Oilers’ Power Play Can Become NHL’s Best Once Again

When opposing coaches write up the game plan against the Edmonton Oilers, they’ve probably highlighted the importance of not taking unnecessary penalties against a team that has had one of the NHL’s best power plays over the last three seasons.

In 2019-20 the Oilers finished tops in the league with 29.4% on the man advantage, and in the 2020-21 campaign they still held the number one spot, converting on 27.6% of their power play chances. Last season; however, they finished third in the NHL. The Toronto Maple Leafs were number one, going 27.3% on the power play, the St. Louis Blues clicked at a 27% rate and the Oilers finished third, dipping ever so slightly to 26%.

The Oilers should feel confident heading into the 2022-23 season, and why shouldn’t they with their final four finish last spring? When this team is confident, their powerplay usually reflects that. This season, they could reclaim the top spot with the league’s best power play with two personnel adjustments on the first unit.

Evander Kane Should Play the Net-Front Presence Role

The three main pieces on the Oilers’ first unit powerplay this season will continue to feature Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. Over the last few seasons, the team has had several players play the net-front presence, including Alex Chiasson, Jesse Puljujarvi, and Zach Hyman and they all have found success parking their big bodies in front of the net, to some extent.

Connor McDavid Evander Kane Edmonton Oilers
Connor McDavid and Evander Kane of the Edmonton Oilers celebrate a goal (Photo by Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images)

This upcoming season, Edmonton should permanently add Evander Kane to the first unit power play to rotate in the net-front presence role. He missed 39 games last season, but he still recorded 22 goals and 39 assists. That said, by the time the playoffs came around he was a goal-scoring machine finishing with 13 goals in 15 games, but even then he was predominantly used on the second unit and recorded two goals and an assist playing 21:58 on the man advantage.

Kane’s teammate, Hyman, excels in the net-front presence role, but there will be lulls throughout the year when the first unit power play isn’t clicking and they’ll need a new look. Last season, Edmonton often interchanged Hyman with Puljujarvi, yet this season it should be Kane’s chance to park his big body in front of the net. He has a goal scorer’s touch and a knack for being in the right spots and he may be the best on the roster (other than Draisaitl) at scoring in-tight. In comparison, Puljujarvi played 83 power play minutes with McDavid in 2021-22, many of them on the first unit, and often missed on his prime scoring chances in the slot.

A perfect example of Kane’s clutch goal-scoring came against the Calgary Flames in Game 3 last spring. In a span of six minutes, he scored a natural hat trick and although the goals came off the rush, all three of them were a perfect example of his ability to bury the puck in-tight with limited space and time. Adding a player of Kane’s calibre as a permanent fixture on the first unit power play should help the unit convert at a higher rate.

It’s Time Evan Bouchard Replaced Tyson Barrie

Tyson Barrie was dynamic on the first unit power play in his first season in Edmonton. During the shortened 2020-21 campaign, he led all NHL defensemen with 48 points in 56 games, registering 23 points on the man advantage. He averaged slightly less last season with 22 power-play points in 73 games. Between McDavid, Draisaitl, and Nugent-Hopkins, they read the play well and one thing Barrie does is get them the puck quickly and on their tape.

At the same time, whether Barrie is on the roster on opening night remains to be seen as he’s one player that’s often heard in the rumour mill. Having said that, an element that he doesn’t have is a lethal shot from the point. That’s where the 10th overall pick from the 2018 NHL Draft, Evan Bouchard, comes in. He tallied 12 goals and 31 assists in 81 games last season. He also finished 28th in points by defensemen and only seven points were on the man advantage. Bouchard will have to calibrate to the fluidity of the passes between the five-man unit, but he’s ready to replace Barrie on the first unit powerplay this upcoming season.

If you’ve seen the 22-year-old Bouchard play, you know about his “Bouch Bomb”. His lethal weapon, his shot, is an element the Oilers have lacked from the blue line since the days of Sheldon Souray when he unleashed his bombs back in 2008-09. As David Staples of the Edmonton Journal noted, not only is Bouchard’s shot dangerous, but it creates grade-A chances itself, with tips or rebound chances. Last season, 39 of his outside shots led to those types of chances, in comparison to Barrie’s 23 (from ‘Ticking Time Bomb: Edmonton Oilers Have a Big Gun but Need to Use It Better,” Edmonton Journal, 6/28/22).

Evan Bouchard. Edmonton Oilers
Evan Bouchard, Edmonton Oilers (Photo by Codie McLachlan/Getty Images)

A successful play for Edmonton on the man-advantage over the last few seasons has been the cross-ice pass to Draisaitl for him to bury his one-timer. There was a lull last season where that particular play wasn’t working because opposing teams had it scouted and consistently got sticks in the lane. Moving forward, the Oilers will have to create new plays as teams try to slow down their lethal power play.

Bouchard would make the first unit power play more dangerous by his presence alone. Opposing NHL teams are aware (if they’re not, they’re going to be), of the blueliner’s point shot. If he was used on the first unit power play, he can either take the shot (which we already know produces more grade-A scoring chances off of tips or rebounds, than Barrie), but alternatively, he can fake the shot, and in the process freeze the penalty killers and open up more lanes. He can then move the puck over to other Oilers’ shooters for a clear shot to the net. Even if the shots miss, they have Hyman or Kane there to scoop up juicy rebounds.

Related: Kane Settlement With Sharks Good and Bad News for Oilers

Assistant coach Glen Gulutzan, who runs the power play, spoke about the unit this past offseason, saying, “When I first got here, I said we have the most dynamic player in the world. I don’t want him to be standing on the half wall feeding a point man. It’s important to have a bomb from the point, but quite frankly I don’t want the power play to run through a point man when #97 is on the ice.”

The plays don’t need to run through Bouchard, but as Gulutzan said, a bomb from the point is important. A lethal point shot, in combination with Kane’s big body parked in the slot to bury rebounds, should allow the Oilers to reclaim the top spot as the league’s number one power play. Hopefully, for Oilers fans, all those power-play goals can lead to big wins and a bump in the standings.

What do you think of the two changes to the first unit power play? Have your say in the comments below.