Predicting Point Totals for the 2021 Oilers

Simple premise: How many points will each Edmonton Oilers skater end up with this season?

This isn’t some fancy mathematical model or scientific conclusion. It’s probably not even a realistic expectation. It’s just my gut feeling based on the past production of each player. I’m going to work my way up from lowest to highest scorers.

Also, I am going to assume that each player plays 56 games. I know that three games into the season that’s already impossible, but bear with me. Also also, I’m just going to go through who I believe to be the best 18 skaters Edmonton has. The guys that I think will play on a regular basis. Alright, enough qualifiers. Here we go:

18. Adam Larsson: 2 goals, 9 assists (11 points)

82 Game Pace: 3 goals, 13 Assists (16 points)

Adam Larsson missed a good chunk of last season due to injury, which is why he only managed 6 points. Larsson is an excellent passer in my eyes, but will be relied upon as the team’s best shutdown defenseman. Expect all 11 points to come 5-on-5.

17. Slater Koekkoek: 3 goals, 8 assists (11 points)

82 Game Pace: 4 goals, 12 Assists (16 points)

Koekkoek won’t get anywhere near the amount of ice time Larsson does, but it looks like he could be paired up with Tyson Barrie most of the season on the third pair. Dave Tippett probably wants to shelter Barrie as much as possible from high-leverage defensive situations while also pairing him with a guy like Slater who can cover for him. Both guys move the puck really well, and should have no problem getting it to the big boys.

16. Gaetan Haas: 8 goals, 7 assists (15 points)

82 Game Pace: 12 goals, 10 Assists (22 points)

In 58 games as a rookie, Haas managed five goals and five assists. Now that he’s secured a role on this team as their fourth-line centre, I imagine he will only get more and more comfortable as the season rolls on and he plays more games. He’s got the tools to be a driver on the Oilers’ fourth line, so I expect an increase in his production.

15. Caleb Jones: 7 goals, 9 assists (16 points)

82 Game Pace: 10 goals, 13 assists (23 points)

I’ve really liked what I’ve seen from Caleb Jones in the first couple games of the season. In the first game vs. Vancouver, he had two shot attempts from the slot and another from the low point. He’s not afraid to work low, and I believe that is a fine complement to his defensive game. He should have no problem adding to his nine points in 43 games last year.

14. Zack Kassian: 8 goals, 11 assists (19 points)

82 Game Pace: 12 goals, 16 assists (28 points)

I believe that this is the year we see Zack Kassian decline – from an offensive perspective. It’s not due to age (this is his age-30 season), but rather the options the Oilers have on the wings. In the past, it didn’t matter if Kassian stuggled – he was McDavid’s winger by deafult. Now the Oilers have added Ennis, Kahun, Yamamoto, Puljujarvi and Neal, among others. Kassian will have a short leash and if someone else gets hot, expect them to replace Kassian to play with Connor and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.

13. Jesse Puljujarvi: 8 goals, 12 assists (20 points)

82 Game Pace: 12 goals, 18 assists (30 points)

This is easily the hardest Oiler to predict for two reasons: First, we haven’t seen the kid play for two years; second, no player on this roster as as big of a range in terms of where they could slot in. I don’t think anyone would be particularly surprised if Puljujarvi ends the season on McDavid’s wing and as the net-front guy on the top Powerplay unit, but we are not really expecting that from him either. I think a 30-point pace is a fairly conservative estimate for the fourth-highest scorer in Liiga a year ago. We shall see.

12. Josh Archibald: 11 goals, 9 assists (20 points)

82 Game Pace: 16 goals, 13 assists (29 points)

The only reason I have Archibald so high is because Dave Tippett will, at some point this season, play Archibald on the top line with Connor McDavid. He loved the pairing last season, so don’t be shocked when he goes back to it. I’d expect Gaetan Haas numbers, aside from a week where Archie puts up five points in two games. But let’s not forget that Josh Archibald finished 6th on the team in scoring last season despite only playing 62 games.

