Oilers 2015-16 in Review: The Power Play

Todd McLellan9

The Edmonton Oilers really weren’t that good on the power play in 2015-16. This should not have been a total surprise to fans of the team, as the club has often not been good on the power play in recent years, but the struggles on the man advantage were a sore point all year.

What worked, and what didn’t work, on the man advantage this season?

Team Level

I’ve taken the liberty of dividing the Oilers’ season into four quarters in light of general manager Peter Chiarelli’s arguments Sunday that the club had improved over the course of the year:

  • Games 1-20: 13-for-66, 0 shorthanded goals against (19.7% efficiency/19.7% adj. efficiency)
  • Games 21-41: 7-for-57, 2 shorthanded goals against (12.3% efficiency/8.8% adj. efficiency)
  • Games 42-61: 12-for-57, 2 shorthanded goals against (21.1% efficiency/17.5% adj. efficiency)
  • Games 61-82: 11-for-57, 2 shorthanded goals against (19.3% efficiency/15.8% adj. efficiency)

“Efficiency” is raw effectiveness; adjusted efficiency is the same but docks the team one goal for each shorthanded marker against. Edmonton started the year well, crumpled after losing Connor McDavid and then rallied in the back half of the season.

Over the season as a whole the Oilers ranked 16th in the league by Corsi/hour, 18th by shots/hour and 21st by goals per hour. They were basically average at taking shots, just a touch worse than average at getting them through and just a touch worse than that at scoring on the ones that made it to the goalie.

Individual Players

97-McDavid-8

Player Shoots TOI/GP PTS/60 4YR PTS/60 Tm. S/60 Ind. S/60 Ind. HDC/60
Connor McDavid L 2.9 6.5 6.5 63 8 8
R. Nugent-Hopkins L 2.6 4.7 4.9 53 10 5
Mark Letestu R 2.0 4.1 4.9 55 11 7
Jordan Eberle R 2.6 4.1 4.8 55 14 7
Lauri Korpikoski L 0.8 5.3 4.6 51 11 9
Taylor Hall L 2.9 3.2 4.0 52 13 5
Andrej Sekera L 2.3 4.2 3.6 55 15 0
Nail Yakupov L 1.7 3.5 3.5 40 8 4
Oscar Klefbom L 1.8 3.2 3.5 50 11 1
Benoit Pouliot L 2.3 3.7 3.4 52 13 11
Anton Lander L 0.8 0.0 3.1 47 8 5
Patrick Maroon L 2.9
Leon Draisaitl L 2.6 3.0 2.7 49 7 5
Zack Kassian R 2.1

The chart above shows some selected statistics for individual Oilers. For each player, I’ve shown which way he shoots, how much ice-time he got this year and how many points/hour he scored this year and over the last four years. The last three columns are a little different: team shots per hour with the player on the ice, his total number of shots per hour, and his total number of high-danger scoring chances per hour. A “—” indicates the player didn’t have much opportunity on the power play this year for Edmonton.

Numbers above are via stats.hockey-analysis.com and war-on-ice.com.

I’ll be using that as a reference point, but we’ll look at these players one by one.

28-Korpikoski-4

Let’s start with the five players on this list whose primary role on the power play is in front of the net: Lauri Korpikoski, Benoit Pouliot, Anton Lander, Patrick Maroon and Zack Kassian.

We can dismiss three names off the bat. The coaching staff couldn’t make Lander work offensively at evens or on the power play this year; I doubt we’ll see him again in any kind of offensive role if at all in Edmonton. Anyone who thinks size is all that matters for the role—or even the decisive factor—should look at Maroon and Kassian, who have been sub-Lander on the power play over their respective careers.

Pouliot had a reasonably good year in the role. Net-front guys typically don’t pile up the points compared to other positions and Pouliot had strong scoring totals in the role, particularly for being on the Oilers. Also worth noting: virtually every shot he took met the war-on-ice definition of a “high-danger chance.” In my view he’s a good second unit option and passable on the first unit in this defined role.

I’m going to say a lot of mean things about Korpikoski later in this series, but not here. Of the qualities he brings as an NHL player, his work within 10 feet of the net probably ranks as the No. 1 reason to keep him on a major-league roster, and that’s a skillset which translates well to the powerplay. Five of his six goals in 2014-15 came in just over an hour of work on the man advantage. It’s a shame he wasn’t used more in a power play specialist role in 2015-16. There’s a sample size caveat (he’s generally been a power play part-timer) but the results are impressive.

2-Sekera-1

Neither of Edmonton’s remaining regular power play defencemen—Andrej Sekera and Oscar Klefbom—was anything to write home about. Sekera, to his credit, shoots the puck (nobody on the list put more shots on net, which may help explain why Edmonton wasn’t great at converting shots to goals this year) but his scoring number over the past four seasons is about average for a second unit power play defenceman. Klefbom’s sample isn’t as big, so he might be better, but he comes in at the same range. The conventional view that the Oilers could use an offensive specialist on the blue line fits with the numbers here.

