Sunday, August 12, 2018

Three questions facing Edmonton Oilers

1. Can Cam Talbot return to his form of 2016-17?
The 31-year-old goaltender played a big role getting the Oilers into the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs but was one of many players who struggled at times last season. 
Talbot was 31-31-3 with a 3.02 goals-against average and .908 save percentage after going 42-22-8 with a 2.39 GAA and .919 save percentage in 2016-17. Edmonton's fortunes rest largely on the play of their No. 1 goaltender, who believes he can bounce back this season.
"I think I finished last season the way that I had my season two years ago," Talbot said. "So down the stretch, I felt as good as I had all season long, going back to a couple of years. So I need to pick up from there and I need to have a good start so the rest of the team can have a good start, and I'm focused on that right now."
2. Will Milan Lucic rebound from an unproductive season?
The Oilers signed Lucic to a seven-year, $42 million contract July 1, 2016, and the 30-year-old forward had a solid first season in Edmonton with 50 points (23 goals, 27 assists) in 82 games. 
But Lucic's production fell dramatically last season, and with it went the Oilers' playoff aspirations. He had 34 points (10 goals, 24 assists) in 82 games and scored one goal in his last 46.
"We expect a big recovery year from him," coach Todd McLellan said. "He's had a pause now; when a season ends you get an opportunity to pause, you get an opportunity to reload and reset. Your stat line is very similar to other players' when the season starts, and there is no reason why he shouldn't show up as a very confident player, one that can do what he's done in the past on a yearly basis. We'll support him in that role, we'll push him in that role, but he is a big piece for us to succeed. He has to find a way to be productive."
3. Can Connor McDavid win a third straight Art Ross Trophy?
The 21-year-old center was a bright spot for the Oilers with 108 points (41 goals, 67 assists) in 82 games to win his second consecutive NHL scoring title. He also won his second straight Ted Lindsay Award as the most outstanding player as voted by the NHL Players' Association. 
McDavid alone cannot take the Oilers into the playoffs, but they need him to have another outstanding season if they are to return.

Edmonton Oilers fantasy preview for 2018-19

Connor McDavid, C ( rank: 1) -- The 21-year-old is the consensus top-ranked fantasy player, regardless of format, after leading the NHL in scoring in each of the past two seasons. He somehow improved his point total (108 last season; 100 in 2016-17) and was plus-20 despite the Oilers regressing drastically and missing the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The scary part is McDavid still has plenty of room for improvement in power-play points (20; Oilers ranked last in NHL at 14.8 percent) and in terms of linemate stability.
Leon Draisaitl, C/RW (43) -- In a season when Draisaitl, 22, was tasked with playing center on the second line rather than flanking McDavid, the forward reached 70 points once again (77 in 2016-17). He was minus-7 with a low PPP output (11) but should have at least one young linemate with room for further growth: wing Kailer Yamamoto, 19, Jesse Puljujarvi, 20, or Drake Caggiula, 24. Draisaitl is a clear top-50 fantasy player entering this season and should go even higher in keeper leagues.
Cam Talbot, G* (119) -- The 31-year-old goaltender led the NHL in starts (67), but his peripherals were mediocre at best. Despite exceeding 30 wins (31) for the second straight season, Talbot's peripherals (3.02 goals-against average, .908 save percentage, one shutout) were nowhere near his 2016-17 season (42 wins, 2.39 GAA, .919 SV%, seven SO), when he finished among the top five fantasy goalies. But with Talbot entering a contract year (he can become an unrestricted free agent after this season), his bounce-back potential should not be underestimated; he can be a huge steal if available outside the top 100.
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, C (136) -- The 25-year-old has three seasons of at least 52 points but took his performance rate to a new level when given a trial on McDavid's line down the stretch. After returning March 3 from a rib injury, Nugent-Hopkins had 17 points (eight goals, nine assists) and was plus-14 with nearly three SOG per game (45) over his final 16 games. He was also productive prior to the injury on the third line, finishing with 48 points (24 goals, 24 assists) in 62 games (82-game pace of 63 points). It's fair to expect 65-70 points from this breakout candidate if he plays anything close to a full season with McDavid at even strength and on the power play, especially if the Oilers rebound to their 2016-17 rate (22.9 percent; fifth).
Kailer Yamamoto, RW (222) -- He's a dark-horse rookie this season and should be given every opportunity to crack the top six on a line with either McDavid or Draisaitl. He was held to three assists in nine regular-season games but showcased his potential last preseason with five goals (tied for the NHL lead with Winnipeg Jets forward Patrik Laine and Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews), mostly playing on McDavid's line). Yamamoto has been prolific for years with Spokane of the Western Hockey League with 291 points (105 goals, 186 assists) in 230 games. Keep an eye on his lineup placement in training camp and plan to target him in one of the final rounds of your draft.
Oscar Klefbom, D - INJ. (236) -- There are plenty of defenseman candidates to quarterback Edmonton's first power-play unit with McDavid and Draisaitl, including Klefbom, Darnell Nurse, Andrej Sekera and prospect Ethan Bear. Klefbom played through a shoulder injury last season (shut down in March) and was held out of the 2018 IIHF World Championship for that reason. But with a full offseason to recover, the 25-year-old can bounce back to at least match his strong category coverage from 2016-17 (38 points: 12 goals, 26 assists; 16 PPP, 201 SOG) and feasibly exceed some of those totals if McDavid reaches greater heights. Klefbom likely will go undrafted in standard leagues but is one of the highest upside fourth-or-bench fantasy defensemen.
Other players with fantasy upside in late rounds or off waiver wire: Darnell Nurse, D, RFA (238); Jesse Puljujarvi, RW**; Ty Rattie, RW**; Drake Caggiula, RW; Milan Lucic, LW; Ethan Bear, D
RFA - Current restricted free agent
*Potential 2019 unrestricted free agent
**Potential 2019 restricted free agent
INJ. - Injury concern entering 2018-19

