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Drai and RNH: All in Again

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Photo credit:Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports
Robin Brownlee
6 months ago
When your two best players – both of whom happen to be two of the top five players on the planet – talk in terms of “Cup or bust” about sipping suds from the Stanley Cup, you know exactly where the bar is set and what the expectations are.
That’s where the Edmonton Oilers are at after getting knocked out of the playoffs in the Western Conference final by Colorado two years ago and by Vegas in the second round last season, according to Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. McDavid and Draisaitl are coming off the best seasons of their careers points-wise, as is Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, but that wasn’t enough to get the silverware, so bust it was again as the Oilers head into 2023-24.
To borrow from Captain Obvious, all three of them are going to have a big say in whether the Oilers manage to climb through that win-now window that’s wide open for them – as I noted yesterday in the piece I wrote about McDavid. I’m looking at Draisaitl and RNH today with the same caveats regarding the rest of the team’s game, notably improved defensive work and more consistent play in the paint from Stuart Skinner and Jack Campbell.
Get that, and the Oilers won’t have to lean as heavily on McDavid, Draisaitl, and especially RNH repeating the kind of numbers they put up last season to have a realistic shot at getting back to the Cup final for the first time since 2006. Evander Kane, Zach Hyman and Mattias Ekholm will have a say in that too. Let’s not forget the Oilers historically good power play.

THIS TIME AROUND

May 31, 2022; Denver, Colorado, USA; Edmonton Oilers center Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (93) celebrates his goal with center Leon Draisaitl (29) in the third period against the Colorado Avalanche in game one of the Western Conference Final of the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Ball Arena. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports
“We’re all here to win and when you don’t it’s disappointing,” Draisaitl said in the wake of the Oilers being eliminated by the Golden Knights in May. “We’ll talk about it here within our group and we have to use that in a positive way and come back next season, make the changes we need to do, and it’s Cup or bust.”
Draisaitl, who turns 28 in October, scored 52-76-128 last season. That represents career-highs for assists (by nine) and points (by 18). The 52 goals are three short of the 55 he scored in 2021-22. On the power play, the 32-30-62 he tallied are career highs. Draisaitl’s 19-45-64 at even strength is the third-highest total of his career. He managed all of those numbers with slightly reduced ice time, averaging 21:44.
It’s Nugent-Hopkins, 30, who blew the doors off anything he’d done previously. His 37-67-104 represent highs in all three categories. The 104 points are 35 better than his previous best – 69 in 2018-19. RNH was money on the power play with 15-38-53 and he had 21-26-47 at even strength playing just 19:48 per game, sixth highest in his career. He shot at a career-best rate of 18.4 per cent, bettering his previous high of 15.9 by a bunch.
Like I wrote yesterday about McDavid, I’m not expecting a repeat by Draisaitl in overall points, but I won’t be surprised if he hits 50-or-more goals, which he has done three times, and reaches 100-or-more points, which he has accomplished four times. As always, how much Draisaitl plays with McDavid will have an impact.
As for RNH, that has to be a one-off, no? His 1.27 PPG is a career-high by a $3-cab ride – his next best is .94 in 2019-20. I don’t have any expectations that RNH will reach 100 points again, but if the PP stays at or near the level it’s been at and he’s as big a part of it as he has been, I don’t think 75-80 points is out of the question.
As an aside, McDavid, Draisaitl, and RNH combined for 385 points last season. What’s the number in 2023-24?

THE NATION VACATION TO SEATTLE

Much like every time we’ve ever done a trip like this, our first-ever #NationVacation to Seattle is going to sell out quickly so you’ll want to get your spot locked in as soon as possible. Need some details on what’s going down? No problem:
  • When: November 10 – 12th
  • Where we’re staying: Four Points by Sheraton Downtown Seattle
  • What you get: Your flights, three nights at the hotel, a ticket to the hockey game (Edmonton vs. Seattle), and a ticket to the football game the very next day (Seattle vs. Washington).
  • How Much: The total cost for the trip, flight, hotel, and entry to the game is $1999 per person (based on double occupancy) 
  • Tickets: Ready to dive in? Click this link.

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