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By Mike Meyer
Edmonton Oilers Writer
Dallas Stars Writer
St. Louis Blues Writer
What will life be like in Oil Country after the departure of Taylor Hall? That is a question that many figured would not have been asked for several years to come. Alas, here we are in 2016 asking the very question. Taylor Hall, the number one overall draft pick in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft. Since signing his first entry level contract with the Oilers, Hall has gone on to play in 381 games, netting 132 goals, and tallying a whopping 328 points. With Hall in the lineup, the Oilers have been able to grow accustomed to 0.86 points per game from just one skater each time he laced up those skates. The question now grows, who will take up the ice time and how will those points to accounted for with Hall gone?
The obvious answer right now that comes to mind would of course be Connor McJesus …err McDavid. With his rookie season looking at 48 points in 45 games (limited due to a broken clavicle) the Oilers hope that McDavid can produce even remotely to his 1.067 points per game consistently (so does his agent and future contract extension). Even if he dips below the point per game pace, as a sophomore, I think he will be more than making up for several players point production for seasons to come. Is it too much to expect for 80+ points from McDavid? 90? 100? Right now, the sky is the limit, and the NHL is his for the taking. *queue ‘Jump Around’ in 3…2…1…*
But that’s the easy way out. Let’s dig a little deeper. Who else is going to be looked at under the microscope just a little bit tougher now that Hall is out of the picture? Who else is going to feel the weight on their shoulders? I would first assume that, at the very least, 3 players who have a combined salary of $18 million per season will be on the first line. The likes of Jordan Eberle, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, and newcomer Milan Lucic are going to be added to this short list and held accountable each night by head coach, Todd McLellan, GM Peter Chiarelli and the rest of Oilers management. Now, by removing Hall and bringing in Lucic, the team has finally added an extra bit of grit to their squad. Something this team has desperately needed in their Top 6 for the last several years. But even this is still not deep enough. If your top guys can’t score, who else is going to win you the games? We’ve all seen it before. Kane can’t always be counted on to score each night. Tarasenko won’t always score that game winning goal. And certainly you can’t always hope that point production trends will stay the same season after season. Right Duchene? Winning is going to take a full team effort from this squad. Scoring from every line and from each of these guys will help project this team to the next level and in to the playoffs. So who else do you look to call on throughout this season?
The magic man for the Anaheim Ducks during the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs certainly made his name known after registering 11 points in 16 games. However, Patrick only managed 13 points in 56 games to follow up his playoff performance, and certainly signaled for his inevitable trade. After his ice time was decreased and he was demoted to fourth line minutes at times, Maroon would be traded to the Oilers. He seemed once again to find his scoring touch as he managed 14 points in 16 games to finish out the season. It’s unlikely that he will be able to manage 0.875 points per game consistently throughout the 2016-17 season, but hey, that would certainly be welcomed. Oilers fans would rejoice if he kept up a 70+ point pace throughout this upcoming season.
Draisaitl was in all sense and purposes connected to the hip with Hall this past season. Leon first joined the team in 2014 seeing 37 NHL games. However, he only managed only 2 goals and 9 points during that timeframe. The team elected to send him back to the WHL to play for the Kelowna Rockets and to get more training and seasoning under his belt. There he would make a much larger impact scoring 19 goals and 53 points in 32 games. After certainly cementing his spot on the lineup after his AHL call up this past season, Draisaitl scored 19 goals and 51 points throughout 72 games. All of Edmonton must wonder now, will he continue to grow and shine with Taylor Hall out of the picture? Or will he struggle and repeat his 0.28 point per game pace from 2014-15? With the roster makeup currently, he is looking like the 3rd best center on the squad, behind McDavid and Nuge. He may not get the chance to shine automatically and will likely have to earn his ice time via the power play or force Nugent-Hopkins down or even out of the lineup entirely.
What more is there left to say about Nail Yakupov? Why am I even wasting time writing on this guy? Oilers fans are already showing that they’re ready to sell him for a few pucks and call it a win for removing his $2.5 million cap hit off the books. Figured at least then they might have better luck at scoring goals if they shot the puck themselves. For those who need a little bit of background on Nail and why we’re so harsh on this guy, let’s take a moment and we can try and figure out what went wrong.
