The high flying exploits of Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl are well documented and discussed, but perhaps lost in the shuffle of another postseason run is that their excellence alone is not enough to power the Edmonton Oilers. Through the years of toiling in relative irrelevance are seemingly behind us, it was not long ago that the team around the two MVPs was too weak to reasonably support their talents.
Part of the team’s success this year lies with the ascension of Stuart Skinner in net. So too does some lie with Evan Bouchard, who has come of age in an increased role after the Mattias Ekholm acquisition. While strong situations in net and on the blueline are critical to the Oilers success, the final and most concerning piece of the puzzle comes into focus, the depth scoring.
With the Oilers’ back against the wall, trailing three games to two in their series against the Vegas Golden Knights, the mood is tense. Much of the focus has been directed towards the team’s foremost calling card, scoring. In particular, the number of even strength goals has become an area of concern across Oil Country.
Do the Oilers have a scoring issue?
Without further ado let’s take a look at the scoring totals and give some grades out to the Oilers based on their postseason production so far.
Scoring rates: regular season versus playoff
|Name||regular season P/GP||playoff P/GP||regular season ESP/60||playoff ESP/60||regular season PPP/60||playoff PPP/60||regular season SH%||playoff SH%|
With opposing teams trying everything in their power to stop Draisaitl and McDavid, getting contributions from elsewhere in the lineup can tip the scales in the Oilers favour. McDavid and Draisaitl have once again surpassed reasonable expectations, scoring 19 and 18 points respectively across the Oilers 10 playoff games so far. Both have maintained their dominant production on a per game basis. Draisaitl has been able to up his even strength production, while McDavid’s even strength numbers have taken a hit. Both are undoubtedly living up to their reputations in helping the rest of the roster to punch above its weight class.
Bouchard, for his part, belongs in this tier as well posting an absurd 15 points, representing a massive upgrade from his regular season production. Bouchard was clearly ready for the opportunity to play with the top power play. After some time to find his place in the unit’s rhythm, and in turn the power play has had time to adjust to the new wrinkle that Bouchard provides. Yes, Bouchard has had some moments in terms of defensive effectiveness, but this standout performance is a bright spot not easily dimmed.
Although they are completely overshadowed by the otherworldly production of the Oilers top scorers, there are a number of Oilers that have delivered on lofty expectations. Zach Hyman and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins have done quite well from a point production standpoint, with nine and eight respectively. Approaching the point per game mark is impressive for both players, even considering their role on the power play. Sure, with three goals between them, some more goal production would be nice, but their point pace in the playoffs is ahead of their respective career averages.
Nugent-Hopkins getting into the goal column in Game 4 against the Vegas Golden Knights was important to this grade. With only two of RNH’s ten points coming at even strength, there might be some reasonable criticism to his grade here, but the truth is that the majority of his regular season scoring came on the man advantage regardless. Of the 100-point scorers this season, Nugent-Hopkins had the lowest even strength production by a significant margin. His poor shooting percentage in the playoffs have not helped his cause. The Oilers can ill afford for either of Nugent-Hopkins or Hyman’s production to drop much, but both have held up their ends of the bargain.
Another player who scored his first goal of the postseason in Game 4 was Ekholm, who has brought more production than should be counted on. With seven points in 11 games, Ekholm’s output has been impressive, though his main contributions will always be of the defensive variety.
Klim Kostin deserves some love here as well. His three goals and five points are significant given his limited icetime. Kostin has been a physical force as well, and has all the tools to make an impact in flashes. His pace of half a point a game is likely unsustainable, seen by an uptick in shooting percentage, and his contributions have already surpassed what optimistic appraisals might have predicted.
The largest group of players will find themselves here, as we can best describe this group as living up to their standards of production.
The Oilers have a strong glut of checking forwards, as a capable checking line has emerged. The combination of Warren Foegele, Ryan McLeod, and Derek Ryan have been exceptional together, controlling play against opponents that might have more individual skill. With two goals and eight points between them the production is not much, but neither are the offensive expectations.
