Following the draft lottery, we’ve been examining each Western Conference squad’s offseason priorities, emphasizing points-only pool production with some peripheral considerations and highlighting potential breakout candidates. We started in the cellar points-wise and are moving up as we go. We’ll tackle Vegas shortly after the June expansion draft. Last week was San Jose and Calgary. This week we’ll continue looking at playoff teams with St. Louis and Edmonton.
St. Louis Blues – 46-29-7 (99 points)
Second round playoff series loss to Nashville
Greatest needs: forward scoring depth, integrating prospects
Despite falling prey to the Predators’ improbable postseason run the Blues shouldn’t hang their heads about 2016-17. Mike Yeo’s mid-season arrival brought inspired, effective hockey and with improved goaltending and a smart, physical game they looked like world beaters for a time as their 15-2-2 record to close the regular schedule attests.
After Vladimir Tarasenko’s 39 goals and 36 assists just one Blue potted more than 20 goals – Patrik Berglund with 23. Only two hit 50-plus points, Jaden Schwartz with 55 and Alexander Steen an injury-marred 51. As usual, St. Louis rearguards racked up points with Alex Pietrangelo’s 48 (tied for third in the league with 19 blue line power play points), Kevin Shattenkirk’s 42 prior to departing for Washington, and Colton Parayko’s sophomore year 35, but the next wave of forwards lacked punch.
While Robby Fabbri’s torn ACL and Paul Stastny’s foot were factors (keep both in mind as you shop for bargain rebound candidates), depth production enabling them to roll three or four scoreboard-threatening lines lacked. Nail Yakupov and David Perron, although he had his moments, don’t appear sufficient answers.
With slightly under $4.5M in projected cap space and Parayko an arbitration-eligible RFA, there isn’t much money to make moves with. Instead look for young Blues to emerge. Ivan Barbashev’s hard-nosed, top to bottom-line production (five goals, seven assists in 30 games) in limited minutes (11:47 average) promises future increases, as does 22-year-old, former Capital Zach Sanford who should get a long look after a March and early April featuring five points in 13 contests. He skated well with Barbashev and the two could form an interesting duo in 2017-18. Expect an increase in points as well as his 12:14 St. Louis TOI average.
Big center/right wing Tage Thompson, a 6-5, 194-pound UConn grad will turn 20 as the 2017-18 campaign begins. The prototypical power forward will likely return to the AHL at that time as he may have some defensive developing to do, but should be in the Bigs before long with his lethal goal-scoring, and impressive power-play abilities. Pick Thompson up if he’s not already gone, and expect him to play an increasingly important role by mid-season. Long-time Blues wing prospect Ty Rattie, after his odd waiver-induced move to Carolina and quick St. Louis return, can be re-added to their future plans. At the age of 24 his future doesn’t seem as bright it once did, but he’s still a name to consider as the Blues revamp their forward depth.
Not a prospect, but newly-returned ex-KHLer Vladimir Sobotka impressed in his short North American stint. After a goal in the 2016-17 finale, his lone contest of the regular schedule, the soon soon-to-be 30-year old tied for third on the squad in postseason scoring with two goals and four assists in 11 games adding leadership and energetic excitement. He might prove a revitalizing, veteran option to help lead some of the incoming youth and collect some cheaply-obtained pool points. His hits and faceoff numbers as nice additions as well. Speaking of peripherals, you could do worse than veteran wing Ryan Reaves (a fourth-best in the West 239 hits and 104 PIM).
Defense remains a St. Louis strength with Pietrangelo and Parayko leading the way on offense, and finishing first and second in Blues blocked shots with 158 (ninth among West blueliners) and 117, respectively. They also boast excellent rearguard scoring potential marinating in the AHL in Jake Walman, Vince Dunn and the nearly-24-year old Jordan Schmaltz, who didn’t look lost in a nine-game NHL trial run.
In net, Jake Allen struggled pre-Yeo and mostly impressed after the switch. They’ll look to build on his post-All-Star Game 16-7-2, 1.85 goals-against, and a .938 save percentage with a focused offseason and continued emphasis on defense. Expect Carter Hutton, who did yeoman’s work (sorry couldn’t resist) last year to keep the number two job unless Vegas snaps him up or a goalie-thirsty squad sees him as an answer. With Ville Husso and Jordan Binnington waiting in the wings, a move might make sense particularly with Hutton a UFA next offseason. He does provide a trustworthy option to Allen should he regress however.
Edmonton Oilers – 46-23-13 (103 points)
Second round playoff series loss to Anaheim
Greatest needs: extending Draisaitl, integrating prospects, defense
Falling a blown goalie interference call or two short of the Western Conference Finals, and possessing the best young player in the game, the long-losing Oilers are primed for a lengthy playoff run with the Cup in reach. A few key offseason moves will help them get there sooner.
