We aren’t technically at the mid-point of the season but the extended Christmas break gives us the perfect opportunity to hand out some report cards!
Now, to preface, not all players are being graded on the same assignment. I mean, it wouldn’t be fair to grade Ryan McLeod at the same standard as Connor McDavid, so my goal here when handing out grades is to take into consideration what the expectation is for a given player. We aren’t doing a bell curve here.
Before we get into it, here’s what the letter grades mean…
- A = Excellent!
- B = Good!
- C = Satisfactory!
- D = Bad!
- F = Failure!
… Also, I’ll only be grading those who have played in at least 10 games for the team this season, which I figure is enough of a sample size to say something worthwhile about a player.
Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl — A+
No surprise here.
Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl have been excellent and there isn’t much that needs to be said. They both have 49 points through 29 games at the break and they’re tied for the league lead in scoring. If 82 games wind up getting played, both McDavid and Draisaitl are on pace to score 139 points, the most since Mario Lemieux in the mid-90s.
The expectations for these two are very high and they continue to impress.
Stuart Skinner — A
Stuart Skinner has undoubtedly been one of Edmonton’s unanticipated bright spots this season.
Last year when Mike Smith was injured for nearly the first month of play, Skinner rode the pine and appeared in only one game, a shaky win over the lowly Ottawa Senators. This year, he’s filled in for Smith and has been the team’s best goaltender. All told, Skinner has a .916 save percentage through 11 appearances and he’s been good enough to give the team a chance to win in each of his starts.
Skinner’s win over Winnipeg, his first victory in front of fans in Edmonton, was one of the best goaltending performances I’ve ever seen from an Oiler.
Jesse Puljujarvi — A-
Jesse Puljujarvi’s successful return to the NHL was a great story last season. This year, the young Finn has taken another step in the right direction and is showing he can be a very good winger at the NHL level. Through 28 games, Puljujarvi has 23 points, which is only two shy of what he produced in 55 games in 2021.
Digging a little deeper, Puljujarvi is Edmonton’s best skater both in terms of on-ice goal differential at 22-to-16 and on-ice shot attempt differential at 454-to-335. That shows a player who’s thriving at both ends of the ice.
The one thing holding the Bison King back from getting into the A or A+ category is the fact he’s been a tad streaky with his scoring. Puljujarvi logs major minutes with McDavid and needs to capitalize a little more on his opportunities.
Evan Bouchard — A-
It took quite some time for it to happen, but Evan Bouchard has broken out as a legitimate top-four defender on Edmonton’s blueline. He started off on the team’s third pairing and was quickly thrown into the deep end playing alongside Darnell Nurse on the top pairing and Bouchard hasn’t looked out of place at all.
Through 29 games, the 22-year-old has five goals and 18 points while logging 21:28 per game, a massive jump on the 14:50 he was playing during the 2021 season. In terms of underlying numbers, Bouchard breaks even with a 21-to-21 goal differential at even-strength and he’s well in the green with a 528-to-441 shot attempt differential.
The one note I have for Bouchard is that his defensive zone play could improve, especially in front of the net.
Darnell Nurse — B+
Darnell Nurse put together a breakout season for the Oilers in 2021 in the absence of Oscar Klefbom and earned himself a contract that paid him like a No. 1 defenceman. As a result, we have to grade him to that standard.
So far, so good for Nurse, as he’s been just as good as he was last year. Nurse is logging 26:24 per game, an increase from the 25:38 he played last season. He also has the best shot attempt differential among Edmonton’s defencemen at 526-to-400 despite those heavy minutes.
The area where Nurse has declined from last year is his offence. In 2021, Nurse scored 16 goals in 56 games. This season, he has just one goal in 23 games. The Oilers struggle to get depth scoring and could a bit more from Nurse. The lack of scoring is why I have Nurse at the top end of the “Good!” category rather than in the “Excellent!” category.
Zach Hyman — B+
Edmonton’s major off-season addition this summer was Zach Hyman, a gritty, hard-working winger that was undoubtedly going to become a fan favourite here. So far, Hyman has come pretty much exactly as advertised. He forechecks hard, crashes the net, plays well in his own zone, and never takes a shift off.
Through 26 games, Hyman has 11 goals and 19 points, putting him on pace to produce a career-high in each category if he doesn’t miss too many games due to injury. Hyman also has strong underlying numbers, as his 363-to-332 on-ice shot attempt differential ranks fourth among Edmonton’s forwards.
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins — B
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins has 25 points through 28 games this season, putting him on pace to score 73 points over the course of 82 games, which would be a new career-high.
So, why is he just in the “Good!” category? My gripe with Nugent-Hopkins is his even-strength play. Of his 25 points, 14 have been scored with the man advantage. Also, Nugent-Hopkins just breaks even in terms of goal differential at evens at 16-to-16 and he’s in the red in terms of shot attempt differential.
RNH’s production all told has been solid, but the team needs a bit more from him at even strength.
Warren Foegele — B-
This was a difficult player to place.
At a glance at the numbers, Warren Foegele has been thoroughly unspectacular. He has 11 points in 29 games, not far off from the 20 points he scored in 53 games last season. But the big difference between Oilers Foegele and Hurricanes Foegele is in his underlying numbers. Between 2019-20 and 2021 with the Canes, Foegele had an on-ice goal differential of 65-to-58. This season, he’s being outscored 17-to-11.
Now, to be fair, this might be more of a Dave Tippett issue than a Foegele issue. His shot attempt numbers are great and the eye test shows a player who consistently brings speed and energy to the table. Edmonton’s bottom-six as a whole has been caved in and Foegele’s numbers would surely be better if given an extended run on one of the skill lines. Foegele has looked good alongside McDavid in a small sample size and he should get more of a run there.
