The Oilers wrap up their four-game road trip tonight in Winnipeg. The Oilers returned home Saturday evening after defeating the Rangers earlier in the day, spent two nights in their own bed, and then traveled to Winnipeg yesterday. They’ve logged just under 18,000 kilometres so far this season, and a victory tonight would make the final 1300 kilometre trek back to Edmonton much more enjoyable. Oilersnation would likely be fist-pumping over a 2-2 start.
1. After scoring five goals in their opening night victory in St.Louis, the Jets have only scored six goals in their past four games, and one was an empty netter. Blake Wheeler and Patrik Laine have one EV point through five games. It is very early but Wheeler led the Jets with 49 EV points last year. He is off to a slow start by his standards.
2. Kyle Connor was probably the most overlooked rookie in the NHL last year. He tallied 31 goals in 76 games. He is off to a great start with four goals so far, and according to Jets goalie Laurent Brossoit, Connor is the most accurate shooter on the team. He has a sneaky hard shot and it is very accurate. Connor is skating on the Jets top line with Mark Scheifele and Wheeler, and whichever Oilers D pair is out against them can’t focus too much on Scheifele and Wheeler or Connor will burn them.
3. The Oilers only have five goals in three games this season — not a great start offensively. They have way too many players struggling to score, dating even back to last season. In their previous 20 games (17 last year, three this season) Connor McDavid has 13 goals, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (18 games) has eight and Leon Draisaitl, Ty Rattie (15 games) and Drake Caggiula (19 games) have five. They are the only Oilers, who played here last year, with more than two goals. Ryan Strome and Jujhar Khaira have one goal in their past 20 games while Jesse Puljujarvi and Milan Lucic have two. A lot of players need to get going offensively.
4. The Jets had the third most PP chances last year, 284, and finished fifth in PP efficiency at 23.4%. They were shorthanded the fourth most times, an identical 284, and finished ninth on the PK at 81.8%. It is very early, but the Jets are continuing their trend of talking a lot of penalties. They are again sitting fourth in time shorthanded, 22 in five games, but they’ve only had 12 powerplays. They were undisciplined in Nashville, a very intense playoff-like game, but it is interesting to note they’ve only had 2.5 powerplays/game this year. Their PP is still very dangerous, 25%, so the Oilers must ensure they are disciplined tonight.
5. Yes, it is early, but the Oilers PK is a dreadful 62.5% after allowing three goals on eight kills. The Oilers haven’t been in the box much, thankfully, because thus far they haven’t shown they can kill a penalty. Their penalty kill crushed them for the first 40 games last season. They need to fix it quickly before it derails another season.
6. Jesse Puljujarvi still doesn’t look comfortable to me. He isn’t making consistent smart decisions with the puck. My issue is more with the organization than with him. I’ve said it since he was drafted I don’t expect him to be a difference maker in the NHL until he is 22. That is fine, many players, especially a lot of European players, take time. I think people forget Teemu Selanne was a 22-year-old rookie when he burst onto the NHL scene. Fellow Finn Mikko Koivu, sixth overall pick, didn’t debut until he was 22 and he scored six goals. At 23 he jumped up to 20 goals. Saku Koivu was 21 during his rookie season when he scored 45 points. Puljujarvi is still only 20, and no one should expect him to be ready. There is nothing wrong if he isn’t, and with only three points in his last 20 games at some point the organization should consider sending him to the AHL to regain his offensive confidence if he doesn’t show signs of scoring. If he starts to make plays then of course you stick with him. They can’t afford to ruin his development. They need another winger who can produce regularly in the future and right now he is their best bet.
7. Before you freak out, remember that Shane Doan was sent to the minors in his third NHL season, after playing two years in the NHL. It didn’t hurt him. If Puljujarvi isn’t going to make the Oilers better now, then why not send him down and let him gain confidence and develop in the AHL? The Oilers can’t afford to stunt the growth of another young forward. Kailer Yamamoto is in the same boat in my eyes. If they aren’t scoring, they aren’t helping right now, and more importantly, the organization isn’t helping them. The NHL is hard enough, it is almost impossible without any confidence.
8. Tobias Rieder could play second line RW and produce as much as Yamamoto would be expected to, possibly even more. I don’t see him being up there hurting the Oilers chances at a successful season. He isn’t the long-term answer, the Oilers are hoping Puljujarvi and Yamamoto are, so then develop them properly, in the minors. The NHL is not a development league. Players can refine their game here, but if an offensive-minded player can’t produce, there is nothing wrong with giving them more time in the AHL to develop.
9. Look at the Detroit Red Wings. Filip Zadina was taken sixth this summer. He has a late birthday, so this is his 19-year-old season. The Red Wings aren’t very good, they don’t have a lot of proven top-six forwards, but Zadina isn’t on their team. He is in the AHL. He has two goals in four AHL games. Dylan Strome was taken third overall in 2015. He played two more years of junior and last season he started in the AHL. He scored 22 goals and 53 points in 50 AHL games before being recalled to play the final 21 games for the Coyotes. He might never be a big-time scorer, but he talked glowingly how last year in the AHL helped him as a player. Puljujarvi was decent in the AHL with 13 goals and 33 points in 49 AHL games over two seasons, but those aren’t huge numbers if you expect him to be a scorer. He has 28 points in 96 NHL games thus far, and we’ve yet to see him impact games regularly. That isn’t a knock on him, but it illustrates, at least in my eyes, the organization isn’t handling his development the best way. There is no way both Yamamoto and Puljujarvi should be here. No question JP is more NHL ready in my eyes. I won’t be surprised to see Yamamoto in AHL by end of month. Again, not a knock on him, just a reminder how tough the NHL is for most 20 year olds, especially small players.
10. I don’t understand the fans who say, “The Oilers rush players,” but the next day scream, “Puljujarvi needs to be in the top-six!” Do you not see the contradiction? If fans are irrational at times, I get it, I appreciate it actually, but there is no excuse for the organization to be this way. The Oilers do this every year. Puljujarvi came in at 18. He scored one goal in 28 games before being sent to the AHL. He clearly wasn’t NHL ready. Yamamoto wasn’t close to NHL ready last year, but because he looked okay in early preseason games he struck around for nine games. They did it with Leon Draisaitl in his rookie season as well. Just stop it already. Rushing players does not help them, and it doesn’t help the team win games.
11. If a player is ready, we will see it. Players like McDavid, Laine, Auston Matthews, came in and were great, because they were READY, not because they got to play with good linemates. Sure that helps, but it doesn’t make them read the play better. It doesn’t give them the strength to handle the rigours of the NHL grind. Look at the Jets top forwards. Connor and Bryan Little were regulars in the NHL at 21. Scheifele debuted at 20. Wheeler was 22. Nikolai Ehlers was 19 and he scored 38 points as a rookie, then scored 64 when he was 20. He wasn’t ready to light it up at 19, but he was ready to be a positive contributor. The players will show you they are ready. The Oilers need to learn to believe them, instead of hoping they are ready.
12. McDavid has been in on all five Oilers goals this season. Only four players in NHL history have factored on more than five consecutive team goals to begin a season. Adam Oates (Detroit) 1986-87 was in on seven, while Aurel Joliat,1929-30, with Montreal, Bill Cowley 1938-39 with Boston and Andre Boudrias, 1973-74 with Vancouver were each in on the first six goals.