Oilers Report Card

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The Oilers reached the quarter mark of the season with a first place Pacific Division record of 12-8-1. They are seventh in goals per game at 3.05 and 14th in goals against/game at 2.57. Their EV scoring has been the biggest improvement. They have tallied 44 at EV, third most in the NHL.

They have made huge strides and for the first time in eleven seasons they look like a legitimate playoff contender.

I’ve witnessed a lot of bad Oilers hockey over the years, so these first 21 games have been a welcome relief. The Oilers are entertaining. They are competitive and they are finally on the right path. There will still be some potholes on the trek to the playoffs, but they do not look like a team who will hit the ditch at the first sign of adversity.

When you look at their team statistics, I give them an A for the first quarter.

They won 12 of 21 games and played 12 of them on the road.
They have outscored the opposition 64-54.
Their PK is fourth best at 86.7%.
Their PP is 13th at 19%.
They overcame 100 man games lost to injury.
They are tied for the most road wins in the NHL, seven, and they have the most road points with 15.
 Their CF% is 51.54, 10th best in the NHL.

And the main reason they get an A is because they lead their division. I don’t care how you win games, as long as you win. Winning games gets you in the playoffs.

PLAYERS

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This is based on their totals through the first quarter, not on one or two specific games. I also took into consideration what I expected from the player based on past history. For example, Tyler Pitlick has grossly exceeded expectations.

It felt very strange compiling a report card that didn’t include any D’s or F’s. 

Forwards:

Leon Draisaitl: Sixteen points playing on the “third” line at EV and first unit PP. Solid. He is still developing, and his biggest hurdle is not being so hard on himself, and most nights he was the best player on his line. B+

Jordan Eberle: He has seven goals and 16 points. He’s on pace for 63 points. He’s had enough good chances he easily could have one or two more goals. The best thing for the team is Eberle can produce away from McDavid. That will be crucial for depth later in season. I find some people focus so much on what he doesn’t do, that they overlook what he does do well — produce points. B+

Zack Kassian: He was pretty consistent. He didn’t produce a lot of points, but he was noticeable in most games. Played with a lot of energy and outside of one mouth-off-to-ref moment he was very composed. Solid. B+

Mark Letestu: I thought he had played well as one of the main penalty killers. He has two shorthanded goals, one game winner and a SO winning goal. His shot attempts ratio wasn’t good, 106F-150A, but I still see him helping team when he gets back in. He is still tied for ninth in scoring with six points in 18 games, which is solid production for a fourth line centre. C+

Milan Lucic: There’s been a lot of venom spewed his way, which is part of the job when you get paid $7 million. I don’t think he’s been that bad. His size will make him look slower than he is, not to mention skating with 97 makes anyone look slower. He tallied 6-8-14 –decent numbers. He dominated some games, most notably WSH, STL and COL. His board play early in year, getting pucks up ice or to McDavid in stride, was oddly sub-par, but I expect that to improve. B-

Patrick Maroon: He had six goals and ten points, and is on pace to shatter his career high of 11 goals. He moved around a lot, playing 126 minutes with Draisaitl, 114 with McDavid and 49 with RNH. He can play on any line. B+

Connor McDavid: He leads the NHL in scoring with 27 points. He is simply great. A+.

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins: He would like to produce more than three goals. He only had one EV goal this quarter. The other areas of his game have been good. Started to play better in later stages of this quarter and I could see him break in second quarter. B

Tyler Pitlick: The biggest surprise on the team and the best 21 game stretch of his career. He is tied for fourth on the team in goals with six and is fifth in hits with 48. He’s doing this in only 9:52 of TOI/game. A

Benoit Pouliot: Pointless in 11 games led him to spending the final three games in the pressbox. He had a good start, three goals and four points in seven games, but struggled since then. I’d expect him to play better when he draws back in. You need depth and Pouliot has proven when he is on and can be a positive contributor. C

Jesse Puljujarvi: He is the youngest player in the NHL, and has struggled to score. He has good defensive awareness, skates well and has potential to be a good finisher. We haven’t seen the latter yet, despite him having some good chances. He hasn’t scored in 16 games, but the Oilers have the luxury to play him with McDavid and he doesn’t hurt the team. He will be good down the road, but right now, unsurprisingly, he is still adjusting to the NHL. C+

Anton Slepyshev: He has a 51.4% Corsi, is +5 and has 2-2-4 in 11 games. He only dressed in three of the first 12 games, but in his first game back in Detroit, after sitting out seven in a row, he played well. He fought for his spot in the lineup and has played eight of the last nine. He’s had good production and given the Oilers some much needed depth. B

Anton Lander had done all you could ask from him while he was here. If he can gain a half step he could be a very reliable fourth line player, good PK guy and excellent on faceoffs. Matt Hendricks and Drake Caggiula only played three games, which wasn’t enough to get a good read on them. Neither looked out of place in their games.

