As September begins and the spectre of summer begins to fade, NHL hockey is nearly upon us. With that all sorts of previews and predictions begin to propagate the collective consciousness of the hockey world as we eagerly await the chaos of the season ahead. For Edmonton Oilers fans, who see their team enter the 2023–24 season as one of the favourites league wide, this is an exercise steeped in positivity with a proven track record, yet still uncertainty looms around each corner.
While we can try to predict the season ahead, surprise is inevitably found down to the most minute of details. If only to gauge the excitement level for the season ahead, we asked our readers how many players on the Oilers would score 20 goals in the 2023–24 regular season?
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Three players an easy feat
With an incredibly low percentage of votes, there is clearly a confidence that more than three players on the Oilers will reach the 20 goal plateau this season.
Naturally, a big part of this equation is the play of both Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl who scored 62 and 54 last season, respectively. Two of the greatest players of their generation, it would seem near impossible that the Oilers could have less than two 20 goal scorers next season.
Of course, most NHL teams would figure to have three scorers reach the 20 goal mark in 2023–24, and the fact that both McDavid and Draisaitl are equally dangerous as playmakers should be enough to inflate goal totals for a number of their teammates. With only a small fraction of the vote Oil Country is not bashful about their team’s offensive prowess.
A repeat of last season with four?
With over a quarter of the possible vote, the Oilers having four players reach the 20-goal mark is well represented. It should be noted that this was the number of 20 goal scorers the Oilers had last season, as Zach Hyman and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins netted 36 goals and 33 goals apiece.
For both Hyman and Nugent-Hopkins 2022–23 was a career year, with Nugent-Hopkins even reaching the 100 point plateau, a significant achievement in his strong career. Though Nugent-Hopkins was full value for his performance there is some recognition from fans that these results should not be taken for granted, and that 2022–23 might have been the most productive of the centre’s career, the high water mark instead of the baseline. Though 30 goals and 100 points might be a bit ambitious to expect from Nugent-Hopkins, 20 goals is certainly in the realm of high probability.
Meanwhile, despite his age, Hyman continues to show growth in his game and is indisputably a more effective player than he was five years ago. Though this trend won’t continue forever, Hyman’s ability around the net front should see him play at over a 20-goal pace in the coming season.
Five players within the realm of possibility
With over a third of the possible vote, there is significant hope across Oil Country that five Oilers will reach the 20-goal mark this season. While the likes of McDavid, Draisaitl, Hyman, and Nugent-Hopkins posted career seasons in 2022–23, as well as the Oilers being the highest scoring team in the NHL, no other Oiler reached the 45-point or 20-goal marks.
Still, there is an obvious candidate to join the 20-goal club, as Evander Kane scored at such a pace last season. Kane missed a large portion of the season with injuries, including a severe wrist laceration, which might well have limited his effectiveness in the games in which he did play as well. Clearly, the Oilers do have at least five bonafide 20-goal scorers on their roster, but Kane reminds us that this is also contingent upon the fickle nature of health in the NHL.
Having five Oilers scorers reach the 20-goal mark in 2023–24 is optimistic, but certainly possible. The talent is certainly present, even before considering other breakout candidates reaching the mark.
Fans optimistically believe in six
Leading our poll is the most optimistic of answers, the Oilers rostering six scorers of at least 20 goals. While this would suppose a fairly healthy season for all the scorers mentioned already, this too would suppose the health of any subsequent scorers. The Oilers aren’t without players who might be able to achieve the mark, from players who have produced before and from those who might be on their way to new goal scoring highs of their own.
For starters, Evan Bouchard has fully arrived as an offensive force from the blueline, and appears poised for more. Having taken over the top power play role, a unit that set the all time efficiency record last season, Bouchard will be in position to shatter his career highs. The author of the famed “Bouch Bomb”, Bouchard is a uniquely talented shooter, so much that one does not need to see his jersey number to recognize his shot. Though the mark of 20 goals is a rare feat for a defenceman, it would hardly be a surprise to see Bouchard emerge as a regular threat to achieve it.
Newcomer Connor Brown has hit the 20 goal mark twice in his career, though he is anything but a sure bet to do so in 2023–24. The hope is that he will return to full effectiveness after a knee injury that robbed him of all but four games last season, but this alone might not be enough. Any hopes of Brown reaching the 20 goal mark is likely tied to his playing in an elevated spot on the lineup, perhaps alongside former Junior teammate McDavid, where some previous chemistry might lead to an incredible opportunity for Brown.
It might be a possibility for a veteran player to reach the 20 goal mark for the first time. Warren Foegele has never reached the 15 goal mark, while Darnell Nurse has done so just once. Mattias Janmark hit 19 goals in 2017–18, but has only scored 19 in his past two seasons combined. While opportunity and shooting luck might align, seeing any of these players reach 20 goals would be a pleasant surprise for Oilers fans.
More likely than unexpected veterans, some of the Oilers younger players might be in the mix for 20 goals next season. Of course, playing their way up the lineup to better linemates and even power play time will be crucial to these players making the significant impact of scoring 20 goals in a season.
A former first-round pick, Dylan Holloway seems poised to take a step in his development after fading into a minor role last season. Holloway seems to be at his best when he has the time, space, and confidence to shoot from mid range, even towards the edges of the slot. Still, getting to contested ice will be important to Holloway’s success, as will his ability to convert turnovers created off of his forechecking into chances for the Oilers.
A more volatile projection might be that of Raphael Lavoie, who is hardly guaranteed a regular spot in the Oilers lineup. Some might argue his path to a spot is growing more tenuous by the week, as the Oilers continue to add forwards to PTO contracts. Still, Lavoie is a dynamic scorer, armed with the size to work in the offensive zone, the speed to attack off the rush, and the shot to rival any Oiler outside of McDavid, Draisaitl, and Bouchard. If Lavoie is able to win a spot, he should be taken as a dangerous scoring option. Lavoie had a long road towards adjusting to the AHL, only coming into his own as a regular top-six producer in the back half of last season, meaning this ascension is far from presumed, but he might well be the scoring talent the Oilers have been lacking in cementing their top six.
Finally, worth a mention is Ryan McLeod, who has continued his development, proving himself to be an effective NHLer in 2021–22, then an effective top-nine centre in 2023–24. Though his career high is only 11 goals, reached last season, McLeod certainly has the capability to be a regular 15-goal scorer. Cast as the Oilers checking centre, McLeod’s usage might be a hindrance to his potential goal totals. McLeod might well be on track to continue his growth, becoming recognized as a good player league-wide and carving out a long career as a defensive centre, and still might never reach the 20-goal mark. It might not be this season, but with more offensive usage and more skilled linemates McLeod might be a threat for 20 goals at some point.
To hurt the case of most of these players, especially the forwards, the Oilers power play is extremely top heavy, with the first unit commanding most of the time, and McDavid and Draisaitl often playing the entire two minutes with the man advantage. Simply put, the Oilers top players take up a lot of oxygen, chances for players lower in the lineup to be relied on offensively. The Oilers have built their lineup with the priority of balancing their group as well, adding players with defensive of physical elements to fill out the lineup. While one might be able to make a case for 10 Oilers players being capable of reaching the 20 mark, it is fairly unlikely for the stars to align so neatly.
In any case, through quality and quantity, Oilers fans have the right to feel optimistic about six Oilers reaching the 20-goal mark in 2023–24. What is the offseason for, after all, if not to spring visions of hope eternal?
Photo by Ric Apia/Icon Sportswire