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Photo Credit: © Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

How Teams Stack Up in the North Division

How do the Edmonton Oilers matchup against their six division rivals from Canada?

Let’s take a look.

I ranked the best players on each team in various categories: their top-six (to start the season), top-four defence (to start), starting goalie, special teams, 5×5 scoring and overall team depth. I also listed the top scorers in Canada and where they ranked in the NHL last season. As in any rankings, you have to list them in order. In some cases the difference between second and fifth is minuscule.

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Top scorers (averaged at least 0.75 points/game the past two seasons).

Player TEAM GP G-A-PTS Rank in PTS P/GP
Draisaitl EDM 153 92-122-215 1st 1.41
McDavid EDM 142 75-138-213 2nd 1.50
Marner TOR 141 42-119-161 11th 1.14
Schiefele WPG 153 67-90-157 14th 1.03
Gaudreau CGY 152 54-103-157 15th 1.03
Wheeler WPG 153 42-114-156 18th 1.02
Matthews TOR 138 84-69-153 19th 1.11
Tavares TOR 145 73-75-148 22nd 1.02
Connor WPG 153 72-67-139 27th 0.91
M.Tkachuk CGY 149 57-81-138 29th 0.93
Lindholm CGY 151 56-76-132 35th 0.87
Pettersson VAN 139 55-77-132 36th 0.95
Monahan CGY 148 56-74-130 37th 0.88
Nugent-Hopkins EDM 147 50-80-130 38th 0.88
Tatar MTL 148 47-72-119 54th 0.80
Miller VAN 144 40-79-119 55th 0.83
Dadonov OTT 151 53-64-117 56th 0.77
Horvat VAN 151 49-65-114 61st 0.75
Laine WPG 150 58-55-113 62nd 0.75

The Oilers top-two scorers led the entire NHL, but the Canadian division is stacked with offensive talent, posting 19 skaters in the-top 62 over the past two seasons.

Best player:

Edmonton: Connor McDavid
Toronto: Auston Matthews
Winnipeg: Mark Schiefele
Vancouver: Elias Pettersson
Calgary: Johnny Gaudreau
Montreal: Carey Price
Ottawa: Thomas Chabot

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Edmonton has the best player and their second best player, Leon Draisaitl, is better than any second best player on the other six teams. Some in Calgary might say Mark Giordano is their best player, and I’d have no argument with that.

Top-Six:

Winnipeg:
Ehlers-Schiefele-Wheeler
Connor-Stastny-Laine

They have five legit top-six forwards, and Stastny could return to top-six production with those wingers. They have the most proven top-six in this division.

Toronto:
Thornton-Matthews-Marner
Vesey-Tavares-Nylander

They have four 60+ players and a future Hall of Famer in Thornton. Vesey is a complementary forward, but he and Thornton are not locks to stick. Which is normal as very few teams have more than four consistently top-six producing forwards.

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Edmonton:
Nugent-Hopkins-McDavid-Kassian
Kahun-Draisaitl-Yamamoto

They have two Hart Trophy and Art Ross winners and RNH has had consecutive 60+ points seasons. Yamamoto had an excellent second half last season, and if he continues to produce close to those numbers then the Oilers have four consistent top-six forwards. Kassian has the 28th most 5×5 goals in the NHL the past two years. He can run hot and cold, but if he finds some consistency he is a solid complementary winger. Maybe Jesse Puljujarvi ends up in the top-six as the season progresses.

Calgary:
Gaudreau-Monahan-Dube
Tkachuk-Lindholm-Mangiapane

Moving Lindholm to centre has given the Flames three very good centres with Backlund in the third spot. Is this the year Dube and Mangiapane break out offensively? Both have potential to do it.

Vancouver:
Miller-Pettersson-Boeser
Pearson-Horvat-Hoglander

Many are high on young Hoglander. He’s very skilled, and the future looks good for him, but until I see it in the NHL there are some questions. Is this the season Pettersson becomes a legitimate point/game player? I believe it is, but Hoglander and Pearson are less proven than Anderson and Drouin. I could have swapped Vancouver and Montreal, but Pettersson is better than any Habs forward.

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Montreal:
Tatar-Danault-Gallagher
Drouin-Suzuki-Anderson

Montreal doesn’t have a #1 centre yet. Maybe Suzuki or Kotkaniemi become one in the future, but for now Danault is their most proven centre. He is a really solid #2. They have four solid wingers, and Gallagher has been extremely productive scoring goals at 5×5. Can the Habs find some PP production this year?

