The Edmonton Oilers have a storied history of honouring players with their annual team awards. The Zane Feldman Trophy (MVP), Defenceman of the Year, and Top First Year Oiler date back to Edmonton’s inaugural National Hockey League season in 1979-80. The Unsung Hero, Community Service Award, Top Defensive Forward, and Most Popular Player were introduced in 1987-88.
More than three weeks have passed since the Oilers were eliminated from the Stanley Cup playoffs, and the Oilers have not announced their award winners for 2021. Maybe the announcement is just delayed, or perhaps the awards are a casualty of this most unusual season.
It would be a shame, however, for this long-standing tradition to miss a year, so in the name of Wayne Gretzky, Ryan Smyth, and all the other honorees from the last four-plus decades, here are picks for the 2020-21 Oilers team awards (in keeping with the past, these awards are based on the regular season only).
Zane Feldman Trophy (MVP) – Connor McDavid
Somehow, McDavid hit the century mark in this shortened season. Playing 56 games, McDavid scored 33 goals and added a league-leading 72 assists to finish atop the Art Ross Trophy race with 105 points, 21 ahead of second place (teammate Leon Draisaitl) and 36 more than third (Brad Marchand of the Boston Bruins).
McDavid’s 1.875 points per game were the highest average of any player in the last 25 years, and the Oilers captain set an all-time NHL record by recording a point on 57.38% of his team’s goals.
Defenceman of the Year – Darnell Nurse
This was a breakout season for the 26-year-old Nurse, who played himself into the Norris Trophy conversation with his performance at both ends of the ice. His career-high 16 goals were second-most by a defenceman in the NHL, and he ranked first in even-strength goals (15), second in shooting percentage (10.4%), fourth in shots (154) and fifth in plus-minus (+27) among blueliners. He also played 1,435 minutes, third-most in the NHL, including a league-leading 1,223:09 at even strength.
Top First Year Oiler – Tyson Barrie
Playing all 56 Oilers games, largely on Edmonton’s top pairing with Nurse, Barrie led NHL rearguards in points with 48 while ranking second among D-men in assists (40) and power-play points (23). The first-year Oiler could turn into a one-year Oiler; a pending UFA, Barrie will likely test the free-agent market.
Unsung Hero – Adam Larsson
While Nurse and Barrie were putting up eye-popping offensive numbers, fellow blueliner Larsson quietly ensured the opposition wouldn’t be doing the same at Edmonton’s expense. Appearing in every game for the Oilers, he could be counted on to provide nearly 20 minutes of dependable shutdown play each time out.
Larsson was second in the entire NHL with 128 blocked shots and fifth among defencemen with 166 hits. He registered 10 points (4 goals, 6 assists) and a plus-2 rating.
Community Service Award – Kyle Turris
Hockey-wise, things did not go well for Turris in his first year in Edmonton (he played just 27 games and had only five points), but that did not affect the 31-year-old centre’s commitment to his new city. Throughout the season, Turris participated in virtual visits with patients, specifically children, at the Glenrose Rehabilitation Hospital. He was named the Oilers’ nominee for the King Clancy Memorial Trophy, which recognizes leadership on and off the ice and humanitarian contributions to the community.
Top Defensive Forward – Leon Draisaitl
Because of Draisaitl’s offensive explosiveness (he recorded 84 points, second in the league to only McDavid), the defensive side of his game is often overlooked. The centre had a plus-29 rating that tied for second in the NHL this season, and he also tied for second with 56 takeaways, an average of one per game.
Draisaitl went 171-136 (54.1%) on defensive zone faceoffs and was the Oiler most frequently called upon (75 times in 56 games) to take draws while the team was shorthanded.
Most Popular Player –Jesse Puljujarvi
This could easily go to McDavid, but No. 97 already got his flowers, and 2021 was the year Edmonton fell head over heels for Puljujarvi, who made hockey fun again in his return after a year away from the NHL.
Social media constantly lit up with fans rejoicing in the Finnish winger, whose ever-present smile and unbridled joy after every Oilers goal (his or someone else’s) made him impossible not to love. And judging by the viral video of the Oilers singing happy birthday to Puljujarvi, his teammates feel the same.
Who are your picks for the 2021 Oilers team awards? Let us know in the comments below!
Brian is an Edmonton-based sports writer and broadcaster. His experience includes working as a sports reporter for the Edmonton Sun, where he covered the Edmonton Oil Kings 2013-14 Memorial Cup championship season.