McLeod has held up his scoring into the playoffs, and is easily the top offensive option on the line. Though a first-round selection in the entry draft might carry pedigree and pressure, it would be wrong to suggest that McLeod’s performance has been lacking. Any comments regarding a desire for more production should instead come with the premise that McLeod is deployed with higher scoring linemates.
On the other end of the spectrum, Foegele might be worthy of a lower grade tier within this list. His scoring rates have fallen off during the playoffs. Foegele, like all the players on this list, contributes in more ways than with points. Though a big goal or two would be greatly appreciated, Foegele is bringing a lot to this line and the Oilers as a whole.
Despite being elevated to top six usage, Nick Bjugstad has done well in chipping in three goals. Once again this is acceptable production from a forward who is primarily counted on as a defensive player.
Kailer Yamamoto had an injury filled season, and has seen his role slightly reduced from what we’ve been accustomed to over the past few seasons. That said, a big goal against the Los Angeles Kings and three assists accounts for the scoring pace that should be expected of him. As a skilled winger and a former first round pick, some might still be holding Yamamoto to a higher offensive standard, but in giving Yamamoto a B grade for his offensive contributions so far is the acknowledgment of his lack of consistent top six ability. His rates have held up well, meaning his per game production is more related to his diminished role. Perhaps in a different role Yamamoto might spark some offence for the Oilers.
On the blueline the production has been acceptable. Darnell Nurse might be due for a goal, but his four assists are enough given his defensive usage. Partner Cody Ceci, as well as defensive defencemen Brett Kulak and Vincent Desharnais should not be expected to produce offensively. Together all three have combined for one goal and four points, which is enough even considering the high stakes of the playoffs.
The most notable name in this category is Evander Kane. Though the three goals so far are appreciated, Kane’s four points are off of what we should be hoping for. This performance might be excused due to the tough injury situation Kane has had to navigate this season. After missing most of the first half of the schedule with a gruesome wrist laceration, Kane had more than enough on his plate in returning to any offensive effectiveness upon rejoining the team. His season was further hampered by a rib injury upon his return as well, keeping Kane sidelined once again.
If there is hope for latent scoring in the lineup, a big reason for it is here with Kane. Kane has found ways to be a contributor outside of production, but we should expect the power forward to chip in with a few big performances going forward. Kane was extremely productive last playoffs, and did so after missing much of the season that year. The difference is that Kane was healthy last season, as his significant injuries have added an extra degree of adversity this time around.
Some might feel that Bjugstad, Foegele, or Nurse deserve some consideration in this category, but all three are important defensive contributors.
Offence not the issue
The Oilers are a top flight offensive team with the most efficient NHL power play of all time, and the overall expectations of their offence is incredibly high. The Oilers have continued to prove their mettle as a defensive team, but one would have to think that their offensive prowess would need to lead the charge in any deep playoff run.
In all these production grades are quite positive, but such is the byproduct of the Oilers respectable overall playoff performance. Scoring becomes that much harder come playoff time, so some of the Oilers struggles generating even strength offence can be excused.
Despite the astronomical offensive expectations the Oilers have earned, as well as going up against strong playoff opponents, the Oilers have indeed lived up to the billing. With every goal magnified in the pressure cooker of postseason play, the Oilers will need to continue their offensive efforts to have a chance at advancing.
It would, however, be wrong to fixate on any perceived lack of scoring, at even strength or otherwise when assessing the Oilers results so far. Coach Woodcroft was sure to point out that the Oilers bigger issues were in preventing goals. Regardless of what happens in any games to come, the margin of error continues to shrink. Though the Oilers have been a good defensive team since the turn of the calendar, Game 5 showed us that even a lapse of a few minutes can be the difference between winning and losing.
Photo by Curtis Comeau/Icon Sportswire