The Edmonton Oilers left no doubt that they are a playoff team on Sunday with a huge 4-3, come-from-behind, overtime win on the road, despite missing several key players. Additionally, the team improved to 6-0-0 in the second-half of back-to-back games this season, which speaks to its outstanding resiliency.
While there are obvious holes in this lineup, the Oilers are starting to get more contributions from throughout the lineup. Still, its best players have led the way all season, which is why the team is currently in first place in the Pacific Division.
Here are the Oilers’ individual award winners through three quarters of the season.
Hart Trophy (Most Valuable Player) – Leon Draisaitl
No one has been more valuable through 59 games this season than Draisaitl. The 24-year-old leads the NHL in assists (61), points (95), game-winning goals (10), power play assists (27) and power play points (38). In addition, he became the Oilers’ all-time overtime goals leader, recorded his 400th career NHL point, and joined Wayne Gretzky and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins as the only players in franchise history with five assists in a game.
While his critics suggest Draisaitl’s production is linked to Connor McDavid’s brilliance, he’s a superstar in his own right. Since they were split up on Jan. 2, Draisaitl has averaged an incredible 1.94 points-per-game pace and has a 13-point lead in the Art Ross Trophy race.
“That’s people who don’t see him very often who have that perspective,” Darnell Nurse told Sportsnet’s Mark Sector after a 4-3 win in Carolina on Sunday. “But if you watch him, he goes out there and he dominates. It’s just showing even more. You can play him heavy, and he likes that game. You play him fast, he’ll outsmart you. He just finds a way to beat defenders.”
Draisaitl hasn’t just been the Oilers’ most valuable player this season, he’s been the most valuable player in the NHL. He’s already the best player to ever be raised and trained in Germany, and he could soon become the first German to win the Hart Trophy in NHL history.
Ted Lindsay Award (Most Outstanding Player) – Connor McDavid
McDavid is the greatest skater in the history of the game and a pure offensive machine. This isn’t new information to anyone who follows the league. But the entire hockey world recently learned how dedicated he is to his craft in the Sportsnet documentary Whatever It Takes, which detailed his recovery from a major knee injury in the offseason.
After everything he went through to return in time for training camp, no one could have blamed McDavid if he wasn’t his usual self this season. Instead, he’s having the best statistical season of his career. The 23-year-old has 30 goals and 81 points in 55 games, which would put him on pace for 120 points in 82 games.
Related: Oilers Can Withstand McDavid Injury
McDavid also has 22 multi-point games, including a career-high, six-point game in a 6-2 win over the Colorado Avalanche on Nov. 14, 2019. Perhaps even more impressive, he has added to his career highlight tape with several fantastic goals. His most impressive tally came on Jan. 6 in a 6-4 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs, where he burned Morgan Rielly wide before roofing the puck over Michael Hutchinson.
He’s missed the last four games with a quad injury, but TSN’s Ryan Rishaug tweeted on Sunday that McDavid’s recovery is going well and he’s expected to rejoin the team this week. He is the youngest repeat winner of the Ted Lindsay Award in NHL history, and I fully expect he will take home the hardware again this summer.
Norris Trophy (Best Defenceman) – Oscar Klefbom
Injuries have plagued Klefbom throughout his career, and news just broke today that he’s expected to miss two to three weeks. Losing your best defenceman at the most important time of the season would be a tough blow for any team, let alone one trying to make the playoffs for the first time since 2016-17.
The 26-year-old has five goals and 33 points in 59 games this season, just six points shy of setting a new career high in points. If he had played all 82 games, he might have become the first Oilers defender to hit 50 points since Sheldon Souray 2008-09. Even so, Klefbom should be able to reach 40 points when he returns to action.
Calder Trophy (Rookie of the Year) – Kailer Yamamoto
After going through a 4-10-1 slump, the Oilers turned their season around when Yamamoto was recalled ahead of their New Year’s Eve game against the New York Rangers. Yamamoto, who was trusted to protect a one-goal lead in the final minute of the game, scored an empty-net marker to secure a 7-5 win for the Oilers that night.
The 21-year-old was immediately moved up to play with Draisaitl and Nugent-Hopkins in the top-six, and has been one of the breakout performers in the entire league this season. Yamamoto has tallied an impressive nine goals and 18 points in 18 games, while the Oilers have gone 12-4-2.
“Yamamoto was playing in Bakersfield [just seven weeks ago] and not knowing if he was going to have an opportunity to play in the NHL this year,” said Oilers radio analyst Rob Brown on 630 CHED on Sunday. “Now he’s playing on the best line in the NHL. He has belief in his abilities, and every game you see him play, he looks better than he did in the previous game.”
Despite his smaller frame, Yamamoto is fearless when hitting the heavy traffic areas and competes for every loose puck. He also excels at finding open ice in the offensive shot to set up for a quick release. With only 44 games of NHL experience, Yamamoto has just begun to scratch the surface of what he’s capable of at the highest level.
Vezina Trophy (Best Goaltender) – Mike Smith
When I last wrote about the Oilers’ individual award winners in November, I gave Mikko Koskinen the Vezina Trophy. I still believe he’s the better goalie going forward; however, Smith has outperformed him over the past two months. After losing seven consecutive starts, Smith has gone 9-1-1 since Jan. 4 with a .921 save percentage.
While his numbers have been strong as of late, Smith’s biggest moment of the season was in the most recent Battle of Alberta on Feb. 1, when he beat down former Oilers goalie Cam Talbot in a rare goalie fight. Both goalies were ejected from the game, but added some hatred to this intense rivalry.
Smith picked up his 16th win of the season on Sunday, which tied him with Koskinen. Although they have split the starts all season, Smith’s recent strong play in net and veteran experience could make him the undisputed starter as the Oilers get closer to the playoffs.
Eric Friesen is a freelance sports broadcaster and journalist in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. Eric has diplomas in Broadcasting from Mount Royal University in Calgary and Sports Journalism from Centennial College in Toronto. A lifelong hockey fan, Eric has followed the Edmonton Oilers for more than 20 years. He cheers for the Oilers because of his hockey hero Wayne Gretzky, who played his more productive seasons in Oil Country.