With their perfect record no longer being a talking point, the Edmonton Oilers can officially settle into the 2019-20 campaign. Five wins in six games has re-invigorated fans across Oil Country and for the first time in ages, there is a sense of positivity creeping into the equation among the masses. It’s still early but it’s become abundantly clear the duo of Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl will keep them in the fight all season long.
Through their first six games, Edmonton has scored 22 goals and either one or both of Draisaitl and McDavid have scored or picked up an assist on 17 of those tallies. Some quick math tells us said tandem have been in on 77.3% of the Oilers’ goals to this point in the season. Just let that sink in for second and understand how staggering that number is.
The Oilers Dynamic Duo
Though not sustainable over the course of an 82-games schedule, what is a tenable expectation is for the two to keep this club afloat in every single one of those games. Are they going to have their “off” nights? Most certainly and you could argue No. 97 just had one of those during last night’s loss to the Chicago Blackhawks. And yet, he scored a goal that was ultimately waved off and still created chances throughout.
In other words, an “off” night from these guys is still going to lead to opportunities and better matchups for those further down the lineup. We have already seen the second line anchored by Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and James Neal take advantage of this in the early going and chances are the third and fourth lines will also chip in over the course of the season.
Just take a glance at the NHL leading scorers and the two names that sit atop it. That’s right, the duo of Draisaitl and McDavid are currently tied for first with twelve points apiece. Considering the two finished 2018-19 second and fourth among leading point-getters, it’s not as if what we’ve seen over the past couple of weeks should surprise anyone.
The Draisiatl – McDavid Chemistry
They are as impressive a duo as there is in today’s NHL and on a team with a lack of depth up front, they are a godsend. Along with the help of Nugent-Hopkins, they have already managed to salvage what many felt was a lost cause in Neal and has allowed them to click at a 40% success rate on the man advantage. Not too shabby for being two weeks into the season.
Though his play has slipped a tad over the past couple of games, Zach Kassian already has three goals and we’ve seen a variety of players produce in that third spot on the Oilers top line. Be it Kassian or someone else, whoever gets that opportunity is going to light the lamp on more than few occasions. And again, because of the play of their two best players, Edmonton is going to finding themselves in the mix on a nightly basis.
To this point, the system David Tippett has employed has gone according to plan. Yes, they can still be a train wreck at times in their own end of the rink but the collective’s attention to detail has been much improved. The head coach made it crystal clear during the pre-season. He wanted to see a five-man unit attack all over the ice and for the Oilers to become a pain on the forecheck.
Employing the Tippett System
For the most part, they have done just that. The addition of defencemen who can actually move the puck up ice has been huge, as has the skating abilities of the likes of Josh Archibald, Tomas Jurco, Joakim Nygard and Gaetan Haas. While the bottom six forwards on this roster have yet to make an impact on the offence, they are not getting caved in on the scoring front.
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And this brings us back to the duo of Draisaitl and McDavid. Though some would rather see the Oilers use them on separate lines, their results make it a moot point. Until Edmonton adds actual scorers on the wing, which isn’t happening anytime soon, riding this tandem is their best course of action. You don’t have to like it but pretending as if it doesn’t give them their best shot at winning games is absurd.
Keep it close and allow your horses to take it home. It’s a simple approach and, to this point, it has worked perfectly for the Oilers. Of course, when you rely on two players as much as this team does, the risk for potential overuse over the course of a lengthy schedule is quite real.
Workload, Workload, Workload
All one has to do is take a glance at the time-on-ice leaders and you can understand how this could become problematic. It’s only been six games but among all forwards, Draisaitl sits atop the list with an eye-popping 25:08 and McDavid is second 23:10. In fact, the talented German sits eighth among all skaters and is the only forward inside the top 30 who isn’t a defencemen.
There is no question that their usage has been through the roof under Tippett and in order for the Oilers to get back to the playoffs, they are going to need some help along the way. Chances are both Draisiatl and McDavid will see their time-on-ice decrease slightly as the season moves along but expecting that number to drop substantially isn’t realistic.
Again, as currently constructed, this is the route the Edmonton Oilers have to go down in order to compete. Is it an ideal set-up? It is not but if making the playoffs matters, it is the only one that makes sense. While we can question if that was the actual plan this organization had in mind for this season, make no mistake, it is without question what Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid are looking to accomplish.
Rob Soria is the Author of Connor McDavid: Hockey’s Next Great One. He has chronicled the Orange and Blue since creating his Oil Drop blog in 2011 and has also had his writings featured over at HometownHockey.ca and Vavel USA, where he has covered the NHL, MLB and ATP Tour. Rob was born, raised and still resides in Edmonton, Alberta and can be reached via twitter @Oil_Drop.