11. Ethan Bear: 4 goals, 17 assists (21 points)

82 Game Pace: 6 goals, 25 assists (31 points)

Every time I watch Ethan Bear move the puck, I am more and more impressed. Nobody on this team is more calm under pressure. Playing with Darnell Nurse both 5-on-5 and on the Power Play should offer Bear every opportunity to improve on his 21 point campaign last season. He will match his total, only in 15 less games.

10. Darnell Nurse: 5 goals, 20 assists (25 points)

82 Game Pace: 7 goals, 29 assists (36 points)

Darnell Nurse was one point behind Oscar Klefbom for the team’s defenceman scoring lead in 2020, and should find himself in a similar competition this year with Tyson Barrie. Nurse saw a slight dip in production last year, but this is a player whose best asset is his ability to jump in the rush. Expect a bounce back in a big way.

9. Tyler Ennis: 12 goals, 13 assists (25 points)

82 Game Pace: 18 goals, 19 assists (37 points)

This prediction will be wrong if Tyler Ennis spends significant time on the fourth line. Obviously. However the reason the team went out and acquired Tyler Ennis was because he is a skilled player who has the speed to play with Connor McDavid. It’s why they re-signed him this season. Even if Ennis spends most of his time with Jesse Puljujarvi and Kyle Turris (you may have noticed I haven’t mentioned him yet) and only gets a few looks with the big boys, he is too good not to produce.

8. James Neal: 20 goals, 9 assists (29 points)

82 game pace: 29 goals, 13 assists (42 points)

This is a weird one. James Neal is, of course, the player that scored 58 points in 2015-16 with Nashville. He is also the same player that scored only seven goals in 2018-19 with Calgary. All I will say about this prediction is that last season, in 55 games, he managed 19 goals and 12 assists. I expect him to park his rear end in front of the net and stay there while pucks bounce off of him. It worked for Ryan Smyth.

7. Kyle Turris: 9 goals, 21 assists (30 points)

82 Game Pace: 13 goals, 31 assists (44 points)

It didn’t work out in Nashville. I’d argue that his “lack of success” had more to do with his contract than his actual play, but sure. It didn’t work out in Nashville. Kyle Turris has hit 40 points four times in his career, most recently in 2017-18. Yes, I’m expecting a very dramatic comeback. But the third line of Ennis/Archibald – Turris – Puljujarvi isn’t getting enough love, even from Oilers fans. They will be getting some favourable matchups and once they get rolling, they will be very fun to watch.

6. Dominik Kahun: 15 goals, 21 assists (36 points)

82 Game Pace: 22 goals, 31 assists (53 points)

I think that Dominik Kahun has finally found a home. The Oilers are his fourth team in his 3-year NHL career despite being quite productive for a man his age. The Oilers only signed him to a one-year deal, but he will be a Restricted Free Agent at its conclusion, so they will be free to lock him up long-term. We all know about the chemistry he should have with his childhood friend, Leon Draisaitl. Kahun could very well be the missing link that forms the best second line in the game. Personally, I think this estimate might be on the safe side.

5. Tyson Barrie: 12 goals, 38 assists (50 points)

82 Game Pace: 18 goals, 56 assists (74 points)

OK, now we are getting to the big boys. This is easily my most outlandish projection. I don’t think Barrie will get this high, but it is absolutely possible. This is a guy who was considered one of the league’s elite offensive defensemen until he got to Toronto. It was a bad fit. Edmonton is a dream scenario for Tyson Barrie. He gets to run the point on the best Power Play in the league with Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl while not being expected to be a top pair shutdown guy. This is one of the best puck movers in the game, and he will definitely improve on last season’s numbers. Consider this: Barrie’s best season from a production standpoint was 2017-18: 57 points in 68 games. Over a full season? 69. While unlikely, the 50 point plateau is definitely doable for Barrie.

4. Kailer Yamamoto: 20 goals, 36 assists (56 points)

82 Game Pace: 29 goals, 53 assists (82 points)

Not much to say here that hasn’t been said. Kailer has been a point-per-game player since he was called up last season, and revealed himself as the perfect winger to play with last year’s Hart Trophy winner. What I will say is that even if Yamamoto scores zero points (impossible, he already has three), he is still a very valuable member of this team, thanks to his relentlessness on the forecheck.

3. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins: 19 goals, 45 assists (64 points)

82 Game Pace: 28 goals, 66 assists (94 points)

On the YEG Sports Podcast Season Preview show, I said that one of Nugent-Hopkins or Yamamoto would finish in the Top Ten in league scoring. I don’t doubt Kailer’s ability to do it, but Nuge is the safe bet here. Ryan (27) is the first of the Oilers core to be entering his prime years, and a full season on McDavid’s wing should be enough to propel the product of Burnaby, B.C. to superstardom. His production has improved in each of the last four seasons and I don’t expect it to stop any time soon.

2. Leon Draisaitl: 34 goals, 51 assists (85 points)

82 Game Pace: 50 goals, 75 assists (125 points)

Hard to believe that a 125-point pace is a decrease, but it is a drop of about two points. I expect Leon to follow a similar pattern to his first breakout year – 2016-17. The next season, his goal-scoring remained the same while the assists took a slight dip. Leon is 100% capable of repeating his success last year, but that was downright historic. I think that 85 in 56 is a much more reasonable and down-to-earth prediction.

1. Connor McDavid: 37 goals, 58 assists (95 points)

82 Game Pace: 54 goals, 85 assists (139 points)

Only in Edmonton can a 125-point pace land you second on the team’s leaderboard. Let’s start with the obvious: Connor McDavid is the best player the world has seen since Ovechkin/Crosby, he’s still three years away from his prime, and he’s playing in a league where scoring is increasing. Not to mention that he had an offseason to train and improve rather than rehab an injury. Plus he centres the best Power Play in the League. And now he’s reading articles saying he’s not the best player in the world (see: Michael Jordan). If you are a fan of a Canadian team not named the Edmonton Oilers, cover your butt.

I think that Connor McDavid would be the first to tell you how disappointed he was in his 97-point campaign a year ago. And he will be back with a vengeance.

For the record, 139 points would be the 25th highest single season mark in history, edging out Wayne Gretzky’s first NHL season by two points.

The Oilers are scary good.

Remember back in February, when the Taylor Hall rumours were flying? Reliable sources indicated that Hall may have wanted to play in a Canadian market. Because of the COVID-19 situation that brought along the flat salary cap for 2020-2021, many believed that he’d take a one-year deal from a Cup contender, and then get paid next offseason. Some folks in Edmonton thought that there was never a better time for Hallsy to make his return to Oil Country.

That obviously didn’t happen, as Hall inked a one-year, $8 million contract with the Buffalo Sabres. While there are many reasons I was relieved the Oilers weren’t in on him, the main one was that the Oilers could spent that $8 million much more wisely, and fill more than just one hole in the lineup.

Essentially, my argument was this: Who would you rather have on the Edmonton Oilers: Option A – Taylor Hall ($8 million cap hit) – or Option B – Kyle Turris, Jesse Puljujarvi, Tyler Ennis, Dominik Kahun, and Tyson Barrie ($8.55 million cap hit). For an extra $550k, the Oilers nabbed themselves 26 more goals and 60 more assists than Hall put up last season, PLUS a fill-in for Klefbom as the team’s power-play quarterback, PLUS whatever Puljujarvi can contribute.

I’ll say that again. For less than the equivalent of league minimum salary, the Oilers got two and a half of Taylor Hall.

And for a team that finished second in the Pacific Division last season, on pace for 96 points, this is a scary team.

Top-Loaded

Let’s start with the fact that the Edmonton Oilers have on their roster two bona fide top five forwards in the league. They are the first team to have two Hart Trophy winners in the same lineup since the 2012-13 Pittsburgh Penguins (Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin). Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid finished first and second, respectively, last season in the Art Ross race. Connor was three points short of a hundred, which would have meant back-to-back seasons in which each player hit the century mark. These guys are studs.

The player that seems to get lost in this conversation is Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. The Nuge quietly had himself quite the season, chipping in 22 goals and 61 points, while also being one of the team’s best defensive forwards and a lock on both the power play and penalty kill.

In Draisaitl, McDavid, and Nugent-Hopkins, the Oilers have one of the best group of top three forwards in the NHL.

