In 2022-23, the Edmonton Oilers had another solid season. Connor McDavid’s remarkable performance earned him multiple awards. He’s clearly the best player in hockey. Lining up beside him is often one of the other current elite players in the entire NHL. That’s Leon Draisaitl.
Led by Draisaitl’s impressive scoring, as well as Ryan Nugent-Hopkins increased scoring that saw him join the century-point club, the Oilers had a historic regular season. In fact, they put out on the ice an NHL record-setting power play. Still, despite their regular-season success, the Oilers once again faced challenges in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. They were ultimately eliminated by the eventual Stanley Cup champions, the Vegas Golden Knights.
Questions In the Oilers’ Background
Now there are whispers in the background. Should there be concerns among Oilers fans about this team’s ability to capitalize on McDavid and Draisaitl’s prime years? Is the remainder of the team’s roster too weak to give the support needed to these elite stars?
Like any other strong NHL team in the era of the almost-flat salary cap, the team’s roster depth is weaker than it might be with the salary cap constraints. The team’s prospect pool seems limited; and, there’s tons of pressure on GM Ken Holland and coach Jay Woodcroft to find solutions to really difficult questions.
That said, I believe the Oilers are the team to beat in the Western Division. And, I’ll offer five reasons why I believe this is the case.
Reason One: The Oilers Have THE Dynamic Duo
At the heart of the Oilers’ rise in the West is their dynamic duo of McDavid and Draisaitl. McDavid is the best player in the NHL. He possesses unmatched speed, exceptional playmaking skills, and a unique way of cutting through the other team’s defense to score.
Paired with Draisaitl, an elite forward in his own right, the two form an offensive tandem that can crush opponents. Their combined skill and chemistry make the Oilers a force.
Reason Two: The Oilers Have a Strengthened Defense
In recent times, the Oilers have significantly improved their defense. And, that’s a critical factor in their rise. The acquisition of Mattias Ekholm during last season’s trade deadline bolstered their blue line. His presence brings stability and reliability to the defensive corps. That’s needed for a long and deep playoff run. With a stronger defense, the Oilers are better equipped to compete at the highest level.
Reason Three: The Oilers Have a Deeper Forward Group
Edmonton boasts a well-balanced group of forwards. These include Zach Hyman, Nugent-Hopkins, and an emerging Ryan McLeod. This depth enables them to roll four good lines and sustain offensive pressure throughout games. A strong depth forward group is a key asset for any championship-caliber team. Clearly, the Oilers have worked to build that group.
Reason Four: The Oilers Play in a Favorable Division
The Oilers benefit from playing in the Pacific Division. During the current season, it will be one of the weaker divisions in the NHL. This positions them for an easier path to the playoffs and the possibility of settling into a higher playoff seed. Taking advantage of a less competitive division can be a significant factor in a team’s success.
Reason Five: The Oilers Have Experienced Recent Playoff Success
Over recent seasons, the Oilers make significant strides in the playoffs; and, they have advanced to at least the second round for the past two years. This playoff experience has instilled confidence in the team, demonstrating their ability to perform under postseason pressure and compete with the NHL’s best teams.
As they continue to build on this success, the Oilers are growing into a genuine force to be reckoned with. They have what it takes again this season.
The Bottom Line
I believe the Oilers will rise to the top in the Western Division. The team is led by its exceptional talent, improved defense, and a deeper forward group. Their advantageous divisional placement and playoff experience position them as strong contenders for the upcoming season.
Look for the Oilers to make the postseason and sit in a favorable position. But, how far they go after that is always a crapshoot.
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