The Oilers were quickly written off by a few after their less than ideal start to the season. Mike Smith’s return from injury along with an angry Connor McDavid has put this team back on the right path. The Oilers recent win streak has shot the team up the standings, making the most of the extra games played.
Before getting started, don’t forget to check out the previous segments as we take a look at the entire Canadian division.
New year same story up front with the Oilers. McDavid and Draisaitl’s point totals are nearly equal to the point total of every other forward combined. Their dominance over the NHL is expected at this point. Every time I fear that Austin Matthews has emerged as the MVP front-runner, Connor McDavid says hold my beer. This is metaphorical of course because there’s no way McDavid drinks beer.
Draisaitl has continued his torrid pace, ranking just behind McDavid in points on this team, well ahead of third on the team. Many in the analytics community is quick to point out his defensive liabilities, but when your team is so dependant on your offensive production, such defensive deficiencies are to be expected.
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is the only other forward with double digit points for this team. Riding shot gun with McDavid, RNH has been the perfect Chewy on the Oilers roster. Puljujarvi is the latest member to join the top line and he has been making the most of it.
Tyler Ennis is the latest to get his turn on the second line. The shake up is probably more to get Yamamoto going than anything but this is coming from a guy playing catch up. Yamamoto has one point in his last 8 games, and only 9 points on the season. This is no where near the point per game production he had when called up last season.
Dominik Kahun, Zack Kassian and James Neal have all rotated into the top 6 at one point or another but have failed to stick there permanently. Injuries have played a factor, with Kassian still sidelined at the moment. The bottom 6 has required some shuffling, but it has started to round into form of late.
The last player I wanted to highlight who has impressed me is Jujhar Khaira. He won’t dazzle you (maybe once in a while) but he does his job and he does it well. He currently has the third highest points per 60 on the Oilers, a stat that I personally enjoy.
Just to be clear, yes I am trying to say exactly what you think; Khaira is better than Nugent-Hopkins. Follow up, yes that was sarcasm, there’s unfortunately no font I know of for it.
With that said, it just shows that he’s been efficient on the scoreboard while he’s been on the ice. Beyond just that, his line for the most part has turned the tide in the Oilers favour every time they are on the ice. Khaira has seized the opportunity left void by Kyle Turris, and has helped solidify the bottom 6.
Injuries have by and large limited the potential of what this defense could be. Losing Klefbom to start the season was a massive blow as he pushed his game to another level last season. Tyson Barrie has filled in quite well, but he does not bring the full package that Klefbom does. Barrie’s is finally starting to find his groove on the Power Play (PP) which had been pretty stagnate to start the season.
Darnell Nurse has been the biggest bright spot for this team. McDavid and Draisaitl will always be the straws that stir this drink but Nurse is providing excellent support from the back end. He leads all defenseman in Even Strength scoring and his physical dominance is well known around the league at this point.
After their top pairing, the offensive production pretty much stops. Russell and Larsson are solid defensive defenseman but they are not known for the offensive acumen. Ethan Bear was having his struggles before a suffering a concussion that has limited him to only 9 games so far this season.
Bear and Lagesson are both skating but neither appear ready to make their comeback just yet. The injury bug just couldn’t stay away as Slater Koekkoek is the latest victim of the Battle of Alberta. A broken collarbone has ended his season and opened a spot for Caleb Jones to get back into the line up.
The play of Evan Bouchard has been encouraging. Still going through the growing pains for sure, but he is a welcome dose of young talent. His Points per 60 are very encouraging as common sense would dictate that his minutes will continue to go up as he proves himself. Will he be able to maintain this level of production is the real question.
In a vaccum, as an overall unit, the Oilers goaltending to date may be the worst performance of any positional group in Canada. Of course this is undermining Mike Smith’s injury, but there is no denying how ugly it was for this team early on. Two 40 save wins in his last three starts have salvaged Koskinen’s number, however there is no denying it was an ugly start.
Mike Smith looks like a knight in shining armour for this team. Smith has a proven track record and to be honest has been undervalued for most of his career. He has a career 2.72 GAA and 0.912 SV% which would suggest that a regression is on it’s way in case you were not aware.
Smith is almost 40 and while showing glimpses of the elite level talent from his prime, he has failed to maintain this level for extended periods of time. At his best in the last few seasons he was able to provide his teams with solid goaltending in waves. I think it is fair to assume that will continue to be the case with Koskinen coming in to relieve him for a couple games.
This is the best case scenario, not the most likely. The condensed schedule does increases the probability, but this is a tall task for anyone but if there is any position you want to take this gamble on, it’s a goalie.
OVERALL GRADE: B
Far too many people were quick to write the Oilers off after their disappointing run in last season’s Return to Play. There is no denying that this team is still in large part (and almost completely) carried by the play of the greatest two-headed attack in the NHL. The problem is the drop off in talent on the roster after these two (RNH none withstanding).
Mike Smith’s return cannot be overstated, it was a shock to the system that this team desperately needed. I do not believe that Smith will be able to maintain this level of play much longer, but he can come in to provide a spark in crucial moments.
The team will need to find more consistent secondary scoring one way or another.
Check out this week’s epidsode of Not Safe For Work as Peeze, Terry and Eagle welcome Montreal Sports media legend and fashion icon John Lu to the show! As you would expect it was pure class from one of the most well respected men in the industry.