2023-24’s Biggest Storylines #6 – The Historic Power Play

Photo credit:© James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports
Tyler Yaremchuk
10 months ago
To get us ready for the 2023-24 season, I’ve decided to countdown the ten biggest storylines that I believe will define the Oiler’s regular season. So far, we’ve touched on the support pieces in the forward group and an interesting roster battle on the blueline but today, I want to focus a bit more on the star power that this team has.
The 2022-23 Edmonton Oilers were one of the highest-scoring teams of this century. Their 3.96 goals per game is the second-highest mark that the league has seen since the 2000-01 season. A major reason is their historically productive powerplay.
They set the NHL record for team powerplay percentage and with almost all the same players coming back, the big question is: can they do it again?
The powerplay was remarkably consistent last season. The only month where they even struggled a little bit was in November. Other than that, they were able to more or less keep their PP% above 30% all season.
When they dealt Tyson Barrie to Nashville, some people thought that the powerplay was going to suffer. While Barrie was a valuable part of the five-man unit, the idea that Evan Bouchard was going to be some sort of downgrade was just a flat-out overreaction and in the end, he wound up actually being an upgrade.
Before Barrie was traded, the Oilers PP% was 31.9%. From February 28th onward, it was 33.9% and it clicked at a rate of 46.2% in the playoffs. It got more productive after the trade.
Now, just using PP% could be misleading because there could have been moments where Bouchard wasn’t even on the ice for a goal or moments earlier in the season where Barrie wasn’t on the ice.
I went over to Natural Stat-Trick to dig a little bit deeper.
In 194 powerplay minutes with Barrie on the ice, the team’s PP GF/60 was 15.45. They also generated 69.21 shots/60 in that time.
In 186 powerplay minutes with Bouchard on the ice, the team’s PP GF/60 was 12.25. A decent drop off from Barrie and the shots/60 also fell to 67.98.
I was surprised to see that Bouchard’s individual numbers were worse but then I remembered that using the season as a whole includes a bunch of time that Bouchard may have spent getting garbage minutes with the second unit at the end of powerplays. So I went back and just looked at Bouchard’s individual numbers from the day of the trade until the end of the season and the results were very different.
The GF/60 jumped to 16.79 and the SF/60 jumped with to 75.56. Both numbers were higher than the numbers with Barrie on the ice.
The powerplay was more productive at the end of the season when Bouchard was at the point than in the first three quarters of the season when it was predominantly Barrie running things. This leads to my next question: Can they break their own record?
I don’t see why that shouldn’t be the goal this season.
Obviously, McDavid and Draisaitl are the main drivers and as long as they’re both healthy and in the lineup, the powerplay will be one of the best in the league. 
Zach Hyman and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins are both very important pieces to this equation as well and no doubt had a big impact on the team’s success last season. But when it comes to having another record-breaking season, I think Bouchard is the x-factor.
The powerplay was still electric with him running the point but there were some moments where his shot selection and inability to get pucks through traffic was frustrating. At the same time, he’s still just 23 years old and if he can take a step forward in terms of his ability to man the point, then it could unlock a whole new level of productivity for this top powerplay unit.
If Bouchard’s shot becomes a key weapon, like Draisaitl’s one-timer from the bottom of the circles, then it will force teams to totally adjust how they try and shut the Oilers down. If they need to keep a dedicated penalty killer up high on Bouchard to prevent him from getting clean looks at the net, then it will only open up more passing lanes for McDavid to expose and lead to more open looks.
It sounds simple because it really is. The more weapons that the Oilers have, the more difficult it will be for teams to consistently shut them down. Bouchard’s shot from the point has a chance to be an elite weapon for this group and that alone, could make them a lot more dangerous than they were early last season with Barrie running the point.
So is it possible that the Oilers break their own record? I wouldn’t just say it’s possible, I actually think it’s more likely than not that they do it.

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