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Photo Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

Nielson’s Ten Tidbits

As we near the end of the opening month of the 2019-20 season, you can’t help but be excited by what Dave Tippett’s Oilers have accomplished so far. Here are a few notes and storylines worth discussing.

MCDAVID

Few players in the history of the game have had the ability to dominate a period the way Connor McDavid controlled the third frame against the Capitals. With the team having lost a couple of games in a row and facing another loss against Washington McDavid simply refused to accept defeat.

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Even after going pointless in three consecutive McDavid is still on pace for a 150 point season.

EARLY SEASON KOSKINEN

Maybe Koskinen is getting lucky, maybe I was wrong about him, but either way, his numbers have been sensational to start the season.

Goaltending numbers across the league are inflated this early in the season. Koskinen’s .927 save percentage and 2.35 goals against average would be top-five type stats at the midway point of the season. At this point of the year, his .927 save percentage is tied for 16th among goaltenders who have played at least three games and his goals against is 19th best in the league.

Koskinen has had to have made a positive first impression on Dave Tippett but I’m not sure it will lead to an uptick in starts just yet. The team seems to be doing fine with the current rotation and I’d be surprised if the coach starts to favour one netminder over the other.

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BOTTOM SIX OFFENCE

I like the job Riley Sheahan has done for the Oilers so far this season but his skill set appears to be more that of a pretty good 4th line centre and penalty killer rather than a third line centre who can create offence.

The Oilers would have a solid third line if Peter Chiarelli didn’t light a tire fire on the way out of town moving Ryan Strome and Drake Cagguila. I still believe the most skilled player they have in their bottom six is Tomas Jurco but he’s already been healthy scratched once this season.

When Joakim Nygard is healthy I think I’d like to see him and Jurco on a line with Gaetan Haas, after a little bit of seasoning, down the middle. They could then play Sheahan with Archibald and one of Granlund, Gagner or Khaira.

SPEAKING OF KHAIRA

Any sort of offensive upside in Jujhar Khaira’s game has either disappeared or never really existed at all. He has just three goals in his last 71 games. The best he looked last season was a brief stint with Nugent-Hopkins and Puljujarvi but that trio’s time together was cut short due to a Khaira suspension and Hitchcock never went back to it.

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NO CALLS TO BAKO

Anyone suggesting the Oilers bring up Kailer Yamamoto or Tyler Benson to help create some offence in the bottom six need to give their head a shake. The most important thing for either of those guys when they eventually get to the NHL will be to have a veteran centre that they can rely upon, right now the Oilers don’t even have that to offer them.

Ken Holland has never rushed to the farm to solve a problem and I don’t expect him to start now.

LEVEL OF IMPORTANCE

Connor McDavid
Koskinen/Smith
Oscar Klefbom
Leon Draisaitl
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins

Disagree with me, I dare you.

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ETHAN BEAR

Ethan Bear has been the biggest surprise of the season for the Oilers. Due to injuries, Bear is being asked to play much more than anyone ever expected. He actually leads ALL ROOKIE DEFENSEMEN in time on ice. Bear is playing 21:23 a night for the Oilers. Quinn Hughes is the only other first-year blueliner averaging more than 20 minutes a night while super rookie Cale Makar is playing about 18:30 per game.

I’d be shocked if Bear ever puts up the same type of offensive numbers as Hughes or Makar but the fact that he’s doing this well with this size of workload is already a huge win for the Oilers. Thanks, Chiarelli?

PROSPECT WATCH

Second round pick Raphael Lavoie is off to a great start in the QMJHL. He has 10 goals and 22 points in 13 games to start the season. Last season Lavoie averaged 3.32 shots per game, this year he has 84 shots in just 13 games, good enough for an average of 6.45, that’s incredible.

It was nice to see skating coach Dave Pelletier out east to work with him a bit.

PULJUJARVI

People who criticize, or refuse to accept, Jesse Puljujarvi’s success in Finland are doing nothing but making themselves look like idiots.

Every single time Jesse scores a goal, or picks up an assist or dominates the play, like he has been doing, it’s nothing but good news for this organization. After scoring on Friday Puljujarvi has found the back in seven consecutive games and leads his team with 16 points in 15 games.

It’s not Jesse’s fault that Todd McLellan tried to turn him into a plug. He doesn’t want to be an Oiler any more, and he never will be, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t one of the most valuable assets that Holland has in his back pocket.

GRETZKY’S RECORD IN TROUBLE?

I discussed Ovechkin’s pursuit of Gretzky’s all-time goal scoring record of 894 goals on the “smash hit” Nielson Show on TSN 1260 and on the 2 Guys & A Goalie podcast so I might as well mention it here.

Ovechkin currently sits at 667 goals, including 9 in just 12 games this season. He’s on pace for a ridiculous 62 goals this year but even if finishes with just 45 he’ll being 191 goals behind Gretzky at the end of the season.

If he continues to score at the same pace he has in his entire career he’d need to playing another 318 games to break the Great One’s record. It’s common sense to suggest he’ll slow down but this is a guy who scored 52 goals as a rookie and 51 in his 14th season. Whether he tracks down the goal scoring record or not it will be fascinating to follow the pursuit.

Previously by Dustin Nielson: