The Oilers are alone in 30th place with 20 games remaining. It has been another disastrous season. They are five points out of 28th place and six behind 27th and 26th. They are skating towards their sixth finish of 28th place or worse in the the previous seven years.
There is no joy in Oilerville.
Connor McDavid’s presence in the lineup is the only thing keeping many Oilers fans interested, but during this 10th consecutive season of darkness there has been another shining light.
Davidson was drafted in the sixth round, 162nd overall, in 2010. He played two more years with the Regina Pats in the Western Hockey League before turning pro in the fall of 2012. Two months into his pro career he was diagnosed with testicular cancer. He beat it, returned to the ice in February 2013 and finished the season strong playing 17 playoff games in the American League.
He continued quietly developing in the AHL over the next two seasons, before playing 12 NHL games with the Oilers last season.
Six months ago no one had him in the Oilers top-six. He only dressed once in their first eight games, but when he returned to the lineup in the Oilers ninth game on October 25th, he was determined to make an impact, and he’s done so ever since.
Davidson has become the Oilers most consistent defender. He isn’t flashy, but you rarely see him associated with a major giveaway and he looks more and more poised.
How did this happen?
“More experience, with every game moving forward I’m starting to feel more comfortable,” he said.
“I believe I’ve found my comfort zone now, and now I want to push the limits and see how far we can take this thing. There is no end point right now. I keep getting better. I want to keep getting better. The effort is there and I’m just trying to do my job and make sure I take care of all the things I can to make sure I put myself in good positions,” he said with quiet, but secure confidence.
While many Oilers have struggled, Davidson has managed to avoid a slump, and in fact his play has improved throughout the season. As we talked in the Oilers dressing room prior to this short two-game road trip, it was obvious Davidson was frustrated with the losing, but it hasn’t infected his confidence. He was satisfied with his progress and believes there is one area he can improve.
He wants to start producing more offensively.
“That is the next move. Defensively I have made ground. I feel good, I feel comfortable and now it is time to go to the other end of the ice. I was offensive in junior and it (producing offence) is something I’ve always thought about, even in the minors, and trying to get back to that. It is in my game for sure, it is about how quickly I can find it,” Davidson said.
How do you get offence back in your game?
“It is a mindset. My job is to play defence first and keep the puck out of the net. That is first and foremost and offence is a bonus, but I can see there is more there. At times I hold back, and maybe I need to jump up in the play a bit more and get shots through and on the net. I can definitely see it and I know what Jimmy (coach Johnson) is talking about and that is something I’m working on.”
In his final two seasons of junior Davidson tallied 101 points in 141 games. He knows how to move the puck, but he’s spent the last four season focusing on his defensive play. It has paid off, as Davidson rarely commits egregious errors or makes the wrong read in his own end.
Now he wants to make better reads in the offensive zone and use his dangerous shot more often.
“I have to make sure I am getting myself open. I haven’t been able to use it (shot) for a long time. I’d like to use it every single game, multiple times. I feel good, I feel confident with it, but I just need to get the puck a few more times and I think that is me opening up and getting in a better spot so I can take those shots,” explained Davidson.
Davidson’s emergence as a solid top-four defender — he’s played 19+ minutes in 24 of his last 34 games — is more impressive when you consider his team sits dead last in the NHL. The losing hasn’t beat him down, it hasn’t zapped his confidence and he believes his years in the AHL have prepared him mentally and physically for the NHL.
“The grind of it all. There is a big exhaustion level I learned while playing in the minors,” explained Davidson. “How to manage that, how to recover and how to make sure my head is in it every single game. That was huge. I don’t think I would be able to perfrom the way I am without that development. The big part was learning how to manage the exhaustion and manage the mental toughness side of it,” Davidson said.
Davidson’s road to the NHL wasn’t easy. While learning the pro game he had to defeat cancer, and he believes that made him mentally stronger. When he was going through his treatment and couldn’t play the game he loved it fueled his desire to return to the ice and make the most of his opportunities.
He has exceeded everyone’s expectations but his own, and as the Oilers wrap up another disappointing season, Davidson continues to improve and impress. Hopefully his confidence and determination rubs off on some of his teammates moving forward.
Anders Nilsson might get his first start since allowing three goals on ten shots in 11:24 on February 7th versus the Islanders. He has allowed 29 goals on his last 184 shots (.842sv%) and it earned him a stint in the AHL. He had two starts, winning both and posting a 2.01GAA and .935sv%. He will need to be very sharp tonight against the Ducks who are 13-1-1 in their last 15 games.
The Oilers didn’t skate this morning and due to potential trades we won’t know the exact roster until close to game time. This is just a projection.
**Edit. Clearly the Oilers want to win as McLellan has elected to go with Cam Talbot tonight again instead of Nilsson. After a solid performance last night by the players, it seems McLellan doesn’t want to risk Nilsson struggling early and giving the team no chance.***
- Could Davidson become the Oilers Jake Muzzin? Muzzin was a fifth round pick in 2007. He tallied 96 points in 126 games (.76 points per game) in his two years in junior after being drafted, while Davidson, a sixth round pick, produced .72 PPG in his two years post draft.
Muzzin spent three years in the AHL before becoming a regular NHLer in 2012, a similar timeline to Davidson. Muzzin has produced more points in the NHL than he did in the AHL. He’s had the benefit of playing with Drew Doughty for most his career, having played over 2400 minutes beside Doughty, with Alex Martinez next at 680 minutes. Davidson won’t have that luxury, but Davidson is emerging as a solid top-four defender, and as he stated earlier he wants to keep improving and see “how far he can take this.” He has become the late round gem the Oilers have desperately needed.
- McLellan said post game if Purcell and Schultz were available (meaning still not traded) they could draw in. If Purcell plays tonight I’d guess the deal they thought they had fell through. Why else would you rest him and then play him? He hasn’t struggled like Schultz has.
- Kassian adds a different element (physicality) to the Draisailt line, and he has enough skill to keep up with Hall and Draisaitl. It is a nice combo and the Scrivens for Kassian trade looks better by the day. I could see the Oilers signing Kassian to a two-year deal. I doubt they go longer because of the small sample size, but re-signing him to a similar $2 mill/year deal would be good value, especially if he proves he can be effective in your top-six.
- If you need any more proof that one player will not fix the Oilers look no further than the Oilers going 3-8-1 since McDavid returned. He is a dynamic player but he only plays a third of the game. You need a team to win, and one D-man won’t solve all the woes of the Oilers. It will help, but when you look at last night’s roster there are still seven or eight changes that need to be made before they are a competitive team.
WHAT THEY’RE SAYING…
“If the NHL Draft lottery was held today, the Edmonton Oilers would have the best chance (20%) of selecting first overall…again. Hello, Auston Matthews.”
What. The. Hell.
If that doesn’t give you an accurate depiction of the Edmonton Oilers this season, well, then you clearly haven’t been paying attention. Here they are again–bottom of the league, with only the draft to look forward to. Or perhaps the Trade Deadline this coming Monday as well? Rumors have it that Edmonton will be one of the Canadian teams that will make large moves on that day. I mean, at this point, with the exception of Connor McDavid, it seems like anyone on the team can find himself with a new address come Monday, including longtime Oilers Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. This is a sorely lacking of defense and the new OIlers GM Peter Chiarelli is not afraid to pull the moves to right this ship of a disaster.
GAME DAY PREDICTION: Second half of a back-to-back set and they face the red-hot Ducks. Just don’t see a victory. They lose 4-2.
OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: David Perron scores.
NOT-SO-OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: Nurse scores his first goal in 32 games when he jumps up in the rush and slides home his third goal of the season.
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