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Surprise Surprise

It’s November 27th and the Edmonton Oilers have a four-point cushion atop the Pacific Division. To quote the great Clark Griswold, “If I woke up tomorrow with my head sewn to the carpet, I wouldn’t be more surprised than I am now.”

Sure, some people expected the Oilers to be fighting for a playoff spot, or snagging a wild card position, or sneaking into 2nd or 3rd in the division but nobody and I mean nobody picked them to win the division. There is still a long way to go but the first two months of the season has been full of pleasant surprises.

Here are my top five, in order, of most surprising to least surprising.

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1. @ETHAN BEAR BECOMES TOP FOUR D-MAN

Hell, at this point you may classify him as top two d-man on this club. Ethan Bear wasn’t anything more than a long shot to make the club when roster projections started to pop up in August. Not only did he made the team, he’s become a significant piece on the blueline playing over 21 minutes a night, only Klefbom, Nurse and the dynamic duo up front are on the ice more for the Oilers.

As good as Bear has been so far, I’m a strong believer that he will be significantly better in the second half of the season as he possibly gets even more opportunity offensively.

2. KOSKINEN SILENCES THE DOUBTERS, MYSELF INCLUDED

Heading into the off-season, I thought the best the Oilers could get from Mikko Koskinen would be 30-35 games with a save percentage in the .905 range and more losses than wins. I was way off.

Koskinen has started 12 games so far and has a 9-1-0-2 record with a .920 save percentage and 2.45 goals against average. It’s still easy to poke fun at his glove hand every once in a while, but to be fair it appears to be much better than it was last year and at many times last year that was really his only flaw.
I know some people would like to see Tippett run with big Finn a little bit more but I say stick with the current schedule because it’s working, especially for Koskinen.

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3. POWERFUL PENALTY KILL

With @Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl running the power-play, and Lucic not killing the play around the net, I could have been easily convinced at the beginning of the season that the power-play could be one of the best in the league. I’m not sure I can say the same about the penalty kill. The Oilers 86.7% PK is second in the league with only the Sharks doing a better job shorthanded.

I don’t to take anything away from the players who are getting the job done on the ice but I think the majority of the credit for the overall reconstruction of the PK needs to go to Ken Holland and Dave Tippett. They identified affordable targets in the off-season who had a history of penalty killing and would be willing to buy into doing the same thing here in Edmonton. Three of the Oilers most used penalty killers were all off-season acquisitions. Riley Sheahan, Josh Archibald and Markus Granlund have all become significant pieces of one of the best penalty killing groups in the league.

4. James Neal

The Oilers could have got Griffin Reinhart in a trade for Lucic and it would have been a win so every goal James Neal has scored is nothing but gravy, mmmm gravy.

I was in the “James Neal will score 20 club,” but I didn’t mean on the power play alone. Neal has 10 power play goals already, and the guy is on pace to set a franchise record for PP goals in a season. Overall, he is scoring at a 44-goal pace, and I know a lot of those came early and he has since slowed down, but if he can get 15-17 goals on the power-play and 30 overall it would be an amazing year.

5. DRAISAITL IS DOING IT AGAIN

Leon Draisaitl scored 50 freaking goals last season and I didn’t think I was going out on a limb by saying he wouldn’t do it again because he shot 21.6% in 2018-19.

Well, here we are almost two months into the 2019-20 campaign and the big fella is once again up to his old tricks. Drai, Drai, Drai is shooting, a slightly lower, 19.3 percent this year but he’s shooting more often than he was last season. He had 231 shots in 82 games last year which works out to 2.81 shots per game. This year he is averaging 3.19 shots per game. If he continues to put 3.19 pucks on net per game and scores 19.3 percent of the time he will score, wait for it……50 goals. Back-to-back 50 goal seasons is pretty much unheard in the game today, and Draisaitl is on pace to get the job done.

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REST OF THE WAY

If these “surprises” become the norm the Oilers will have an excellent shot at hanging on to the top spot in the Pacific. The best part is not knowing who or what will surprise us over the final five months of the regular season, any guesses?

Previously by Dustin Nielson: