I’ve written about the Oilers power play many times over the past few months and for good reason. Next to Cam Talbot, I believe the special teams’ units are the area where the Oilers most desperately need a bounce-back.
Their penalty kill appeared to have begun to figure things out as the year continued (in the last 41 games, they had the 3rd best PK in the league) but their power play never really did.
With the amount of skill they have, there is no excuse for the Oilers to not have a top ten power play.
I’m not going to breakdown IF the group they have is good enough to have an elite power play, but instead, I’m going to look at the some of the biggest questions surrounding the Oilers and their power play.
LOAD UP A UNIT?
Oilers Insider Bob Stauffer tweeted out the two units that the Oilers were using at practice last week, and I found them rather interesting.
Oilers working on PP today:
PP #1 (1-3-1)
— Bob Stauffer (@Bob_Stauffer) September 17, 2018
The first thing I noticed is that the Oilers have all three of their top offensive players on the top unit. There are a few reasons why I’m not a fan of that idea.
First, all the players are left handed which means that on one side of the ice there is no chance to create a one-timer. That makes life easier for the opposition since they know there is no chance of a quick shot coming from one side of the ice.
The other issue I have is that their second unit looks absolutely awful. There isn’t one elite power play producer, despite there being three on the other unit. Now, you might say that the solution would be for Todd McLellan to just play the top unit for 90 seconds every time, but I’m not sure if that’s realistic.
What if Connor McDavid or Ryan Nugent-Hopkins draw a penalty towards the end of the shift? Well, then they might not be able to stay on the ice for another 90 seconds to run the power play. Same goes for Leon Draisaitl. What if that unit stays out for close to two minutes? Then after the power play is over, McLellan will be forced to throw one of his bottom two lines.
It seems small, and maybe I’m just overthinking this whole thing, but I believe the best play for the Oilers would be to put one of Ryan Nugent-Hopkins or Leon Draisaitl on the second unit and shift one of Ryan Strome or Jesse Puljujarvi over to the top unit.
That will put one right-handed shot to go opposite of Connor McDavid and give the second unit a bonafide power play producer.
WHO’S ON THE POINT?
Again, it’s pretty obvious that a healthy Oscar Klefbom will get a really long look on that top unit, and deservedly so. But I would expect that his leash will be rather shot given how much that top unit struggled last season.
Early in camp, Matt Benning has been getting reps on the second unit and that makes sense. He played the second most PP minutes among Oilers d-men last year and his numbers were pretty solid. A 0.94 primary points/60 shows he could produce well, and he wasn’t afraid to shoot the puck which is often a problem with the Oilers power play. In his third season in the NHL, it wouldn’t surprise me if he takes another step forward in his offensive development.
If Evan Bouchard or Ethan Bear happen to make this team out of camp, then it’s almost a given that they will be given significant power play time. But I don’t think that’s a very likely scenario.
I would love to see Darnell Nurse get a good, honest look on one of the top power play units. I wrote about it more in depth earlier this week, but last year we saw Nurse take a big step forward in terms of how well he handles the puck. If he continues to develop his offensive game, I think he could become a solid power play option.
He played just over 30 minutes on the power play last season and in that small sample size, his numbers were not very good. Regardless, when I watch him play I see a lot of offensive potential and I would love to have him unlock that potential this season.
WHO GETS THE FINAL FORWARD SPOTS?
It’s safe to assume that the Oilers will run four forwards on each unit, meaning there is room for eight players to get regular powerplay minutes.
Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Milan Lucic, Ryan Strome, and Jesse Puljujarvi will likely be the regulars, but who should get looks in those final two spots?
Drake Caggiula is occupying one of those spots right now, and I’m not sure I love that idea. He isn’t a proven option and while he does have some good offensive instincts, I’m not sure he’s their best bet. Caggiula did get 65 minutes on the power play last year and his 2.76 points/60 was actually third best on the team, so if we look at just the numbers, it makes sense why he’s getting a good look on PP2 here in training camp. The sample size is small, but the numbers are good.
Based on his play in the preseason, I wouldn’t be stunned if Ty Rattie finally starts getting a look on the powerplay. I’m actually surprised the team didn’t try it at all last season. He clearly has a lot of natural offensive ability, you can’t deny that he has chemistry with Connor McDavid, and he shoots right. He’s a perfect fit.
It looks like Tobias Rieder will get a good look on Leon Draisaitl’s line at even strength, so it would make sense that he gets some powerplay time as well. If the Oilers were to split up Draisaitl and McDavid on the powerplay, I think it would make sense to have Rieder on the second unit with his fellow German.
Apart from Milan Lucic, the Oilers don’t really have that prototypical big body to stand in front of the oppositions net. I think Jujhar Khaira could be that guy. Last year we saw him take some positive strides in terms of his offensive game and we’ve seen that continue this preseason. He has good hands and plays a fearless game, I think he’s a natural fit to do the dirty work for the second unit.
There are plenty of ways that the Oilers could go, and we could debate each of these questions all day, but the reality is that for the Oilers to be in contention for a playoff spot, they’ll need more production from their power play.