I think it’s safe to say that nobody saw this start in the cards for the Oilers. The Oilers have faced a steady diet of Stanley Cup contenders and have emerged from their first ten games with a record of 6-3-1. Considering the opposition the majority of fans probably would have been somewhat pleased with a 3-6-1 record.
With 13 points already in the bag, the Oilers have jumped out to a 106-point pace early in the season. So how have they got there? Let’s take a look.
THE GREAT: Oscar Klefbom & Adam Larsson
The Oilers are 6-1-1 in their last eight games, which included victories over Winnipeg, Washington, Boston, Nashville, Chicago and a thrilling overtime loss to the Penguins.
During that stretch, Oscar Klefbom and Adam Larsson have handled top pairing minutes and dare I say it, looked like a legit top pairing in doing so. Klefbom has played 26:01 per game through the first ten games of the season; only Drew Doughty has been on the ice more.
Since the game against Winnipeg, Klefbom has not played less than 24 minutes and has actually finished with more than 30 minutes twice. This team isn’t in the position they are currently in without Klefbom and Larsson playing at a high level. I’m not sure they can sustain it but if they do the Oilers will be a contender in the Pacific.
THE GOOD: McNuge
Connor McDavid is pretty much doing exactly what we expected out of him and maybe even a little bit more. He has 17 points in 10 games; which puts him on pace for 139 points.
If you are playing next to Connor McDavid you will be required to produce and Nugent-Hopkins is most certainly doing the job. Nuge has ten points over this impressive eight game stretch and has been excellent at both ends of the ice. The best part is that Nugent-Hopkins isn’t just picking up scraps from McDavid he’s driving the play on his own and has been exceptional in his own end.
THE BAD: Zack Kassian
It was Elliotte Friedman who first mentioned on Saturday that Zack Kassian had been given permission from the Oilers to seek a trade. This is bad on a number of different levels.
First of all, why does Kassian want out? The Oilers are off to a great start; they have the best player in the world playing out of his mind and appear to be back on track. He’s played in seven of the ten games and when he has been scratched it’s been justified. Does he actually think he’ll get more opportunity somewhere else? I have a hard time believing that.
Secondly, the Oilers made Kassian near untradeable when they gave him 1.9 million per season. Monday on my show, TSN’s Ryan Rishaug said he could see a scenario where the Oilers have been trying to trade Kassian, have told the player they can’t find a deal which led to his agent requesting permission to pursue a deal on his own.
The problem for the Oilers is that I doubt any team will be willing to pick up Kassian without Edmonton retaining some salary. If the Oilers move Kassian and are forced to retain 500-700k they might as well just keep him.
THE UGLY: The Puljujarvi Situation
Every single aspect of this situation is extremely frustrating. As most of you know, I’ve basically decided Jesse Puljujarvi is the hill I’m willing to die on.
Even I can see why the team is frustrated with the player. Puljujarvi doesn’t yet play the game with the intensity he needs to be respected by his teammates and at times looks completely out of place. I don’t have a problem with a player who turns the puck over in the offensive zone trying to make a play but JP’s 5.25 turnovers per 60 are far and away the worst on the team. He’s also taken a few untimely penalties, most noticeably the one against Nashville and unlike a few other folks in this market I will once again point out that it was a weak ass call.
I can also see why the player would be frustrated. Puljujarvi looked excellent in the pre-season and had to have high hopes for the beginning of the year. Over the first four games of the season Puljujarvi looked comfortable on the third line with Ryan Strome, it looked like the coaching staff’s plan for him was working. In fact, he looked good enough that they bumped him up into the top six. After scoring the tying goal in the teams most important win of the season Puljujarvi was elevated to play with Draisaitl, even though he wasn’t on the ice with Draisaitl when he scored. In the first period against Pittsburgh Puljujarvi contributed on Draisaitl’s first 5-on-5 goal of the year and then found himself benched 20 minutes later.
So if it’s not working with Draisaitl it would make sense to move him back to the Strome line, but that’s not what happened and now he finds himself waiting for an opportunity to get back into a winning line up.
I exchanged texts with former Oiler and Finnish hockey analyst Janne Niinimaa last week. I like to go to Janne for thoughts on Jesse because the Oilers did the exact same thing prior to drafting him.
This is what Janne had to say. “His thing his entire career is that he plays the best when he’s just out there enjoying the game with a smile on face and not overthinking or pressing things. I see him doing just that in the NHL. He wants to make it so bad and things are a lot harder in the small rink. He’s not loose and is unsure of himself.”
They have two options with JP right now: He goes down to Bakersfield or he plays with Ryan Strome. They are now serving pizza in the press box at Oilers games but that doesn’t mean Puljujarvi should be up there.