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Edmonton Oilers Report Cards for the First Half-ish of 2023-24: Players in the “A” and “B” Range

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Photo credit:Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports
Ryley Delaney
5 months ago
It’s the Christmas break and we’ve sent the players home with their report cards. Here are the players who have scored “A” or “B” so far this season…

Zach Hyman (A+):

Has Zach Hyman been the best Oiler so far this season? Pretty close. 
However, he has far exceeded expectations as he leads the team in goals with 19 in 30 games played. In terms of league scoring, he is tied for fifth alongside Sidney Crosby and Sam Reinhart, and ahead of players like Nathan MacKinnon, Artemi Panarin, and Mikko Rantanen.
Hyman is currently on pace for 51 goals, which would surpass the 36 goals he scored last season. For that, plus his night-in, night-out effort, he receives the highest grade of any player.

Connor McDavid (A):

Edmonton’s best player once again leads the team in points with 44, along with 12 goals. Moreover, he is fourth in total points in the league, so why doesn’t he get an A+?
Well, during the 2022-23 season, the greatest player of all time has 64 goals and 153 points in 82 games, which is still crazy to look at. It was a 1.87 point-per-game pace, and a 0.78 goal-per-game pace, one of the best in recent times.
After 29 games played this season, he is just on a 1.52 point-per-game pace, while his goal-per-game has dropped to 0.41. The point-per-game pace is still up there in terms of the league’s best, but it’s not up there in terms of McDavid’s best, as it’s his worst since the 2019-2020 season.
Now, we know how quickly he can turn it on as he has six goals and 28 points in his last 13 games, and there’s an argument that he was maybe hurting to start the season. However, for the time being, he only gets an A.

Evan Bouchard (A):

Bouchard is Edmonton’s best defenceman since Chris Pronger, and I don’t think there’s much of a debate to the contrary.
The 24-year-old right-shot defenceman has turned it up a notch this season, as he has eight goals and 32 points in just 31 games. For context, his career-high in goals and points came in 2021-22 when he had 12 goals and 43 points in 81 games. He’s about to blow right by that.
Is he just a power play merchant? Absolutely not. Bouchard’s 32 points are fifth for defencemen, but he also has 16 even-strength points, which is tied for 10th for defencemen. At even strength, Bouchard’s goal share of 49.25% isn’t great, but the expected goal share of 61.89% is the fourth-best on the team.
Paired with a player, we’ll get to later in this list, Bouchard has blossomed into an elite offensive defenceman, and his defence has progressively gotten better through the season.

Leon Draisaitl (B+)

The German Machine is second on the team in goals (14) and points (35), but it still feels as if he’s taken a step back this season.
In 2022-23, he had 128 points in 80 games for a 1.6 point-per-game pace, and 52 goals for a 0.65 goal-per-game pace. A season later, and he’s well off the mark as he’s on a 1.13 point-per-game pace and a 0.45 goal-per-game pace.
He hasn’t been bad by any means, but he also hasn’t been the Leon Draisaitl of years past, as it looks like he could miss the 50-goal plateau for the first time (in a non-COVID-impacted season) since 2017-18.

Nov 28, 2023; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; Edmonton Oilers forward Sam Gagner (89) celebrates after scoring a goal against the Vegas Golden Knights during the first period at Rogers Place. Mandatory Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

Sam Gagner (B+)

Papa Oiler is a fan-favourite for a reason.
Gagner was selected in the first round of the 2007 draft and is currently in the midst of his third stint with the team. The Oilers signed Gagner to a professional tryout, and he missed all of the preseason and the start of the American Hockey League season due to two hip surgeries, so expectations were low.
The 34-year-old veteran said screw your expectations, and has scored four goals and nine points in 18 games for a 0.50 point-per-game pace. Now, it’s not on the same level as some of the other players with a B-grade, but let’s not forget Gagner plays in the bottom six. Moreover, Gagner’s 58.82% goal share is the second-best on the team, with 100:00 minutes of even-strength hockey played. Adam Erne is first. 
Let’s get Gagner a Stanley Cup ring, and perhaps play him on the second line because he definitely still has the skill.

Ryan Nugent Hopkins (B+):

The longest-serving Oiler is once again having a nice season.
Nugent-Hopkins was selected with the first overall pick in 2011, basically a lifetime ago. But like fine wine, he only got better with time as he scored a career-high 37 goals and 104 points in 82 games in 2022-23.
The 30-year-old isn’t quite on the same pace as he was last season, as he has just eight goals and 31 points in 31 games, but he is one of only four top-six players that has consistently been picking up points this season.
In recent times, he’s been playing on McDavid’s wing alongside Hyman, and that line has just dominated other teams. Realistically, it’s the best line in the NHL as they’ve played 159:37 minutes together at even strength, and have an insane goal share of 66.7% (18 goals for, 9 goals against), and an even better expected goal share of 71.02%.