Defence:

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Matt Benning: I don’t think anyone expected the rookie to play 12 of the first 21 games. He has looked really poised for a rookie defender. He is very good at getting shots through from the blueline, and he’s more physical than I expected. He has been a great surprise. A

Eric Gryba: The veteran has done everything you’d want from a #6/#7 defender. He played almost exclusively with Nurse and they were a solid pair. He was solid on the PK and wasn’t overwhelmed at EV. He made the Davidson injury much easier to handle. Filled in very well. B+

Oscar Klefbom: I think we have to take into account he hadn’t played a regular season game in almost 10 months when the season began. He had some noticeable rust, but he’s looked much more comfortable recently. He’s producing points, which should surprise people considering he had 30 in his previous 66 games prior to this year. He’s played the most minutes on the team and outside some early rust, I’ve seen a big improvement recently. A-

Adam Larsson: I did not expect him to be as physical as he has been. He faces tough minutes and he and Klefbom are clearly the top pair. He doesn’t bring much offence, which is fine, as this team needed some defenders who could defend. At times his foot speed looks a tad concerning, but he has rarely looked overwhelmed playing against top lines. B+

Darnell Nurse:Has chipped in offensively, 3-2-5, and has looked more comfortable at EV and on the PK. His skating allows him to skate the puck out of the zone easier than any other Oilers defender. He’s only played 90 NHL games and I think the coaches have put him in a much better position to succeed. Jim Johnson hasn’t gone out of his way to protect him from tough minutes, but Nurse has seen those matchups much less frequently than last year. He has played more poised for much of the first quarter, and if he doesn’t have to be rushed into top minutes, I expect he’ll continue to develop nicely. B+

Kris Russell: They missed him when he was out for seven games, but how much is debatable. If you just look at stats he is a confusing player. His CF% is 46.3, but he’s been on the ice for 11 goals and only four against at EV. He has been on the ice for 115 SF (shots for) and 116 SA. His CF% looks worse than the actual shots on goal and especially goals. He has added some much needed speed to the backend, and he is very competitive. He rarely enters a battle half-assed. I’ve liked his game. B+

Andrej Sekera: He still infuriates me by bruising shinpads with his shot, but he has been solid. I like when he jumps into the play — he’s an underrated skater — and if he could get more shots through from the point I could see his point totals jump up. Like the rest of the D corps, he has played fairly well. B

Brandon Davidson and Mark Fayne only played one game each and only 7:49 and 2:27 of TOI, respectively, due to injuries. 

Goalies

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Cam Talbot: He has been a workhorse, starting 19 of 21 games. He is tied for the league lead with 11 wins, has faced the most shots and played the most minutes. He has a solid .919sv%. A

Jonas Gustavsson: He only played two games, but his first start in Detroit was very important. He won on the second half of a back-to-back. His second start wasn’t very good, so he’s been good and below average in his two starts. C+

COACHING

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McLellan set the tone early this year. He ripped his team after a brutal effort versus Buffalo and they responded. He did not want them to have another losing attitude. He has been consistent in not shying away from benching players in games due to undisciplined penalties or lacklustre play. You might not agree with his decisions to sit Pouliot and Letestu for three games each, but it has worked and it is never easy to bench proven veterans. The PK has been great and the PP is finally starting to come around. A-

What were your thoughts on the team, coaches and players?

Recently by Jason Gregor:    

  • fasteddy

    The part that has me cautiously excited is that the team actually played really good games in some of their losses; they could easily have 2 or 3 more wins than they do.

  • Lyxdeslic

    I may be a bit of a homer, but I have been studying Adam Larsson’s game ever since he came to this team. I remember when he was drafted Bob Mckenzie said “he’s not as good of a skater as Victor Hedman, but he’s more physical and has better hockey sense and offensive upside” so I was pretty interested in his game.

