Another Oilers season is coming to a close and it is another season that will not be looked back on very fondly by fans. The team failed to make the playoffs for the second straight season and we had to sit back and watch the organization waste away another year of Connor McDavid’s prime.
It’s tough to find anything to really be positive right now and despite the fact, I don’t want to give the organization credit for anything, because they continue to show that they are an incompetent group. However, as I sat down after the teams embarrassing loss to the Anaheim Ducks, I found myself just sick of the negativity. Again, it’s warranted negativity and if the fan base doesn’t show when they’re upset then nothing will change, but I just wanted to take a little bit of time to talk about some positives from the season. I found five things that should make Oilers fans happy when they look back at the 2018-19 season:
5 – THE BOYS IN BAKERSFIELD
For the first time in a long time, there is something to be excited about when it comes to the Oilers minor league system. The Condors clinched a playoff spot earlier in the week and they’re closing out a wildly successful regular season.
The part about this current Condors squad that is encouraging is that they’re being led by a core of young players in their first few years of professional hockey. This isn’t a ragtag group of journeymen. This is an exciting, skilled young core that will be pushing for NHL jobs over the next two years.
Tyler Benson leads the team with 61 points in 61 games played. He hasn’t been sheltered either. He regularly takes on tough matchups in a very tough league. Cooper Marody is second on the team with 57 points. Those two rookies have both taken big strides forward.
Stat of the day: Bakersfield's Tyler Benson and Cooper Marody have combined for 28 points in the last 8 games. (They are both rookies)😳
— Andy Zilch (@Andy_Zilch) March 30, 2019
The teams two leading goal scorers, Joseph Gambardella and Josh Currie, have been up with the big club for the last few weeks and are looking like players who could push for bottom six jobs next season.
There’s also Kailer Yamamoto who has battled some injuries but still scored ten goals in his 27 games.
On the back end, Ethan Bear, Caleb Jones, and William Lagesson have emerged as three young defenders who will all be looking to make the jump to the NHL over the next 12 to 18 months.
4 – CAREER YEAR FOR NUGE
Whether you’re an Oilers fan or not, you have to respect what Ryan Nugent-Hopkins has gone through to this point in his career. He’s sat through a seemingly endless run of coaching and management changes during his time in an Oilers jersey and not once has he publicly shown any sign of frustration with the organization. Simply put, he’s been a trooper.
That’s what made his success this year even more enjoyable because he’s one of the guys on this team who really deserves it.
This year he set a career high in goals (28) and points (65). While Connor McDavid was his most common linemate at even strength and he did get a lot of powerplay time, he remained fairly effective away from McDavid too. He never really had a consistent linemate when he wasn’t with McDavid. He spent over 100 minutes with ten other wingers throughout the regular season and most of them have either cleared through waivers or seen significant time in the American Hockey League this season.
He’s defensively responsible, he kills penalties, contributes on the powerplay, and really just does whatever the Oilers need him to do. He’s their swiss army knife and it was great to see him find the offensive success he did this season.
3 – A MEANINGFUL(ish) MARCH
Maybe I’m reaching on this one, but there were some moments over February/March where this team still had a realistic shot at the playoffs and after watching this team fall out of the race in December/January for ten of the last 13 seasons, it’s always nice to have a few important games on the schedule in the final 20 games of the season.
They went on a 7-2-2 run between February 19th and March 11th and while most acknowledged they would need to keep up that pace if they wanted to stay in the conversation, it wasn’t exactly unrealistic.
Then, of course, they lost to New Jersey, got blown out by St. Louis, then dropped an OT decision to the Senators. At that point, it was clearly over. But there was that brief moment of belief at the beginning of March and that’s something to be happy about.
2 – MORE McDAVID
A career year for McDavid, but that should hardly surprise us. He’ll no doubt push for 120 points over the final few games of the season which will be exciting to watch considering the Oilers have only had four players do it in franchise history. Gretzky did it nine times, Coffey reached it three times, Kurri did it twice, and Messier was the last one to do it, accomplishing the feat in 1989-90.
I don’t need to go into detail about how much of a treat it is to watch McDavid play every year because we all know. Still, whenever you can sit back and appreciate his greatness, you need to do it.
1 – 100 FOR LEON
I put this at number one because, for a while, Draisaitl was a polarizing player amongst Oilers fans. There is hate about his hustle, his body language, and the fact that he can’t produce without Connor McDavid. His 100 point season has quieted the hate.
I don’t care how many minutes you play with McDavid, hitting 100 points and scoring nearly 50 goals is impressive. For all the talk about how the Oilers need more scoring wingers, it’s important to not forget that they already have one in Leon Draisaitl and his best years are still ahead of him.
That’s a big part of the reason I’ve been against trading Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. As long as Nugent-Hopkins in playing on the second line, the Oilers can keep running with the most dangerous duo in the entire NHL. There’s no reason that Connor and Leon won’t continue to be one of the most productive duos in the league for the next five seasons if they stay on the same line. That’s very encouraging for the future of the franchise.