oilers to start with McDavid, Nugent-Hopkins and Leon Draisaitl at Center. But Todd McLellan will follow past tendencies and try Leon at RW. And while Mark Letestu is a very good NHL 4C, he proved last year that he is not a 3C. Who is? That is not the least bit apparent.

4. Cam Talbot is the Edmonton Oilers #1 goalie. He has enough of a track record, I am not terribly concerned. But who’s the back-up? The organization would like Laurent Brossoit, and Jonas Gustavsson was signed as insurance. But if neither man grabs the brass ring, Peter Chiarelli needs to be aggressive.

3. There is enough talent to cobble an NHL level D-core. But “talent” is another word for “promise”. I’m only sure of Oscar Klefbom, Adam Larsson and Andrej Sekera. Barring a late signing (I understand Eric Gryba is basically on retainer), 3 of Mark Fayne, Darnell Nurse, Brandon Davidson, Griffin Reinhart and Jordan Oesterle are “the bottom 3”. If at least of them does not step up?

2. Much of this season rests on Oscar Klefbom. Of all the D-men in camp, he is the only one with NHL-quality, high-level 2-way ability. They need him with Larsson 5×5. They need him on the P.K. They need him on the P.P. Well, he can’t play 40 minutes a night. And if he is not healthy, that is a gaping hole that on its own could sink the Edmonton Oilers playoff chances.

1. Injuries. If healthy, as stated, this lineup has enough talent to challenge. But depth is a serious issue. If you lose a Connor McDavid, no team could make up for that loss. But if the Oilers lose Klefbom, they don’t have a replacement. If they lose, Cam Talbot? No replacement. Jordan Eberle? You don’t have a pure scorer to replace him. And all 4 of these things happened last year (Talbot wasn’t injured, but did suffer a prolonged cold spell).

Next: Edmonton Oilers: Zack Kassian Looks to Capitalize

I stand by my predictions: 82 points will hold back the pitchforks and hot tar. Ninety will be real, visible progress, for the first time in a decade.