Approaching the 10 game mark of the 2016-2017 season, the Oilers currently sit at 7-2-1 atop the Pacific division. Enjoying the success of Connor McDavid has been quite the treat for Oilers fans, but it’s not just McDavid’s play that has been elevated, it’s those around McDavid that have had their play elevated by the 19-year-old phenom.
Can the Oilers continue to play at this pace? Could McDavid and co finally end Edmonton’s playoff drought?
Here are three reasons why the Oilers will sustain their success.
1) The skilled forwards surrounding McDavid
Remember the handful of first round selections that the Edmonton Oilers selected before McDavid? They’re pretty good too.
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins still has room to develop into a number one centre and the same goes for Leon Draisaitl. Jordan Eberle may have started the year out on the quiet side but he’s shown over the last few years that he is capable of being a consistent 60 point player. To top it all off, we still haven’t seen the best of what Jesse Puljujarvi has to offer.
The Milan Lucic signing has paid dividends to this point and ultimately the Oilers top nine is as strong as it has been in years. Edmonton’s high firing offence is currently sitting seventh in the league in goals per game while averaging 3.10 goals scored per game.
Edmonton has always had talented pieces up front and a full-fledged superstar like McDavid boosts that talent to a really exciting level.
2) The defence isn’t awful anymore
Looking at the bigger picture, the Oilers defense has lots of work to be done. Five years down the road, the Taylor Hall for Adam Larsson swap will likely still go down as a questionable trade but that doesn’t mean the deal didn’t help the Oilers. Sure, Larsson isn’t up to par to the value of Hall but the top-four defender has substantially improved the Oilers back end thus far. Larsson is averaging 20:20 ice-time a night and has served as a reliable defender who oftentimes bails out his partner. Larsson is a big, defensively sound Dman with a bit of a mean streak to his game. Say what you want about the trade, but Larsson is a quality player for the Oil and has helped clean up the mess that has been the Oilers defensive corps over the last few seasons.
Darnell Nurse, 21, is entering his second full season in the big leagues and is slowly gaining more and more confidence in his game. Nurse is starting to carry the puck more on rushes rather than looking to make a pass and get rid of the puck as soon as he can.
Oscar Klefbom, 23, is starting to become more aggressive in creating scoring chances. The Swedish defender recorded eight shots on net against the Leafs on Tuesday night. The occasional defensive zone mistake is no stranger to Klefbom, but that’s going to happen to a young defenseman who is yet to play more than 60 games in a season due to injury.
The Oilers top three defenders have great potential. Although, the inexperience has been displayed at times, and that’s ok. That core is going to grow together and in a year or two, could round out a pretty solid defensive corps for the Oilers. For the time being, each of the three top guys have seemingly elevated their play from last year and in lieu of such have given the Oilers an upgrade in the process.
3) Connor McDavid is already elite
Connor McDavid may be the best player in the NHL, already. That’s not a knock on current greats such as Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin, Patrick Kane, he’s just that good. The 19-year-old phenom is currently tied for second in points with 12 and since he entered the league in 2015-2016 he has had the second highest points per game with 1.09. Number 97 is the main reason the Oilers are playing this way and if he continues playing the way he has, the Oilers should surely reach the postseason for the first time in 11 seasons.
Entering his sophomore year as one of the youngest captains in the NHL’s history, McDavid is now the face of the Oilers and is the leader of the team. The NHL’s next great superstar has the pieces to help him succeed and ultimately the Oilers succeed.
McDavid is ready to lead Edmonton on to greater things and it starts this year.