Nail hails from Nizhnekamsk, Russia. To help fast track his journey to the NHL, Nail joined the OHL in the 2010 Import Draft and was selected by the Sarnia Sting, second overall. Yakupov would go on to play 107 games between 2010-2012 for Sarnia, registering 80 goals and 170 total points. Quick math breakdown, that’s a 1.59 points per game pace. Quick comparison time… from 2012-2015, McDavid registered 188 points in 167 games, for a 1.13 point per game pace in the very same OHL while playing with the Erie Otters. Okay, back to Yakupov. In 2012 he was drafted first overall by the Oilers. He returned to Russia to play in the KHL during the lockout recording 18 points in 22 games. Once the lockout ended, Yakupov returned and scored 31 points in 48 games. All was good in the world. Great rookie season for this kid and now it’s time to see what he can do with more training and a full NHL season under his belt. This guy is going places. *Buzzer* WRONG! But thanks for playing. Nail has gone on to play 204 more games since that rookie season with the Edmonton Oilers. 204 games in three seasons, and an underwhelming 80 points have been registered with his name attached to them. Even if Yakupov had not grown as a player, leveled off and maintained his point pace, he should still have at this time 131.75 registered points. So what happened? Certainly switching coaches can have an impact on a player, let alone having four different coaches since 2012. That can mess with a guy. But wait, that didn’t seem to slow down Hall or any other player to the degree that it has for Nail. So it must be something else. His shooting percentages have certainly decreased, despite his shot attempts projecting up each season before decreasing this past season.
Despite his shooting percentage decreasing each season, the percentage of shots making it to the net is actually steadily increasing from 50% his rookie season to just over 57% last year. Can it be that Nail is just a creature of habit and goalies are getting used to where he shoots and he is being nullified on his attempts? Is his accuracy decreasing so he’s not hitting his mark? He might not be converting right now in Edmonton but it certainly draws the question that with perhaps new coaching and a new environment, could he get back to his point pace that he set up from his rookie season or even better? Nail has a lot to prove this upcoming season. With Hall out of this lineup, it just might mean an extra chance to prove he still has got what it takes to earn a spot in the lineup. Even if it means shooting less and starting to pass more, Yakupov has got to figure it out for 2016.
The power forward style playing, substance abusing, right winger. Kassian has struggled to declare himself a consistent NHL player since making his first appearance in the NHL back in 2011. In 6 seasons since then, he has only managed to play in 234 games. Now, Kassian will not be able to take over Hall’s points. That much is obvious. However, Kassian can at the very least declare himself a consistent NHL player. Being able to go out each shift and helping defend against the opposition, limit down on the dumb penalties and making a name for himself along the boards will certainly help his cause. Who’s to say the Oilers can’t use the 6’3″ 213 pound forward to lay a few more shots on net to have someone ready for the rebound, or even be the rebound guy? He can take a note from Ryan Reaves who has certainly taken away his style of a grinder / fighter, has become a bit more tame in his attempts to help offensively for the Blues and earn a spot in the lineup each night. This goes along with the whole mindset of all rolling four lines and forcing the head coach to give him ice time. Kassian can be an anchor on the fourth line and lead by the example says everyone in this lineup should be held accountable every shift.
Ah the Wild Card choice. There’s always one. So why is Jesse even in this conversation to take over for Taylor when he hasn’t even made his NHL debut yet? I’m glad you asked. When Puljujarvi was taken fourth overall at this year’s draft over defenseman and fellow Finland countryman Olli Joulevi, Chiarelli made a unspoken statement to this group. He believes Jesse can be an upgrade to this group of forwards more than what is already there. The choice would not add to his defensive core that many expected him to go toward, but would ultimately force Hall out of the picture to New Jersey in order to get the upgrade to his defense via Adam Larsson. The big question is, will Puljujarvi be able to live up to the hype of a fourth overall draft choice? Will he mirror the 39 points in 71 regular season games he has played in Liiga or will he mirror the 36 in 27 international games played?