14-Eberle-14

We should also give some consideration to handedness, which matters on the power play. It’s nice to have multiple right-shooting triggermen for a left-shooting playmaker like Connor McDavid or Ryan Nugent-Hopkins; it allows for multiple one-time options. Instead of having two or three righties per passer (a luxury few if any teams have) Edmonton has two for both of its power play units: Jordan Eberle and Mark Letestu.

Letestu is arguably better in the role. Despite being a second unit man this year and for most of his career, he scores at virtually an identical rate to Eberle, and generates the same number of high-danger chances on fewer actual shots. Both players have value on the power play, though, and decent numbers on the year.

29-Draisaitl-4

That leaves a list of five left-handed forwards to round out the power play crew. We’ll take them in reverse order.

Leon Draisaitl was absolutely wretched on the power play this year. He played mostly first unit minutes and when he was out there he didn’t really shoot, didn’t really pick up points and the power play as a whole didn’t get shots either.

Nail Yakupov had better scoring rates but was arguably even worse. He wasn’t a dangerous shooter and the power play as a whole fell to just 40 shots per hour when he was on the ice.

Taylor Hall got a lot of shots away, but didn’t fire too many dangerous ones and had a tough year. He’s historically not an especially good power play scorer in Edmonton, which is probably due to a combination of individual and team faults. Worth noting: He had one goal and three points on the power play over the season’s final 50 games after putting up three goals and eight points in the first 32 contests of the year. That fall-off is beyond the scope of this piece but is probably worth circling back to at some point.

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is a pretty good playmaker and since arriving in Edmonton has been the heart of the Oilers’ power play. He’s a good left-shooting playmaker who has consistently been the team’s most productive scorer on the man advantage. His only problem is that he’s now competing for the same job on the power play as Connor McDavid.

Finally, the best for last. McDavid is a wizard. Don’t believe me? When he’s on the ice, Edmonton’s power play fires 63 shots per hour. When he isn’t on the ice, Edmonton’s power play fires 45 shots per hour. That’s insane. His scoring number is frankly off the charts and virtually every shot he takes meets the war-on-ice definition of high-danger scoring chance.

Key Takeaways

55-Letestu-1

First, a general rule: It’s important to judge players on specific situational contributions, rather than on overall impressions of talent. Some guys score on the power play, other guys score at evens; the skills required are subtly different in each case and being good or bad in one discipline does not necessarily mean being good or bad in the other. In the Oilers case, Hall’s 5-on-5 brilliance doesn’t always translate, while bit players like Korpikoski and Letestu are fully deserving of man advantage minutes.

97-McDavid-5

Finally, some TL;DR specific observations:

  • There is a need for an offensive defenceman at the point, as both Sekera and Klefbom appear better-suited to second-unit work.
  • More right-handed shots would make the job of the coaching staff easier. Letestu has been excellent both this year and over his career and the coaches should absolutely keep using him in the role; Eberle’s good too though perhaps not the ideal triggerman for McDavid.
  • If Korpikoski stays, he should absolutely be used in a net-front role. Pouliot’s good at the job too, while behemoths Maroon and Kassian have historically been poor options.
  • At times, the power play clicked with four left shooters working on one side of the ice and a single right shot as a back door option. Among left-shooting possibilities, Nugent-Hopkins has been good, Hall’s been okay historically but slumped badly over the course of the year, and neither Draisaitl nor Yakupov was at all effective on the man advantage. The latter two either need to be utilized differently or dumped from the unit.
  • McDavid is insanely good at this and elevates the entire unit he plays on. He’s such a difference-maker, in fact, that if he can handle it the coaches should probably run him for a full two minutes whenever possible.
  • I think they needed to break up the traditional ‘first unit’ they were using towards the end of the season. Drai and Hall work decent enough together but not necessarily with McDavid. If you leave McDavid as your playmaker for the first unit PP, you’ve got potential finishers in Eberle and Yak with Maroon as the net front presence and Sekera on the blue line. Then you have a pretty solid second unit set up with Hall-Drai-Nuge as your main offensive options and either Letestu for his face-off skills or Korps for ability in tight. Kassian is a dud and I don’t think he belongs on either unit.
    Of course it’s not really a power play if your point man is no real threat, which imo is the single biggest issue with the Oilers PP and has been during the DOD.

      • Agreed, but with so many offence-first type players I think more experimentation should have been done when they recognized things were going sideways. I suppose that was more the point. In your article you basically state that McDavid keeps the offence humming regardless of linemates and that Hall, Drai and Yak are not particularly well-suited to the PP whereas role players like Letestu and Korpikosi are. The part I don’t get is why break up a line that we know works well together (i.e. Eberle McDavid Maroon) for the sake of loading up your first unit with players who have little ES chemistry. This seemed to be what the coaching staff was doing towards the end of the season.

