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Photo Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

29 Takes on 29 Days: Oilers battle through adversity in February

As I have done every month so far this season, I have taken the last month around the Edmonton Oilers and wrapped it up in one nice little article. Here are my 29 takes on the month of February.

  1. This was the first month of the season where the Oilers really faced some adversity. From the McDavid and Klefbom injuries to the Kassian suspension, they had to go through most of this month without a handful of impact players and not only did they survive, they thrived.
  2. Just going back over the games they won, so many of them were incredibly impressive for different reasons. They started the month by pumping the Flames and running them out of their own rink. After dropping a pair of games, they rebounded with a comeback win over a tough Nashville team. With no McDavid, they won back-to-back road games against two teams in the playoff hunt (Carolina and Florida), and they ended the month with a huge victory over a Jets team that is sitting just outside the playoff picture.
  3. A big reason why they were able to rack up wins was the play of youngsters Ethan Bear and Kailer Yamamoto. Those two have proven that their hot starts were not a fluke. Fans have been clamouring for a puck-moving right-shot defenseman and a scoring winger for years and they finally got them.
  4. I absolutely love what Ken Holland did at the trade deadline. Adding a pair of legitimate top-six wingers and a solid third-pairing defenseman without having to trade away the first-round pick or any prospects is a massive win.
  5. Even if the trades didn’t work out, I just like the fact that Holland sent a message to the team’s core. These moves say that he believes in Draisaitl, McDavid, and Nugent-Hopkins’ ability to take this team on a run and he wanted to give them as much help as possible.
  6. The fact that Andreas Athanasiou is under team control this summer makes this all even more appealing. He didn’t give up two good draft picks for a player who can just walk away this July. Athanasiou will be able to help the team for the next few seasons.
  7. I have really liked what I’ve seen from the two new additions on McDavid’s wing but I wonder if Athanasiou might be a good fit with Draisaitl. Draisaitl obviously worked really well with Connor McDavid and considering how fast Athanasiou is, I wouldn’t mind seeing the two of them together. I feel like the combination of Draisaitl’s elite passing and Athanasiou’s breakaway speed could be a really nice combination.
  8. With that being said, there’s no way that Dave Tippett is breaking up the Nuge-Drai-Yamo line right now. They’re just way too effective. When they’ve been on the ice together, they’ve outscored the opposition 27-10.
  9. I noted that I think Athanasiou and Draisaitl would be an interesting combination, I also wouldn’t mind seeing how Kailer Yamamoto would work with Connor McDavid. Yamamoto is their best puck retriever and if he can bring that to a line with McDavid and get him the puck as much as possible, it could be a deadly combo. 
  10. That’s the nice part about the depth the Oilers now have. Instead of wondering which players might be able to keep up with McDavid and Draisaitl, we can now debate which one of their skilled wingers would be the right fit. I don’t remember the last time they had this much forward depth.
  11. Caleb Jones is another young piece who really impressed me over the last month. He’s starting to look more and more confident at the NHL level and with Klefbom out of the lineup, he’s emerged as their second-best puck mover. Are there still some rough moments? Sure, but that’s expected when a player is still within the first 100 games of his NHL career.
  12. Through the first 33 games of this season, Jones had only played 18 minutes twice. He’s now done it in five straight games and looked good doing it. Tippett is starting to trust him more and more and he’s making the coach look smart.
  13. At the beginning of this season, I was saying that Jones could be trade bait considering the amount of defensive depth the Oilers had in their system but now, after watching him develop over the last few months, and considering the fact he’ll be making under $1 million for the next two seasons, he’s absolutely unmovable.
  14. Fellow Oilersnation writer Dustin Nielson said earlier in the season that if the Oilers were going to make the playoffs, they would need one of their goaltenders to go on a 15-20 game heater. Well, Mike Smith has done that. He went 6-1-2 in February and has only lost once in regulation since the calendar flipped to 2020. He only allowed 23 goals in his nine appearances last month.
  15. We know that Mike Smith can be a very inconsistent goaltender and there’s still a part of me that’s worried he might go through a rough stretch before the end of the season. That’s probably just me being pessimistic but I do think it’s important for Dave Tippett to keep giving Mikko Koskinen chances between the pipes. Keeping Smith rested and Koskinen fresh down the stretch is important.
