For the last two seasons, the Edmonton Oilers have owned the NHL’s best power-play unit. Two seasons ago, they led the league with one of the highest power-play percentages in the modern-day era and followed it up with a 27.6 percent conversion rate last season.
With a returning cast to the power-play unit of Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Tyson Barrie, the crew hasn’t missed a beat. Through three games, the team’s power play sits fifth in the league, with five goals and converting on 41.7 percent of their chances. Currently, the team is scoring on almost half of their power-play opportunities; it’s likely it won’t be sustainable, but they’ve come out of the gates on fire.
Oilers’ Net-Front Presence
Zach Hyman was the big offseason signing and he’s come as advertised thus far. While early predictions expected him to line-up alongside McDavid on the first line, he’s been flanking the left wing on the second line alongside Nugent-Hopkins. For the most part though, he’s been getting a shot on the first-unit power play in the net-front presence role.
Fans were able to see an early view of Hyman’s ability on the man advantage, when he scored the first power-play goal of the season — and his first as an Oiler — from a nice heads-up pass from Draisaitl. The play started from a nice cross-ice feed from No. 97 to No. 29; Vancouver Canucks goalie Thatcher Demko expected Draisaitl to fire off a one-timer (as he’s done many times in the past), but credit to Hyman — he had his stick on the ice, ready for the easy tap-in.
While the one-timer shot by Draisaitl on his off-wing is highly successful, the Oilers proved they can be versatile and fool teams, by No. 29 faking the shot and sliding it over to Hyman. That play will become extra useful as the season progresses and teams try to shut down the one-timer. Goaltenders think they’ve scouted the shot — get set into position — only for Draisaitl to pass it to the open man providing the net-front presence.
Additionally, we’ve seen Jesse Puljujarvi replace Hyman in the dying minutes of the power play. While the jury is still out on who the superior player will be in the net-front presence role, both players are highly skilled and offer different dynamics with their skillset.
Oilers Get Contributions from the Second Unit
Anaheim Ducks head coach Dallas Eakins was the bench boss for the Oilers for a season and a half from 2013-2015. While he wasn’t successful in his tenure, with a disappointing 36-63 record, his downfalls contributed to the Oilers winning the McDavid draft lottery.
Tuesday night was Eakins’ first return to Edmonton as an NHL head coach. Prior to the game, he was asked about the Oilers’ power play and said, “our mantra from right after the game last night has been ‘no penalties, no penalties, no penalties.’ Their power play is so good.”
Unfortunately for the Ducks, they didn’t stick to the game plan and allowed two power-play goals on the night. Not only that, but the Oilers’ second power-play unit — yes, the Oilers have a second power-play unit — got on the board, when Zack Kassian redirected a goal from an Evan Bouchard pass.
Early predictions indicated that — when given ice time — the Oilers’ second-unit power play would be able to produce points, and they did just that. On top of everything else, the fact that Edmonton has Darnell Nurse and Bouchard as their second-unit power play defensemen, it speaks volumes to the depth of players the team has at their disposal this season.
Oilers Have New Power-Play Weapons
By the eye test, the Oilers are moving the puck around with fluidity and gaining the zone with ease. Their new offseason addition, and three-time Stanley Cup winner, Duncan Keith, has also taken notice. “I’ve played a while now and I haven’t seen a power play like that. It’s impressive what those guys can do. It’s certainly a weapon of ours,” said Keith. (from “Power Play Still a Lethal Weapon For Edmonton Oilers,” Edmonton Sun, 10/5/01)
While the team boasted one of the best power plays in the modern era two seasons ago, they’re continuing to be better and take advantage of their potent weapon. Over the past few seasons, we’ve seen Draisaitl bury his one-time shot chances on the off-wing, but we’re seeing early on that McDavid can be successful playing that part, too.
Prior to the start of the season, he was seen working on his one-timer on the power play and that hard work paid off early. Two games into the season against the Calgary Flames, McDavid unleashed a one-time shot past Jacob Markstrom off a cross-ice feed from Nurse.
McDavid, his teammates, and the crowd were ecstatic. Draisaitl in a post-game interview joked, “If you look at the replay, it was a little fluffy.” All joking aside, if McDavid continues to score using his newly found one-timer, and in combination of his unworldly playmaking ability, the Oilers have unlocked yet another threat on the man advantage.
The Oilers’ power play has picked up where they left off last season, red hot. With new additions and new tricks added to their already dynamic arsenal, it seems the only way to stop Edmonton is to not take penalties at all against them.
First ever Ultimate MVP fan of the NHL as declared by Upperdeck – CBC Radio Oilers’ Fan Panel Analyst – Freelance Writer. Edmonton Oilers’ Sportswriter for the Hockey Writers.