Are the 2021-22 Edmonton Oilers better than they were in 2016-17?

Edmonton Oilers (Photo by Codie McLachlan/Getty Images)
Edmonton Oilers (Photo by Codie McLachlan/Getty Images) /

The Edmonton Oilers have clinched their third consecutive postseason appearance and fourth in the McDavid era. Over their last two playoff runs, the Oilers have posted an abysmal 1-7 record. This record speaks to a number of different flaws with the way the team has been constructed.

In the 2020 bubble playoffs, the Oilers put forth a disappointing performance in terms of their team defense. Structurally, they were a mess, and as a result, allowed the underdog Blackhawks to score 16 goals in four games. In 2021, the Oilers were more sound defensively but Winnipeg largely smothered the dynamic duo and the Oilers simply were not deep enough through the rest of the lineup to win the close games.

The last time this team was a legitimate threat in the postseason was 2016-17 and with many of the problems that have plagued the Oilers in the past seemingly fixed during the recent run of success, that begs the question, how does the current Edmonton team compare to the 2017 edition? Let’s take a closer look.

Edmonton Oilers Forwards

In 2017, Edmonton’s top-six forward group consisted of Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, Pat Maroon, Milan Lucic, Jordan Eberle, and RNH. While Eberle and Nugent-Hopkins didn’t have their best seasons, and Lucic’s impact was far greater on the powerplay than it was at even-strength, this group still managed to produce 0.511 even-strength points per game (EVP/GP).

This year’s top six consists of McDavid, Draisaitl, Kane, Hyman, Puljujarvi, and Yamamoto. This group has been superior offensively to the 2017 top-six, scoring an astounding 0.656 EVP/GP.

One thing that made the 2017 team so much better than recent Oiler teams was their ability to outplay the opponents without McDavid and Draisaitl on the ice. The Oilers outscored opponents 71-69 at even-strength without the dynamic duo in 2017, but have been utterly dominated every year since.

Luckily, Jay Woodcroft has reinvigorated this year’s depth group, pulling them up to 23 GF and 26 GA (as of April 20) without McDavid and Draisaitl since taking over as head coach. Simply put, this 2022 Oilers team has the best top-six forward group we have seen in Edmonton in quite some time and the depth has played close to even with the opponents for the first time since 2017. I like the 2022 forwards a little bit more.

Edmonton Oilers Defense

2017’s defense core was led by Klefbom and Larsson, with Sekera and Russell on the second pair, and Nurse and Benning making up the third pair. Each of the top four defensemen in this group had excellent seasons and Benning was a surprisingly steady youngster.

A very young and unpolished Darnell Nurse was one of the weakest links along with the seventh D-man Eric Gryba. While it wasn’t the deepest group in the NHL, the Oilers were in the top half of the league in most defensive metrics.

In 2022, the Oilers started the year an absolute mess defensively, but things have settled down since the coaching change. Since February 10, the Oilers have allowed the 8th fewest high-danger chances in the NHL, and their goals against have seen a steady decline.

The addition of Brett Kulak has proven massive, as he has developed chemistry with Tyson Barrie who has quietly elevated his game defensively as of late. Overall, I would probably take the 2017 defense group over this year’s when fully healthy, but I like the depth a little better this year with Kris Russell being a much stronger seventh D-man than Gryba.

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Edmonton Oilers Goalies

While most people are familiar with save percentage as the most popular goalie stat, goals saved above expected (GSAx) is actually the gold standard metric among hockey analysts because it takes into account the shot quality as well as quantity to measure not only how many shots were saved, but how many expected goals were prevented.

Cam Talbot had a career year in 2017, carrying the vast majority of the workload with 73 games played. He had a GSAx/60 of 0.412 in 2016-17, which was the 8th best in the NHL. The Oilers’ current leader in this category is Mike Smith with a GSAx/60 of 0.281, good for 10th in the league.

While it would seem like there is a bit of a gap between these two starting goaltenders, Mike Smith is 10-1-0 in his last 10 starts with a .943 Sv%. He has turned his season around since he got healthy and started making more consistent starts. I would probably rather have 2017 Cam Talbot on my team, but the gap in goaltending may not be as wide as it seems with Smith finding his game as of late.

Edmonton Oilers Special Teams

Edmonton’s PP% was 22.86% (5th) in 2016-17, and the PK% ended up at 80.72% (17th). They had the skill of McDavid and Draisaitl to go along with the big net-front presence of Milan Lucic and the one-timer of Mark Letestu.

It’s almost eerie how similar the special teams look five years later, with the 2022 Oilers having a PP% of 25.66% (4th) and a PK% of 79.18% (18th). Leon Draisaitl has developed into one of the most elite trigger-men on the powerplay in the NHL with McDavid and Nugent-Hopkins putting their passing ability and vision on full display.

Both PP and PK units combined for 103.58% in 2017 and 104.84% this season thus far. Similar totals, but the slight edge goes to the 2022 team.


The 2016-17 Edmonton Oilers finished with a 47-26-9 record and managed to reach game 7 of the Western Conference Semi-Finals despite being on the wrong end of some extremely close goalie interference calls.

This year’s Oilers have a nearly identical record of 47-27-6 going into the final 2 games of a season where they were plagued with injuries, inconsistency, and questionable coaching for the first 45 games.

Should The Edmonton Oilers Go Eleven and Seven Moving Forward?. light. Hot

The Oilers are 11-2-1 in their last 13 games and now that they have found their stride, one has to wonder if this Oilers team can make a deeper run than the 2017 edition was able to. I think they have the capability, only time will tell.