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
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
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.
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
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
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.