Edmonton Oilers: End of season player report cards

Edmonton Oilers. Mandatory Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports
Edmonton Oilers. Mandatory Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports /
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Edmonton Oilers
Edmonton Oilers. Mandatory Credit: Andy Devlin/NHLI via USA TODAY Sports /

As the Edmonton Oilers prepare for the offseason, here’s a report card of every player

Believe it or not, the Edmonton Oilers made progress as an organization this past season, and everyone involved should hold their heads high despite not making it past the play-in series. I’ve said this several times before, but in the NHL you’ve gotta walk before you can run.  You’ve gotta lose before you can win.

The Oilers now find themselves in a similar way to the team they were from their inception into the NHL in 1979 until 1982 – playoff contenders before they were Stanley Cup contenders. Even then, the dynasty didn’t start until 1984.

1983 was the year that the Oilers lost out in the cup final to a dynasty just wrapping up its last win – the New York Islanders.  In 1984 they beat that same Islanders team to flip the script and get their first cup.

I’m not suggesting the Oilers are on the verge of a dynasty v2.0, just that history is repeating itself in the sense that they have now moved into playoff contenders.  As any Oilers fan will remember, until last season they had spent 12 of the last 13 seasons outside the playoffs.

They’re not Stanley Cup contenders just yet – they’re still a few pieces personnel-wise away from that – and more playoff experiences away from that. Look at the Lightning this year.  Until this past season, the last time they won the cup was 2004.  They went to the cup final in 2015 but lost to Chicago.  They didn’t get to be who they are overnight, it took years of planning, trades, signings, and drafting.

The Oilers are a few years away from winning the cup, but they took a step forward this season from a mediocre hockey team to playoff contenders.  2nd place in the division.  That’s progress.  Going forward they need to focus on playoff success, then getting to the cup final, then winning.

Hopefully, that last one happens in the same season as an appearance in the cup finals, but if history is any indication with other teams you need to lose the cup final before you can win it.  I know I already said that but I really can’t emphasize it too much.  Want to see this team at the halfway mark of the season?  It’s right here.

So which players are part of the solution and which players are part of the problem?  Let’s find out.

Players that are part of the solution

Connor McDavid

Although a short injury and of course the canceling of the last month of the season put a damper on things for Connor McDavid, he is still the Oiler’s franchise player going forward. He did his thing on offence, putting up 34 goals and 97 points in 64 games this past season, good enough for 2nd in the league next to teammate Dr. Drai.  He maintained the same 1.52 PPG he had at the halfway mark.

In the playoffs, as expected he led the way for the Oilers, going 5-4-9 in 4 games. Unsurprisingly, he’s also a big part of the PP, producing 11-32-43 on the PP and leading the team in ice time on the PP with 3:53 per game.  Also unsurprisingly, he’s been scaled back on the PK, only spending about 6 seconds a game on the PK.  Interestingly enough, McDavid was only 5th on the team in total ice time, finishing at 21:52 per game.

We know he can produce offence, there’s no doubt about that. However, there are 2 areas of his game that McDavid has to tweak – fortunately, both of those areas are teachable.

One of those areas is playing without the puck.  The 23-year-old McDavid finished as a minus player this season for only the 2nd time in his career, finishing with a career-worst -6.  This is less of a concern with McDavid then it is with most players as he can usually outscore his mistakes, something most NHLers can’t do.  Still, head coach Dave Tippett stressed better defensive play as a team for the Oilers, and McDavid freely admitted he can do better in that area.

In the playoffs, he finished with a +1, which while on the right side of the ledger could, of course, always be better.  This is the hardest skill in the NHL to master, and although I wouldn’t say McDavid is struggling in this area, as one of the team’s best players he needs to set an example and be better.  Not to mention that’s part of his duty as the captain – if he leads in the right direction, the team will follow his lead.

The other part of his game that could use improvement is faceoffs.  He took the 3rd most faceoffs on the team this year with almost 700 and finished with a career-best of 47.76%.  So, while he looks like he’s already improving, he needs to be at 50% or better going forward.  This will result in more puck possession for the Oilers, which naturally means more shots on net, more goals, and more wins.

It’s a small thing, but McDavid can’t just rest on his scoring laurels as the Vancouver Canucks are the 1 club I could see perhaps threatening the Oilers place in the standings.  In order to threaten the Vegas Golden Knights for #1 and fend off Vancouver, small improvements like this will go a long way.

So while McDavid isn’t perfect, he’s still the greatest scorer in the league and we are so lucky to have him, something we are reminded of every season.  What still amazes me about McDavid is he’s only 23, which means we’re still 2 seasons away from his prime producing years.  In other words, even with all McDavid has accomplished, we still have yet to see his best hockey.

Let that sink in for a moment before moving onto the next player.

Leon Draisaitl – aka Dr. Drai

Dr.  Drai really set himself apart in the NHL this year.  He took the Oilers on a tear while Mcdavid was injured for 7 games and proved he’s not just riding McDavid’s coattails.  As the season went on and Kailer Yamamoto made it onto the roster full time, Dr. Drai was no longer McDavid’s winger but showed he could drive the bus on his own line.

He stayed healthy all season and put up 43-67-110 in 71 games, along with 3-3-6 in 4 playoff games.  For the record, that’s 1.55 PPG, and also good enough for top scorer in the league – and the only 100 point scorer this year, I may add.  We already know he’s going to clean up at the NHL awards with the Ted Lindsay and Hart trophies.

Unlike McDavid, it appears Draisaitl is also very good at faceoffs, as he finished this year tops on the team in faceoffs taken with 1,269. He also finished with the top % on the team among those who took a significant amount of faceoffs at 52.09%, a 2% improvement on last year’s 50.52%.

Also like McDavid, he spends a lot of time on the PP, 3:51 per game, 2nd only to McDavid.  He generated 16-28-44 on the PP of his 100 points this year.  However, unlike McDavid, Dr. Drai spends a lot more time on the PK, going 52 seconds per game on the PK.

Not sure why he spends so much more time on the PK than McDavid, but it’s hard to argue with the #2 PK in the league.  Hats off to coach Tippett for that.  For the record, total ice time per game with him was 3rd on the team with 22:37.

The one area of improvement for Dr. Drai is his play without the puck, as he finished -7 in the regular season, and although he improved to +1 in the playoffs, again like Mcdavid you can always do better. We all thought that $8.5 million cap hit was nuts when Chiarelli signed him to it, but fortunately, he covered the bet on it.

The McDrai duo are the best 1-2 punch at center in the league and will be driving the offence for a long time here. Dr. Drai will be 25 and entering his PPY by the time next season starts.  I can’t wait to see how he follows up next season.