Halfway There: What We Know

learned

We are just over the halfway mark of the season. Sunday’s
game was #43 on the year and there has been a lot going on. As Edmonton is under
the watchful eye of a new general manager, a lot of the players have been
auditioning for their jobs. We will know better after the trade deadline which
direction the new management wants to take with the roster. The first half of
the season has only shown Chiarelli part of the picture, but there’s still a lot
about this team we don’t know. This article is about what we know. I’ll follow it
up with another about what we don’t know.

Leon Is Ready For Prime Time

I would say there were likely a lot of people within the
organization who had not given up on the young German centreman. However, after nine points in 37 games then a demotion to the WHL in his rookie season, there were a
lot of questions from pundits outside of Edmonton.

Surely the organization, under its new stewardship, felt like
Draisaitl was at the very least pushed into the NHL before he was ready. It’s
obvious looking back at the beginning of the season that the plan was to put Leon
through the “proper” developmental path. Even after a spectacular pre-season,
Draisaitl was sent to the AHL, but injuries would necessitate his return in
short order.

From that moment on, Leon Draisaitl put rest to the idea that
he wasn’t ready for the NHL. He exploded onto the scene this year showing
instant chemistry with Taylor Hall. Now, 32 games into the season, he is still a
point per game player. And, unlike most young offensive players, he doesn’t generally
struggle with his defensive duties. He’s strong on the puck, has great passing
ability, and he upped his quickness over the summer.

Draisaitl is the NHL leader (min 200 minutes) in 5v5 points
per 60 minutes. He is sixth overall in 5v5 points, and that’s playing
10 fewer games than most of the other leaders. He is 37th in total
NHL scoring. This suggests that if the power play ever actually gets going he
could be even better offensively.

Today there isn’t really any question: Leon Draisaitl is
going to be a top six player for the Oilers for the foreseeable future. His
success allows the franchise a lot of options moving forward. In October he was
an AHL player. Today sending back to the AHL seems inconceivable.

Taylor Hall Is Still Good

To the great shock of every analyst east of Winnipeg, Taylor
Hall is actually really good. I mean…really, really good. I know. It took us
all by surprise.

Actually, my favourite game to play during Oiler broadcasts
is to find all of the ridiculous things the crew says during intermission about
Taylor Hall. The best recent one was when the Sportsnet panel claimed that
Taylor Hall needed to be more consistent offensively to be considered an elite
player.

Quick reminder: Taylor Hall has been in the top ten of NHL
scoring in three of the last four years.

Well, to be fair, there does seem to be something different
about Hall’s game this year, even though it’s not actually the highest point
per game pace he’s had in his career. He seems to have taken a leadership role on the ice
even without having the “C” on his chest.

Of course, Hall has been excellent since he entered the NHL
and last year was the only real down season he’s had on his resume. To borrow from Lowetide,
he’s been pushing the river since he was 18-years old. Hall is good by eye and
by number, but playing on losing teams has always held his reputation back.

Like Draisaitl, Hall is a leader in 5v5 scoring. He is second
only behind Pat Kane by one point (at the time of writing this). Opposing teams
have no choice but to identify him as one of the most dangerous players in the
NHL at even strength.

This is a 24-year old player with 304 points in 341 games
going into Sunday’s action. He’s one of the best left wingers on the planet. He’s
probably only behind Jamie Benn in the conversation of who is the very best LW
in the NHL, and he been for several years. And yet, it’s only now that his name
is being mentioned as a player Canada might want on its National teams.
Madness.

Klefbom Is Not Slowing Down

Oscar Klefbom has done the thing we incessantly say doesn’t happen:
Klefbom continues to develop in a straight line.

This is something that young defensemen just don’t do while
playing in the NHL. Their games have deep valleys and lofty peaks. There’s not
a lot of steady, incremental growth. For a lot of young defenders, they get
thrown into the NHL too quickly and growth all but stops.

Even after missing almost an entire developmental season to
injury in 2012-2013, Klefbom keeps getting better every year.

In the Swedish Elite League he was developing a reputation
as an adept defender, but added no offense to speak of. In 67 career SEL games
over three seasons he had just 3-4-7. I remember seeing him in rookie camp when
he came to North America and seeing raw talent and elite skating, but he wasn’t
polished.

In that first North American season, Klefbom started the year on
the bottom pairing in the AHL. He was playing behind a lot of players who are still in the
minor leagues. It took him several months, but by the end of the season he was
on the top pairing and earned his NHL call-up.

Last year the Oilers started him again in the AHL but told
him they wanted him to focus on his offense. He lasted just nine games with the
Barons in which he put up eight points. He was recalled and finished with 20 points
in 60 games with the big club. He was unquestionably a top four defenseman for the
Oilers as a 21-year old.

