The Edmonton Oilers -- who will move into a new arena this season that immediately becomes the best in the NHL -- may have timed their rebuilding effort perfectly. This may finally be a team worthy of such a home.
Fans might not have liked the Taylor Hall-for-Adam Larsson trade with the New Jersey Devils, but one need only look at the Oilers' offseason in its entirety to see that Edmonton is in considerably better shape than it was last year at this time.
First and foremost, the Oilers are getting a Connor McDavid who enters the NHL much more comfortable than he was last year at this time. The 2015 No. 1 draft pick continues to add strength and even speed, which some thought impossible.
"I believe in my game a lot more heading in," McDavid said. "I didn't know what to expect last year, going into my first NHL season. I didn't know what it would be like. I definitely have more confidence."
If he's healthy for 82 games, McDavid will be one of the best players in the league this season and make a Hart Trophy push.
The Oilers got a break in the draft lottery when winger Jesse Puljujarvi fell to them at No. 4. He'll make the team and be an impact player this season.
They're still a top four right-shot defenseman short of playoff defense, but Larsson and a healthy Oscar Klefbom will go a long way in providing balance to the roster.
We've been hearing about an Oilers turnaround for years. This is the season it comes to fruition.
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Larsson jumps into the lineup and provides the Oilers with a defenseman capable of taking on the tough assignment every single night. He did it on a regular basis with Andy Greene in New Jersey, and at 23 years old, Larsson is still developing as a defenseman. Once Oilers fans get over who was given up to acquire him, they're going to really like Larsson's game.
Milan Lucic brings Stanley Cup experience and a physical edge Edmonton's forward group needed to keep pace in the heavy Western Conference.
"You feel a little bit more safe out there with a guy like him on the ice," McDavid said. "He's one of the toughest guys in the league, if not the toughest. It definitely helps my game a lot to have him on our team."
Puljujarvi is the wild card. His spot in the lineup is written in pencil, but it's the kind of pencil that's pushed really hard on the paper and hard to erase. Assuming he's healthy and ready to go, he could be another dynamic player for this group.
The defense still needs work. Brandon Davidson was a bit of a revelation last season and is a good player. Klefbom has to prove that he can stay healthy. Is Larsson good enough right now to be a top-pair defenseman on a good playoff team? Probably not, but I'd be comfortable with him on the second pair. Darnell Nurse is another guy whose ceiling is still in question. He's probably a second-pair guy when the dust settles, but he's still young enough that it's hard to project exactly what he'll be this season.
The Oilers have a lot of questions on defense.
The other issue is whether this team has figured out how to win consistently. Edmonton was a dangerous team last year when trailing by a goal or two because it had the talent and skill to make up a deficit quickly. The problem was that the Oilers were just as dangerous when up a goal or two because they played the same way. Having a guy like Lucic around will help in that regard. And McDavid is nothing, if not a fast learner.
That's the problem with this team. There are very few sure things. We're pretty sure McDavid will be a superstar. Will it happen this season? Probably? We think guys like Puljujarvi and Leon Draisaitl will be top-six contributors this season. Can we say so for sure? Nope!
Even goaltender Cam Talbot, who is a solid No. 1 starter, isn't a sure thing.
It's a pretty strong bet that Jordan Eberle and McDavid will get every opportunity to play together and form a duo that could be a match for years. They both love playing with each other and have skill sets that complement each other.
"As a linemate, you have to be able to think the game quick and get the puck to him with speed," Eberle said. "You have to be ready for the puck at all times."
The Oilers will make a leap this year. It will be considerable, like 20 points in the standings. The problem is that even with a 20-point improvement, the Oilers are still only at 90 points, and that won't be quite enough in the competitive Pacific. They will finish short of the playoffs.