    The offence might not be where it was originally expected but man is he solid in one-on-one battles and breaking out of the zone. For too long I have watched Schultz and Fayne panic with the puck in our end and ring it around the boards or miss a pass up the ice to cause an icing.

    Larsson has been EXCELLENT at keeping composure and making crisp passes out of the zone; he may not be the greatest puck mover in the O-zone but I think he is our best defender at moving the puck out of the D-zone cleanly when there’s pressure on him. I’d have to give him an A- or A grade myself. Congrats Adam, welcome to the team, you have been a fantastic addition to the blue line.

    • The defense is the biggest area of improvement over last year although if the Oilers had McDavid the entire year last yest, imagine how much better he would be now? The 2 things I’ve noticed with Larsson’s game are his calmness and physicality. I think that has rubbed off on Sekera as well as I’ve noticed a number of times him not forcing a pass but rather out-waiting the fore check. Sekera has definitely benefited from Larsson and Klefbom as he can now play slightly easier minutes. Kris Russell is what he is, he doesn’t attack the forwards but rather reacts and it appears to work for him but not the fancy stat only guys.

  • TKB2677

    I think that is a pretty generous grade for Nuge. I would have given him a C.

    10 pts in 21 games which is a pace of 40 pts. I know he plays against other teams top players but they are paying him 6 mill and he’s on a 40 pt pace. He needs to score more. Plus he took until Nov 21 to score his first even strength goal.

  • Oiler fan in Dallas

    Here is what i know for sure…i have not had one hotel room meltdown…although i did kick over a chair when Connor Sheary scored with less than two minutes left to give Pittsburgh the win. my grade on the team as a rabid fan A+

  • positivebrontefan

    I’m just happy they are First in the Pacific, I don’t care who you are, that will put a smile on an Oilers fans face. And it’s not just after the first two games. In the beginning of the season I found myself taking screen shots of the standings so I could go back to them later in the season and remember what it looked like, I’ve since deleted those screen shots and just look at the real standings now and smile…

    Go Oilers!

  • Tony Montana

    In the interest of full disclosure I have been, and remain a Jordan Eberle fan. I am of the opinion, based on his big game experience at the World Juniors, that his true value to this team might only be fully realized when he we make the playoffs.

    There has been an extensive debate around #14 with many saying he is a one trick pony, and others saying What he does do well is the hardest thing to do in the NHL, score goals. I would mostly agree with the later and would fall into the category that believes that there is always room on a good hockey team for pure offensive players.

    My one criticism would be that I want to see a bit more of a consistent back-checking effort when the play is transitioning into the defensive zone. I can live with him not winning, or even really engaging in many puck battles in the defensive zone. Winning defensive battles on the cycle is not, and never will be what he is paid to do on this team. I do not want to see someone with hands like him being employed to block shots!

    When, however, the turnovers happen, and the play transitions at speed back into the Oilers zone, too often it is the guy who Eberle should be “harassing” who has the unencumbered path to the net and scores on us. I can live with him losing those battles, I just want to see him putting forth an effort to fight them.

    To me, that little bit of extra effort back-checking is the difference between him being simply a very good player, and being a great player.

    • I agree here, put the pressure on the players and skate full speed back 100% of the way, not just to the blue line. I think soon, if the team keeps winning or at least staying in games, teammates will begin to question each others effort which is part of a winning attitude.

  • Joy S. Lee

    It’s nice to see so many positive grades. Been a long time since that’s happened in these parts.

    I believe its particularly noteworthy that among the younger players on this team as a group – and there are more than a few – the majority are showing spikes upward in developing their games while not causing losses in the process. That may be a reflection of both the veteran presence, the team mentality, and the ability of the young ‘uns.

    Maroon is making a lot of little bone-head plays lately. He would be my candidate for a wakeup call, but I truly appreciate the many aspects he brings when he is dialed in.

    I also think Larsson is being underrated in the overall scheme. Very physical, and his patience is having a calming effect on his brotherhood of the defense. And Russell’s skating has been a revelation. He beats guys to the puck, and that alone is vital in today’s speed game. The Oilers used to lose races in their own end all of the time; not anymore. Hence we spend less time there. Hard to put a specific value on that, beyond wins.