The Oilers are 5-0. Most people didn’t see the Oilers winning their first five games, but they have started strong and these points in the bag. No one can take them away. Who has been the biggest contributors to the Oilers’ (extremely) early success?
It’s too easy to point to Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. They’re going to be great, barring injury or a zombie apocalypse. It’s the rest of the roster that determines the Oilers’ success. For that reason, I’ve excluded the Oilers’ two franchise cornerstones.
Guys, I'm starting to think the Lucic-for-Neal trade was okay.
— Christian Pagnani (@chrispagnani) October 9, 2019
James Neal – 7 goals
Did you hear? Last year James Neal scored seven goals in 63 games. This year he’s scored that many in just 5 games. No one expected Neal to go off like this. Sure, a rebound was probably in order, but not to this extent.
Neal probably won’t score 114 goals this season, well, probably not but this is still a huge win. The Milan Lucic-for-Neal trade was a win the moment it was made. Neal’s contract can be bought with actual salary cap savings, while Lucic’s contract offers virtually no relief if bought out. If Neal can be a decent player and starve off a buyout for a couple of years? Even better.
Five of Neal’s seven goals have come on the power play. He hasn’t scored more than five on the man advantage in a season since 2013-14. Neal’s played about 51 five-on-five minutes with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. Together, Neal and RNH are above water in shot attempts (52.87 CF%) and a little above even in goals (3GF-2GA). The Oilers second (and third and fourth) lines have given away what McDavid’s line has created. Can Neal and RNH buck the trend?
Oscar Klefbom – 24:58 ATOI/g, 7 points in 7 games
Oscar Klefbom has always been one of Edmonton’s best defencemen as long as he’s healthy. Klefbom’s had his share of injury troubles, but a healthy Klefbom is a very good player and that’s what we’re seeing this season.
Klefbom’s playing nearly 25 minutes a game and that’s with rookie Joel Persson as his partner. Together Klefbom and Persson have a 56 CF% and the Oilers are even in goals (4GF-4GA).
The Oilers control play with Klefbom on the ice. Doing that with a rookie partner is even more impressive. Klefbom’s offence has always been a bit underrated. Klefbom has 7 points in 5 games and 12 shots on goal. What a start to the season.
Ethan Bear – 18:41 ATOI/g
Ethan Bear is playing top-four minutes (18:48 ATOI) and hasn’t looked out of place. Bear has primarily played with Darnell Nurse, and a bit with Oscar Klefbom. The Oilers do better with Bear on the ice than off, which is a nice surprise from a fifth-round draft pick from 2015.
Bear’s start comes at a necessary time with Larsson out for an extended period of time.
The Oilers have longed fielded a right side on defence that wasn’t NHL-caliber. They might finally have some depth there.
Zack Kassian – 3 goals in 5 games
There are two easy conditions for players who play beside McDavid and Draisaitl on a line: you can’t drag them down and you have to score.
I’ve been skeptical of Kassian’s ability to do both, but through five games he’s not looking out of place. The Draisaitl-McDavid-Kassian has a 57.14CF% and a has outscored teams 7-3 five-on-five.
It’s hard not to stay afloat with two superstars on your line, but at least you’re not a drag. Obviously McDavid and Draisaitl will get most of the credit, and rightfully so, but for now, Kassian is fine in that role.
Tomas Jurco – 2 points in 4 games
Tomas Jurco has two points through four games. Jurco adds some much-needed skill beyond the Oilers’ big-three up front.
The Oilers need depth players who can survive without McDavid and Draisaitl on the ice. Jurco’s played mostly with RNH and Neal five-on-five. The Jurco-RNH-Neal line is above water in shot attempts and goals. They have a 55 CF% and have outscored teams 3-1 five-on-five. The Oilers need another line to step up besides the McDavid-Draisaitl line. Maybe Jurco-RNH-Neal can be that line. Treading water or at least not giving anything back is the bare minimum, but so far Jurco-RNH-Neal looks like a bit more than that.