The Edmonton Oilers finally completed the first half of their 2021-22 NHL season on Monday (Jan. 31), when they played Game No. 41 of 82, losing 3-2 in overtime to the Ottawa Senators.
It took the Oilers 110 days to reach the midpoint of their schedule, which has seen the COVID-19 pandemic cause several games to be postponed. If everything goes according to plan, the second half of Edmonton’s season will last just 88 days, with the Oilers slated to play their 82nd and final game of the regular season on April 29.
Related: Edmonton Oilers 2020-21 Team Awards
Needless to say, this has been an unusual campaign for the Oilers, who have dealt with disruptions not only to their schedule but also their lineup, as players move in and out of COVID protocol.
In similarly erratic fashion, the Oilers got off to a 16-5 start, won just two of their next 15, and now have picked up a point in five straight games, going 4-0-1 including Monday’s overtime defeat at Canadian Tire Centre.
Amid this unpredictability, it seems only fitting that there is no clearcut choice for many of the Oilers’ midseason awards. But in looking back over more than three and a half months, nearly 16 weeks, and 41 games’ worth of hockey, here’s one writer’s picks (All stats and rankings are current as of the completion of Monday’s games).
Leon Draisaitl & Connor McDavid
There is not a lot to choose from between Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid, the Hart Trophy recipients from 2020 and 2021, respectively. The Oilers superstar tandem are among the top candidates to win the NHL’s award for its most valuable player again this season.
Draisaitl, who has played all 41 games, is tied for the league lead with 31 goals and second with 61 points. McDavid, who missed one game while in protocol, is tied for fourth in the NHL with 37 assists and third with 59 points. Draisaitl paces the NHL with eight game-winning goals, McDavid is first in the NHL with 19 power-play assists, and they’re tied with each other for the league lead with 24 power-play points.
Among forwards, they rank first and second in the NHL for ice time, with Draisaitl logging 22:59 minutes per game, just ahead of McDavid, who’s averaging 22:42 minutes. They also have an identical rating of plus-six.
And while both Oilers forwards shot out of the gates, they’ve likewise slumped more recently, each seeing their output drop from roughly two points per game over the first quarter of the season to around one point per game over quarter No. 2: Through 22 games, Draisaitl had 43 points (21 goals, 22 assists) and McDavid tallied 42 points (16 goals, 26 assists). Since then, Draisaitl has 18 (10 goals, 8 assists) points in 19 games, and McDavid has 17 (6 goals, 11 assists) in 18.
With virtually nothing to separate one from the other, the only fair conclusion is to name Draisaitl and McDavid co-MVPs for the first half of the season. We’ll see if one emerges as Edmonton’s clear-cut Hart Trophy contender over the next 41 games.
While this season has been somewhat underwhelming as a follow-up to his outstanding 2020-21 campaign, Darnell Nurse is still the Edmonton blueliner that most frequently impacts the game significantly.
The 26-year-old has appeared in 34 games, missing a couple of weeks in November and December because of a broken finger, recording four goals and 15 assists. He continues to be a tireless workhorse, with an average ice time of 26:33 that is second highest in the league behind only Ottawa Senators defenseman Thomas Chabot. On the Oilers, Nurse ranks first with 112 hits and he trails only McDavid in shots on goal per game, averaging 3.59.
Yes, he is at times guilty of mental lapses and defensive miscues, but the assistant captain also provides elements otherwise missing from Edmonton’s leadership group. Thoughtful and composed, Nurse has essentially become the spokesperson of the players, the one most often trotted out before media to answer for a tough loss.
This has been a breakout season for the 22-year-old Bouchard, who most often partners with Nurse on Edmonton’s top defensive pairing,
Playing regularly for the first time as an NHLer, Bouchard is the only Oilers blueliner to appear in all 41 games and leads all Oilers defencemen in goals (nine) and points (24), shattering his previous career highs.
While Bouchard was always known as an offensive talent, his defensive play this season has been a pleasant surprise. Not Oiler is deployed more on the penalty kill than Bouchard, who averages 2:31 short-handed time on ice. He also leads Edmonton with 60 blocked shots.
Whether Bouchard has vastly improved as a player, or his progress is just the result of getting an opportunity, no Oiler is making a larger contribution year-over-year than the 2018 first-round draft pick.
Signed to a seven-year, $38.5 million contract in the offseason, Zach Hyman has pretty much come as advertised, a two-way forward who plays sound, smart hockey and leads by example.
The former Toronto Maple Leafs winger can drive the play and get to the net, ranking third on the Oilers, behind only Draisaitl and McDavid, in both goals (13) and points (25). A regular on Edmonton’s top line with McDavid, Hyman plays on the power-play and penalty kill and along with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is Edmonton’s most proficient across all situations including even-strength.
Hyman, who has played 35 games, had zero goals and two assists over his previous 10 appearances before bouncing back with a combined two goals and two assists from Edmonton’s last two games.
It might not make sense that the most criticized player on the Oilers is also the team’s unsung hero, but being the former begets being the latter. The beleaguered goalie is under constant fire from fans for what he’s not than appreciated for what he is.
Koskinen is not the calibre of an everyday starter but keeps being pressed into that role because of a seemingly unending string of injuries to fellow veteran netminder Mike Smith. Koskinen does the best he can, and behind a sometimes-suspect defense has a 3.16 goals-against average and .900 save percentage, which is virtually identical to his numbers from 2020-21 (3.17 GAA and .899 SV%).
The 33-year-old has spoken about how challenging 2020-21 was personally, and this season can’t be any easier. Yet, in a no-win situation, he’s managed to win 15 times in 25 starts.
That said, the Oilers aren’t going to get too far with Koskinen starting close to two-thirds of their games, and with only half of the season remaining, time is starting to get short for Oilers general manager Ken Holland to address a goaltending problem on which Edmonton’s season may hinge.
Edmonton will close the pre-All-Star portion of its schedule on the road Wednesday (Feb. 2) by taking on the Washington Capitals. The Oilers will then have five days off before returning to action next Tuesday (Feb. 8) following the All-Star break.
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.