There’s plenty of good news to go around in this young season.
- Connor McDavid has blown the doors off, again.
- Leon Draisaitl looks great too.
- James Neal has had a killer start to the season.
- The goaltenders have played well, for the most part
- Ethan Bear sure looks like an NHL regular.
I’m forgetting quite a lot there, but there’s been plenty to cheer so far in this young season. The Oilers have a staggeringly nice 7-2-1 record to go with it. All looks pretty good so far, yeah?
As long as Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl are on the ice for 25 or 26 minutes a night , the goaltenders keep putting up a .930 every night and James Neal keeps scoring on 30% of his shots, the Oilers are going to do just fine. The problem with all of this is that we know that all of this isn’t going to continue at the rate it has. As we’ve seen, McDavid and Draisaitl aren’t going to combine for 5 points a piece every night, and it’s foolish to think they will.
The Oilers are going to need to get some help from players that are outside of the top six. So far, they haven’t gotten it yet. Let’s have a quick look at some numbers.
Who’s driving the bus up front? The obvious candidates, with a surprise or two mixed in.
- Connor McDavid (5-12-17)
- Leon Draisaitl (6-10-16)
- James Neal (9-1-10, probably the most surprising of the bunch so far)
- Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (1-5-6)
- Zack Kassian (3-3-6).
Those are five of your forwards who are doing 95% of the heavy lifting. You’d expect the top players to do most of the heavy lifting, but they’re...really lifting. As much as you’d love for five players to score almost every goal possible, it’s not probable and it’s not practical. There are seven other forwards who are going to be asked to contribute in some manner, and it’s been sort of dry so far.
As impressive as the top five forwards have been, it’s been a dry one for the rest. Have a look. (Asterisk indicates player has been optioned to Bakersfield.)
- Josh Archibald (7 GP, 0-0-0)
- Jujhar Khaira (10 GP, 0-0-0)
- Riley Sheahan (8 GP, 0-0-0)
- Markus Granlund (9 GP, 0-0-0)
- Alex Chiasson (7GP, 0-1-1)
- Gaetan Haas* (5 GP, 0-1-1)
- Patrick Russell (7GP, 0-0-0)
- Joakim Nygard (6 GP, 1-0-1)
- Tomas Jurco (9 GP, 0-2-2)
That’s nine players with a total of five points between them. In case you’re keeping score at home, that’s...not too impressive. The Oilers aren’t getting much out of any of these players right now. When the big five aren’t putting up numbers on the board, the Oilers are depending on someone from the bottom six to step up from time to time.
I don’t think anyone is surprised by this, really. Most of these players (save for Alex Chiasson and his 22 goals in 2018-19) average near 20 points a season. So in retrospect, having two points in 10 games isn’t all that surprising. It’s not good, and it’s not surprising. Prior to this season, when did Tomas Jurco last play in an NHL game? (It was April 2018.)
WHAT’S THE POINT?
10 games isn’t an awfully big sample size to formulate strong opinions. Fortunately, we have the ability to look back at these players’ histories. With this, we can make some pretty strong conclusions. None of these players (save perhaps for Chiasson, who had an outlier season last year) can be relied upon to score with any level of regularity at the NHL level.
Before the Oilers start swinging out draft picks and futures in order to shore up a bad bottom six, they’ve got to test out some in-house fixes. Sam Gagner has been recalled and hasn’t played yet this season. Getting him in the lineup should be a no-brainer, even though he picked up just 10 points in 25 games (5-5-10) since being re-acquired in a trade last season.
CALL THEM UP
Maybe it’s time for the Oilers to give Tyler Benson a call. Benson has averaged a point per game with Bakersfield (5 GP, 0-5-5). Both Benson and Kailer Yamamoto (5 GP, 4-1-5) could be called up to see if they can provide some points on a listless third line. Both players are on their entry level contracts, and we may see both sooner than later. The Oilers may be forced to ship one of the zero point scorers to the minors as a result of this. I don’t think I’m too worried about losing Patrick Russell at this point.
If the Oilers want to acquire some bottom six players, it shouldn’t cost much and it shouldn’t be on a contract that goes past this season. The Islanders are trying to work out a deal for Josh Ho-Sang. (Side note: the Oilers, or any other club could have had this player for free when he was waived prior to the start of the season.) There’s plenty of talk that Ho-Sang wouldn’t be a fit in Edmonton. Even less of a fit? Ten game pointless streaks. I know, it comes as some surprise. So while I’m not sure that Ho-Sang could plug-and-play, something’s got to be done if the current crop of bottom sixers aren’t putting the puck in the net.
Hey, maybe now is the time to talk to Jesse Puljujarvi's agent. Free from the Lucic line, maybe a line with Tyler Benson could spruce things up around here. It's better than the status-quo.
The Oilers’ bottom two lines are struggling. How the Oilers shore it up remains to be seen, but "do nothing" is probably the worst course of action.