Ottawa:
Tkachuk-Norris-Dadonov
Stuetzle-Stepan-Brown

Josh Norris might be a great late round pick in fantasy as he will start the season with the Senators two best wingers.

It is interesting to note how much better Montreal’s players are at 5×5, but woefully bad on the powerplay.

Player TEAM GP G-A-PTS Rank in 5×5 PTS P/60
Draisaitl EDM 153 50-65-115 4th 2.83
McDavid EDM 142 45-69-114 5th 2.71
Matthews TOR 138 53-39-92 9th 2.54
Gaudreau CGY 152 34-56-90 10th 2.36
Marner TOR 145 23-67-90 11th 2.58
Tavares TOR 145 46-43-89 12th 2.40
Tatar MTL 148 30-57-87 15th 2.63
Schiefele WPG 153 33-52-85 21st 2.04
Danault MTL 152 21-59-80 28th 2.26
Pettersson VAN 139 32-47-79 31st 2.50
Gallagher MTL 141 47-31-78 32nd 2.45
Connor WGP 153 39-36-75 42nd 1.98
Monahan CGY 148 31-43-74 43rd 2.10
Ehlers WGP 133 34-39-73 46th 2.33
M.Tkachuk CGY 149 29-44-73 47th 2.13
Wheeler WPG 153 27-44-71 49th 1.93
Dadonov OTT 151 27-42-69 55th 2.03
Nugent-Hopkins EDM 147 30-38-68 63rd 1.96
Lindholm CGY 151 30-37-67 64th 1.96
Backlund CGY 147 24-42-66 66th 1.91
Miller VAN 144 27-39-66 67th 2.54
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Top-Four Defence:

Montreal:
Chiarot-Weber
Edmundson-Petry

They have a big, mobile top-four. They can defend and provide offence. If the Habs could get any sort of PP production they will be a playoff team for sure in my eyes.

Vancouver
Edler-Schmidt
Hughes-Myers

Hughes is incredibly dynamic and he and Schmidt will help their forwards a lot.

Calgary:
Giordano-Andersson
Hanafin-Tanev

These are the top four to start, but the pairs could change. Yesterday Andersson was skating with Giordano. A solid group.

Toronto:
Reilly-Brodie
Muzzin-Holl

Adding Muzzin halfway through last season and Brodie in the off-season has given them more proven solid defenders. Add in Bogosian and Mikko Lehtonen means that half their blueline is new. Will they need time to adjust to each other?

Edmonton:
Nurse-Bear
Jones-Larsson

Edmonton doesn’t have a #1 Dman, but with the addition of Barrie it will be interesting to see how their minutes are deployed this season. He isn’t listed here, because I don’t see him and Russell playing more as a pair than the Oilers other two units, but I’d bet Barrie ends up playing the second most 5×5 minutes on the Oilers blueline.

Winnipeg:
Morrissey-Demelo
Forbort-Pionk

Can Forbort or Poolman handle consistent top-four minutes? Jets defence is their weak spot.

Ottawa:
Chabot-Zaitsev
Brannstrom-Gudbranson

Not sure if Brannstrom will play there, as they might move Coburn up. Ottawa will compete hard, but they just don’t have enough proven NHL skill in their top-six or top-four to compete for a playoff spot in the North division.

GOALTENDING…

Oct 27, 2019; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; Edmonton Oilers goaltender Mikko Koskinen (19) replaces goaltender Mike Smith (41) after Smith let in 3 second period goals by the Florida Panthers at Rogers Place.

Montreal: Carey Price is still very good, and we’ll see if more rest with the acquisition of Jake Allen allows Price to be better due to having more rest. Allen is the best backup in the division and that is why I have Montreal first in this category.

Winnipeg: Hellebuyck was a main reason the Jets were in the playoff hunt last season. He will need to be just as good for the Jets to make the playoffs this season.

Calgary: Markstrom was excellent for Vancouver last season. He faced a lot of high quality shots and still finished with a .918sv%. If he plays similar for the Flames as he did with the Canucks, the Flames should be a playoff team.

Toronto: After three seasons posting a SV% of .918, .918 and .917 Freddie Andersen dipped down to .909 last year. Was fatigue a factor? Possibly, but with an extended off-season, he should be rested. Although, Kevin Woodley from InGoal Magazine mentioned some technical items they worked on this off-season and he thinks Andersen will have a better season.

Edmonton: I believe Koskinen will be the starter, and while many fans and media question his abilities, Koskinen had a very solid season last year with a .917sv%, which was 12th best among starters. And very close to Markstrom. The one question is: how many games can he play and remain at a high level?

