Through three games, the Edmonton Oiler offense has dried up a bit. The club has scored seven times in three games, but only Connor McDavid (3), Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (2), and Leon Draisaitl (1) have scored for the forward group.
That means only three players in a group that is about 14 deep by this point have found the back of the net. A few players, like Milan Lucic, Ryan Strome, Patrick Maroon and Kailer Yamamoto, have had good chances but have yet to score. Eventually that will change, but depth and secondary scoring has been an early issue for this hockey team.
One of my biggest issues this summer was that GM Peter Chiarelli traded the club’s best secondary scorer in Jordan Eberle for cap space, but never used said space to acquire a replacement that could be trusted. Instead, the club elected to stash the money and save it, presumably for an addition or two at the NHL trade deadline.
While that is a fine idea, it could comeback to haunt the Oilers if they don’t figure out their secondary scoring in short order. The club needs someone, anyone really, to step up and take charge here. Luckily, there really isn’t a shortage of candidates.
I think we can all agree that McDavid, Maroon, Draisaitl, Nugent-Hopkins and Lucic make up the top group offensively for the Oilers. I have no doubt that the top line will produce, while RNH has looked much better this year and Lucic usually takes some time to get going.
After those five, there is a group of veteran players and a group of unproven players that are trying to establish themselves in the NHL as full timers.
Among the veteran group are Zack Kassian, Mark Letestu, Jussi Jokinen and Ryan Strome, who is in his fifth NHL season and still relatively unproven. Letestu and Kassian are fourth line players that have few five-on-five minutes. I expect Kassian to be effective in his minutes and to this point, although with no offensive success, he has been.
As for Letestu, he needs to be better on the powerplay. He’s looked out of sorts early in the season, like the entire unit really, and hasn’t been himself. Edmonton needs him to make the man-advantage hum. Jokinen has been slow from the get go and while I suspect he will rebound, some doubt has crept into my head about just how much he really has left.
In the young group we have Kailer Yamamoto, Jujhar Khaira, Drake Caggiula and Anton Slepyshev. Yamamoto, in my mind, will be a strong NHL scorer one day but I believe that day is still in the future. I’d wager that he gets sent back to the WHL prior to the club’s east coast trip next week. He just doesn’t look ready for regular season action yet but that’s okay, he’s a prospect still.
Caggiula is banged up, but he didn’t look good in the preseason and was weak in the regular season opener. He’s got the talent to produce with skill, but looked slower and lacking confidence when the chance was there in the preseason. The Caggiula we saw late last season and in the playoffs is the one that we need to see this season. He can contribute if that’s what he is.
Slepyshev is interesting because he too is banged up and missed all but one preseason game. After returning from a one game AHL stint, Slepyshev played Monday and looked okay. Personally, he’s my favorite in this race because he has the size, speed and skill to be an effective power winger that can score in the middle six. He was that in the playoffs and needs to get back to that.
Khaira, in my opinion, is a non-factor as a secondary scorer, but he needs to play with more speed and has to be more physical. He’s gotta do things that will help keep him in the lineup until his offense grows to a fourth line level.
The Oilers will eventually find an offensive groove. Their shooting percentage is unsustainable with how low it is right now, it will regress to the mean in short order. When that happens, it’s going to be because more than the top line started scoring.
The club needs some kind of secondary scoring and they need it fast. Help will be on the way at the deadline if the Oilers are a playoff team (they will be), I’m confident in that because Peter Chiarelli has consistently bought and bought hard for teams with a chance to win it all. They can’t wait for that help, however.
Someone, whether it is a veteran or a young guy, has to step up, take the ball and run with it. I suspect Jussi Jokinen and Anton Slepyshev are the best bets, but if Ryan Strome gets a long look on the McDavid line it could be him. Same for Drake Caggiula, and same for Bakersfield forward Jesse Puljujarvi.
The Oilers have candidates, but eventually someone needs to take charge. The early portion of the season depends on it.