Last season, the Oil Kings got some great performances from key veterans in their lineup. Trey Fix-Wolansky, Vince Loschiavo, and Quinn Benjafield all had career seasons and were the key drivers of the team’s offence. This season, despite the fact that those major pieces are all gone, there is still a lot of optimism around this team. 

For the Oil Kings to repeat the success they had last year, they won’t be banking on a handful of high-scoring veterans, instead, they’ll be looking for some of their young talent to take big steps forward this year and there is no shortage of young talent on this roster.

A large chunk of that talent is in their forward core. While rookies like Dylan Guenther and Jesse Seppala will no doubt play a role, the lion’s share of the offence will have to be carried by their returning forwards.

JAKE NEIGHBOURS: He posted 24 points in his 47 games in his rookie season. That’s solid for a 16-year-old rookie but his play in the regular season isn’t what had fans and the organization buzzing, it was his the way he elevated his play during the teams’ playoff run.

He scored 12 points in 16 playoff games and quite frankly changed the course of their postseason run during a game against the Calgary Hitmen when he scored with ten seconds left to tie the game and then ended the game in overtime as well. He flashed an ability to dominate games and step up in big moments. That’s why I have high hopes for Neighbours as he enters his draft year. I think we’ll see him easily cap the point per game mark in 2019/20.

VLAD ALISTROV: In his first season in North America, he produced 38 points in 65 games. That’s a very strong rookie season for an import player and I have no doubt that he’ll build on that in the upcoming season. He should get more opportunities as well. He saw lots of time on the teams’ top powerplay unit, but there is room for him to slide into the top six this season and that will allow him to produce more offence, which is exactly what the Oil Kings need from him. Being more comfortable off the ice will also benefit him. His English last year wasn’t great and that can have a big effect on a player. An offseason of training for life in the WHL both on and off the ice along with the comfort of returning to a familiar setting are big reasons why I’m expecting a big jump from the Belarusian product.

CARTER SOUCH: He finished fifth on the team in scoring last season but still, I view last season as an up and down ride for Souch. At times, he looked like a player with the potential to take over games. At other times, including stretches in the playoffs, he was buried on the fourth line or was healthy scratched altogether. When you look at players who have the potential to be point-per-game producers, Souch should be high on that list, he just needs to find some consistency.

DAVID KOPE: I had him pegged as a potential breakout candidate last season, but that didn’t happen. He only produced three more points than he did in his rookie season (28). He’s listed at 6’5 and his size is a big part of the reason why I’m still holding out hope that he’ll be able to morph into a driving force in the Oil Kings top six. If he puts together some other parts of his game, he could be a damn good player for this team next season.

SCOTT ATKINSON: Finding a high-end centreman will be important for this team. Yes, they acquired veteran Riley Sawchuk from Tri-City, but they’ll need someone else to step up. I like Atkinson to be that guy. He can win faceoffs, can be trusted in his own end, and last year he showed potential to be an offensive threat as well, posting 15 goals and 18 assists in his second full season. For Atkinson, the point production will come second to him just being a calming force that can be trusted to all over the ice. If he can do that, you’ll see a ripple effect through the rest of the lineup. One side note: I’d be very interested to see Atkinson and Alistrov get a long look together.

JOSH WILLIAMS: Described as a player with the potential to be an elite goal scorer, Williams will get plenty of opportunities to do that this season. In 40 games with the Oil Kings last season, he only scored seven goals. He’ll need to do more than that this season but hopefully some added minutes on a skill line and some prime powerplay minutes will allow him to do that.

LIAM KEELER: I look at Keeler as a bit of a wildcard for this team. I could see him clicking with someone in the top six and producing 35-45 points, but I could also see him falling into more of a support role in the bottom six. It’ll be up to him to earn a spot higher in the lineup but if he’s forced into a smaller role, I still think he can be a really valuable piece for this team. Depth gets you through a lot, Keeler will be around to provide that depth.

Apart from the forwards, I’ll be looking for Conner McDonald to pick up where he left off last season and someone like Matt Roberton to breakthrough following an injury-filled draft year. I’ll have more on those two in the coming weeks.

It’s a new wave for the Oil Kings and while the rookies will be interesting, some returning players having breakout seasons will be the key to the team building on a successful 2019 playoff run.