One of my favourite stories from the playoffs has been the quiet emergence of Anton Slepyshev and, from where I blog, the guy isn’t getting nearly enough love.
Every year there are guys that become unexpected heroes during the playoffs and it makes for some cool storylines. For the Edmonton Oilers, Anton Slepyshev is one of those guys who is leaving his mark and the result is that he has essentially knocked Iiro Pakarinen and Matt Hendricks off of Coach McLellan’s list of lineup options. Whether he’s throwing a hit, banging and crashing, or scoring a timely goal, Slepyshev is finding ways to contribute and I think he deserves some more love for his efforts.
To me, what we’re seeing right now is a guy that is making the most of his (roughly) 10 minutes per night, and a guy that has produced some big moments that have helped the Oilers get to where they are. That’s big for a bottom six player. Frankly, Slepyshev has outproduced guys that are higher up in the pecking order and it’s making them look bad. That said, should we really be all that surprised? Slep has some tools in his kit that could make him a fixture in the bottom six for years to come.
GAME 6 VS THE SHARKS
We’ve talked about this a lot this year, but can we give Slep some love for his shot? The guy has a lethal wrister and I don’t even think he really knows it yet. Check out the series-clinching goal that he scored against the Sharks and tell me how many goalies would have been able to stop that? He placed the shot in the hole between the pads and blocker and Martin Jones didn’t have an answer for it. If this was darts, the crowd would have gone crazy.
My point in all this is that the guy’s shot leaves his stick with velocity and he really needs to find a way to use it more. At the time of this posting, Slepyshev has 10 shots on goal in eight playoff games and I’d like to see him firing away more often than that. Fire away, Anton. Fire from everywhere. I believe in you.
GAME 3 VS THE DUCKS
Slepyshev’s second goal of the bonus season came as a result of getting his body to the front of the net, something he’s not shy about doing. At 6’2 he’s got the size to get himself into the dirty areas of the ice and not get knocked off the puck or pushed around. I don’t know if it’s that growing up in post Soviet Russia has made him tougher than some of his teammates but I’m not ready to discount that idea either.
All I know for sure is that goals count just as much whether they’re beauties like Connor’s from Sunday night or a lucky bounce off a skate like Slepy’s second of the playoffs. My point? Just keep swinging, young man, garbage goals are just as sexy to me as the highlight reel beauties.
WHAT ABOUT NEXT YEAR?
While we don’t know what will happen with Slepyshev next season, he’s certainly making a case for himself right now in the playoffs. Who knows what would have happened if Pitlick had been able to stay healthy, but Slepyshev has certainly made the most of his opportunity. With the Oilers scheduled to back the Brinks trucks up for McDavid and Draisaitl, it will be crucial that Edmonton finds some guys that can play on cheap deals. Does Slepyshev fit the bill? Lowetide wrote about Slepyshev’s potential fit last week:
At the NHL level, he scored 1.34/60, and that is a shy total. However, Slepyshev’s most common linemates were Drake Caggiula and Milan Lucic—both men suffering through poor offensive seasons at even strength. His ICorsi/60 ranked No. 3 among Oilers forwards this year (all info here via Stats.HockeyAnalysis.com) and that’s a strong number.
So, all things being equal, Slepyshev has to outperform Pitlick, Pakarinen, Pouliot, Khaira and Laleggia to make the top 4 lines or represent the extra winger on the roster. He’s inexpensive next season, doesn’t have to be protected and is showing offensive potential. This is not a lock by any means, but Slepyshev has a shot at this roster in the fall. Todd McLellan slow plays youngsters not named Connor McDavid, but Slepyshev is forcing more minutes with fine play. Last night’s GWG probably helps him with gaining the confidence of the coach, and it will be a long time before fans forget that breakaway marker.
Can Slepyshev be a guy that can chip in some offence, provide solid minutes, and do it on a consistent basis? Can he keep climbing the depth chart? What’s his ceiling? One thing is for sure, if he keeps playing like he is during this playoff run, the Oilers may have no choice but to keep him in that spot over some of the more established bottom-six players that they have on the roster.