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Photo Credit: Tom Kostiuk

Monday Mailbag – Connor McDavid’s late season domination

Happy Easter Monday, dearest Internet friends! As always, we’re back with a brand new Mailbag to help you get your week started and make sense of everything that’s going on with our beloved Edmonton Oilers. This week, we’re talking about line combos, Zack Kassian, McDavid getting to 50 goals, and more. If you’ve got got a question you’d like to ask, email it to me at [email protected] or hit me up on Twitter at @jsbmbaggedmilk and I’ll get to you as soon as we can.

Mar 30, 2022; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; Edmonton Oilers forward Connor McDavid (97) scores a shootout goal on Los Angeles Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick (32) at Rogers Place. Mandatory Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

1) Taylor asks – What do you see in Connor McDavid’s game that seems to get ramped up over the final half of the year? It seems like every season he starts to go supernova over the back half of the schedule and I’d love to know why everyone thinks that is.

Robin Brownlee:

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He expects to be better as games become more important. He wants to be at his best when it matters most. Motivation from within. Elite athletes have it.

Jason Gregor:

I think it is the combination of his elite skill and his conditioning. He doesn’t slowdown from the wear and tear of the season. He maintains a high level of pace all year.

Cam Lewis:

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That’s part of what makes a truly elite player elite, being able to be good for longer than the rest. While other players, even very good ones, burn out, the true elite can keep it up and even find another gear down the stretch. Also, in this season specifically, it’s worthwhile to note that Jay Woodcroft is getting more out of the rest of the team, which lends a helping hand to McDavid.

Tyler Yaremchuk:

That’s interesting. I obviously don’t know for sure, but maybe part of it is how good of shape he’s in? Some players maybe start to slow down due to the grind of the full season catching up to them and McDavid just keeps flying at his same level. That’s what I’ll go with.

Baggedmilk:

It’s because it takes half a season for his game genie mode to fully charge. Once there, look out.

Feb 15, 2021; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; Edmonton Oilers goaltender Mike Smith (41) is replaced by goaltender Mikko Koskinen (19) during the second period against the Winnipeg Jets at Rogers Place. Mandatory Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

2) David O. asks – A lot of talk about goaltending. Assuming Smith and Koskinen are healthy and Skinner is not an option, how would you plan to run the goalies in the playoffs? Three choices:

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a) Start one, and he’s your guy barring a complete meltdown
b) Start one but he’s on a short leash, with the #2 coming in on a similarly short leash
c) Plan to alternate starts and see if someone grabs the net

Robin Brownlee:

None of the above. Pick your guy at the start of the post-season. If he struggles at some point, replace him. Doesn’t have to be a complete meltdown. And what are you telling your goaltenders if they’re on a short leash? That’s not motivation. It’s a distraction.

Jason Gregor:

I think it is clear who Woodcroft will start in game one. Woodcroft has been here for 32 games. Smith has started 16 and Koskinen has started 15. Smith has a .922Sv% and 2.47 GAA while Koskinen has a .905Sv% and 2.99 GAA.

Smith is stopping more pucks, but he also has elite puckhandling skills which can help alleviate some pressure on the Oilers’ defenders.

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If Smith has a terrible game, then maybe Woodcroft gives Koskinen a look, but I suspect it will be Smith like it was last season.

Cam Lewis:

Whoever is hotter is who you go with until they look like they’ve lost their groove. I would be pretty confident in saying Mike Smith will be the guy come May.

Tyler Yaremchuk:

Option 2. If you win, you get the next start. If you give up 4+ in a losing effort, then the crease goes to the next guy. Context is important too. Like if Smith gives up 3 goals on 18 shots in a loss in game one and two of them were weak goals, then you go to Mikko. If Smith stops 41/44 and they lose 3-2, then you go back to Smith again. I would obviously treat Mikko the same way.

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Baggedmilk:

I think the Oilers are going to roll without whoever is playing best over this last handful of games. I wouldn’t bet against Mike Smith, though. That’s my gut instinct for game one.

3) Ed asks – Looking at the 4 division leaders all have them have traded away their 1st round pick in this year’s draft. The Panthers don’t have a 1st round pick until 2025 and the Avs don’t have a 2nd round pick until 2025.  For the period of 2020 through 2025, the Bolts are projected to have one first-round pick (this year is the only year). Are draft picks not valued as much as they were at one time?  Or do teams see a greater need to take advantage of a window of opportunity, even if it means long-term pain?