Top prospects for Edmonton Oilers

1. Kailer Yamamoto, RW
How acquired: Selected with No. 22 pick in 2017 NHL Draft
Last season: Edmonton: 9 GP, 0-3-3; Spokane (WHL): 40 GP, 21-43-64
Yamamoto, who turns 20 on Sept. 29, impressed in training camp last season and stayed with the Oilers for nine games before returning to the Western Hockey League. 
Yamamoto (5-foot-8, 154 pounds) is expected to push for a roster spot and could begin the season in a top-six role alongside Connor McDavid or Leon Draisaitl.
"He's good at complementing good players and he's very smart and he's good with the puck," director of player personnel Bob Green said. "He can make plays and he gets himself in positions to get the puck."
Projected NHL arrival: This season
2. Ethan Bear, D
How acquired: Selected with No. 124 pick in 2015 NHL Draft 
Last season: Edmonton: 18 GP, 1-3-4; Bakersfield (AHL): 37 GP, 6-12-18
The Oilers believe the 21-year-old can develop into the offensive, right-shot defenseman they have sought for many seasons. 
Bear (5-11, 209) had a strong first professional season in Bakersfield before being called up late in 2017-18 to play in Edmonton. He had four points (one goal, three assists) and a minus-11 rating in 18 games with the Oilers.
Bear could challenge for a roster spot this season. The decision may come down to whether the Oilers think Bear would be better served in a top-pair role in the American Hockey League or as a seventh defenseman in the NHL.
Projected NHL arrival: Next season
3. Evan Bouchard, D
How acquired: Selected with No. 10 pick in 2018 NHL Draft 
Last season: London (OHL): 67 GP, 25-62-87
The 18-year-old was the top offensive defenseman in the Ontario Hockey League last season and finished tied for seventh in scoring. He was the first defenseman to be in the top 10 in OHL scoring since Ryan Ellis (Nashville Predators) tied for fourth with 101 points (24 goals, 77 points) for Windsor in 2010-11.
The Oilers believe Bouchard (6-2, 193) can develop into a high-end offensive defenseman in the NHL, but they are not expected to rush him. He will get a long look at training camp to see how his offensive skills translate in the NHL but likely will return for a fourth season with London. 
"He has to make the team first, but he's the kind of player that we were looking for and is hard to find in a trade," general manager Peter Chiarelli said. "You have to draft them. That's why we drafted him."
Projected NHL arrival: 2020-21 season
4. Tyler Benson, LW
How acquired: Selected with No. 32 pick in 2016 NHL Draft 
Last season: Vancouver (WHL): 58 GP, 27-42-69; Bakersfield (AHL): 5 GP, 0-3-3
A hip and sports hernia injury hampered Benson's progress two seasons ago, but the Oilers think the 20-year-old Edmonton native can develop into a top-six forward. 
Last season, Benson (5-11, 202) was healthy for the first time since 2014-15 and had a strong showing in the WHL before beginning his professional career with five games for Bakersfield, where he likely will start this season. He could be called up if the Oilers struggle offensively or run into injury problems. 
Projected NHL arrival: Next season 
5. Stuart Skinner, G
How acquired: Selected with No. 78 pick in 2017 NHL Draft 
Last season: Lethbridge (WHL): 31 GP, 14-15-0, 3.38 GAA, .897 SV%; Swift Current (WHL): 25 GP, 16-6-1, 2.68 GAA, .914 SV%
Edmonton's best goaltending prospect was acquired by Swift Current in a trade from Lethbridge last season and helped it win the WHL championship. 
Skinner, 19, will play in Bakersfield, where he is expected to share the net with veteran Al Montoya. The Oilers can afford to be patient with Skinner because Cam Talbot is their No. 1 goaltender for potentially the next few seasons. 
Skinner (6-3, 202) will be given every opportunity to develop in the AHL; the Oilers hope he will be ready to challenge for a backup role in the next two to three seasons. 
Projected NHL arrival: 2021-22 season

Edmonton Oilers key statistics

1. Connor's honors
Center Connor McDavid had 108 points (41 goals, 67 assists) last season after he had 100 (30 goals, 70 assists) in 2016-17, becoming the first player to win the Art Ross Trophy in back-to-back seasons since Jaromir Jagr won four straight with the Pittsburgh Penguins from 1997-2001. He also became the first NHL player to score at least 100 points in consecutive seasons since Sidney Crosby of the Penguins did it two in a row (2008-09, 2009-10) and Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals did it three straight (2007-10).
Over the past two seasons, McDavid has scored or had an assist on 208 of Edmonton's 472 goals, an NHL-high 44.1 percent.
McDavid contributes in many other ways too. He ranks third in the NHL with 103 drawn penalties since entering the League in 2015-16, and he led Edmonton forwards with 46 blocked shots last season.
One area he's not near the top of the NHL is face-offs. His 41.9 face-off winning percentage through his first three seasons was tied for 191st of the 200 players to take at least 500 draws in that span.
2. Special-teams slide
The Oilers experienced a big drop on special teams last season, impacting their goal differential by an estimated 27 goals.
They scored 31 power-play goals in 210 opportunities last season, for an NHL-worst 14.8. If they had matched their 22.9 power-play percentage from 2016-17 (fifth in NHL), they would have scored 48 power-play goals.
Edmonton's penalty-kill percentage at home of 65.8 percent last season was the lowest since the NHL began tracking the statistic in 1977-78. Its penalty-kill percentage dropped from 80.7 percent in 2016-17 (17th in NHL) to 76.7 percent (25th). That drop resulted in an extra 10 goals-against.
3. Lack of production from defensemen
Darnell Nurse led Oilers defensemen with 26 points (six goals, 20 assists) in 82 games. It was the lowest total for a team-leading defenseman in the NHL last season, tied with Ryan McDonagh, who scored 26 points (two goals, 24 assists) in 49 games for the New York Rangers before being traded to the Tampa Bay Lightning on Feb. 26.
Oilers defensemen combined for 129 points (32 goals, 97 assists) last season (27th in NHL). That total was affected by injuries; Oscar Klefbom, who led Edmonton defensemen with 38 points (12 goals, 26 assists) in 82 games in 2016-17, was hampered by a shoulder injury last season and had 21 points (five goals, 16 points) in 66 games. Andrej Sekera, who scored 35 points (eight goals, 27 assists) in 80 games in 2016-17, had eight assists in 36 games last season, limited by a torn ACL.

Inside look at Edmonton Oilers

The Edmonton Oilers believe they can return to the Stanley Cup Playoffs without having made significant changes to their roster during the offseason. 
The Oilers signed free agent center Kyle Brodziak to a two-year contract, and forward Tobias Rieder, goaltender Mikko Koskinen and defenseman Kevin Gravel each signed a one-year contract during a relatively quiet summer. 
Edmonton did not have much space under the NHL salary cap ($79.5 million) with center Connor McDavid entering the first of an eight-year, $100 million contract, forward Leon Draisaitl going into the second of an eight-year, $68 million contract, and forward Milan Lucic in the third of a seven-year, $42 million contract. 
"I think the message was that if there was a move to be made, they'd make it," McDavid said. "But obviously nothing too promising came up. That's good. You want to keep the team together."
The Oilers did add depth to what they think is a talented roster that collectively struggled last season. They finished 36-40-6 with 78 points, 17 behind the Colorado Avalanche for the second wild card into the playoffs from the Western Conference. It was a 25-point drop from their 47-26-9, 103-point performance in 2016-17, when they qualified for the playoffs for the first time since 2006 and made it to the Western Conference Second Round before being eliminated in seven games by the Anaheim Ducks. 
"The offseason is not necessarily about acquiring a whole bunch of different players, it's about getting more out of what we have," coach Todd McLellan said. "We've been able to add a few pieces, a goaltender for competition, obviously, Brodziak and Tobias Rieder are big additions, and Gravel on the back end. 
"All of those players will come in and push our club, hopefully, in the right direction. But most importantly for me, it's individuals. It's the coaching staff and from your top player all the way down, finding a way to play more consistently and play more of a winning brand of hockey than we did last year."
The biggest change for Edmonton is its coaching staff. The Oilers hired Glen Gulutzan, Trent Yawney and Manny Viveiros as assistants to replace Jim Johnson, Jay Woodcroft and Ian Herbers. 
Gulutzan, 46, spent the past two seasons as coach of the Calgary Flames. Yawney, 52, joins the Oilers after five years as an assistant with the Ducks. Viveiros, 52, guided Swift Current to the Western Hockey League championship and a berth in the Memorial Cup last season. 
"We tried to fill holes and find personalities that we thought would blend together," McLellan said. "I thought it was very interesting to hear the opinions of coaches who were rival coaches in Anaheim and Calgary, on what they thought our team did well or didn't do well. We'll work toward fixing things. As the players are trying to improve their game over the summer, so are the coaches."
Outside of McDavid (108 points; 41 goals, 67 assists), winner of the Art Ross Trophy and Ted Lindsay Award for the second straight season, many Oilers regressed last season. Lucic had 34 points (10 goals, 24 assists) in 82 games, his lowest point-per-game production since 2009-10, when he had 20 points (nine goals, 11 assists) in 50 games with the Boston Bruins. 
"I believe we are headed in the right direction," general manager Peter Chiarelli said. "I don't know if we're going to be as good as we were two years ago, but we're going to be better. To a player, maybe not every single player will be better than last year, but I can assure you a good number of them will be better, due to their age, their pride and what they've done through the course of their careers."
Brodziak, 34, returns to the Oilers, who selected him in the seventh round (No. 214) of the 2003 NHL Draft, after he had 33 points (10 goals, 23 assists) in 81 games with the St. Louis Blues last season. The St. Paul, Alberta, native played four seasons in Edmonton before he was traded to the Minnesota Wild on June 27, 2009. 
"Kyle has had a tremendous career to this point," McLellan said. "He's obviously a bit of an elder statesman now in the League, but that's OK. Those players are really important and perhaps we were missing that last year."