Ryan McLeod — B-
Though his rookie performance hasn’t been quite as exciting as Bouchard’s or Skinner’s, Ryan McLeod has done a nice job as one of the team’s bottom-six centres. He has three points, all goals, through 18 games, is above water in terms of shot attempts, and is being outscored 6-to-5 at even-strength, which is actually quite good when compared to other members of this bottom-six.
In order for McLeod to move up from the bottom level of the “Good!” category, we need to see a little bit more offence and we also need to see him swim when taking on a more difficult role. He currently logs about 10 minutes per game and starts more shifts in the offensive zone than the defensive zone.
Duncan Keith and Cody Ceci — B-
I went back and forth on this one for a while but I think Edmonton’s shutdown pairing deserves to crack the “Good!” category.
Both Duncan Keith and Cody Ceci have done an admirable job taking on a difficult role in a brand new environment, but, that being said, they also combine for a $9 million cap hit, so the expectations should be fairly high.
The Keith and Ceci pairing eats about 20 minutes per night while making heavy starts in the offensive zone against the other team’s top opposition. They’re well into the red in terms of even-strength goal differential, but the shot metrics suggest they should have a better fate. Keith’s expected goals for percentage is 50.2 while Ceci comes in at 48.2.
Can you do better for the money? Probably, but Keith and Ceci have been solid thus far for the Oilers in a tough role.
Colton Sceviour — C+
In the same vein as with Foegele, it would be nice to see more of Colton Sceviour, as the underlying numbers suggest he’s pushing things in the right direction.
Three points through 20 games is obviously nothing to write home about, but Sceviour is one of just eight Oilers to be in the green in terms of expected goals for percentage, which is based on shot volume and quality. He also kills penalties and starts nearly two-thirds of his shifts in the defensive zone.
You can’t complain about that from a guy who came in on a PTO.
Tyson Barrie — C
Much like with Keith and Ceci above, I went back and forth with Barrie.
On one hand, he’s doing just about exactly what you’d expect. He has 17 points in 29 games and is an adventure defensively. Pretty much the same as last year, right? But on the other hand, it’s difficult to put a player making $4.5 million to be a power-play specialist in the “Good!” category.
Mikko Koskinen — C
It’s been a rollercoaster ride with Mikko Koskinen this year. He’s had some terrible starts that really seem to deflate the team but he’s also been an absolute rock in other starts.
All told, Koskinen has a .902 save percentage in 18 outings. That’s well below league average so Koskinen should probably be graded lower than right in the middle of “Satisfactory!” but I’m going to cut him some slack because he did well shouldering a touch load when Mike Smith got injured and the Oilers didn’t want to throw Stuart Skinner into the deep end.
Kris Russell and Slater Koekkoek — C
Your sixth and seventh defencemen are both breaking even in terms of on-ice goal differential? Can’t complain there! Well, you can if you look at the shot numbers, but we don’t need to set the bar too high for depth defenders.
Kris Russell and Slater Koekkoek, a pair of defenders who don’t cost the team much money, have been the definition of “Satisfactory!” thus far.
Zack Kassian — C-
I feel like this might be a bit unfair given he’s has produced 12 points in 25 games and his underlying numbers are quite good, but Zack Kassian’s efforts are so wildly inconsistent that it’s infuriating. He can have a huge game one night in which he looks like a force and then completely disappear for the full week right after that.
It wouldn’t be such a big deal if Kassian was paid like a fourth-line player, but that isn’t the case. Given the money he makes the expectations that come along with it, the team needs a more consistent effort.
Tyler Benson and Brendan Perlini — D+
There was hope that either the pre-season king or the former second-round pick would become a depth scorer for the Oilers this season but that hasn’t happened yet.
Brendan Perlini has one goal and one assist in 15 games and Benson hasn’t found the score sheet yet through 14 games. And, unlike with Sceviour, neither Benson nor Perlini have good underlying numbers, as they’re both being outshot at even-strength and are in the red in terms of expected goals.
Kailer Yamamoto — D+
Kailer Yamamoto with the same grades as Benson and Perlini? This seems harsh, right? But remember, these grades are based on expectations.
Through 29 games, Yamamoto has five goals and seven points, which simply isn’t good enough when considering how much playing time he gets with Edmonton’s elite players in the top-six. The other worrying thing about Yamamoto is his poor underlying numbers, as he’s deeper into the red in terms of shot attempt differential than ever before in his NHL career.
One thing saving me from giving Yamamoto a “Bad!” grade explicitly is the fact he’s been a solid member of Edmonton’s penalty kill.
Derek Ryan — D
Derek Ryan has had a very tough time early on this season. In 2021 with the Flames, he had an 18-to-11 goal differential. This year with the Oilers? He’s being outscored 16-to-6. He simply doesn’t look like the quality fourth-line centre the Oilers thought they were adding last summer.
The positive for Ryan that props up his grade a little bit is the fact he kills penalties and does well on face-offs.
Kyle Turris — D
Kyle Turris has been completely caved in thus far and simply doesn’t look like an NHL player. He has two points in 17 games, the Oilers are being outscored 8-to-2 when he’s on the ice, and he doesn’t kill penalties.
The saving grace that keeps Turris from the minus level of the “Bad!” category? He’s two-for-two in the shootout!
What say you, Nation? Do you agree with my report cards? Was I too easy? Too harsh? What would you grade each Oiler? Yell at me in the comments section!
REPORT CARDS BROUGHT TO YOU BY DEUCE VODKA
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