The Edmonton Oilers are one of the best teams in the NHL this season thanks to stellar performances from many players. But here, we will look at how dominant their top-six has been, as they are far better than any other in the league.
Oilers Top-6 on Another Level
As many predicted, Connor McDavid has paced the league with 11 goals and 22 points in 10 games, while Leon Draisaitl is close behind with 21 points.
Related: Oilers’ Connor McDavid Can & Will Score 60 Goals This Season
Last season’s playoffs should have given us an indication of how the start of 2022-23 would go for some of the Oilers’ players. Draisaitl is one who is focused on playmaking more than scoring goals while running his own line. The belief was that McDavid and Draisaitl had an incredible postseason in 2022 due to them playing together, but Evander Kane also played a major role.
Kane led the playoffs with 13 goals in 15 games — 11 at even strength. Draisaitl broke the assist record, an indication that Kane’s finishing ability was a key factor in Draisaitl’s playmaking ability. They reached new levels playing together because of their elite skill level since they can pass and score goals. But now that Kane has emerged as a great option to play with Draisaitl on the second line, neither has to play with McDavid at five-on-five to be productive.
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The Oilers’ top two are showing shades of last season’s playoffs. McDavid is leading the league in points and has over two points per game, followed closely by Draisaitl, who sits right at two points per game and is playing the role of playmaker early.
Their wingers in the top-six have also played well. Kane may not be on pace for 71 goals over an 82-game stretch as he was in the playoffs, but he has scored five goals and 11 assists and will only get better playing with Draisaitl. Zach Hyman and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins have also been very valuable, while only Kailer Yamamoto has yet to really contribute offensively.
Behind McDavid and Draisatl — the league scoring leaders — are Hyman, Nugent-Hopkins, and Kane, who all rank in the top 27 in NHL points through 10 games. All five are over a point per game, with Kane being the lowest at 11 points. The Oilers’ top-five players have already combined for three hat tricks (McDavid, 2, and Kane, 1), and each has scored at least five goals. The weak link is Yamamoto, but he has always been part of the action.
There has been undeniable chemistry between Yamamoto and Draisaitl since the former made the full-time jump to the NHL in 2019-20. He scored 11 goals and 26 points in 27 games that season and set a high standard for himself. Unfortunately, he hasn’t been able to replicate it, but the chemistry and chances are still there, with two assists in eight games. Goals and points will come, given his linemates.
The NHL’s Best Top-6s
The Oilers aren’t the only dominant team with a ton of production coming from their top-six this season. There are other teams that have the personnel to be great but have lacked the finish early this season. We’ll compare them all to the Oilers.
NHL’s Top Offensive Teams
The Boston Bruins are the Oilers’ toughest competition. They are 9-1-0 and have scored four more goals than the Oilers in the same number of games. A lot of the production has come from their top-six, which was even banged up for a bit.
Leading the Bruins is David Pastrnak with seven goals and 18 points, ranked third in the league in points. But he still sits three and four points behind the two leaders from Edmonton. The second-most productive player is Brad Marchand, who will be a driving force for the team alongside Pastrnak, but he has missed eight games already. Only Patrice Bergeron (10 points in 10 GP) and David Krejci (eight points in eight GP) have scored at least a point per game, and only two Bruins have five scored goals — though their depth has been more productive than the Oilers’.
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The Los Angeles Kings struggled early but quickly got things going. They rank second in goals scored but also have two more games played than the Oilers. The Kings’ scoring has been a little more spread out, but they have also received great production from their top-six.
Gabe Vilardi and Kevin Fiala are the only players with at least a point per game; Vilardi has eight goals and 13 points, while Fiala has three goals and 13 points. What their top-six lacks is having Vilardi on the third line for most of the season, but the Kings just swapped him and Fiala (from ‘How Kings’ Gabriel Vilardi finally arrived: ‘I had more to prove this year,’The Athletic, Oct. 31, 2022). Again, only two players have scored five goals, and only three have hit double-digits in points.
The Tampa Bay Lightning and Florida Panthers don’t have the top-six they had last season. As consistent offensively dominant teams, cap space and injuries have diminished the top of their lineup a bit this season when comparing them to seasons passed.
The Panthers’ top line has been good despite Aleksander Barkov having scored just one goal in 10 games. Matthew Tkachuk quickly adjusted to his role and leads the team, but the second line has only gotten two assists from Sam Reinhart, three points from Rudolfs Balcers, and five points from Sam Bennett. The line has a combined three goals in 10 games and might be the least productive second line in the NHL right now. One of their problems is Anthony Duclair’s absence from the top-six, as well as missing Aaron Ekblad’s presence on the back end to help run the offence.
As for the Lightning, Anthony Cirelli hasn’t played a game this season, and Ondrej Palat left in the offseason. That’s two roles the team has had to fill in the top-six. The big three — Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov, and Brayden Point — haven’t missed a step, but they’re running the offence. The other three players in the top-six aren’t bad, all with six points, but they don’t put the Lightning at the same level they’ve been in the past.
On paper, the Toronto Maple Leafs should have one of the best top-six groups in the league. Unfortunately, they rank 25th in goals. Auston Matthews, who has won consecutive Rocket Richard Trophies, has scored just three goals this season. Only John Tavares and William Nylander are point-per-game players, while Matthews and Mitch Marner are underperforming (from ‘LEAFS NEED TEAMWORK: Simmons: ‘I think there’s a realistic view… this team’s not good enough,’ Toronto Sun, Nov. 1, 2022).
There’s no more proof that is needed to see the Oilers have the best top-six in the NHL this season. They have the talent to keep up the pace, and hopefully, they won’t suffer any cold stretches this season. Can McDavid break records? Can the Oilers have five 30-goal scorers? It’s all possible. This team is in for a wild ride.