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Oilers defencemen with the bottom six forwards

Evan Bouchard is the goods.

Edmonton Oilers v Winnipeg Jets Photo by Jonathan Kozub/NHLI via Getty Images

Can’t help but be astonished by how, once again, the Oilers are getting mediocre results at even-strength (5v5) largely due to their third and fourth line forwards.

After 17 games, the Oilers have a -2 goal differential at 5v5, a goal-share of 48.68% that has them 19th in the league and only ahead of San Jose, Seattle and Arizona in the Pacific division. With their top six on the ice (which would include at least one of McDavid, Draisaitl, Nugent-Hopkins, Puljujarvi), the Oilers have outscored opponents 29-19 (+10) – a goal-share of 60.42%. Without one of those four on the ice, which is about 34.3% of the team’s total playing time, the Oilers have been outscored 8-20 (-12) – a goal-share of 28.57%.

Oilers (5v5) Top Six Bottom Six
Corsi For% 52.44 49.04
Fenwick For% 50.72 48.05
xGoals For% 52.34 43.81
Goals For% 60.42 28.57
Shooting% 9.91 6.10
Save% 93.46 86.95
PDO 103.30 93.10

No question the Oilers bottom six is being cratered by some pretty shoddy goaltending, with club posting a team save percentage of 86.95% with them on the ice. But it’d help if the Oilers third and fourth lines weren’t playing so often without the puck and in their own end and not having enough shooting talent to help make up for the team’s goaltending deficiencies – which ranks 25th in the league with a 91.37 even-strength (5v5) save percentage.

Rather than again pointing to the poor job the Oilers have done at identifying professional-level talent and constructing the bottom end of their roster, I thought it’d be worth looking into how each of the Oilers defencemen have done at even-strength (5v5) with the top six forwards and with the bottom six forwards. Knowing the significant impact McDavid and Draisaitl have had on the team’s overall results, it’s good to know which defencemen are posting positive numbers away form the star players and bringing value to the team.

Included in the tables below are each defencemen’s individual proportion of ice-time with the two groups of forwards along with the team’s 5v5 shot-share metrics like Corsi, Fenwick and Expected Goals with them on the ice.

A few things jump out when seeing the defencemen’s on-ice numbers split this way.

  • While it’s not surprising to see every defencemen have great results playing with the top six, it’s wild that when Barrie has been on the ice, the top six forwards see a drop in their shot-share metrics, getting out-shot and out-chanced when he’s on the ice with them. Barrie’s posting similar numbers with the bottom six and getting terrible results – so that might be the reason why the coaching staff continues to give him lots of ice time with the top lines who have the talent to overcome his deficiencies.
  • Nurse is definitely seeing a higher proportion of his ice time (76.45%) with the top six forwards compared to the other defencemen, posting great shot-share numbers with them and getting excellent results. Prior to his injury, I did wonder if he should get a higher proportion of his ice time with the bottom six forwards as the group does somewhat better with him on the ice with them – posting a Corsi For% and Fenwick For% over 48.0%. Considering how much the Oilers are paying him, you would have hoped the numbers away from the star players would have been better.
  • The one player that really stands out is Evan Bouchard. The bottom six forwards do significantly better with him on the ice with them, posting a Corsi For% and Fenwick For% above 57.0%. He really should be getting more ice-time as the team has a better chance of outscoring opponents when he’s on the ice.
  • Ceci and Keith have been pretty bad playing with the bottom six, posting poor shot-share metrics and getting terrible results. Considering the cost of acquiring the two and Holland’s expectations of them to take on meaningful roles, it’s pretty disappointing to see that they’re so dependent on the top lines.
  • Something worth monitoring is the play of rookie defenceman Philip Broberg and how he fares with the top six forwards and the bottom six. Obviously a lot of pressure on the player to secure a role on the team, but if he can be an even-strength play driver soon, it would solve a lot of the Oilers long-term cap issues.

As much as we want to point to the bottom six forwards and the lack of scoring depth, I think it’s important to add a critical lens to the blueline that Holland has put together. All four of the professional players that Holland signed or acquired this off-season – Barrie, Keith, Ceci, Koekkoek – aren’t strong play drivers and are part of the depth scoring issues for the team. Considering that all of them are on multi-year deals, it’s critical that the Oilers get contributions from their defensive prospects as soon as possible – especially if they want to improve their even-strength (5v5) goal-differential.

Data: Natural Stat Trick