First, Connor McDavid’s sidekick must come back to stay. What a year the 21-year-old Leon Draisaitl had finishing eighth in scoring (fourth in the West) with 29 goals and 48 assists, and 27 power play points (tied with McDavid for second in the West). Add six goals and 10 assists in their 13-game postseason and we have a pricey RFA to re-sign that got pricier. Fortunately, they have a bit over $19.1M in cap room which Draisaitl, potential Zack Kassian arbitration/RFA, and Kris Russell UFA singings should largely eat up, as well as forward-thinking regarding McDavid’s pending extension next offseason. In case you’re wondering, they project to have an eyelash below $33M in space after the 2018 campaign.
Along with Draisaitl, and foregoing specific trade talk for now, Edmonton has a host of young forwards to complement vets Milan Lucic, Jordan Eberle, Patrick Maroon, and 24-year-old Ryan Nugent-Hopkins entering his seventh NHL campaign. Pushing new blood right could make one or two of these more expendable and lead to valuable increased cap space or defensive upgrades. Eberle with his $6M cap hit has been frequently mentioned as the one to go, particularly after a rough postseason.
Anton Slepyshev showed us something at left wing with three playoff goals after a 10-point, 41-game NHL campaign. Increasing his 11:08 TOI could bring dividends from the 6-2, 218-pound Russian facing the last year on his entry-level deal. A bright future may loom for soon 23-year-old, two-way sparkplug Drake Caggiula. His 18-point, 60-contest campaign gave us glimpses of his grit, speed, skating skill and smarts in 13:14 average TOI. GM Peter Chiarelli and Coach Todd McLellan likely want to see more of what he can offer. Both could be wise, low-priced fantasy additions with upside. Big forward and RFA Jujhar Khaira with his board-battle skills and solid work in front of the net could help fill out the bottom-six at a low cap hit as well.
Don’t ignore 2016 fourth-overall selection Jesse Puljujarvi who, at 6-4, 203-pounds just turned 19 and oozes promise. Imagine if he fulfills it on a line with McDavid and Draisaitl. After a low-scoring debut with Edmonton (one goal, seven assists in 28 games), and 28 points in 39 AHL Bakersfield contests introduced him to the North American game, it’s worth trying to pry his future from impatient poolies for cheap.
Edmonton’s defense improved drastically over their 2015-16 showing allowing almost two fewer shots per game. Jersey import Adam Larsson (a plus-19, 251 hits and 159 blocks) and Oscar Klefbom (38 points with 16 on the power play, and a plus-five) formed an effective first pairing.
Andrej Sekera’s newly-torn ACL creates a major blue line void as his veteran presence, 21:29 TOI, plus-14 and scoring prowess (eight goals, 27 assists) were crucial to the Oilers’ success. Just how they fill it during his six- to nine-month recovery is guesswork. Maybe they’ll get lucky with Callan Foote, Pierre-Olivier Joseph or big Nicolas Hague at their 21st entry draft selection, and/or sign a Brian Campbell-type free agent. The expansion draft fallout could create opportunities as well. Needless to say, a Kevin Shattenkirk signing would really solidify things should they maintain the cap space.
Sekera’s injury seems to cement his second-pairing teammate and UFA Kris Russell’s return. Russell’s a lock for tons of blocked shots after again leading the league with 213. He’s also useful on either the right or left side, flexibility that will help Edmonton adjust to their thinned ranks and rising rearguard youth.
Darnell Nurse, Matt Benning and AHL-vet Griffin Reinhart, a 23-year-old RFA will vie for the extra ice time, especially if hit-machine Eric Gryba (his 3.6 per-game average was fourth-best among NHL defensemen playing 40 or more contests) leaves via free agency. Gryba’s 65 PIM in just 40 games ranked 15th among blueliners too. There’s also WHL Defenseman of the Year Ethan Bear who, with 28 goals and 42 assists in 67 games, and an almost point-per-game pace in 2015-16 as well will probably spend much of next year with AHL Bakersfield. He’s highly recommended as a dynasty pick up. Keep an eye on their defensive prospects throughout the offseason and camp for potential opportunities.
Cam Talbot proved ridiculously durable in goal, dropping his GAA from 2.55 to 2.39 despite logging over a thousand more minutes and twenty more starts (73 total) than in 2015-16. He also nudged his save percentage from .917 to .919 and passed Grant Fuhr for most Oiler wins (now 42, was 40) in a single season. That reliability can’t be under-estimated as a factor in Edmonton’s long-awaited playoff return as he solidifies his place as one of the most valuable goalies in the NHL.
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