This year his progression just kept going. He added even
more offense and he also happens to be the best defenseman on the team. He’s 22-years old,
and has just 117 AHL games and 107 NHL games under his belt, but Oscar Klefbom has already
climbed to the top of the depth chart here. You can even make a compelling
argument that his injury has been at least as impactful as McDavid’s to the
ability of the team to succeed.

Peter Chiarelli signed Klefbom to a seven year deal that doesn’t
even kick in until next season. At this point you have to think this deal looks
like it could be golden for the club. Does he have more levels to reach with
his game? Well he’s gone from SEL stay at home type to AHL third
pairing to AHL top pairing to top four NHL defender to top pairing defender so
quickly that I don’t want to say that he’s reached his apex at 22 years of age.

What we definitely can say about Klefbom is that he just keeps
getting better.

Jultz Is Playing His Way To Free Agency

Even with a goal against the Lightning, Justin Schultz is
woefully off the scoring pace needed to justify his contract.

This summer Chiarelli had the opportunity to play hardball
with Justin Schultz by taking him to arbitration. He did not. No doubt Schultz
still had backers in the organization who believed in him. I mean, MacTavish
and Lowe are still a part of this team and they were the most vocal supporters
of the kid.

Instead of finding a way to not make him one of the highest
paid RFAs in the summer, the team bit the bullet and gave Schultz a one year, $3.9
million dollar deal. The message was obvious. The team was saying “show me” to
the offensive defenseman.

So far, Justin Schultz is having himself a career year, of
sorts — the worst ever year in his career. The 25-year old defenseman is on
pace for just barely double digit points. He has 2-3-5 in 28 games, mostly
played with the top offensive unit and with heavy power play time.

We’ve covered it already, but Schultz has by far the worst
underlying metrics of all the top Oiler options on the man-advantage. Not only
is he not scoring, but he makes it harder for others to score. It’s alarming
for a player with his reputation.

Not that long ago he won the AHL’s award for top defenseman
in only half a season’s work. Now he’s a shadow of the player that entered the
NHL. Is that all on him? Did the Eakins program of excellence really destroy
every last shred of his confidence? Those are the questions I don’t know.

What I do know is that the Oilers cannot afford to keep
Schultz next year in the role and salary he currently occupies if they want to
win games. Either the second half of the year sees a completely different
Justin Schultz or this one wont be here when the new arena opens its doors.

  • hagar

    Ever thought that there is more to being selected for a canada team than just average points in Halls case?

    I wouldn’t call it madness, I would more so venture a guess that his game wasn’t nearly complete enough compared to others available for the team.

    The thing you see different this year about him is his increase in full time effort. He has always been able to use skill to score goals, he just didn’t use to try at the actual game in its entirety until this year.

    Eberle suffers from the same thing that Hall used to… he floats around without a care in the world, then throws some flashes of talent around to produce points.

  • You just got LITT up!

    @ mrbung! Bingo.

    I laugh at oiler fans who claim the oilers suck because mcdavid is hurt. Nevermind the fact that the oilers have 3 other 1st overall picks (yes, I realize Yak is out) and that the oilers also have a #3 and #7 in the lineup. Nope, none of that counts / matters … this year is lost because the newest 1st overall got hurt. Think about it, the oilers are last again … But don’t trade nuge for a dman, we’re playing so well with him. Classic oilers

  • You just got LITT up!

    How about:

    Sekera (5.5) / Byfuglien (7)

    Klefbom (4.1) / Hamonic (3.9)

    Nurse (1) / Davidson (1)

    Gryba (1)

    Reason why I chose Byfuglien instead of Shattenkirk is because Byfuglien provides physicality, positioning, toughness, and a hard shot that we sorely lack. Yes Shattenkirk can put up 55 points but Byfuglien brings the hurt and can still skate averagely.

    Just think about that Top 6 for a second. nurse would get the proper ice time he needs to develop properly. His underlying numbers are going down because he is being used too much too early. Give him time to get sheltered and bring in guys who can hold the fort down.

    • a lg dubl dubl

      My only problem with Byfuglien is the term he wants, a guy like him at his age might give you 4 more good years on a 7 year deal. If he can be solid in his zone at 35- end of contract then I wouldn’t have any real issue.

  • ThinkingOutLoud

    It will be difficult to trade and get anything for Eberle due to his cap hit and length of contract.

    There are 11 wingers who make 6m or more –

    9 Good ones – Kane, Ove, Perry, Nash, Parise, Tarasenko, Zetterberg, Ryan, Saad

    2 bad ones – Kessel, Vanek,

    • Since your name is total points, you should go look at Eberle’s total points vs those mentioned. Saad is not even in the same conversation as Eberle. Parise is about on pace as Eberle. Nash’s best year is still not as high as Eb’s best.

