The first half of the 2019-20 season was a bit of a roller coaster for the Edmonton Oilers. They spent the majority of October and November atop the Pacific Division, but started to slide in the standings after going just 5-8-1 in December. They’ve started trending in the right direction again recently and have gone 5-1-1 to start the New Year. With 57 points this season, they are heading into the All-Star break tied for second in the Pacific. They’re even with the Calgary Flames, Vegas Golden Knights, and Arizona Coyotes, while the Vancouver Canucks lead the way with 58.
There’s a handful of players that have contributed to the Oilers’ success up to this point of the season, and today I’m going to rank the five players that I believe have had the biggest impact on the Oilers’ season heading into the All-Star break.
5. Mikko Koskinen
Quarter-Season Ranking: Honorable mention
Mikko Koskinen was solid when he first joined the Oilers for the 2018-19 season and this led former general manager Peter Chiarelli to prematurely sign him to a three-year, $4.5 million contract extension. Many fans were left confused as they tried to make sense of the signing. Shortly after cashing in, Koskinen and the Oilers began to struggle and they went on to miss the playoffs for the second-straight season. This led to a lot of questions surrounding the goalie situation heading into the 2019-20 season.
Koskinen was quick to prove his haters wrong and was red hot to begin the season, winning his first five games and finishing the first quarter with a 8-1-2 record. Despite his early success, the Oilers were sticking to a rotation between him and Mike Smith. That lasted for a few weeks before Smith began to struggle and wasn’t winning any games. Koskinen had to step up in a big way during Smith’s struggles to keep Edmonton in playoff contention. Much like the rest of the Oilers’ roster, he struggled during December and finished the month with five wins and six losses.
Smith is currently playing lights out right now for Edmonton to start the new year and it looks like he will be their starter for the next little bit moving forward, but Koskinen deserves a lot of credit for elevating his game when he needed to the most and getting the Oilers to where they are now.
4. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins
Quarter-Season Ranking: Honorable mention
Due to Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl being so impressive through the first quarter of the season, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins was overlooked quite a bit, but he still quietly put up 5 goals and 16 points through that time. On Nov. 23, in a 4-2 win over the Vegas Golden Knights, he suffered a hand injury that caused him to be sidelined for six games. Since returning from the injury, he has gone on to record 8 goals and 17 points in 17 games. His 33 points rank third on the team in scoring and he has the second-best takeaway (TK)/giveaway (GV) ratio on the team (33 TK/26 GV).
Following a 5-1 drubbing at the hands of the Flames on Dec. 27, head coach Dave Tippett decided that it was time to make some changes in his lineup. He decided that he would have Draisaitl as his second-line center and he put Nugent-Hopkins on the left wing and recently recalled Kailer Yamamoto on the right wing. Nugent-Hopkins quickly found chemistry with his new linemates and has registered 6 goals and 13 points in 8 games with them.
3. Oscar Klefbom
Quarter-Season Ranking: Third
Through the first quarter of the season, Oscar Klefbom was having a Norris Trophy-caliber season as the Oilers sat atop the Western Conference standings. He’s cooled down a bit since then but he’s still been solid on Edmonton’s back end this entire season. He sits 21st in defencemen scoring with 5 goals and 28 points through 49 games, and is averaging 25:41 a night, which is fifth in the league. He also leads the Oilers in blocks by a wide margin with 148 — Kris Russell is second with 90.
It’s obvious how important Klefbom is to the Oilers and if he were to go down with any sort of long-term injury, that could put an end to Edmonton’s playoff hopes.
2. Leon Draisaitl
Quarter-Season Ranking: First
Draisaitl has arguably been the best player in the league so far this season, and on top of being in contention for the Art Ross Trophy, he’ll likely receive some votes for the Hart Trophy and Ted Lindsay Award in June. With 75 points in 49 games this season, he sits second in league scoring chasing only McDavid. He’s added 27 goals as well, which sits sixth in the league. He’s fallen off from the 50-goal pace that he had earlier this season, but a strong second half could put him back in contention for the “Rocket” Richard Trophy and back on pace for a second-straight 50-goal season. After scoring 25 points in October and 23 in November, Draisaitl struggled in December and only put up 14 points. This was the biggest reason why he slid down a spot between the quarter-season rankings and now.
Obviously Draisaitl’s offensive struggles weren’t going to last forever. He has been able to get back to his scoring ways and has 5 goals and 14 points in 8 games since joining Nugent-Hopkins and Yamamoto on Edmonton’s deadliest line.
1. Connor McDavid
Quarter-Season Ranking: Second
McDavid and Draisaitl have been neck and neck all season long, and what it really came down to was who performed better during that awful month of December. They each scored 14 points that month, but McDavid put up seven even-strength points while Draisatil only recorded three, and that ended up being the difference maker.
Aside from that low production month in December, McDavid has been lights out all season. With 27 goals and 76 points through 49 games, he leads the league in scoring and is the favorite to take home his third Art Ross Trophy. Last year, Nikita Kucherov recorded 128 points, which was the most points in a single season since 1995-96. McDavid is on pace for 127 right now, but he is well known for taking his game to the next level during the back half of the season. If that’s the case again this season, then we could see the Oilers’ captain surpass Kucherov’s 128-point total before the season comes to a close.
On top of being the front runner for the scoring title, he was also voted as the favorite to win the Hart Trophy by members of the Professional Hockey Writers Association. The awards won’t stop there though — there’s a very good chance of him taking home the Ted Lindsay award and Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy, as well.
We learned in the documentary ‘Connor McDavid: Whatever It Takes’, which made it’s debut on Sportsnet Friday night following the skills competition, that the knee injury he had suffered last spring against the Flames was a lot more complicated than we first thought. He had torn his PCL completely in half, tore lining on the back of his knee joint, and had a crack on the front of his tibia. For McDavid to come back from a near career-ending injury and dominate the way that he has is very impressive.
However, his work isn’t done yet. The Oilers sit tied for second in the Pacific right now, but there is still a lot of hockey left to play this season, and McDavid will be heavily relied on to lead Edmonton to a playoff spot this April.
Zack Kassian: Zack Kassian came in at number four on my quarter-season rankings, but he ended up sliding down after putting up just 12 points in 21 games leading up to the All-Star break. In his defense, he did miss three games due to injury, plus an extra two for suspension. Although he didn’t crack the top-five this time around, he has still played a key role for the Oilers this season and will need to continue to do so as the season winds down and the team battles for a playoff spot.
James Neal: James “the Real Deal” Neal has been a fan favorite in Edmonton since the moment he arrived in the city. He gained popularity by being a goal-scoring machine through the better part of October and November. His goal production dropped over the past couple of months, causing him to slide from the top-five and into the honorable mentions. However, his goal scoring hasn’t come to a complete stop — he still manages to bang in a timely goal every few games. Out of his 19 goals this season, 12 of them have come on the power play, which ranks second in the league for power play goals behind only David Pastrnak.
Josh Vold covers the Edmonton Oilers here at TheHockeyWriters.com