The pandemic-shortened season has been chugging along rather quickly, and after some rough patches early on in the season, the Edmonton Oilers find themselves in a dogfight for the number one seed in the Scotia North Division. With the team now halfway through the season, we will check in on which players are deserving of our midseason awards as selected by some of our Oilers contributors at The Hockey Writers.
Julian Mongillo: Leon Draisaitl
The easy answer to this question is probably Connor McDavid, but if you dive deeper into the numbers, Leon Draisaitl has been much more efficient. He has seen most of his time this season centering his own line without someone as good as Ryan Nugent-Hopkins on his wing like McDavid has. Despite having fewer points than McDavid, Draisaitl still sits second in league scoring through 30 games with a higher plus/minus rating and better shooting percentage than McDavid.
Jim Parsons: Connor McDavid
I tried to find reasons to pick someone else here because I knew that most, if not all, contributors would choose him. That said, it’s impossible not to choose McDavid. He was the first player to reach 50 points this season; the team goes as he goes, and he’s the heartbeat of the roster. When McDavid is going (which he usually is), the team gets a real pick-me-up, and they all play better, simply in an attempt to not embarrass themselves.
Luke Thomas: Connor McDavid
The captain hasn’t just been dominant at one end of the ice this season. He’s improved his two-way game by a wide margin while producing points at the best clip of his career.
Julian Mongillo: Darnell Nurse
While there are a few options here, it is hard not to choose Darnell Nurse. The former seventh-overall pick is enjoying a stellar season at both ends of the ice. Although he is second in scoring by defensemen on his own team with 22 points, he sits fifth in the NHL on time on ice per game with a plus-16 rating. He is physical, can put up points, stand up for teammates, and has been leaned on heavily to fill in for the absence of Oscar Klefbom, making him an easy choice here.
Jim Parsons: Adam Larsson
Again, I figured most contributors would choose either Tyson Barrie or Nurse, so I went with a bit less obvious a choice in Adam Larsson. I think a case can be made that he’s been one of the club’s best defensemen. He offers an element to his game that no other blueliner does. He’s got a level of nastiness that is undervalued, and he’s as steady a force against opposing teams’ top players as the Oilers have. While Edmonton is being praised for their scoring from the blue line, Larsson is quietly one the most reliable options on the team.
Luke Thomas: Darnell Nurse
Nurse has been a force to be reckoned with, providing a steady defensive game on a nightly basis and keeping up his offensive game on top of that. He continues to be a workhorse, averaging over 25 minutes a night while playing on both special teams units.
Julian Mongillo: Connor McDavid
I know it seems contradictory not to take McDavid as the team’s top forward; however, to select him as the team’s MVP has to be done. He is their heartbeat, and without his offensive dominance each game, the team’s flaws become more apparent. It’s not hard to argue that he is the Oilers’ prized possession and probably the 2020-21 Hart Trophy winner.
Jim Parsons: Connor McDavid
For all the same reasons I said McDavid is the best forward on the team, I also think he’s their MVP. In fact, I don’t see how he doesn’t win the MVP award this season in the NHL.
Luke Thomas: Connor McDavid
Once again, it’s McDavid. He’s the leader for this team, and he is the person his teammates look to when they need a goal. He makes his teammates around him look better than they actually are. Without him, it’s hard to imagine where the Oilers would be.
Julian Mongillo: Jesse Puljujarvi
After bouncing between the Oilers and Finland over the last several years, Jesse Puljujarvi has been able to become a solid contributor for the Oilers. He may not stand out as the offensive dynamo he was hyped to be in his draft year, but he is using all his tools to be a solid player night in and night out. He has 13 points through 33 games this season and has proven he can be effective physically, turning pucks over and on the forecheck on any line he is on.
Jim Parsons: Mike Smith
Anyone who says now that they saw Mike Smith having this kind of season is likely lying. Most fans said re-signing him was a mistake. But (at the time of this writing), he’s 9-2 on the season, he’s got the fourth-best save percentage in the NHL, and he’s being touted as one of the loudest voices in the room. Smith has absolutely won the starting job in Edmonton this season, and he’s been one of the better goalies in the NHL. Who would have thought that?
Luke Thomas: Mike Smith
Despite that he’s 38, Smith is putting up the best numbers of his career. He’s definitely surprised people with his outstanding play after being out for the first month of the season. Jujhar Khaira also deserves consideration for this as he’s been a pleasant surprise since coming off the taxi squad, chipping in offensively and on the penalty kill, and providing some grit to the team when needed.
Julian Mongillo: Dominik Kahun
For someone who has played almost exclusively on the team’s second line alongside Draisaitl, the offensive numbers have not been there. After being brought over in the offseason on a one-year deal, Kahun has registered a mere nine points through his first 28 games as an Oiler. He had 31 points in 56 games played last season between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Buffalo Sabres but has not taken a step forward, which the Oilers were hoping for, especially with the opportunity to play in a top-six role.
Jim Parsons: Kyle Turris
The Oilers thought they solved their third-line center problems when they signed Kyle Turris on a two-year deal in the offseason. He has not played well, nor has he filled that role for the Oilers. It’s not just a disappointment that he has been unable to fill the role he was signed for, but he’s in for another year when the organization might have walked away after this season based on how things have gone thus far.
Luke Thomas: Kyle Turris
So far this season, Turris hasn’t lived up to Oilers’ expectations that he would provide a steady third-line presence. He hasn’t provided the offence he is capable of or been strong enough on defence. His play on the penalty kill has been atrocious, and because of that, he’s been put on waivers and sent to the taxi squad.
Julian Mongillo: Oilers Acquire Top-Six Forward
The struggles of Kahun on the second line would likely be the reason the Oilers bolster their forward group. McDavid already has Nugent-Hopkins on his wing, and while Draisaitl does have Kailer Yamamoto, they need another player to shoulder the scoring load, especially when opposing teams plan to shut down Draisaitl and McDavid. With the team sniffing around for top seed in the Scotia North Division, acquiring another offensive asset would give the team much-needed scoring depth.
Jim Parsons: Oilers Trade A Right-Handed Defenseman
I think the Oilers will be buyers at the NHL trade deadline, but as general manager Ken Holland has said publicly, the team needs to be dollar-in, dollar-out on any deal. That could mean if the Oilers are trading for a player like Eric Staal, they’ll need to trade a decent asset, a pick, and a player. That player could be Caleb Jones, and the organization might try to get the Sabres to take on a player like Turris in the process. They’ll need to add a sweetener, but if Edmonton can do it, they’ll try.
Luke Thomas: Evan Bouchard Becomes a Second-Pairing Defenseman
We’ve seen glimpses of Bouchard’s potential but have not seen consistency in his game. He had a shot to prove himself when Ethan Bear was out but did not make the most of it. Whether it’s in a week or a month, “Bouch” has to make the most of his opportunity to stick in the lineup.
The Race Is On
The Oilers will need to continue to get strong play from their key players and hope that the surprise play from Mike Smith in goal can continue. If they can get more from the players who have underperformed this season, they could find themselves leading or even win the North Division by the end of the regular season.