The Edmonton Oilers have been one of the league’s best stories through the first quarter of the season. Few experts picked the Oilers to make the playoffs prior to the season, but they are tied for the second-most points in the NHL through 23 games.
Edmonton began the season 5-0-0 for the first time since 1985-86 while outscoring the opposition 22-13. Then, after going through a 5-5-2 slump, the Oilers have surged to the top of the Pacific Division with a 4-1-1 run in their last six games.
While many believe it’s just a two-man show in Oil Country, Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl aren’t the only players who have contributed to Edmonton’s outstanding start. Here are the Oilers’ individual award winners through the first quarter.
Hart Trophy (Most Valuable Player) and Selke Trophy (Best Defensive Forward) – Leon Draisaitl
It’s almost impossible for any other player to be considered the most valuable player to his team with Connor McDavid on the roster. However, Cam Talbot was arguably just as important to the Oilers as McDavid in 2016-17 when they made the playoffs for the first time in 11 seasons. This season, Draisaitl is having a similar impact. He began the season on an eight-game point streak, went a couple games without registering a point, and is now riding a 13-game point streak (longest in the NHL this season).
The 24-year-old has had a meteoric rise to become one of the league’s most dominant two-way forces over the past two seasons. Since the start of the 2018-19 season, Draisaitl’s 149 points are second only to his linemate McDavid, who has 159. More impressively, Draisaitl became the first NHL player to score 40 or more points through the first 21 games of a season since Mario Lemieux in 2002-03. He also surpassed Jari Kurri for the most overtime goals in franchise history in a 4-3 win over the Washington Capitals on Oct. 24.
However, he isn’t just an elite point producer. Draisaitl is also responsible and diligent in the defensive zone and can be trusted to kill penalties. There’s a strong possibility McDavid could emerge as the team’s most valuable player by the All-Star break, but Draisaitl deserves the honour up to this point.
Ted Lindsay Award (Most Outstanding Player) – Connor McDavid
Connor McDavid has undoubtedly been Edmonton’s most outstanding player through the first quarter of 2019-20. He has 43 points in 23 games this season, which puts him on pace for an incredible 153 points. Every October there are players who put up an exceptionally high number of points in a short time frame, but it’s unsustainable for the majority of them. When it comes to McDavid, however, 150 points could be a reachable total.
Only five players in NHL history have ever scored 150 points in a season. Lemieux was the last to achieve the feat in 1995-96, a year before McDavid was born. In August, I predicted McDavid would score 127 points in 2019-20, but that was probably too conservative. At this rate, I fully expect McDavid to surpass Nikita Kucherov’s 128-point performance in 2018-19 for the most single-season points in the salary-cap era.
With three points in a 5-2 win over the San Jose Sharks on Tuesday, McDavid trails Esa Tikkanen by just 26 points for 10th all-time in franchise scoring. Still just 22, it’s remarkable that McDavid already has the 11th-most points in Oilers history. Additionally, he’s poised to join Wayne Gretzky and Lemieux as the only players in NHL history with four consecutive 100-point seasons at age 23 or younger. McDavid is the definition of the Ted Lindsay Award.
Norris Trophy (Best Defenceman) – Oscar Klefbom
Oscar Klefbom is one of the most important players on the Oilers. Klefbom contributes at both ends of the ice, and he was sorely missed when injuries forced him out of the lineup in three of the past four seasons. The 26-year-old is currently third on the team in scoring with one goal and 17 points in 23 games this season. He put up nine points in the first seven games this season, before going 11 games without a point. However, he’s back on track with eight assists in his last five outings.
What makes Klefbom so valuable is his ability to be used in all situations. He’s the lone defenceman on Edmonton’s first power play unit, he plays in overtime with McDavid and Draisaitl, and he can kill penalties. Klefbom leads the NHL in average ice time at 25:55 per game. He played a career-high 31:38 on Tuesday, which was also the most minutes by an Oilers defenceman since Chris Pronger on Jan. 16, 2006. Klefbom isn’t the flashiest defender on the team, but he is the best overall.
Calder Trophy (Rookie of the Year) – Ethan Bear
Ethan Bear doesn’t have a lot of competition for the award on the Oilers roster, but he’s deserving of it anyway. After spending the entire 2018-19 season in the AHL with the Bakersfield Condors, Bear arrived at training camp in September in the best shape of his life and stole a job. The 22-year-old isn’t just treading water at the NHL level, he’s excelling. Bear has three goals and seven points in 23 games this season, which puts him on pace for 25 points as a rookie.
General manager Ken Holland wasn’t able to bring in a high-quality defenceman during the summer, but Bear has emerged as an affordable, top-four defenceman on a team near the salary cap ceiling. Bear can retrieve pucks under pressure and start the breakout with quick and short passes up to the forwards. There will surely be some tough nights ahead, but Bear’s smooth transition to the best league in the world bodes well for his NHL future.
Vezina Trophy (Best Goaltender) – Mikko Koskinen
After a solid start to the 2018-19 season, Mikko Koskinen faded down the stretch, leaving Oilers fans feeling less than optimistic about the three-year, $13.5 million extension he signed this past January. Veteran puck stopper Mike Smith was brought in to give Edmonton some stability in goal, but Koskinen has easily been the better of the two thus far. Koskinen has a 8-1-2 record with a 2.39 goals-against average, a .923 save percentage and one shutout in 12 games this season.
Although head coach Dave Tippett planned for them to split the starts, it will be difficult for him to take Koskinen out if he continues to play this well. The 31-year-old has a mammoth frame and doesn’t leave opponents much space to pick corners. His more glaring weakness last season was his glove hand, but he appears to have improved it in the offseason. No team can make the playoffs without solid goaltending, and Koskinen deserves a lot of credit for Edmonton’s early season success.