        EDIT: btw I didn’t thumb down your post, I am interested in hearing your thoughts

  • CMG30

    I think the article points out the biggest fix. A legit weapon on the point.

    Without such a weapon, teams are free to collapse around the net and smother any passing down low. Edmonton has the horses and should be lethal on the PP, if only they had the room to work.

    • Seanaconda

      They should put yak on the point for one of the power plays if he is still here he might be too much of a defensive liability but he’s the only player I can think of that has a good one timer on the oilers. Might not be accurate but that doesn’t really matter if it opens up the guys in close

  • S cottV

    I’ve been of the opinion, for quite a while – that Sekera is no where near the left handed d man needed to make the #1 pp unit – work from the top. He is a 2nd unit guy at best.

    With your high end centermen being left handed, they need to set up on the right side half boards. This is the primary QB spot – particularly for low attack formations.

    If there’s nothing great going for low attacks, the primary QB will pass the puck up top, leading his same right side – left hand d man into the middle, to the top of an umbrella. This is the secondary QB spot – particularly for high attack formations.

    Left hand centremen – need a left hand d man, to share the QB role on the pp.

    The left side – right hand d man – should have an offensive upside, but more importantly possess a heavy one time slapper.

    In an ideal world in the back end – we actually could use 3 high end d men, with the very highest pedigree being the #1 left hander and then two right handers – a #2 and #4.

    We have a plethora of #3 or potential #3 left hand d men. Sekera is split seconds too slow / too clunky in mobility, distribution and shooting for the first pp unit. I doubt that Klefbom is gonna work out any better in this particular discipline. Davidson, Nurse, Osterle and Reinhart are not in that class, at least for the next couple of years.

    The back end is the major problem….

  • RJ

    With that many leftys, it would be nice for a right-handed centre as well as a RHD. How would Hall or Drai play with a RHC? At the very least it gives more options on the PP.

  • Randaman

    Biggest Issue on the PP??

    Sekera is not a PP point man. The shin pad assassin should be on the 2nd unit only.

    No point threat which reduces the effectiveness down low.

    McDavid should play 1:30 to 1:45 at least.

      • RJ

        I think the fact that they got regular reps throughout the season has to be somewhat of a factor.

        And it also speaks to how poor the PP was all season if Korpse and Letestu are among your PP leaders.

  • Oiler Al

    Problem is that Testube and Korpo are not finishers…. Letst.-3 goals and Kor-2 goals on the power play this season. Terrible Drais. has only 5 pp goals.Wonder kid Sekera had 2 goals., same as Davidson.

    • Draisaitl had 9 points in more than 3 hours. Letestu had 12 points in less than 3 hours. So Letestu had a three-point lead while playing less.

      Draisaitl had 9 points in more than 3 hours. Korpikoski had 6 points in less than one hour. Draisaitl picked up three extra points while playing more than three times as much.

  • camdog

    So it wasn’t a coincidence that the Oilers powerplay lit it up last year when Hall was hurt? That’s 2 years in a row where Hall hasn’t had success on the powerplay.

    • ziyan94

      Agreed, he thrives on driving the puck up into the open ice (5 on 5). His space is restricted on the PP so he can’t play his game because he’s stationary, and he isn’t a sniper by any means either.

      • pkam

        The Oilers PP stat in 2012-13 was excellent, was it because Krueger able to ice a more balanced powerpaly without Hall?

        In 2011-12, Renney must be very happy in those 19 games because he could ice a more balanced powerplay without a guy who had nearly 7 PP/60.

        What was Oilers PP stats last year under Eakins? Wasn’t it around 11%? And what was it under Nelson? Wasn’t it around 24%? So you are telling me one player can affect a team’s PP stat by more than 10%?

        • camdog

          I looked into it further Hall played 28 games with Todd Nelson running the Oilers powerplay (Dec 16 2014 untl the end of 2015). The Oilers powerplay was about 15% (10 of 68)in games Hall played under Nelson’s system. The difference between Todd Nelson’s powerplay with Hall and without Hall was phenomenal.

    • I believe (and argued at the time) that there was some smoke-and-mirrors to the Krueger power play. With hindsight, that early season performance was probably powered in large part by having the young guns play in the AHL together for the first half of the year.

      But it certainly scored goals; it’s a shame he didn’t get a second year to see if he could keep it up.

  • Leaking5w-30

    I would have liked to see Shultz’s numbers up there. It seamed like he played as much time on the PP than anybody. When he was out there I always wondered if pulling him from the PP would be adition by subtraction.

  • LOIL99

    Great read

    I appreciate the fact that you are willing to call out Hall as a less than perfect PP player. He is a beast 5v5, one of the best in the entire league. But his skill set is lacking in the departments that are most important on the PP, namely close quarters stick handling and passing.

    Love Hall, but he should be on PP2 imo.