The Oilers are on their bye week right now, which is a good thing for the team and fans alike. I think we all need a bit of a break. 2017-18 hasn’t been kind to the Oilers as the team has failed to live up to the lofty expectations that stemmed from their breakout season and subsequent playoff run last spring. So while we have the week off to think about things, let’s look back at the season so far and determine who’s doing well and who isn’t with some good old fashioned midterm report cards.
We’ll start with the forwards (who have played 15 games or more) and I’ll do defencemen and goalies later in the week. My ratings system is pretty simple. The A range is very good, the B range is pretty good, the C range is mediocre, the D range is bad, and F is terrible. Let me know in the comments how you would grade everybody and if I was either too hard or too soft in my grading.
Connor McDavid: A+
I don’t think there’s a single complaint that can be made about the first half of the season from the reigning Most Valuable Player. The Oilers are a different team with Connor McDavid on the ice than they are when he’s off. McDavid has 15 goals and 37 assists through 46 games, just slightly lower than his 2016-17 pace despite battling through illness earlier in the season.
In terms of underlying numbers, McDavid has actually been significantly better at driving offence than he was in either of his first two seasons. The team is getting a whopping 72.1 shot attempts for and 38.8 scoring chances for per 60 minutes at even strength. The issue has clearly been his linemates’ inability to finish, otherwise McDavid would likely be on his way to surpassing the 100-point plateau he reached last season.
Shooting more or dominating games to a greater extent be damned, McDavid has been excellent so far this season and I don’t even want to fathom where they would be without him.
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins: B+
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is having arguably the best season of his career and appears to have evolved into that very effective two-way centre that we hoped he would become. He has 16 goals and 15 assists through 46 games. His 0.67 points-per-game is his highest since 2014-15 and he’s on pace to set a new career-high in goals.
Nugent-Hopkins’ underlying numbers are largely similar to where they were at last season, but there’s one category he’s improved massively in that I feel makes his success a lot more noticeable. His High Danger Scoring Chance Percentage at even strength sits at 53.2 per cent due to an improvement in the offensive and defensive zone.
The other thing impressive about RNH’s season is his effectiveness despite being the one guy who never plays with Connor McDavid.
Patrick Maroon: B
Expectations for Patrick Maroon were extremely high heading into 2017-18 after a massive breakout season spent on Connor McDavid’s wing. While Maroon isn’t scoring goals at the same rate, he’s actually producing at a higher point-per-game clip and than he did last season.
Many were skeptical to praise Maroon for his 27-goal season last year, viewing him as a product of McDavid. There’s certainly merit to that, but Maroon has produced at a similar clip to last while spending less time with the MVP. Maroon’s underlying numbers are better with McDavid than without, but he isn’t a slouch when he plays with other centres, which suggests Maroon is helping drive play in Edmonton’s favour.
Jujhar Khaira: B
Given the fact he only had one goal and three points in 25 career NHL games before this season, JJ Khaira has massively exceeded expectations so far this year. He has seven goals and seven assists in 33 games, which is a 35-point pace over an 82-game season.
He brings energy to the ice, plays with an edge, and had produced at a decent clip despite not getting consistent playing time. The Oilers have had a terrible time developing their own bottom-six players, but Khaira has looked like a keeper this year.
Mark Letestu: B-
Mark Letestu had a shockingly effective season in 2016-17, recording a career high in goals with 16 and points with 35. A big part of that had to do with Letestu finding success as a trigger man on the power play, as 11 of his 16 goals came with the man advantage.
This season, Letestu has eight goals and eight assists through 46 games, good for a 0.35 point-per-game pace. It isn’t as good as it was last season, but it’s perfectly fine depth offence from your fourth-line centre who’s making $1.8 million annually. He wins draws, chips in a little offensively, but the only thing keeping Letestu at the bottom of the pretty good category has been a lack of effectiveness on the penalty kill.
Milan Lucic: B-
Milan Lucic gets a lot of flack because his contract is really bad and also because he, along with Adam Larsson, will forever be associated with Taylor Hall. Whether that’s right or wrong it pretty clearly effects the way in which we view Lucic. But in the vacuum of this season, Lucic has played pretty well.
His 0.61 points-per-game in all situations matches the pace he produced last season, but Lucic has been producing more at even strength this year than he did last year. He has six goals and 13 assists at even strength, which puts him just three points shy of matching his 23 even strength points from 2016-17.
One thing that’s been frustrating about Lucic this year, though, has been a lack of consistency. Sometimes he gets revved up and looks like the menace from Boston everyone coveted for years, but then he’ll disappear for games at a time. That’s what keeps him at the bottom end of pretty good.
