While the predominate focus of my blog is the analysis of prospects and the NHL draft there are times when I will veer off into more Oilers based posts. This is one of those times as we look at my predictions for the Edmonton Oilers 2015-2016 starting line-up. First off the men between the pipes:
Starter: Cam Talbot
With no proven starter and the struggles of Ben Scrivens last season, this is the Oilers best and only option as a starter. In a limited amount of games, Talbot has put up very strong numbers, as analyzed quite well by Darcy “Woodguy” McLeod. While many analysts in the mainstream media like to reference the fact that Talbot played behind a strong Rangers defense, the numbers once again run by McLeod (Woodguy) suggest these opinions are based on reputation, more than actual performance, as the Rangers had a middle of the pack defense in 2014-2015. If anything, Lundquist and Talbot are not getting enough credit for how good they make the Rangers look. If Talbot puts up numbers anywhere close to what he did with the Rangers, he will be the single biggest reason for the Oilers turnaround. Last year Ben Scrivens had a .890 SA% while Talbot had a .926 SA%. If Scrivens had the same SA% as Talbot did in 2014-2015, the Oilers would have had 56 fewer goals scored on them, which is the type of impact a good goalie can make. The big red flag with Talbot is experience, as the biggest part of being a starter is the mental side of the game, as we have witnessed players folding in their first attempt at being the main man (e.g. Dubnyk, Scrivens). However, one only has to remember what happened down the road on Highway 2 with Miikka Kiprusoff, who was an inexperienced backup with only 47 NHL games under his belt when he joined the Flames. If the Oilers are to make the playoffs this season they will need Talbot to have a MVP season in his first year as a starter. This is a lot to ask of Talbot, but if he can put up above average numbers, it allows the Oilers to be competitive and playing meaningful games down the stretch which is what most of us Oilers fans need to see this season. In my estimation, Talbot is the most important acquisition this season in terms of the Oilers on ice success.
Backup: Ben Scrivens
Scrivens was given the ball to run with last year and it was fumbled, dropped and batted around in a season that any goalie would like to forget. With any goalie, it is a huge step up mentally when you make the switch from being the backup to being the man counted on game in and game out. In many cases, players wilt under the pressure and lose their confidence. In terms of Scrivens, this confidence never seemed to be there from the get go, as he struggled in the home opener against the Flames and continued for the rest of the season. That being said how much confidence can a goalie have when he has a poor defense in front of him and a coach (Eakins) with a defensive system that seemed to emphasize leaving a man in the slot with an open shot? However, it is not just the goalies confidence that can affect the play of the team, as also the confidence the players have in their goalie is of upmost importance. If players start to lose confidence in their netminder, it negatively affects the play of the entire team as players start to adjust their style of play. For example, a team’s forecheck will change if they are concerned every time they turn over the puck that it will end up in the back of the net. Rather than attacking aggressively and putting the other team on their heels, a team will play more passive always concerned at a moment’s notice to hightail it back to their own end. With new coaches and changes to the system, this is a bounce back year for Ben Scrivens where he will need to rediscover the trust of his teammates. What Oilers fans can point to is the fact that this is an anomaly, more than it is a trend. Since his rookie NCAA season in 2006-2007, Scrivens has only had one year, other than last season, where he has posted a SA% less than .910 which was his rookie NHL debut in 2011-2012 when he had a .902 SA% in 12 games. With a return to the comforts of being in the backup role and the pressure being lifted off him, I expect a competitor like Scrivens to solidify the backup spot and return closer to previous season numbers. Anywhere close to the league average would be a successful season.
Wildcard: Anders Nilsson
Nilsson is the player thrown into the mix that could end up either being the backup for Talbot or he could end up back in Europe after training camp never to be heard from again. In my estimation, Nilsson is not a goalie that I believe is in the long-term plans of the Oilers and the biggest asset he brings is his size. To compare him statistically, Kevin Poulin from the NY Islanders system played together with Nilsson and is of the same age. The combined totals for 2011-2012 to 2013-2014 for Nilsson was a .899 SA% in the NHL and a .907 SA% in the AHL while Poulin had a .894 SA% in the NHL and a .909 SA% in the AHL. To compare, the much maligned Ben Scrivens has a .923 SA% in the AHL and a .905 SA% in the NHL (dragged down by last year’s poor performance). Ultimately the North American numbers for Nilsson are not strong and there is nothing to suggest that he is anything more than a weak backup option. As for the strong numbers in the KHL, they are misleading as it is a low scoring league with inflated save percentages. Emil Garipov is the backup for Ak-Bars Kazan since 2012 and his save percentage has fluctuated between .932 and .952 over the last 4 years. While independently Nilsson’s save percentage looks incredible, the more you dig the less impressive it becomes. While Nilsson should be able to push Scrivens for the backup role, ultimately I do not see him wrestling it away and Nilsson will have to decide whether the minors or the European leagues is in his best future.