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Off the Top of My Head: Zach Hyman’s incredible season, Barry Melrose fundraiser, and Ethan Bear

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Photo credit:© Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports
Robin Brownlee
1 month ago
It’s obvious to anyone paying attention the Edmonton Oilers have more work to do if they’re going to extract themselves from the mineshaft they dug to start this season and make the playoffs, let alone deliver on the Cup or Bust declaration they made going into training camp.
I don’t know if they’ll manage it with as up and down as they’ve been despite getting much sorted since Kris Knoblauch took over from Jay Woodcroft – I think they have a shot – but some things I do know on the eve of 2024. For starters, the Oilers are going to need more of what they’ve come to expect from marquee men Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl to make that happen. I know, thanks Tips.
Likewise, they’ll need more of the same from soft-spoken and always-hustling Zach Hyman, who has done nothing but surpass expectations since he arrived from the Toronto Maple Leafs for the 2021-22 season. After a career-high 27 goals in his first year with the Oilers, Hyman improved on that with 36 goals in 79 games last season. It’s beginning to look like he was just getting started.

GETTING IT DONE

Dec 6, 2023; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; Edmonton Oilers forward Zach Hyman (18) celebrates after scoring a goal, his second of the game against the Carolina Hurricanes during the first period at Rogers Place. Mandatory Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports
With the Oilers closing out 2023 against the Ducks in Anaheim tonight, Hyman has been the equivalent of more cowbell for his new coach for the better part of six weeks. He’s on pace to score 50 goals. Playing on a line with McDavid and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins these days, he’s sitting at 20 goals after a 3-2 shootout win over Los Angeles Kings last night and is among the top-10 in the Rocket Richard goal-scoring race.
Hyman, 31, helped get the Oilers started in a 5-0 win over San Jose on Thursday with the 2-0 goal and an assist. Like RNH, he’s not as likely to make the highlight reels as McDavid and Draisaitl are, but he’s been a game-breaker and difference-maker on more than a few nights. Simply put, he gets things done.
Right now, that means Knoblauch has the luxury of going with RNH-McDavid-Hyman as his top line with Ryan McLeod flanking Draisaitl with Warren Foegele. As always, that’s subject to change, but now we’re seeing McLeod hit his stride on the second line. I’d like to see more of that as long as it makes sense. As it stands now, the Oilers have won four straight games going into Anaheim.
Yes. More cowbell.

FUNDRAISER IN MELROSE’S NAME

Barry Melrose spent a lot of time in and around hockey as a player, coach and a commentator before he retired as an analyst with ESPN in October shortly after being diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease.
Melrose, 67, is one of those colorful people involved in the game you don’t forget. While he played 300 NHL games and 178 more in the WHA, he was probably best known for the decades he spent behind the microphone. Melrose was a guy with sharp takes and a trademark mullet. He started at ESPN in 1996.
I met Melrose in 1987-88 when he was coaching Medicine Hat in the WHL. He moved west in 1988-89 to coach the Seattle when I was in Kamloops covering the Blazers. Soon after I got here in 1989 and joined The Journal, Melrose got back into the NHL as coach of the Los Angeles Kings in 1992-93. We’d bump into each other here and there. Bright lights and big city or a chilly barn in the Dub, Melrose was a fun guy to talk hockey with.
It goes without saying Melrose is in for a battle with Parkinson’s, which has afflicted the likes of Edmonton-born actor Michael J. Fox, Alan Alda, singers Neil Diamond and Linda Ronstadt and the late Muhammad Ali. The update to Melrose’s situation is that John Buccigross, his long-time broadcast partner with ESPN, has put his name behind a fundraiser in support of much-needed Parkinson’s research through the Michael J. Fox Foundation. Bravo.

REMEMBER THE BRONCOS

Yesterday was the anniversary of the Dec. 30, 1986 crash that claimed the lives of four members of the Swift Current Broncos — Trent Kresse, Scott Kruger, Chris Mantyka and Brent Ruff – when the team bus skidded off Highway 1 on the way to a game vs. the Regina Pats.
While 37 years have passed since that awful day shook the hockey community here and right around the world, those young men will never be forgotten. Bless them all.

TWO YEARS FOR BEAR

Jan 15, 2023; Raleigh, North Carolina, USA; Vancouver Canucks defenseman Ethan Bear (74) celebrates his goal against the Carolina Hurricanes during the second period at PNC Arena. Mandatory Credit: James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports
So, former Oiler Ethan Bear, 26, got a two-year contract with an AAV of $2.0625 million from the Washington Capitals Thursday.
While that represents a marginal pay cut from the $2.2 million AAV he earned on his last contract, Bear gets a second year and the chance to find his game again as he comes back from shoulder surgery. Good luck to him.

AND . . . 

The Oilers have 48 games remaining after tonight’s tilt against the Ducks. I’m thinking they win 30 of those. What’s your over/under for wins and points in the final 48 in 2024?
Happy New Year, everybody. 

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