Oilers’ Zach Hyman Making Case for Selection to Team Canada

Zach Hyman’s most notable taglines that were publicized when he signed with the Edmonton Oilers last summer were “hardworking,” “gritty” and “plays well with skilled players.” The way he’s playing for the team right now, we might see “Olympian” added, in the near future.

Hyman signed with the Oilers with a hefty price tag of a $5.5 million cap hit per season, but he’s been worth every penny. He’s come as advertised and playing in all situations — causing havoc in front of the net on the man advantage, he’s scored two power-play goals on the season so far. No. 18 has also been excellent on the penalty kill, even scoring a shorthanded goal against the Arizona Coyotes last Thursday.

Zach Hyman, Edmonton Oilers
Zach Hyman, Edmonton Oilers (Photo by Codie McLachlan/Getty Images)

While he didn’t initially start the season on the captain’s left side, the trio of Hyman, Connor McDavid and Jesse Puljujarvi were put together the last two games and have shown instant chemistry. In the two games, the left winger has scored four goals; No. 97 on the other hand, has two goals and three assists. They’re reading off each other well and understand each others’ tendencies.

With the Beijing Olympics just a short few months away, it begs the question, if the early chemistry is there between McDavid and Hyman, is that enough for him to be selected to the Team Canada roster?

Chemistry Creates Scoring Chances

Having chemistry between players in a short tournament like the Olympics is extremely important. With such few games played, coaches don’t have the luxury to just “see” if players click. Just because players are both highly skilled, does not always equal instant chemistry.

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Take McDavid and Nathan Mackinnon, for example. Both players play similar styles — they like to have the puck on their stick and attack by gaining speed through the neutral zone. Both are highly skilled with elite hockey IQ, but that does not necessarily mean they’d be the right fit for one another. Both players’ style command for the puck on their stick and to control the play.

Edmonton Oilers Connor McDavid
Edmonton Oilers center Connor McDavid (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Hyman, on the other hand, plays a much more gritty game compared to McDavid, and their styles of play complement each other well. Hyman understands his role — battle for loose pucks, pass it to McDavid and get open. Being familiar with one another is such a big advantage; ultimately, knowing other players’ tendencies can lead to more scoring chances.

Previous Chemistry Has Led to Gold Medals

While McDavid has already been named to Team Canada with Sidney Crosby and Alex Pietrangelo, the Oilers’ captain could have an influence in general manager Doug Armstrong’s decision making. As last season’s NHL leading scorer, he’d have grounds to vouch for Hyman to be selected to the team.

In 2014, Pittsburgh Penguins’ players Crosby and Chris Kunitz were selected to Team Canada, amidst some controversy around Kunitz’ selection. Many questioned whether Kunitz was the right pick for the team, with the belief that he was picked solely due to playing on Crosby’s line in the NHL, as both players had familiarity with one another.

While the Penguins players only combined for four points in the tournament, Kunitz scored a goal in the gold-medal game against Sweden and both players were pivotal in Canada winning the gold.

Additionally, in 2010, Team Canada selected a trio of San Jose Sharks to play on the same line — Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau and Dany Heatley. They showed instant chemistry from having played together in the NHL and it was known as “the Shark Line.” They averaged a goal and an assist per game, while helping Canada win gold on home soil. (from “ESP on Ice: When NHL Teammates Become Olympic Teammates,” The Atlantic, 02/12/14)

The Importance of Role Players

Team Canada always has an abundance of skilled players to choose from to build their roster. When selecting a team; however, it can’t solely be filled with All Star players. It has to be built like an actual team, with specific role players. In previous Olympics, we’ve seen Team Canada choose players where goal scoring isn’t their strongest asset. They’ve chosen players with grit, ability to check and get their nose dirty— all essential to building a well-rounded team. Hyman has the potential this year to join the likes of Rob Zamuner (1998), Ryan Smyth (2002), Kris Draper (2006) and Brendan Morrow (2010) — to be the skilled grinder and add sandpaper to the team.

He Can Play Special Teams

Not only can Hyman line-up with McDavid at even strength, but he could also serve on Team Canada’s power play and penalty kill units. Currently, the Oilers have the 10th best penalty kill in the NHL — killing off 85.7 percent of their penalties — with Hyman being an excellent addition to the penalty-killing unit. Having said that, he’s also scored eight shorthanded goals throughout his career.

During Hyman’s tenure with the Toronto Maple Leafs, he wasn’t a key component on the power play; however, with the Oilers, he’s become a feature player. Through five games, he’s shown excellent net-front presence, good hands in tight, and the ability to put the puck in the net.  

McDavid led the league with 37 power-play points last season and it’s safe to assume that he’ll lead the first power-play unit for the Canadians. Again, knowing another player’s tendencies creates more scoring chances, and both he and Hyman would have the benefit of working their already polished plays on the man advantage.

Related: Oilers’ Power Play Looking Deadly & Deep This Season

Prior to the start of the season, there were claims that Hyman should be selected to Team Canada and that opinion was heavily criticized by fans and media. But with his early contributions to the Oilers’ hot start, and the effortless chemistry he’s established with McDavid already, we could very well see No. 18 lined up next to No. 97 on the first line at the Beijing Olympics.

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