      So while I agree these are all great wingers, I don’t think given the comparable point totals that Eberle’s 6 mill is unreasonable.

      • Jay (not J)

        Nash doesn’t have shifts on the ice where he can be out there for 30 seconds or more without his name getting mentioned. The same with Parise. These guys are hockey players in both ends of the ice and they have an impact on every game that they play. The previous poster’s name notwithstanding, the majority of these other 6+ million dollar wingers provide more for their teams than total points. Eberle not so much.

      • a lg dubl dubl

        There is certainly more to the value of a player than points.

        Many coaches including Todd M say that when a player is not producing points (most players are streaky and Eberle certainly is) he must contribute in other ways, like checking. when Eberle is not producing he is not a positive for the team.

        This year when Hall is not producing he is still driving the play, big difference in value of the player to the team.

        Toews points are not great this year but he is still valuable to the team when not producing points.

      • Chainsawz

        The thing about trading players is their contract. Part of the interest in Hamonic is his $AAV and term.

        Compare Eberle to Hall. They make the same salary, but Hall has taken a leap, and is now among the NHL scoring leaders. Hall is now a value contract. I won’t say that Eberle is over-paid, but he has not developed into a top-4 winger like Hall has.

        If you look at Eberle’s scoring from a ppg perspective, he had an amazing second season – 0.97 ppg. He’s had another season above 0.80 ppg. But if you look at Eberle’s point totals they have been steadily declining.

        If you compare him to Saad, Eberle’s regular season scoring has been higher, but Saad has had 16 points in 19 games in a playoff run. Saad’s production is also trending up.

        • Interesting you compare him to Hall as I’m pretty sure Eberle has more overall points than Hall and they started in the NHL in the same year. And yet you do not consider Eberle to be a top winger.

          While I agree their ppg totals are not the same, overall points mean something to GM’s as does Eberle’s ability to stay healthy. You can be the best player in the world but if you can’t actually play you’re worthless.

          Again, not disagreeing Hall is better than Eberle, and because they get paid the same you could say Eberle is overpaid. But, you comment was about those people on the list who make more than Eberle. And in that list I think it shows Eberle is paid relative to his production.

          While guys like Hall and Hamonic are on insane value deals.

          6 mill for a roughly 60 point player in today’s NHL I would say is fair value. It’s not the craziest dirt cheap contract, and it’s not the most bloated overpaid one either.

          • S cottV

            The trouble with Eberle – is too much leakage into the wrong net, somewhat reflected in plus – minus, possession and corsi stats.

            If you got his points production, with above average contribution to the puck staying out of the wrong net – you could argue reasonable value.

            Unfortunately – he delivers below average contribution to the puck staying out of the wrong net.

          • O.C.

            According to NHL.com, they have exactly the same points.

            Eberle – 302 points in 386 games (0.78 ppg)
            Hall – 302 points in 342 games (0.88 ppg)

            Hall also has the higher single season point total. This season, Hall is 6th in scoring, 4th in game-winners, 2nd in shots. He is trending up.

            Eberle peaked in his second season and his numbers are trending down. This will be his worst season since he was a rookie, unless he goes through a McDavid explosion.

            I’d have no problem seeing him traded for defensive help.

  • Can’t wait for your next article: There are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns – the ones we don’t know we don’t know.

    I mean, who knew Donald Rumsfeld was a hockey fan!

  • a lg dubl dubl

    Compete Level. I use compete level. Calgary has a good compete level. Edmonton doesn’t.

    It’s effort and doing all the little things you can to help your team and make it difficult for the other team. On a consistent basis.

    Hendricks has it (lacks talent but still manages to contribute). From what I’ve seen of McDavid, he has it. Hall is getting it. Drai and Nurse are up there. Schultz doesn’t. Eberle doesn’t. Sekera and RNH are hard to figure. Sekera has been pushing it the past few games. RNH, something is missing this year. I don’t know what it is. It’s like he’s playing hurt. (and I’m an RNH fan. Don’t trade him.)

  • S cottV

    In large part – the pp is lacking up top, in both d point positions.

    The lack of a serious threat from a LH d playing on the right and a RH d playing on the left – is allowing pk defenders to overplay vs Oiler forwards operating low in the o zone.

    If the pp unit is dangerous both low and high formations, it spreads out the pk alignment, opening up more scoring opportunities from either alignment.

    Oilers have 3 left hand centremen – who can work from the right side half wall. Hopkins, Drai and McD would be primary QB’s and all 3 can and or will be very capable in that role. From the right side – they can pass, walk and shoot off their forehand side.

