Photo Credit: Mandatory Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

How the Edmonton Oilers can learn a thing or two from the makeup of the Calgary Flames

The Edmonton Oilers have two of the best players in the National Hockey League. Their names are Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl.

What’s gone on in the last number of years is an experiment at the hands of two young players, an NHL organization and an angry fan base. The Edmonton Oilers have tried to rely too heavily on two young superstars.

If anything, it’s gone to prove a question that nobody has asked: can two kids with only a handful of NHL experience lead an organization to greatness?

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Well, the answer is no. What is has shown, however, is that two kids with only a handful of NHL experience can get your foot in the door after the pair practically drug the Oilers to the playoffs this year.

Over the last three years, here’s how the Oilers have faired with McDavid and/or Draisaitl on the ice and without them on the ice at 5v5 over the last three years:

TOI CF% (GF-GA) – GF% xGF% (sh%-sv%) PDO
McDavid and Draisaitl on 1857:31 50.63 122-103 — 54.22 51.41 (11.53-.9022) — 101.7
McDavid on, Draisaitl off 1904:16 50.03 98-91 — 51.85 50.25 (9.40-.9147) — 100.9
McDavid off, Draisaitl on 1810:58 48.26 80-93 — 46.24 49.32 (8.67-.9033) — 99
McDavid and Draisaitl off 5984:01 48.12 150-224 — 40.11 47.86 (5.48-.9241) — 97.9

McDavid and Draisaitl are a force to be reckoned with when they’re on the ice. They drive play, they outscore their opponents at a solid pace and they get some puck luck in the form of a high shooting percentage (that’s normal for elite goal scorers like them).

When they’re off the ice, the Oilers get thrown around like fine china when a bull smashes through the shop door.

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So it begs to ask the question, when will the Edmonton Oilers give McDavid and Draisaitl some help and who is it going to be?

They are two of the best players in the league, but they have little-to-no top-end talent or bonafide leadership. Sure, there’s a guy like Ryan Nugent-Hopkins who makes the Oilers a better team, and Kailer Yamamoto who had a strong run in late 2020.

They just don’t have a strong enough supporting cast.

Sure, a lot of goals against happen when McDavid and Draisaitl are on the ice, but they play a ton more 5v5 hockey than anyone else on the team. That’s to be expected when you play more than anybody else and such high-event hockey like they do.

Edmonton needs to make more significant upgrades to their roster and better surround two of the best players in the league. While that’s easier said than done in times of a flat cap and salary restrictions, Ken Holland needs to get creative.

In speaking to those covering the Calgary Flames, there’s a feeling around the club of a strong blend of veteran presence that can still contribute at a strong level among the clubs young guys. Calgary has established veterans like Mark Giordano, T.J. Brodie, Mikael Backlund and Elias Lindholm in the room and on the ice to show the Flames young guys the way.

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It takes the pressure off guys like Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan and Matthew Tkachuk, and to an extent, it has a reverse effect too. However, you feel about them all on a personal level, they’re all good to great players when you look at their contributions on the ice.

Take game one between Dallas and Calgary last night, for example. Dallas isolated the Johnny Gaudreau line, held them off the score sheet entirely and made them irrelevant. In turn, the Flames relied on their second line to drive play and their third line scored two big goals. A defenceman got the game-winner.

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What happens in Edmonton if Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl are isolated and shut down? The Oilers still don’t have the depth to be able to have good depth lines to step up and win games.

And thus we are led to narratives that McDavid and Draisaitl need to be better defensively when the true issue is that the roster composition is incredibly poor.

Edmonton needs to find a way to have consistent second and third lines to drive help the engine as well as a stronger commitment to the defensive game. Dave Tippett tried by splitting up the McDavid and Draisaitl line, but in turn, it created more disparity. McDavid had his most successful linemate in Draisaitl removed from his side and pretty much played with a rotating cast of characters from January onward.

Having McDavid and Draisaitl apart is likely the best-case scenario for the team moving forward. Leon can play with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Kailer Yamamoto, but now wingers need to be found to play with McDavid. Tyler Ennis might be one guy for cheap that could fill the role.

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It doesn’t hinder the fact that the aforementioned bottom-six, and defence, needs to be rounded out too.

If Edmonton has hopes of becoming a perennial playoff team and an eventual contender, this is one of the biggest areas the organization needs to address.

On Twitter: @zjlaing