Mattias Ekholm (B+):

When the Oilers traded for Ekholm at the 2023 trade deadline, it was probably their biggest deadline acquisition since Jerred Smithson.
The impact that Ekholm has had for the Oilers can’t be understated, just look at Bouchard’s numbers away from the veteran two-way defenceman. Bouchard has a 38.89% goal share in 119:49 minutes when playing with a different left-shot defenceman, while that increases to 53.06% with Ekholm.
Ekholm himself has started to get going after missing all of the preseason due to injury. Since November 6, he has had four goals and 12 points in 21 games, along with two power-play goals on the second unit.
Hopefully, Ken Holland and the team’s front office will make another Ekholm-like trade for a right-shot defenceman to play with Darnell Nurse at this year’s deadline.

Warren Foegele (B):

Spoiler alert: There are only three bottom six players who have a grade of either B or A, and Foegele has arguably been the most consistent of the three.
So far this season, the 27-year-old has five goals and 13 points in 31 games. Foegele is usually good for 10-13 goals a season, and is once again on pace for 13 goals. Furthermore, his 13 points in 31 games is a 0.42 point-per-game pace, which is 34 points over a full 82 game. That would be a career-high for Foegele.
The winger is in the last season of his three-year, $8.25 million deal. There’s a real chance this could be his last season as an Oiler, which would be a real shame as he’s consistently been a good player in the bottom six.

Nov 28, 2023; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; Edmonton Oilers forward Evander Kane (91) celebrates after scoring a goal during the second period against the Vegas Golden Knights at Rogers Place. Mandatory Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

Evander Kane (B):

Kane likely would’ve ranked in the B+ range, maybe even the A- range earlier in the season, but he’s been cold as of late. Still, he has 13 goals this season, which is the third most on the team, as well as 23 points in 31 games.
The 32-year-old has just had a really streaky season. He was held to just a single assist in his first five games, before scoring 11 goals and 19 points in his next 16 games. However, he’s been held to just two goals and three points in his last 10 games played, even suffering a demotion to the third line.
Regardless, Kane is currently on pace to have a better season than last, as he has a 0.42 goal-per-game pace and a 0.74 point-per-game pace. In the 2022-23 season, Kane finished the season with a 0.39 goal-per-game pace and a 0.68 point-per-game pace, but it’d be disingenuous not to mention the major injury he suffered to his wrist.
Kane needs to pick it up to play in the top six, but there’s a little bit of recency bias to say that he’s had a bad season.

Darnell Nurse (B-):

Nurse is just such a hard player to figure out.
The left-shot defenceman had a career-year on a rate basis in 2020-21, scoring 16 career-high goals (five against the Ottawa Senators in nine games) and 36 points in just 56 games, mainly feasting on the Senators and the Winnipeg Jets.
Nurse had a great 2022-23 season, where he scored 12 goals and 43 points, the latter being a career-high. However, he has just five goals and 10 points in 31 games so far in 2023-24. Interestingly, he’s on pace for 13 goals, but just 26 points.
Is he worth the annual cap hit of $9.25 million, probably not, but he’s a good top-four pairing defenceman that could benefit from playing with a better right-shot defenceman than Cody Ceci.

Vincent Desharnais (B-):

Desharnais is exactly what you want in a bottom-pairing defender. The 27-year-old is mean, kills penalties, and is just not very fun to play against.
So far in 2023-24, he’s scored his first career goal and has four points in 29 games, one shy of matching his career-high of five points in 36 games in the previous year. In terms of goal share, his 46.67% goal share isn’t great, but he has an expected goal share of 58.42%, which is the seventh-highest on the team.
Desharnais has also become a terrific penalty killer, and he gets a B- in big part, due to the improvements he’s made this season.

Ryan McLeod (B-):

After not scoring a goal in 38 games dating back to last season, Ryan McLeod has gotten hot heading into the Christmas break
Since November 30, he has five goals and seven points over his last 10 games. Prior to that date, he had four points in 21 games, none of which were goals, so the hot hand definitely plays a role in him earning a B-.
Funnily enough, Andy and Rono posted his stat card hours before he scored his first goal and noted how good he was defensively. There’s definitely merit to that, as McLeod has the sixth-highest goal share of anyone with more than 200:00 minutes played at 52.17%. The 24-year-old defensive centreman has a 58.35% expected goal share, which is the seventh-highest on the team.

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