Leon Draisaitl: C+
I know I’m contradicting myself a little bit here given that I said we should try to avoid looking at the big picture with Milan Lucic and we should instead focus on this season, but Leon Draisaitl’s season has been disappointingly average considering his lofty expectations.
Draisaitl has 11 goals and 25 assists in 42 games so far, which is a 70-point pace over 82 games. That certainly isn’t bad, but Draisaitl has leaned a lot more on Connor McDavid than you’d have hoped after his incredible playoff performance and subsequent eight-year, $8.5 million contract.
The duo of McDavid and Draisaitl have scored 20 even strength goals and have given up only 10 when on the ice together, but when Draisaitl is away from McDavid, the former has 40 goals for and 42 against. The Oilers need Draisaitl to drive his own line to make the team a consistent threat without McDavid on the ice, but he hasn’t done that so far this season.
Jesse Puljujarvi: C+
Jesse Puljujarvi spent the first month of the season playing for the Bakersfield Condors of the AHL as the Oilers gave 2017 first-round pick Kailer Yamamoto a cup of coffee at the NHL level. Puljujarvi has had a slower transition to the NHL than many would have hoped, especially considering how Matthew Tkachuk has seamlessly broken in the league, but there’s a massive learning curve with the 2016 fourth overall pick given that this is only his second year in North America.
As a result, I think we should be patient with the 19-year-old Finn. But overall, his second season try at the NHL has been just OK. Puljujarvi has eight goals and three assists in 29 games, an upgrade on the one goal and seven assists he had in 28 games last year before being sent to the AHL. That said, he’s played a lot with Connor McDavid, so you have to take that 23-goal over an 82-game pace with a grain of salt.
Anton Slepyshev: C
After a solid performance in last year’s playoffs, Anton Slepyshev was viewed as one of the Oilers’ young forwards who could step up and take on a bigger role in the team’s top-nine. That hasn’t happened as Slepyshev has only one goal and two assists thus far.
But considering the fact Slepyshev started the season with an injury, he deserves a bit of a break. Also, Slepyshev has posted very strong underlying numbers, as only Connor McDavid is the only Oiler with a higher expected goals for percentage.
I would consider just not rating Slepyshev given his lack of substantial icetime, but he reached the cutoff for games played. I think it’s fair to say given circumstances he’s been just OK.
Mike Cammalleri: C-
Acquired a few weeks into the season in a one-for-one deal for Jussi Jokinen, Mike Cammalleri was supposed to give the Oilers a little bit of an offensive spark on the wings. It’s a tall task to expect a 35-year-old winger to come in and make much of a difference so expectations weren’t particularly high. I wouldn’t say Cammalleri has been terrible, but two goals in 25 games is pretty bad.
Ryan Strome: D+
I feel bad for Ryan Strome because of the situation he was put into. Much like Adam Larsson, he was a part of a one-for-one trade for a former All-Star who worked his way out of the team’s future thanks to a mediocre season and poor playoff showing.
Strome has bounced back and forth from centring the team’s third line to playing with different centres on the right wing. He has seven goals and 10 assists in 46 games, which is the lowest point-per-game rating of his career. I don’t blame Strome for the situation he’s been put in nor do I feel it’s worthwhile in this context to compare him directly to Jordan Eberle, but Strome has been largely invisible this season.
Zack Kassian: D
Yet another disappointing depth forward, Zack Kassian has been nowhere near the force that endeared himself to fans last season. Kassian was a wrecking ball in last year’s playoffs, chipping in with three goals and hitting everything in sight.
Since signing a three-year deal this summer, though, Kassian hasn’t looked the same. He doesn’t have the same speed or energy that he did last season and he appears to be trying to play as a scorer rather than a physical presence and agitator. Through 46 games he has just three goals, but the real issue with Kassian has been the lack of intensity in his game.
Drake Caggiula: D
Drake Caggiula was put into a difficult position in his rookie season. He started the season on the Injured Reserve and then was thrown right into the deep end, slotting in as the Oilers’ third line centre just a few months after finishing college.
He fared admirably, posting 18 points in 60 games before chipping in three goals in 13 playoff games. Caggiula, like Kassian and Slepyshev, was being counted on to work his way up into a top-nine role in his natural position on the wings, but like with everyone else, that hasn’t happened. He has just six goals and five assists in 34 games, but half of those goals came alongside McDavid.
Iiro Pakarinen: F
The only forward who gets a failing grade for the Oilers is Iiro the Hero, who was terrible in his 18 games with the Oilers this season. He didn’t record a goal, had just one assist, and put up far and away the worst underlying numbers on the team. As a result, he was waived and is now playing in Bakersfield. I don’t think we’ll see him on the team again.
Shoutout to Oilersnation Good Content Boy Christian Pagnani for helping with these grades.