Despite some injuries, virtually everything has gone right for the Oilers as they sit atop the Pacific division, and probably at a nice restaurant on the Vegas strip, the fruits of a 2 day stopover and a 5-0-0 start to the season. With that in mind let’s go over some of the prevailing thoughts, mostly positive, stemming from the past week.
- McDavid has reached another level. Buoyed with Draisaitl on his line, milestones like 50 goals and 150 points seem probable, which is unheard of in the ~25 years I’ve known anything about the NHL, let alone the year Benn won the Art Ross with 87 points.
- McDavid and Draisaitl on the same line? Many (myself included) think splitting up the dynamic duo is the endgame, but there’s no reason to be upset, especially given the results. Anxieties like “but Hyman was signed to play with X or Y” and “playoff matchups seem better split” will be solved in their own time. For now, Hyman and RNH, as well as the rest of the lineup behind them, are developing their own identity outside the big 2, and taking a lot of pressure off themselves after signing extensions, or specifically with Hyman, relieving the pressure of not scoring right away on McDavid’s wing.
- Puljujarvi and Bouchard have exceeded perhaps the most ambitious prognostications, and are truly major contributors to the team’s success, right in line with the likes of RNH and Hyman, behind only McDavid, Draisaitl, and Nurse as far as skaters are concerned. At least on paper, their strong play is the foremost reason to hope things will go much differently in the playoffs this season.
- A well oiled machine. This team has been able to perform consistently at a competitive level. The play is focused, while the mood is centred, relaxed, and even keeled. The additions of veterans like Keith, Ceci, and Ryan illustrated what players and management thought was missing last season, and so far it has worked. With Vegas injured and sputtering, Edmonton has deservedly jumped into setting the pace for the Pacific Division, and might not look back. Some are going as far as to contemplate deadline acquisitions. Needless to say there could be an epic acapella version of La Bamba in our future (the Oilers victory song, a tribute to the great Joey Moss), but it’s a destiny that can only be fulfilled one game at a time.
- Searching for negatives. This isn’t for everyone, but the mind wanders. For most, the closest thing to a disappointment in the early going might be Yamamoto’s play. I can guess where a lot of that might come from, a combination of his offensive output 2 seasons ago against his production since. Because Kailer is on the smaller side and has some good puck skills, I think the impulse is to miscast him into certain roles or expectations, especially as an offensively minded dangler, when that really isn’t what he brings to the table. He is a good support passer from along the boards, where he gets a lot of work done in puck battles, especially given his stature. This allows him to be effective in all 3 zones without the puck. He has good enough defensive skills to be trusted by Coach Tippett at even strength and on the penalty kill. Finally, despite his defensive zone starts being at %75 early in the season, his line has performed well. Ultimately, in such a loaded top 6, Yamamoto will likely have the lowest point total of the group, but by no means does that indicate poor play on his part. He may never approach a point a game like he did in 19-20, or sport the ridiculously high shooting percentage (%25!) that got him there, but we shouldn’t be too concerned with his pointless 5 game stretch to open this season. Fellow Oilers Rig writer Reed Watts wrote a great piece projecting potential frameworks for both Yamamoto and Puljujarvi’s next contracts you can read here, where it was predicted that Yamamoto would grab 40 points this season, which is a very reasonable projection IMO (I think it was a bit conservative about Jesse though ;p but hey, that might have been most of us as well).
- Upcoming week. The Oilers play twice this week, hosting the Flyers on Wednesday and taking on the Canucks in Vancouver on Saturday. Both opponents have winning records as it stands today, but we should still be hoping to manage 3/4 possible points despite the Smith injury.