End of 2016 Oilers Update by Micah Kowalchuk

Everything is gonna be alright Oilers fans!

As the Oilers roll along, here’s your end of the year update on the Oilers as a treat on this cheerful winter day…

(1) Injuries or the Lack Thereof..

Although the Oilers have had repeated injuries, it’s worth noting McDavid, Draisaitl, Lucic, Eberle, Maroon, RNH, Klefbom, Larsson have not missed a single game this year.

Sekera has missed one due to injury, Letestu and Kassian sat a couple, but overall, no “Top 6” forwards have missed time with injury, and other than Sekera’s flu, and Russell’s 6 missed games, no Top-4 defenders have either.

For once, the injuries have hit our depth (Nurse, Davidson, Gryba, Fayne, Pitlick, Pakarinen, Hendricks) rather than our key players. It’s a nice change of pace

(2) The Goaltending

Cam Talbot is trucking along with 33 of 36 games played, with a .919 save percentage on a league average of .914. This puts him on pace to start 75 games. Last year, no goalie in the league played more than 68.

Here’s hoping for 2017 that either Gustavsson can start to play a few, Ellis or LB can step up, or that management trades for a backup for the love of god before Talbot gets injured or starts to slip due to overuse.

(3) Scoring

RNH is starting to pick it up since he’s been used as a hybrid winger-center alongside Draisaitl, so here’s our end of the year pro-rated scoring and rating (based purely on points) for the Top-6:

McDavid: 93 points (Up, although Crosby make take the scoring title)

Draisaitl: 71 points (Up, hard to knock those totals from your 2C unless you’re Pittsburgh)

Lucic: 55 points (Even, on pace to put up exactly what he usually does)

Eberle: 55 points (Down, this is still some underperforming on his part, but he’s been stepping up lately, so he might go back to even)

Maroon: 39 (Even, this isn’t his point per game pace of last year, but 40 points out of your 2nd line winger is ok performance)

RNH: 39 (Down, this is not a $6mil a year performance level, but he’s been doing better since being put on a line with Drai, here’s hoping he continues trending to even and can break 50 for the year)

Amusing note: Both 1st line wingers have the same points, both 2nd line wingers have the same points…

(4) The Russell Question..

First point: Sekera is the best D on this team this year, and his 17 points in 36 (this is better than RNH and Maroon) make that clear. Let’s just leave that there.

Should the Oilers sign Russell now? I know people love him, so let’s look at all the numbers, stats and not stats.

Scoring: Benning (.20ppg), Davidson (.14ppg), Gryba (.11ppg), Klefbom (.32ppg), Larsson (.16ppg), Nurse (.20ppg), Sekera (.47ppg), Russell (.17ppg).

Russell was an offensive defender in the past, with numbers in the .32-.43 range. There’s a definite slide there we should note, it may indicate he’s starting to lose a step offensively, as the opportunities to score are there with this club.

ATOI: Russell is 2nd on the team at 21:29, Sekera leads with 21:44, Klefbom has 21:23, Larsson 20:10.

So he’s holding his weight here, good enough.

Blocks: Yep, still leads the club with 89, then Larsson with 69 and Sekera with 61.

Hits: Larsson actually leads our club by a large margin with 113, then Gryba with 76, Nurse with 60… Russell’s not doing much on this front. But for everyone saying we need Gryba or Nurse so we have someone physical on the back end, well, pay more attention to Larsson, he’s hammering someone over 3 times per game, he IS our physical defender.

So, without getting into fancy stats, we can see Russell is good shot-blocker, not overly physical, but logs solid ice time, even if he isn’t doing much offensively with it.

Now, let’s look at the fancy stats…

CORSI: Davidson (7.6), Benning (4.2), Gryba (2.0), Klefbom (1.8), Nurse (0.2), Sekera (-0.3), Larsson (-2.6), Russell (-7.3)…

FENWICK: Davidson (4.8), Benning (3.9), Klefbom (2.2), Sekera (0.9), Gryba (-1.7), Larsson (-2.3), Nurse (-2.4), Russell (-4.9)…

Ok. Now, I know a lot of people don’t trust stats, so let me put these in perspective…

3rd pairing guys who get sheltered usage tend to have high stat numbers for CORSI (see why Schultz looks so good). So, we see Davidson, Benning, Gryba and Nurse looking good here, and they should, they have the most sheltered usage. Klefbom, who spent time on the 3rd pairing, also seems pretty even.

Now, we know Sekera, Larsson and Russell play the hard minutes. Sekera, no matter how we use him, manages to more or less break even, hard to knock him at all, and his offense helps him.

So, let’s compare the most similar two guys, Larsson and Russell. Both are used for heavy defensive minutes, have played together as partners and are used together on the PK, and both have similar offensive totals.

Larsson: -2.6 and -2.3 for stats. Russell: -7.3 and -4.9 for stats.

Look, I know people hate stats, and talk about how good the Oilers look when Russell is there. I get it. But, I’m just going to say part of this is due to the fact the Oilers have had some VERY bad defenders in the past.

