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Hyman Makes a Difference

There’s no doubt Leon Draisaitl and Mike Smith stole the show for the Edmonton Oilers in last night’s 4-0 drubbing of the Nashville Predators, but Zach Hyman caught my eye yet again. He’s made a habit of that this season.

Draisaitl, who scores against the Predators like they owe him money, is today sitting at 54 goals for the season after notching his sixth career regular season hat-trick. Down at the Oilers’ end of the rink, Smith stayed hot in the blue paint with 30 saves for his first shutout of the season and the 43rd whitewash of his career. 

Hyman, meanwhile, turned in what’s becoming a typical night’s work for him. He finished the game with one assist, setting up Draisaitl for the 2-0 goal on a drive down the right wing. Hyman took two shots, was credited with four hits and saw time on the power play and the penalty kill in 17:33 of playing time.

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Looking back to last off-season when the Oilers were looking at Hyman, a reader in a Monday Mailbag asked our writers how far we’d be willing to go in term and dollars to get Hyman. While I came up two years short on the seven-year deal with a $5.5-million AAV it eventually took to get him, he’s looked like money in the bank and is far better than I knew he was.

THE GOODS

Feb 15, 2022; Los Angeles, California, USA; Edmonton Oilers left wing Zach Hyman (18) and center Connor McDavid (97) celebrate after a goal against the LA Kings in the third period at Crypto.com Arena. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

With career highs of 24-26-50, Hyman is already nine points better than his best previous season. Points aside, Hyman has a purpose to the way he plays – he hustles to loose pucks and he hauls ass to the net with a stride more robust and purposeful than silky smooth. Nice hands in tight. Nothing fancy. Get it done. 

Coach Jay Woodcroft can play him on the left side. He can play him on the right side. He thinks the game well enough and gets around the ice quickly enough that he can play up in the line-up with somebody like Draisaitl or Connor McDavid. He’s sound enough defensively to play further down the line-up. Simply put, he’s a handy guy for Woodcroft to have around. 

As for Draisaitl, he’s already hit a career high with 54 goals and has a legitimate shot at reaching 60 with seven games to play and only Auston Matthews ahead of him at 58. There’s a pretty good chance the soft-spoken Hyman, a teammate of Matthews in Toronto, will have a hand in what happens as far as that goes the rest of the way. 

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“If I can get there, it’s great,” said Draisaitl. “I’m not going to try and stop scoring, but I’m also not going to force this, you know? So, whatever happens, happens.”

“He has elite hockey sense,” Woodcroft said of Draisaitl. “He puts himself in positions to score. His release is very underrated. How quickly he gets it off, there’s a heaviness to his shot. He put himself in those positions to score and tonight I was pretty impressed with the goals he scored.”

THE BOTTOM LINE

We expect to see McDavid atop the scoring race in pursuit of another Art Ross Trophy with Draisaitl not far behind. We expect to see Draisaitl trying to reel in Matthews in the goal-scoring derby for the Rocket Richard Trophy. It’s an upgrade to the forward group to have Hyman and Evander Kane, alongside McDavid, in the mix. Maybe that’s why Hyman caught my eye again.

After so many seasons of feeling like the Oilers are a quality top-six player or two short once you get past McDavid and Draisaitl, Hyman looks like he can be that guy – a difference-maker to go with the game-breakers. 

Previously by Robin Brownlee