When the Oilers got their hands on RNH it was pretty clear
after his first season that the team had found a keeper. He’s defensively
responsible, elusive, extremely quick and agile on his skates, and he has top
drawer vision. The Oilers had found their 1C for the foreseeable future. None
of that has changed, but now they’ve added phenom Connor McDavid to the roster
and suddenly the Oilers have a 1-2 punch down the middle they’ve lacked for a
very long time.
We all know the famous centre duo the Oilers terrorized NHL
clubs with during the 1980’s. Gretzky and Messier rank one and two on the NHL’s all-time scoring list. As an aside, it still blows my mind that Gretzky is almost
1000 points better than Messier with five fewer seasons played. At any rate,
there was probably never a more dynamic one-two punch in the history of the league,
and I don’t care about those Habs teams from the 50’s. Sorry, Henri Richard.
The Oilers (and the world) were treated to nine seasons of Mess
and Gretz down the middle, on the same team, and I think we can all agree that the
results were legendary. Their last season they played together as Oilers was in 1987-1988
and I was five years old that summer. For a lot of Oiler fans we’ve been taught
about the Gretzky years more so than actually experiencing them. Parts of
my brain just don’t comprehend seeing the numbers from that final season:
Wayne Gretzky 64GP, 40-109-149
Mark Messier 77GP, 37-74-111
Yes I know Messier started as a winger and transitioned to
the middle, but nine years of being able to throw one over the boards right after
the other came off is incredible. It marks both the high point in skill for
top two centremen but also the longest run the team ever had with a quality duo.
It will be nigh impossible to ever match what the Oilers had during the golden
After Mark Messier was traded, and the New York Rangers basically
became Oilers East, things were pretty low in Edmonton. However, for a short while it looked
like the Oilers had found two solid centremen once again. When the Oilers traded Esa Tikkanen in March 1993 and got Doug Weight back in return they found their
future Captain and the last ever Oiler to score 100 points in a season. Then, in the 1993 Entry Draft,
the club selected big Jason Arnott seventh overall. That should have set
the team up pretty well for a long time.
In their first two years together Weight and Arnott finished atop Oilers
scoring. Doug Weight was a playmaker, never scoring more than 26 goals in a
season. Jason Arnott was just a kid when he was an Oiler but he never would
score more than the 33 goals he potted in his rookie season. Arnott would
continue to do fairly well offensively as an Oiler but his struggles were
obvious. He was inconsistent and had off-ice issues. If you aren’t sure what
kind of issues check out this Globe and Mail piece that does a nice job of
twisting one in his back while simultaneously praising him for growing up with the Devils.
The best season with them as the one two punch was likely
Doug Weight 82GP, 25-79-104
Jason Arnott 64GP, 28-31-59
Arnott was traded for Bill Guerin who lasted a relatively
short time with the club before he was eventually turned into Anson Carter. The
Oilers gained some useful wingers, Guerin was tough as nails and had a nose for
the net, but the Devils would win the 2000 Stanley Cup off a Jason Arnott goal. The Devils got the better end of the deal in the long run. Weight remained longer
with the Oilers until money became an issue, and was then moved to St Louis for Marty
Reasoner and Jochen Hecht. Cruelly, Doug Weight would later be a part of the 2005-2006 Hurricanes
that defeated the Oilers in the Stanley Cup Final – just in case you forgot that part.
The 2000s is where things get pretty sad. I’m sorry for all the
Todd Marchant and Mike Comrie fans out there but the 2000’s were largely poor
from the perspective of one-two punches down the middle. The team felt like it
was in constant flux. Marchant’s stone hands made him infuriating to watch and
when he was going others weren’t. Comrie was ran out of town like Arnott before
him and everyone else with a lick of talent before that.
I struggle to even title this section “The 2000’s” because
in reality it should just be “2005-2006”. That is the one, and only, time in
that decade that the Oilers had two centermen at the tops of their game at the
same time. It was Shawn Horcoff playing in the prime of his career and Jarret
Stoll having the best season imaginable for him. In later years, Gagner looked like
he should have done more, Horc’s offense would wither, but 2005-2006 was a
great year for Edmonton’s top two centermen.
Shawn Horcoff 79GP, 22-51-73
Jarret Stoll 82GP, 22-46-68
Chris Pronger was making outlet passes look easy and the new
rules after the lockout were being enforced. Horcoff and Stoll were 52.7% and 56.8%
in the faceoff dot and they were helping the team fill the back of the net. We
know how the season unfolded. It was the last time the Oilers made the playoffs.
Stoll never again broke the 50 point barrier and has been a
3/4C for the past four seasons. He won Cups in LA but as a role player. His
off-ice issues, which were well known from his time in Edmonton, might be what
we remember the most about him when his career is over. Especially with his
recent run-in with the law.
Horcoff was a solid Captain for the Oilers but a shoulder
injury deteriorated his effectiveness. While he remained defensively solid for
the team he couldn’t produce enough offensively to be worth his paycheck. As it
turned out his contract never caused cap trouble (like say Nikita Nikitin) but
he has continued to decline. He was eventually moved to Dallas for very little
in return save for the cap space.
We haven’t even seen the Oilers ice their only real double
threat down the middle in this decade. We are waiting, just another few weeks,
until the Oilers can ice Connor McDavid and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins back to back.
We can only speak about potential, and there’s a lot to go around.
RNH is up to 195 pounds and should be ready to enter the
prime of his career. He’s already been the team’s MVP as recent as last year.
With an improved power play from new coach Todd McLellan and just a little less pressure to be
the playmaker and the defensive stalwart Nuge is set to have stellar season.
Connor McDavid is indescribably talented. I’ve never in my life
seen someone with his combination of speed, intelligence, vision,
stick-handling, and shooting ability. Never.
He has ripped the OHL apart since he was 15 years old and
stands to be an Oiler for a long time. I have never been more excited to start
an Oiler season than I am this one coming. With Eberle, Hall, Pouliot, and
Yakupov as the four wingers to split between these two centers, the potential to
explode offensively should be there every night.
The Oilers have a one and two centremen that rival anything they’ve
had in at least 20 years. Premature as that may seem, I think it’s the truth
and I’m ready to proclaim it now.