Depth Scoring

If this was the NBA, the Oilers would be a lock for the championship. Unfortunately, three superstars are not enough to win a Stanley Cup. In prior years, “depth scoring” has been a repeated cry from Oilers fans. The idea is that McDavid, Draisaitl and Nugent-Hopkins cannot be expected to carry the entire offensive load.

I’ve never really subscribed to this theory, because I believe that the players I mentioned are just so ridiculously good at hockey. Their bad nights are usually two assists. But for those readers who kept praying for the Oilers to add depth, your prayers have been answered.

Let’s start with Kyle Turris. 31 points last season made his $6 million contract look awful, and thus the Nashville Predators bought him out just two seasons after the deal was signed. But for $1.65 million, the Oilers signed a player who is two seasons removed from a 51-point campaign, and who averages 38 per full season. Look for him to bounce back.

Speaking of bounce back candidates, Jesse Puljujarvi is back in Edmonton. While he was away, he finished fourth in Liiga scoring with 53 points in 56 games. This season so far he has recorded five goals and two assists in eight games. Safe to say he has his confidence back, and numerous reports indicate a whole new attitude from the 22-year old. I don’t think anyone would be surprised if he locked down a role in the Top 9 and put up a 30 point pace.

Tyson Barrie is in a very similar spot as Kyle Turris. A very good player who had a down year last season, and who the Oilers got for pennies on the dollar. Barrie is a guy who averaged 49 points per season in Colorado, and whose lack of production with the Toronto Maple Leafs might be summed up as a bad fit system-wise. It looked as though Barrie turned a corner when the Leafs replaced Mike Babcock with Sheldon Keefe. Thanks to the Oscar Klefbom injury, there is an opening for Tyson on the league’s best power play a season ago. 70 points from this guy is a possibility – I don’t expect anything less than 50.

The Defense

I consider Tyson Barrie to be more of an offensive upgrade, and thus the Oilers made no cupgrades to their back end. They are hindered by the fact that their number one defenseman, Oscar Klefbom, is going to miss significant time with a shoulder injury, and by the loss of Matt Benning, one of their most underrated defensive defensemen.

This absolutely does not mean that the Oilers will not improve defensively next season.

For starters, Adam Larsson is still Edmonton’s best shutdown defenseman. He is still going to play the big minutes against the opponent’s top forward lines and do just fine.

Plus, aside from Larsson and Kris Russell, the Oilers’ D-core is young. Darnell Nurse is 25, Caleb Jones is 23, Ethan Bear is 23. Evan Bouchard and Phillip Broberg are waiting in the wings to make their debuts as impact players in the NHL. I fully expect all of these guys to make improvements this year, especially on the defensive side of the puck.

We should also talk about the Oilers’ bottom six forwards. Now that the team has a solid scoring third line, their fourth line will not be expected to produce anything offensively and can really focus on shutting down the opponent. It’s too bad that the Oilers didn’t bring back Reily Sheahan, because he was a fourth line centre who played well enough offensively to earn a spot on the third line. This year’s iteration of a fourth line would have been a perfect fit.

I project the fourth line to be some combination of Jujhar Khaira (elite penalty killer), Gaetan Haas (team’s best defensive forward other than Nugent-Hopkins), Josh Archibald (great penalty killer, decent speed), and Zack Kassian (great wheels, more of an old-school-play-defense-by-bashing-the-other-guy’s-brains-in). I think Haas is going to take a step forward as he gets more comfortable in the NHL. I also think that the pressure is going to be off of Khaira and Archibald to contribute offensively so they can settle into that defensive role. I know a lot of people want to see Kassian on the top line with McDavid, but he doesn’t have the scoring touch of a James Neal or an Alex Chiasson.

Now seems like as good a time as ever to bring up the biggest difference between this year’s team and last year’s: options. Flexibility. If a guy in the top six falls into a slump, the Oilers have three different guys who can slot in.

I’ll wrap up with this neat stat: Thanks to JFresh, EvolvingHockey, and @AdnacOil on Twitter, according to the WAR stat, the Oilers are projected to finish with 101 points next season, an improvement of five points from this year’s pace, and good enough for eighth in the NHL this year.

This is far from a perfect team. The Oilers have plenty of weaknesses (Hello, Goaltending!). But if things go right, this is a team that has the potential to make some serious noise.