  16. The Oilers cap situation is very interesting as well. Mike Smith is probably going to earn all of his potential $1 million games played bonuses and could earn another $750k in the playoffs. If the Oilers don’t have room for that this season, the cap overage will carry into next season. Hard to complain about that though. I’m pretty sure everyone around the Oilers will trade a few bucks off the cap next season for a solid playoff run.
  17. The goaltending situation for next season is also very interesting. Will Holland bring back a 38-year-old goaltender? I think it’s far from a lock, but that’s a problem to discuss more in the summer.
  18. The play of Darnell Nurse has been a touchy topic amongst Oilers fans. Some fans love him, others really like to call out his deficiencies. I’ll say this: I really like Darnell Nurse at a $5.5 million defenseman if they would have signed him to a six-year deal worth $6.0 million, I wouldn’t have hated it. If he’s on your second pairing, then you have a really good blueline.
  19. When I assess him as a defenseman who is almost at 350 career games, I just don’t think he’ll ever be a bonafide top pairing guy. That’s fine. If the Oilers keep him around for a while, I’d really like that because I value his toughness and the fact that he is a leader in the room. Would I ever want his cap hit to be $7 million? No. I don’t think he is a $7 million defenseman. There’s nothing wrong with saying that and it doesn’t mean I hate Darnell Nurse, I’m just giving my opinion on his game.
  20. Some have pointed out that Nurse gets a lot of criticism while his partner, Ethan Bear, gets a free pass from the fan base. I think it’s fair to criticize a guy who’s in his fifth year in the league while giving the rookie defenseman more of a leash.
  21. When all the defensemen are healthy, if that ever happens, Dave Tippett has a tough decision on his hands. He really likes Kris Russell but as I said earlier, Caleb Jones has been playing great hockey and Tippett is starting to trust him more. As much as I want to see Jones in the lineup, I doubt Tippett will take out a gritty, shot-blocking veteran like Kris Russell.
  22. The Oilers powerplay continues to dominate but there are still people who complain about certain aspects of it. Alex Chiasson hasn’t been great and that’s led to people wondering if Kailer Yamamoto would be better in his spot. I’m very traditional in this way of thinking but I still value having a bigger body in front of the net and I would rather have one of Chiasson or Neal in front than Yamamoto. While he might be more skilled, he isn’t big enough to have in that spot.
  23. The Oilers are currently on pace to have the best PP% that the NHL has seen in a decade at 29.3%. Second best is the 18/19 Tampa Bay Lightning who scored on 28.2% of their powerplays. 
  24. Despite all of their skill, the Oilers still rank 18th in the league in powerplay opportunities per game at 2.94. First place is a tie between the Vancouver Canucks and New Jersey Devils at 3.46 per game. How many more wins would the Oilers have this season if they had an extra powerplay every second game? I’d be willing to bet they’d have a few more points in the standings.
  25. On the flip side, the Oilers are 22nd in times shorthanded per game. They might not get a lot of powerplays, but they don’t take a lot of penalties either. Considering how NHL referee’s love to keep things even, you could argue that if McDavid and Draisaitl drew more penalties, the Oilers would probably get called on just as many.
  26. I believe that for a team to go on an extended playoff run, more often than not, they need to face some sort of adversity. It’s why the Tampa Bay Lightning got eliminated last season in my opinion. The Oilers got a big handful of adversity this month in the form of injuries and they got through it. That makes them a better team in my opinion.
  27. The other thing I believe it did was force some players lower in the lineup to step up. I continue to be impressed with how the likes of Riley Sheahan and Josh Archibald stepped up when they got more ice time. If they can continue their strong play down the stretch and into the playoffs, it could give the Oilers a dangerous third line. They might get a really nice skilled player like Andreas Athanasiou or James Neal on their line once everyone is healthy as well.
  28. This coming month is very tough. 16 games in 31 days will really test this group and so will the opposition they have to face. 10 of the 16 games are against teams that were in a playoff spot on March 1st.
  29. I feel as though point 29 of this blog needs to be dedicated to Leon Draisaitl. If someone would have told you at the beginning of the season that an Oiler was going to win the Hart Trophy, almost everyone would have assumed it was Connor McDavid. Last year was Draisaitl’s breakout year and he’s somehow followed it up with an even more impressive campaign. The Oilers would not be a playoff team this year if it wasn’t more #29.