2018 NFL Preseason Week 1 Recap

Kirk has big early play, Cardinals beat Chargers 24-17

Arizona rookie Christian Kirk nearly broke a long punt return for a touchdown the first time he touched the ball as an NFL player.
As it was, the 38-yard return set up a touchdown drive for the Cardinals in the first-team offense's only series of the game, and Arizona beat the Los Angeles Chargers 24-17 in the teams' preseason opener on Saturday night.
Rookie Josh Rosen completed 6 of 13 passes for 41 yards in his Arizona debut, playing the whole first half except the opening series.
Geno Smith, battling Cardale Jones for the right to back up the Chargers' Philip Rivers, completed 14 of 23 passes for 218 yards, including a 47-yard touchdown throw to Geremy Davis. He was intercepted once.
With Rivers sitting this one out, Jones started and played nearly the entire first half, completing 6 of 12 passes for 50 yards.
Kirk, Arizona's second-round draft pick out of Texas A&M, took the Chargers' early punt and broke free. He might have taken it all the way had he not slipped trying to make a move against Los Angeles punter Drew Kaser.
David Johnson reeled off a pair of 14-yard runs on the first two plays, his only carries of the night, and rookie Chase Edmonds scored on fourth-and-goal from the 2-yard line. Edmonds was hit behind the line of scrimmage but used a second effort to barely stretch the ball over the goal line.
Sam Bradford, making his debut as Arizona's starting quarterback, directed the scoring drive in his Cardinals debut but mostly handed the ball off. He completed his only pass for six yards.
Arizona's second touchdown came in the third quarter when Jeremy Cash returned a fumble 12 yards for a score. Later in the quarter, Cash was carted off the field with a knee injury.
The Cardinals' fourth-string quarterback Charles Kanoff, an undrafted rookie out of Princeton, threw a 14-yard TD pass to Bryce Williams for the go-ahead score with 10:06 to play.
The game ended when Chargers QB Nic Shimonek was tackled at the Arizona 2-yard line.
Rosen didn't get much help from his offensive line or his receivers, having to dodge the rush to get a pass off. He had two passes dropped.
Daniel Munyer, the backup center now that rookie Mason Cole is a starter, had trouble with shotgun formation snaps, repeatedly rolling the ball to the quarterback. Cole took over when A.Q. Shipley went down with a torn ACL in training camp.
Los Angeles left tackle Russell Okung raised his right first during the national anthem.
Okung stood behind the rest of the players, who had lined up on the sideline. He was the only player on either side to protest visibly.
Okung is a member of the NFL players union's executive committee.
Los Angeles turned the ball over four times, three times on fumbles and once on an interception.
The Chargers also were penalized 15 times for 155 yards.
The Cardinals appeared to get a turnover when safety A.J. Howard jarred the ball loose from tight end Sean Culkin in the first half.
Arizona recovered, but Howard was called for a hit on a defenseless receiver, even though Culkin had turned and was bracing for the tackle.
Chargers: are home against the Seattle Seahawks next Saturday night.
Cardinals: play at New Orleans on Friday night.