This Edmonton Oilers team is filled with talent for this coming season, with five standout candidates to compete for several individual awards. The obvious names being Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, two of the top players in the world, vying for multiple trophies at the top of the league. Another name is Darnell Nurse, the Oilers’ number one defenceman who played himself into Norris contention last season with his great play night in and night out. The last two players are young and should finally get their spots on the team through training camp, Ryan McLeod and Evan Bouchard.
With the right bounces and hard work, it can be an immaculate year for the Oilers, just what they need after a long road since there was success in northern Alberta. Between the five of these players mentioned, they have the opportunity to fill the Oiler trophy cases with six pieces of hardware.
A name that you will see at the top of many award conversations, McDavid is a player who shines and attracts individual awards. In his six-year career thus far, he has already amassed three Art Ross Trophies, three Ted Lindsay Trophies, and two Hart Trophies. In the 2016-17 and 2020-21 seasons, he snagged all of these trophies in the same year, and in 2017-18 he got snubbed of the Hart Trophy after former Oiler Taylor Hall took New Jersey to the playoffs. That’s eight league awards in just six seasons, and his rookie season was a write-off after he missed 37 games that season with an injury.
McDavid’s stats have become more and more impressive, as the points continue to increase each season since he entered the league. It started at 1.07 points-per-game (P/G) in his rookie season in 2015-16. From there, it grew to 1.22 P/G (2016-17), 1.32 P/G (2017-18), 1.49 P/G (2018-19), 1.52 P/G (2019-20), and finally last season where it was 1.88 P/G (2020-21). He has hit 100 points in four out of the past five seasons and 97 in the other due to COVID-19 shortening the 2019-20 season by 18 games for the Oilers.
In his past five seasons, McDavid has scored 30+ goals in each of them and twice over 40. Last year he finished second in goals with 33 to only Auston Matthews in a shortened season. He has finished in the top 10 in goals at the end of the season in each of the past four years to go along with that.
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This season’s prediction is that McDavid will be contending for four league awards in 2021-22, the Art Ross Trophy, Hart Trophy, Ted Lindsay Trophy, and Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy. The Hart Trophy usually depends on whether the player’s team makes the playoffs, and in a weak Pacific Division, it shouldn’t be too difficult of a task for the Oilers. After a seemingly permanent left wing was signed to fill the rotating door beside McDavid, expect his points to mirror last seasons, if not increase for the sixth time in a row. The power play should be as efficient as ever, with Tyson Barrie returning and Jesse Puljujarvi projected to assume the net-front role full-time this season. This is while also being joined by Draisaitl and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins on the top unit.
Like his teammate, Draisaitl should be in the mix for four league awards in 2021-22, the Art Ross Trophy, Hart Trophy, Ted Lindsay Trophy, and Maurice “Rocket” Richard. He is an excellent player in his own right, but he seems to be overshadowed by McDavid, as would be expected. Fans have witnessed the same transpire in Pittsburgh over the last decade and a half with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. Draisaitl took home the Art Ross, Hart, and Ted Lindsay Trophies in 2019-20, so while still moving into the prime of his career, who’s to say he won’t grab one or more of these awards this coming season?
Draisaitl has been an underrated scorer due to his elite playmaking ability. He has finished in the top five in goals in each of the past three seasons, netting 50 in 2018-19 for a second-place finish behind Alex Ovechkin and two fourth places the following years. The sky’s the limit with his deadly shot from a low angle on the power play while also being fed by the best player in the world. This is an example of everyone on the ice knowing where Draisaitl is on the power play and that the puck is coming to him for a shot and not doing much about it. We’ve seen that before with other elite scorers, and I have been convinced he is in that conversation. If the power play is clicking as it has done the past two seasons, and the second line is driving play as they did in 2019-20, he will be in the Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy conversation again.
As impressive as his goal totals in recent years, Draisaitl has also put up some huge point totals. He’s finished top-10 in the league in points in four of the past five seasons. Underrated play that saw him exceed 100 points in two seasons and be on pace to break it again in the third season. He really shined in 2019-20, where he paced the league in points with 110, 13 more than McDavid. Not enough can be said about the Oilers’ power play and how it is controlled by Draisaitl and McDavid. It is a bit of an easier way to rack up points, and he definitely took advantage of finishing second in power-play points last season and leading the league in power-play goals.