We started the year with Davidson on the shelf, so we used Nurse, Benning and Gryba on the 3rd pairing, and have continued that since Nurse went on the shelf right before Davidson got back. Davidson might be ok on a 2nd pairing, none of the rest of these guys are. So Russell looks really good compared to us using a 3rd pairing guy there.

However, Russell is not that good of a defender. He just isn’t. There’s a reason he was still unsigned. He is an average 2nd pairing defender, and his performance on the Oilers really hasn’t been that good by any number beyond shot blocking. The fact is he’s an average 2nd pairing guy who looks really good here because we haven’t been using even “average” guys until PC took over.

What does this mean? It means you do not worry about signing him right now. If he signs somewhere else in the off-season, you know what, he’s replaceable, because PC is actually a competent NHL GM and he can find someone on the same level. Also, the Oilers need someone with more offensive potential on that 2RHD slot, there’s no secret, our D scoring is still below average and would be ugly without Sekera pulling the unit together.

If we’re going to protect 4 D, you protect Davidson and not Russell, the guy you didn’t need to sign.

This is not to say the Oilers won’t bring Russell back. If there’s no better 2RHD options (and there may not be), then great, go ahead. But you don’t hamstring the team and lose Davidson just to bring back an average defender, it’s not necessary.

(5) Player Development

Ok, so right now we’ve got three lines we can write in with pen…

Lucic-McDavid-Eberle

Maroon-Draisaitl-RNH

Hendricks-Letestu-Kassian

That leaves us with one line that’s a major question mark, this one:

Pouliot-Caggiula-Puljujarvi

Now, none of these are overly physical guys, they’re all skill guys, not defensive experts. So, how are they performing skill wise?

Pouliot: .22ppg – ok, this is in the toilet compared to his last two seasons with the Oilers, and 14:40 ice time…

Puljujarvi: .32ppg and 11:42 ice time. Nothing great for scoring, but hard to develop with that ice time…

Caggiula: 41.8% on faceoffs, .26ppg, 13:04 ice time. Nothing much going on here either..

What I’m going to say is this. This entire line should just be sent to the AHL. Yes, this is an indictment on Pouliot, but for Caggiula and Puljujarvi, these are guys who are expected to be Top-6 caliber, and 20 minutes a night ripping up the AHL are far more beneficial to them than being our de-facto 4th line. Let them go there, along with Pouliot (if he’s claimed on waivers, great), and get some time there…

So, who do we replace them with then?…

Slepyshev-Lander-Beck is who

We’re looking at a 10-13min 4th line for usage. None of these guys are projected to be a top-6 NHL forward, but they’re ideal for 4th line usage, and most importantly, when sent to the AHL they did their job without complaining, and did it well.

The LW: Slepyshev, 6’2 187lbs, had 4 in 15 at the NHL level, and has 7 in 6 since he was sent down. Slepy had a -2 CORSI, and .27ppg in his 15 NHL games, this is just fine for a 4LW.

The C: Lander, 6’0 184lbs, had 3 in 16 at the NHL level, and has 16 in 11 since he was sent down. In his 16 games this year he was 57.1% on faceoffs, his CORSI was nasty (-9.1%) but that’s a factor of his extreme defensive usage like Letestu (30% ozone start only), and he put up .19ppg in that usage.

The RW: Beck, 6’2 203lbs, has 0 in 3 NHL games but he’s had an average of 5 minutes ice time.. He tore up the AHL as its leading scorer with 30 in 19 games, and has handled 4th line minutes for the Predators before.

Am I saying Slepy-Lander-Beck is a better line than Pouliot-Caggiula-Puljujarvi? No, I’m not. What I am saying is they’ll win more faceoffs and probably give us the same level of performance, maybe even a little bit more because they have more NHL experience and may gel together on a “cast-offs” line.

What I’m saying is using Caggiula and Puljujarvi here is a waste of development, they’d be far better served getting 20mins+ a night tearing the AHL to shreds, and “The Replacements” can do the same job at least as good without harming anyone’s development.

Plus we save a year of Puljujarvi’s UFA status keeping him under 40 games, and we save a few bucks of cap space sending Pouliot down.

(6) Last But Not Least: The Oilers and the Playoffs…

Yes, it looks like the Oilers might make it, and have a solid chance at it.

So, do they go for rentals..

We know they could use a veteran depth forward, preferably a right-shot C for the bottom-6, and maybe a 2RHD with powerplay ability. And clearly a backup goalie.

The answer is: Only if they really figure they have a shot at the West final, or if the prices are cheap.

I’d say a reasonable compromise would be something like Vrbata and Stone from Arizona at the deadline, and Miller from Vancouver. But I wouldn’t overpay for any, and all are true rentals, pending UFAs.

Happy 2017 folks, from the only group of people who are happy about 2016, Oilers fans!

**Thanks to Micah for this post! He’s not on the Twitter machine but you can catch him in the Oilers Facebook groups with his updates quite often.**

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Beer League Hero Written by:

I’m the Beer League Hero! I am from Camrose, Alberta but I make my home in Taipei City, Taiwan. I’ve been through the ups and downs and the highs and the Lowes, the Bonsignores and the McDavids, the Sathers and the Eakins but I’ll never leave my Oilers, no matter what!

They’re with me until the end and then some. GO OILERS GO!