    If the puck goes from the half boards – up the wall to the LH d – it is easy to lead him into the middle, where this player needs to be able direct or QB the attack from an umbrella formation. We don’t really have this top end LH d man who can QB from the umbrella – kind of guy. Sekera? 2nd unit kind of guy. Nurse / Davidson? future potentials but are rookies. Hunt? AHL’r. This is a scary position, because you handle the puck at the top, without support if you screw up. On the flip side – with the right guy, you can pull and stretch pk alignments to pieces.

    To make matters worse – all we got is Schultz – as a RH d playing on the left side. From an umbrella formation, the primary role of this guy should be one timer rocket of a slapper. A guy who can slide toward and away from the LH d man at the top of the umbrella and still hammer it through a shooting lane.

    If you are designing pk strategy vs the Oilers, at this point – you don’t respect the threat level from the top. You give up way more time and space to the weak links and double down harder where the greater threat exists.

    I think – one of the major reasons the pp is not working.

  • S cottV

    Hey Matt.

    How are Schultz’s numbers 5×5?

    I agree he is going to be a free agent and is due for a big pay cut but to my eye, this is not his worst season ever. Maybe his worst season for getting points but he’s doing much better is his own zone. Yes, the bar was pretty low but he’s much better than the past couple seasons. Particularly before he got hurt.

    With regards to contributing points on the pwoer play, overall the Oiler’s man-advantage stats are pretty dismal.

  • S cottV

    Keep Sekera, Nurse, Klef, Hall, Dr. Drai and McDavid. The rest are trade bait. This is no longer about tweeking. Sure we have had a lot of injuries but we all focus on when McDavid comes back to help us get back some wins. Our “turnaround” hinges on an 18 year old. Really?

    Just think if he was an OK #1 pick. What would we be looking to then. Time for major change!

  • .

    Ebs is one heckuva player. Can make moves in tight spaces, make NHL calibre dmen look like pylons. I just wish he would fire the puck more. Seen him dangle to get into prime scoring position only to try one more dangle and wind up with a lesser opportunity or losing the puck. Other teams would kill to have Ebs skill level. Think 90’s Oilers playing all those series against Hitchcock’s tight checking Dallas defences. It was tough creating scoring chances. You run into a lot if elite defensive clubs in the playoffs. Ebs might be the right guy for the right club…like St Louis.

    • Chainsawz

      Ebs really speaks as to why the Oil struggle and struggle. He has world class skills, anyone who can’t see that isn’t watching or is just being difficult. But his weaknesses are similar to the weakeness of the Oil as a team and they can be debilitating at times. Put him on a large physical team, like the Blues or Kings and his weaknesses would hardly be noticed. The Oil must shake up the team and people should accept the fact that their favorite player (as long as he isn’t McD) might have to go

  • Chainsawz

    never said Ebs wasnt a good player and not worth the money what i said was not enough size up front we need 2 or 3more players for net presence and able to break the cycle remember the Anahiem 1-0 it was like keepaway the whole game

  • Chainsawz

    You can make all the excuses you want, but the power play structure is on the McLellan . He brings this Woodcroft guy [ who looks like Schultz’s brother ] was suppose to be the king guru of “power play”.

    Don’t see anything special from him, in fact
    he sounds and looks the dummy that he is.

    With all the high end players and we can’t score or barely get a shot on a 4 min. power play.

    Fire Woodcroft today.

  • S cottV

    I’d compare Hall’s situation to Yzerman when he was mentored by Bowman. Y had no problem scoring, but never played a proper two way game and never became a leader until Bowman completely changed his game (in where he went 30 games with only one goal, in a season after getting 100+ points).

    Hall and Drai are being scouted so I’m sure other teams are figuring out how to shut them down.

    Eberle played a shifty game before he put on weight. Gaudereau is playing Eberle style hockey and his management is not telling him to put on weight, because they surround him with some size. He “peaked” because he changed his size…He needs to lose that weight.

    Ultimately the biggest problem with the Oilers is that they’re too “talented” to play a simple style of hockey that generates chances and goals.

    Instead of putting a shot on the outside pad along the ice for a juicy rebound, they’ll try to snipe the corner.

    It’s why the PP is struggling. They’d rather pass it into the net.

    These young players are great, but they could be doing much better. Their skills don’t just apply to backdoor passes and one timers, or bar down snipes…Their skill would equally apply to picking up a loose rebound in the crease, going forehand to backhand, and lifting it above the pad. But for that to happen, you need a low shot (not a missed shot going high blocker side), and a guy in front of the net. We never see either.

    In a nutshell: lets see some simple hockey for once.

    I honestly feel these guys play too NHL 16. They’re so talented, so good, IMO some of the best athletes in the NHL…But need to diversify their game so they can play an effective simple style to have even more success.