When we talk about the Edmonton Oilers’ power play, it’s easy to say that it’s been nothing short of spectacular. With the two latest Hart Trophy winners in Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl driving the unit, they’ve led the NHL the last two seasons with power-play percentages (PP%) of 29.4 percent and 27.6 percent, respectively. It’s hard to imagine that their power play could become more dangerous than it already is, but below are two factors that can help the team reach new heights with the man advantage.
Oilers general manager Ken Holland had the luxury of managing many great players over his Stanley Cup-winning years with the Detroit Red Wings. Despite the considerable number of Hall of Famers that played on his Red Wings’ teams, there was an unsung hero from the bunch — Tomas Holmstrom.
Parking his body in front of the net on the power play, he’d tip pucks and make life a living nightmare for opposing goaltenders. He ended his career scoring 243 NHL goals, with more power-play goals (122) than even strength (121), and he was a significant piece to the Red Wings’ winning formula. With the highly skilled players the Oilers already had, did Holland see his Holmstrom in Zack Hyman? Possibly. Hyman’s new seven-year, $38.5 million deal could certainly reflect that.
Hyman heads into the season with a high expectation to back up his lucrative contract. He carved a reputation with the Toronto Maple Leafs as being a skilled, gritty, and hardworking player. His skill set complemented Toronto’s top-end players, doing the dirty work, and retrieving pucks on a line with Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner.
Last season, Holland had a front row view of watching Hyman work at his craft. In a three-game miniseries, he watched his team go winless against the Maple Leafs. What Holland saw in Hyman was a pest in front of the net on the power play, and he was often in the face of Oilers’ goaltender Mike Smith. (from “Zach Hyman Is Exactly What Was Missing in the Edmonton Oilers Top-Six,” Edmonton Sun, July 29, 2021) In 41 games last season, he produced 15 goals, good for a 30-goal pace.
It’s hard to believe, but the addition of Hyman has the potential to elevate their power play to a new level. With the departure of James Neal and Alex Chiasson, there is an opportunity for Hyman to provide the net-front presence on the Oilers’ top unit — a role in which the team has lacked a true specialist since the days of a young Ryan Smyth.
The Oilers have an arsenal of plays that add to their success on the power play, and more times than not, it often results in a highlight-reel goal. A breathtaking rush by McDavid, a cross-ice pass to Draisaitl for a one-timer, or even the captain baiting defenders and dishing the puck to an open Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.
What happens when the high-skilled plays aren’t available? Like we saw in Game 1 of the Oilers’ series versus the Winnipeg Jets last playoffs, the Jets simply shut that type of play down, and limited the Oilers to a single goal. Game 2, the Jets shut out the Oilers completely. They played a smart, defensive game and defended the passing lanes on the power play. Fortunately for the Jets, they used their momentum to win the series in four.
Hyman Will Create More Scoring Chances
When opposing teams are clogging the passing lanes for the cross-ice pass, the Oilers in the past have had a tendency to force plays, often resulting in an interception and the puck being cleared. Don’t get me wrong, the Oilers convert on their high-skilled plays often, as their league-leading power play would indicate. Still, the addition of Hyman to the net-front-presence role offers a new dynamic.
With Hyman standing in front of the net, they can opt for the “simple” play. They can throw more pucks on net in hopes of the puck squeezing by, due to a Hyman screen, tip, or rebound opportunity. With Hyman being a staple in the net-front-presence role, he’ll create scoring chances on the power play when the high-skilled plays aren’t available.
With that said, understandably, “throwing the puck on net” may not compute with the processors of players with elite hockey IQ, like McDavid and Draisaitl. Still, when a player of Hyman’s caliber is in the crease causing havoc, they might be more inclined to make it a part of their playbook.
Prior to being drafted, the scouting report on Jesse Puljujarvi was that of a big man, with soft hands and a heavy shot. Puljujarvi, 23 — plain and simple — has a deceivingly good shot. In fact, he might have the second-best shot among Oilers’ forwards, other than one-time, 50-goal scorer, Draisaitl.
Puljujarvi scored 15 goals in 55 games in his comeback year and as the season progressed, Dave Tippett allowed him more responsibility. He grinded his way off the third line, utilized his shot and big frame, all the while displaying his two-way game. He eventually ended the year playing on the top line and established chemistry with McDavid.
The Ovechkin Spot
Adding Puljujarvi to the power play on a fulltime basis can take their special teams to the next level. While the net-front-presence role is an opportunity Hyman can excel at, it’s worthwhile to see how Puljujarvi would fair, if he’s put in a position to unleash his hard shot. I’d like to see him in one particular spot — taking one-timers on his off-wing on the power play. Let’s call it, the “Alex Ovechkin spot.”
Consider what Ovechkin has accomplished in that spot over the last 15 seasons on the power play. Year after year, one would think opposing teams would be able to stop him by now, yet he’s amassed a whopping 269 power-play goals. Now imagine Puljujarvi in that spot — obviously, in a much lighter capacity.
While Puljujarvi will never reach Ovechkin’s legendary type of success on the power play, they still possess similar tools — big, mobile men, right-handed shot with a good release. With those attributes, it’s worthwhile to see if Puljujarvi can make the Oilers’ power play more frightening than it already is.
Over the last two years, the Oilers have asserted their dominance over NHL teams with the man advantage. Should they allow Hyman to establish a role as the net-front presence and put Puljujarvi in the right spot to unleash his hard shot, the Oilers’ power play has the potential to even more deadly.
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.