Leading up to the 2021 NHL Free Agency period, the Edmonton Oilers had one name atop their wish list. The player that Ken Holland and company so desperately wanted to bring on board was Zach Hyman. Well, if his first four months with the club are an indication of what’s to come over the next six plus seasons, the Toronto native looks to be a good bet to live up to the expectations of his hefty contract.
Just like the rest of the team, Hyman has had some ups and downs over the first half of the season but there has been little to complain about with what he has brought on nightly basis. Despite having a pair of lengthy goal-less droughts, (one lasting seven games and the other twelve), the two-time 20-goal man has still been among Edmonton’s best all-round forwards this season.
Be it on one of the top three lines or either special teams, the 29 year-old tends to make an impact every time he hits the ice. Hyman’s worth ethic is second to none and his reputation as a guy who makes his linemates better, be them of an elite skill set or ones that fall into a different category, is well warranted and it’s easy to see why the Maple Leafs wanted to keep him around.
Luckily for the Oilers, in an off-season where their general manager did an extremely poor job of using the cap space he had at his disposal to his advantage, Hyman was the one where he hit the nail on the proverbial head. Yes, his deal is likely a year or two too long but that’s part of the deal when it comes to unrestricted free agency. Credit where credit is due, Holland knocked this one out of the yard.
Even with his aforementioned struggles and an early season shoulder injury, his 14 goals and 27 points are only marginally off the totals Hyman posted over the past two seasons in Toronto (.692 PPG to .750 PPG). If we take the Oilers extended struggles over the past two months and couple it with Dave Tippett’s constant shuffling of lines, the slip in production should come as no real surprise.
With a new head coach now place and Jay Woodcroft intent on changing how the club’s lineup will look and ultimately play, things should start to turn and quickly. In Hyman’s case, he not only found himself back on Edmonton’s top line with Connor McDavid and Jesse Puljujarvi against the New York Islanders, but also scored the game-winner for good measure.
The points and relentless work ethic are of great importance but when it comes to Hyman, the piece that sometimes gets overlooked is how good a teammate he is. To a man, Maple Leafs players loved the guy and were extremely disappointed to see him go. They sang his praises for what he did on the ice but those praises were arguably just as loud for the role he played off it for that group.
Not much has changed with his arrival in Edmonton and he wasted little time in going out of his way to form relationships with some of the team’s younger players, something veterans don’t do nearly as often as they should. We saw it during an early season post-game presser with Puljujarvi and Hyman went out of his way to heap praise onto the talented Finn and it did not go unnoticed.
Confidence is a big thing for any athlete but it’s especially true for younger players. Prior to scoring against the Islanders, Puljujarvi had been in slump to the tune of two assists over his previous 14 games. After giving the Oilers to a two-goal bulge, the excitement on the 23 year-old’s face was outstanding to see but it was shoulder shove and fist bump Hyman gave him on the bench that was extra special.
It was the simplest of gestures but anyone paying attention could tell it was appreciated by Puljujarvi and that’s all that matters. It was a perfectly timed thing to do and one that only is done by someone aware of what’s going on around him. Hyman comes across as a guy who understands what buttons to push with his teammates and it’s probably due to the fact he remembers being that very same guy.
We tend to forget we are talking about a player who was selected in the fifth round of the 2010 NHL Entry Draft by the Florida Panthers. Typically, those aren’t the guys who get a seven-year contract worth $38.5 million. Hyman isn’t a natural goal scorer or overly gifted offensively but he has busted his tail off to reach the level he has. It’s something he doesn’t take for granted and likely never will.