Ottawa: Matt Murray has been inconsistent the past four seasons. From 2017-2020 his SV% was .923, .907, .919 and .899. If that trend continues he will be back to around .920 this year. With a weaker team in front of him than what he played behind in Pittsburgh, he is going to have to stand on his head to keep them in games.

Vancouver: Over the past three seasons Braden Holtby Sv% has been .907, .911 and .897 for an average of .906. In his prior five seasons he had a combined .921Sv%. Over the past eight seasons he has stared the most games in the NHL (440). Has he worn down, or will the extended break over the past 10 months help him regain his from from 2013-2017? Thatcher Demko has made 34 starts in his career with a .906Sv%. He was excellent in three playoff starts last September, so was that his jumping off point to being a solid NHL goalie or a small sample size?

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SPECIAL TEAMS…

It is important to note that historically the top penalty kill units have not been as consistent year-to-year as top powerplay units have. The elite powerplay teams, when maintaining same personnel often remain quite good.

Here is how they ranked last season:

Team  PP%  RANK PK%  RANK
EDM 29.5 1st 84.4 2nd
VAN 24.2 4th 80.5 16th
TOR 23.1 6th 77.7 21st
CGY 21.2 12th 82.1 9th
WPG 20.5 15th 77.6 22nd
MTL 17.7 22nd 78.7 19th
OTT 14.2 31st 76.1 28th

Edmonton had the best PP in the NHL, and fourth best all time, at a ridiculous 29.5% last season. The PP runs through McDavid, Draisaitl and RNH and it should remain very good. The addition of right-shooting Tyson Barrie, who is very good offensively, should help more than hinder. Their PK was second best last year. Their goaltenders knew where the shots were coming and they made a lot of stops. Mike Smith had the fourth best PK Sv% in the NHL while Mikko Koskinen was 6th.

If last year’s PP success continues than the North, penalty killers might struggle a bit. Last year the North had five of the top-15 powerplays, but only two in the top-15 penalty kills. As I stated, penalty killing units tend to fluctuated more than PP units.

TJ Brodie should help Toronto’s PK, but mainly Freddie Anderson needs to be better on the PK. He was 37th in PK SV% among those who played at least 20 games.

Will we see a lot of powerplays in the North? Last season only Vancouver was top-16 in PP chances per game. They were second at 3.42.
Ottawa was 17th at 2.97.
Winnipeg was 18th at 2.89.
Edmonton was 22nd at 2.82
Toronto 23rd at 2.79
Calgary 24th at 2.76
Montreal 29th at 2.62

And while they didn’t get a lot of powerplays, they didn’t take a lot of penalties.

Winnipeg had the second best penalty kills/game at 2.45
Toronto was 8th at 2.76
Calgary and Edmonton tied for 9th at 2.80
Montreal was 14th at 2.97
Vancouver 22nd at 3.12
Ottawa 27th at 3.24.

Will the two and three game mini-series, combined with facing each other nine or 10 times lead to more powerplays? My initial response is yes, as I think there will be more emotion and animosity because of the schedule, but there will be no fans in the stands to increase the energy, so I’m not sure which way it goes.

HOW I SEE NORTH PLAYING OUT…

Nov 17, 2018; Calgary, Alberta, CAN; Calgary Flames center Mikael Backlund (11) and left wing Matthew Tkachuk (19) fight with Edmonton Oilers center Connor McDavid (97) and center Leon Draisaitl (29) during the first period at Scotiabank Saddledome.

It is going to be competitive. I don’t see one team running away with the division.

In 2013 during the 48 game season, only three teams won 30 games — Chicago and Pittsburgh 36 and Anaheim 30. Montreal and St.Louis won 29 and Boston 28.

Is anyone in the North as good as the Blackhawks or Penguins? I don’t see it, so I don’t see anyone winning 40+ games and skating away with the division.

Any key injury or COVID outbreak to a team always makes predictions difficult, but here are how I see them finishing.

I have Edmonton, Toronto, Montreal and Calgary as the four playoff teams.

Winnipeg will be close, and Hellebuyck might be able to carry them to the playoffs, but their goaltending depth after him is pretty thin. I think they are close, but ultimately miss.

I see Vancouver in a similar light to the 2018 Oilers. After a good playoff run in 2017, the Oilers came crashing back to earth. I think the loss of Markstrom will really hurt the Canucks. I don’t expect Vancouver to struggle as much as the Oilers in 2018, but I see them finishing 6-8 points out of a playoff spot.

Ottawa has made a lot of changes, and they will improve, but comparing their lineup to the others in the North I don’t see them really being close.

Who do you have making the playoffs?

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