It all depends on how the field around him shapes up, but being at the top of the lists in goals and points should get Draisaitl recognition for the Hart Trophy and Ted Lindsay Trophy once again. It will take some outstanding 5-on-5 play by Draisaitl and his line to help his case, but we are only two years removed from a crazy run while their captain was on the shelf. By the way that these votes usually go for the Hart Trophy, the Oilers will have to make the playoffs for him to be considered. Acquiring these trophies before means that there is always a chance that he can recapture the magic and do it again while still getting better every day.
With a new career-high in goals and was on pace to smash his previous point totals, Nurse is set to have another stellar year on the Oilers blueline. He is about to get paid like a number one defender, and that’s what he’s been for the Oilers these past few seasons. He has never been one to score a lot throughout his NHL career, but something clicked last season, and he potted 16 goals in 56 games. These numbers are without the help or inflation of playing top power-play minutes with two of the best players in the world.
Plus-minus can be debated whether it matters that much, but you can’t overlook a plus-27 rating in 56 games. This speaks to his offensive and defensive game at 5-on-5. This is along with Barrie being his defensive partner, a player known for being more of a liability in his own zone. A big reason for Nurse’s numbers is his ability to jump up on the rush and get the puck on net. By doing that, good things can happen, and it’s been showing.
The chemistry between Nurse and Barrie became apparent early, and with Barrie re-signed in Edmonton; hopefully, we see much more of the great play from last season. It is exciting to think about what Nurse can do with a full season in this role he has carved out for himself, with Oscar Klefbom out of the picture again for another full season. He finished seventh in Norris Trophy voting last season and received three second-place votes after finishing second in goals among defencemen.
After two seasons in Bakersfield, McLeod got his call-up to the NHL for 10 games to end the 2020-21 season. Though he only recorded one assist in those 10 games, he played well enough to earn himself a spot in the starting lineup for all four Oilers’ playoff games. He split time between Zug EV of the Swiss-A league, Bakersfield of the AHL, and the Oilers last season. He put up great numbers in Zug EV and Bakersfield and got more experience playing against men after spending four full years in junior.
McLeod was a part of Bakersfield’s top line that consisted of Tyler Benson and Cooper Marody for 28 games. In those games, McLeod recorded 28 points and that line led the Condors in dominating opponents.
McLeod jumped into the third line centre role once he arrived in Edmonton, beating out any competition he had in Jujhar Khaira, Kyle Turris, Devin Shore, or Gaetan Haas. He is expected to center the third line once again in 2021-22, and with an upgrade at the wing lower in the lineup, it should help him progress nicely and compete for the Calder Trophy in his first full season.
What seems like a long-awaited arrival, Bouchard is finally here! After starting the season in Sodertalje SK of the Swe-1 league, he got the opportunity to play for the Oilers in 14 games. In those games, he showed his offensive talent and the ability to get the puck through to the goal, recording two goals and five points while also getting some power-play time.
Though Bouchard has played parts of two seasons for the Oilers, he still qualifies for rookie status this upcoming season, as he’s only played 21 NHL games. Bouchard’s first crack at it was in 2018-19, right after he was drafted. He got his tryout run for seven games before returning to junior and lighting it up. He did the same in the playoffs for Bakersfield once his OHL season was over, recording eight points in eight postseason games.
Bouchard looks to slot in on the second or third defensive pairing on the right side beside Duncan Keith or Kris Russell, both solid veteran players who he will be able to learn from. He will more than likely get power play time on the second unit to help prime him for the future when he takes Barrie’s spot on the point. He will have to impress in his role with the Oilers in 2021-22, but he should be put in a position to succeed and challenge for the Calder Trophy.
The most likely of the bunch to take home league awards for the Oilers are McDavid and Draisaitl but don’t sleep on Nurse, McLeod, or Bouchard. With the right opportunity, both rookies could have a real shot in turning heads with their play, even though they aren’t projected to play top-line minutes like some other contenders. McDavid’s average points have risen each season thus far, so look for him to exceed the 150 point mark this season and win the Art Ross Trophy as the most likely trophy to be taken home by an Oiler. Nurse’s trajectory and opportunity to rise even more is right there, so be ready for him to seize it and help Edmonton dominate the awards show.
Rob Couch is a THW freelance writer covering the Edmonton Oilers and Philadelphia Flyers. He follows the NHL very closely and strives to keep you up to date with the latest on each team. He doesn’t mind turning back the clock for throwback articles into hockey history every week too.