Robin Brownlee:

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Who were the picks traded for? Aside from years where a rarity like Connor McDavid or a truly exceptional prospect is available, even high first-round draft choices are still guesses involving players yet to prove anything at the NHL level. If a team believes it can win now then they weigh the option of moving a young player who is two or three years from making a difference. The three teams you mention are Cup contenders right now.

Jason Gregor:

Not all first round picks are created equal. Those teams are picking between 25-32 most likely. The odds of getting an elite game-changer there are much lower than if you are picking in the top five.

Tampa Bay has drafted very well in ALL rounds. Kucherov, Point, Killorn, Palat etc were taken outside the first round. Draft picks only matter if you make good picks. Tampa Bay had a lot of depth due to good drafting for over 10 years. The Oilers’ drafting, especially outside the first round, has improved in the past seven years. Those picks usually are 5+ years before they make an impact. Edmonton has some solid prospects from those rounds in the organization and if they pan out then the pressure of having first round pick hit is less. They need to continue to have solid drafts, in every round, and then in the future, the Oilers could trade a first rounder pick to acquire necessary pieces at the deadline without worrying about organizational depth.

Cam Lewis:

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If you have a good pro scouting (analytics) department like all three of these teams do, you can afford to move draft picks more freely because you’re going to consistently find quality talent for under-the-radar prices. Look at Florida. They nabbed guys like Sam Bennett, Anthony Duclair, and Carter Verhaeghe who weren’t valued elsewhere, and turned them into quality players. Doing that so often means you can afford to give away a first-round pick for Ben Chiarot when you feel you need to.

Tyler Yaremchuk:

I think teams are maybe starting to realize that late-round firsts aren’t that much for valuable than a late-round second or even an early third. So if you keep some mid-round picks and draft well, you’ll still be adding good prospects to the pool while being able to give yourself the best chance to win right now. Think of the Oilers with guys like Savoie, Petrov, and Tulio. Those were later-round picks and they’re looking like really good prospects. You can find gold late in drafts while also loading up your current roster through trades.

Baggedmilk:

I’d love the Oilers to get to a spot where they’re wheeling and dealing but it never seems to come so I’ve kinda stopped thinking about it all that much.

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4) James in Peterborough asks – Curious how you would award the following major trophies for this season (Hart, Norris, Selke, Vezina, and Lady Byng) if only Oilers players were considered?

Robin Brownlee:

Hart is Connor McDavid
Norris is Cody Ceci
Selke is Jesse Puljujarvi
Vezina is Mike Smith
Lady Byng is RNH
Jason Gregor:

Hart: McDavid (barely over Draisaitl)
Norris: Nurse
Vezina: Smith. He had a bad five-game stretch when recovering/returning from injuries.

First three starts he had a .920Sv%.
Five starts on Dec 29th, 31st, Jan 5th, Feb 8th and 9th had had a.872Sv%.
In 16 starts from Feb 11th to today he has a .922Sv%.
Selke: Draisaitl. Plays tough minutes and he is on PK. If JP was on PK he’d get consideration.
Lady Byng: Hyman. Plays the game hard, but with respect.

Cam Lewis:
Hart is McDavid, Norris is Nurse, Selke is Puljujarvi, Vezina is Mike Smith, Byng is Derek Ryan.

Tyler Yaremchuk:

Hart is Connor. Norris is Nurse. Vezina is Mikko, I guess? Selke is Draisaitl. Byng would go to Nugent-Hopkins because he plays a lot and only has 10 PIMs. Woodcroft would win the Jack Adams, right? *wink*

Baggedmilk:

Hart is Leon Draisaitl
Norris is Cody Ceci
Selke is Jesse Puljujarvi
Vezina is Mike Smith
Jack Adams is WOODY!
Lady Byng is Hyman

5) Clay asks – Important question for everyone… What is the greatest Easter candy and why? I will eat two bags of Mini Eggs if given the chance.

Robin Brownlee:

Biggest chocolate bunny you can find — solid, not the lame hollow stuff.

Jason Gregor:

As a child, my favourite was Cadbury Crème Eggs. They only came out at Easter and they were unreal.

Now as an adult it is the Ghirardelli Sea Salt Caramel Dark Chocolate Bunnies.

Cam Lewis:

Gotta be mini eggs.

Tyler Yaremchuk:

Yeah, mini eggs are good. My Baba used to make these things called jello squares for the big holidays too, those were my favourite, although I would not expect many people reading this to know what those are.

Baggedmilk:

Give me all the Mini Eggs! And maybe a chocolate bunny.

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