Have you ever seen a power play quite like the one the Edmonton Oilers possess? I’ll answer that for you. NO. That is because there has never been a power play as effective as the one they have assembled. Not only does every single member of the top unit know their role and play it to the highest level, but they can also move around and adjust to any penalty kill, remaining extremely dangerous no matter what the opposition’s defence tries to throw at them.
Although it’s the players who execute every night, Glen Gulutzan, who runs the power play, has to be given a lot of credit. He had the personnel, but that’s not always enough. Sure, generational players like Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl help with the success, but exact positioning, where to look and have your stick, and where to even set up on the faceoffs, partly comes from coaching.
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The Oilers ended the regular season with a 32.4 power-play percentage over 82 games, ridiculously difficult to do, scoring nearly once every three opportunities. With a smaller sample size in the playoffs, the Oilers’ power play has executed even more efficiently at 47.4 percent. Now let’s be clear, the Oilers’ top unit is the best-assembled power play of all time, not their second unit, as only six players on the Oilers scored a power-play goal during the regular season. The reason for six is the switch from Tyson Barrie to Evan Bouchard. So let’s dive into why each member plays such an important part.
Contributions of Each Member of the Oilers’ Top PP Unit
It helps any power play to have the clear-cut best player in the world on the ice. McDavid has amazing vision and constantly feeds the puck through very small seams to provide his teammates with open shots. Not only does that create many high-danger scoring chances, but he also controls the puck and is constantly moving around, changing the angles to the net (from “Edmonton Oilers’ power-play prowess has everyone impressed”, Edmonton Sun, May 8, 2023).
The five-time Art Ross Trophy winner led the regular season in power-play points (PPP) last season and did so again this season, even if he didn’t score the most goals on the unit. Whether he is lined up on the right or left side, McDavid attacks the defending players and either gets around them, uses them as a screen for a good shot, or passes the puck off. Because of his speed, it causes defenders to back off, giving him space around the net. He scored 21 goals on the power play this season and recorded 71 PPP.
Although the Oilers had four players with 15-plus power-play goals this season, what stands out is Draisaitl scoring nearly the most goals on the man advantage in a season in NHL history. Combine that with playoffs and he can set the all-time record. While he is no slouch when it comes to passing the puck and recording assists on the power play, the Oilers’ assistant captain knows where to go to get fed the puck and has worked tirelessly on perfecting his shot from a very tough angle on the right side of the ice.
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He constantly finishes second to only McDavid in PPP and has 56 power-play goals (PPG) over the past two seasons combined, 21 more than the next closest player. While he isn’t normally relied on to bring the puck into the offensive zone, he does do so at times, and far more often than not it is a controlled entry. What makes Draisaitl so dangerous is the fact that he sets up where nobody else does. Since the angle to the net is very low, it causes the goalie to try to make a desperation save every time he gets a shot. He also gets forgotten about on the right boards and since he lingers pretty far out, there isn’t normally coverage. This means when he gets a shot, he’s either wide open to put the puck in the net, or the goalie is forced to make an amazing desperation save.
It may have seemed like the point man on this Oilers’ power play could easily be swapped out, but the truth is that the team went from one of the league’s best power-play specialists in Barrie to another very good offensive defenceman in Bouchard. Barrie did the trick and even led all defencemen in points a couple of years back due to this great top unit, but Bouchard has shown he’s on another level. Not only did the power play not falter at all as some predicted it would after the trade deadline, but it has also done incredibly in the playoffs.
Bouchard is way out in front of the rest of the players in the playoffs in terms of PPP with 15 in 11 games. Whether he uses his wrist shot that he normally picks corners with or his booming slapshot, he has greatly improved his ability to get pucks through to the net. The young Oilers’ defenceman is able to walk the line and McDavid normally looks to get him to shoot more. Bouchard manning the point does make a big difference and I don’t want to see an Oilers team without him on the top unit.
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins has been called a power-play merchant, getting many of his points on the man advantage. But is it really that easy to do? If it was, many more players and power-play units would greatly benefit by being up a man. While McDavid and Draisaitl tend to move around, Nugent-Hopkins has a specific route that he follows. He plays on the left side around the faceoff circle being an outlet for the point and retrieving pucks in the corner.
He is the second most important player on the ice for the Oilers when they are entering the offensive zone as McDavid uses him as an outlet over half of the time when crossing the blue line. Nugent-Hopkins can shoot the puck and his wrist shot from his off-side has provided the Oilers with many goals. If he ever misses a game or isn’t out there on the top unit, something clearly seems off. You may not notice it until he’s gone, but he plays his role on the top unit as well as anyone.
Zach Hyman is the last man on this top unit, but not the least important. He is one of the four Oilers who scored 15 PPGs, all from his spot in front of the net. He may not be the best at tipping pucks in the NHL, but he’s great at having his stick in the right position on the ice and finding rebounds. Despite all his bad luck with goals being called back when he’s involved and having the least puck possession time, he is just as important as the other four on the top unit.
Hyman set career highs in PPGs and PPPs this season by a longshot and it’s because nobody the Oilers have can do quite what he does. He’s a tenacious puck-retriever and since he’s the net-front presence, will go into both corners as well as behind the net to come out with the puck. With shots coming in at all angles from the other four members of the unit, Hyman’s ability to screen the goalie is much-needed. It’s very difficult for the goalie to stop what he can’t see, and moving around to find the puck takes them out of position.
So when Bouchard gets his contract extension this offseason, this unit will stay intact for a long time and continue its domination. Each player plays a role that is not easy to replace and they are nearly unstoppable. Special teams matter, and with the best-assembled power play of all time, it’s an advantage no matter how you look at it.