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The Driver

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The Oilers are in need of secondary offence. And it's likely going to be the guy on a $1.5 million contract.

Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

Twenty games into the season, it's fairly obvious that Connor McDavid will be the Oilers prime driver for offence. Using his speed and skill to make quick plays in all three zones, McDavid can generate shots and scoring chances pretty much on his own. What the Oilers appear to be lacking now is consistent secondary offence, and at least one other offensive driver that can do some damage when McDavid is on the bench.

Last season, this role was held by Taylor Hall, who went on to score 65 points , and consistently enhanced the play of his linemates, including Leon Draisaitl. When Hall was on the ice at 5v5, the team got 51% of all of the goals the Oilers and the opponents scored. The vast majority of his teammates last season were below 50%. Losing a driver like Hall meant the Oilers were going to need to  acquire help or hope that one of the young forwards like Draisaitl or Puljujarvi would develop into the role.

On the first day of free agency, the Oilers signed forward Milan Lucic, who does have good underlying numbers, and has a history of contributing to his team's offence. Last season in Los Angeles, the team had a 61% share of the total goals scored at 5v5 when he was on the ice. In Boston the year prior, the team had a 57% share. He doesn't have the speed and playmaking ability of Hall, and benefited from having some elite level linemates in the past. But nonetheless, his previous teams scored at a good rate when he was on the ice.

Unfortunately, what Lucic has produced for the Oilers isn't close to what he's done in the past. After 20 games, Lucic has two goals and two assists at 5v5, 0.83 points per hour that ranks him last among the 13 forwards who have played at least 100 minutes this season for the Oilers. The team's share of the total goals at 5v5 when he's on the ice is below 50%, which is troubling considering he has played a lot with McDavid and Eberle on the top line.

Player Name GP Points CF% Points/60 GF% Sh% Sv% PDO
MCDAVID, CONNOR 20 16 55.10 2.95 62.10 9.94 92.95 102.90
PITLICK, TYLER 20 7 43.50 2.22 47.60 13.33 86.59 99.90
SLEPYSHEV, ANTON 10 4 53.40 2.13 100.00 9.09 100.00 109.10
EBERLE, JORDAN 20 9 53.80 1.87 45.80 6.55 91.61 98.20
DRAISAITL, LEON 20 8 50.20 1.82 45.50 7.69 91.55 99.20
MAROON, PATRICK 20 8 55.50 1.77 61.10 7.05 94.78 101.80
PULJUJARVI, JESSE 16 5 54.90 1.72 70.00 8.43 96.25 104.70
LETESTU, MARK 18 4 41.40 1.55 37.50 9.09 89.01 98.10
LANDER, ANTON 16 3 45.20 1.47 62.50 9.09 94.34 103.40
NUGENT-HOPKINS, RYAN 20 6 51.80 1.38 46.20 4.29 94.31 98.60
KASSIAN, ZACK 17 4 49.90 1.28 55.60 9.35 91.30 100.70
POULIOT, BENOIT 18 4 51.00 1.11 50.00 6.25 93.20 99.50
LUCIC, MILAN 20 4 53.70 0.83 47.80 7.24 91.24 98.50

After 20 games, it appears that the driver of the offence outside of McDavid has been 28 year old winger Patrick Maroon, who was acquired by the OIlers from Anaheim at the 2016 trade deadline. Maroon is currently tied for the team lead in goals and sits 6th on the team with 1.77 points per hour. When he's on the ice at 5v5, the Oilers get a much higher share of the total shot attempts (55.5%) taken by his team and the opponents, +5.3% relative to his teammates. And this has been done playing 125 minutes with Draisaitl, 114 minutes with McDavid, and 36 minutes with RNH. Each of the three centers has done better when it comes to the total share of shot attempts with him than without him.

It should come as no surprise that McDavid can do well without Maroon. And it's encouraging that RNH, despite playing the opponent's top lines on a regular basis, is posting a decent Corsi For%. What's troubling here is that Draisaitl's number falls below 50% when he's away from Maroon, which indicates that keeping them together would be the ideal scenario for the team. There were suspicions that Draisaitl would struggle without an offensive catalyst like Hall on his wing, and it appears after 20 games that this might be the case.

If also appears that Lucic is not only struggling when it comes to point production, but he's also having far less of an impact on the centers he's played with. This season at 5v5, he has spent 173 minutes with McDavid, 71 minutes with Draisaitl and 36 minutes with RNH.

What we see here is that McDavid and RNH do slightly better when it comes to the team's share of the total shot attempts when they're away from Lucic. That's probably not what the Oilers were expecting when they signed him to a heavy contract this past off-season, so he'll need to improve his play over the next 62 games. What's also interesting here is that Draisaitl, who often plays the opponents depth players, does slightly better with Lucic, so it wouldn't be a bad idea to keep them together as the young pivot needs a strong winger to carry the offence.

While it's encouraging to see Maroon who was acquired for so little be one of the key drivers on offence, it's also disappointing to see how poorly Lucic has produced in comparison. Considering his experience and past production, and the fact that he's been McDavid's second-most common linemate, the Oilers should expect a lot more from Lucic going forward. Lucic's point production should gradually improve as his overall possession numbers are good (+2.98 CF% relative to teammates), and his on-ice shooting percentage and on-ice save percentage is slightly lower than the team average. In the meantime, they can play Maroon pretty much anywhere in the lineup, and can expect good things to happen.

Data source(s): Hockey Analysis