Oilers Proving They’re More Than a McDavid & Draisaitl Duo

Edmonton Oilers’ forwards Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl are undoubtedly two of the most dominant players in the game today, and after tallying a combined 281 points in the regular season, there’s no dispute about it. Yet, in the McDavid and Draisaitl era, the Oilers have had to rely heavily on their superstar duo to lead them to victory in the past, and because of that, there’s been a perception and narrative that their Oilers’ squad is only a one or two-man team.

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For example, in last postseason’s Battle of Alberta, former Calgary Flame Matthew Tkachuk added to that narrative when when he said about McDavid, “They’ve got one player that plays half the game and is playing some great hockey right now.” Moreover, TSN broadcaster Farhan Lalji chimed in on the action also, when he tweeted, “That one guy is everything. The rest are nobody’s without him. He gets into everyone’s head, he’s the complete focus of everyone’s attention and makes everyone around him better by merely existing. He might be the best player ever. Without him, the Oilers aren’t a playoff team.”

Now, even though they left Draisaitl out of their comments, many hockey pundits have often included him in the narrative of being a part of the two-man team with McDavid and it was heightened because of the pair’s absurd offensive output last playoffs, combining for 65 points in 16 games and also because the duo were the ones who scored or played a part in many of the momentous goals scored last postseason.

Yet, looking at the first-round series against the Los Angeles Kings this year, although the Oilers did require big performances from their dynamic twosome, it was their depth players that proved to be key factors in their first-round series win, such that McDavid himself said after Game 6, “A lot of people look at the Oilers and think it’s a two- or three-man team. It’s not at all, it couldn’t be further from that at all.” That said, with what we saw in the first round, with contributions from up and down their lineup, it should put to rest the often-repeated narrative that the Oilers are overly reliant on just one or two star players to succeed.

Oilers Relied on McDavid & Draisaitl for Timely Goals Last Playoffs

In last year’s playoffs, there were many occasions where the Oilers relied on McDavid or Draisaitl to factor in on the tying or go-ahead goal. In Game 6 of last season’s opening round, the Oilers were down 3-2 in the series and with the game tied in the third period, it took the efforts of the stellar twosome to create the play that led to Tyson Barrie’s eventual game-winning goal to even the series with the Kings and force a Game 7.  

Leon Draisaitl Connor McDavid Edmonton Oilers
Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid of the Edmonton Oilers (Photo by Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images)

In Game 7, it was once again the Oilers’ captain that stepped up as he factored in on every goal that night. He assisted on the opening tally with some nifty stickhandling to set up Cody Ceci, and it was McDavid himself who scored the insurance goal to ensure a 2-0 win. On top of that, he scored the pivotal overtime-winning goal against the Calgary Flames in Game 5, to close out the series with their provincial rivals.

Oilers’ Depth Players Shining in Clutch Moments So Far This Postseason

However, against the Kings again this postseason, it wasn’t just their top-tier duo coming up big in crucial moments, but it was their depth players delivering when it mattered. In Game 2, Klim Kostin emerged as the unsung hero when he received the puck at the Kings’ blue line with the game tied in the third period, and instead of a drop pass to Draisaitl, he skated in and ripped a shot past goaltender Joonas Korpisalo, for the eventual game-winner.

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In Game 4, the Oilers’ support players in the top six finally woke up. Evander Kane, who co-led the playoffs in scoring last postseason, scored the game-tying goal to send the game to overtime. And in the extra frame, it was Zach Hyman who received a beautiful pass off the boards from Evan Bouchard, and wristed a shot past Korpisalo to end the game and even the series. As well, in likely the biggest goal of the opening round, it was Kailer Yamamoto — who had been silent in the Oilers’ first few games — that delivered in the clutch when he scored the game-winner with only minutes remaining in Game 6.

Related: Ranking Oilers’ Top 4 Unsung Heroes From 1st Round

All things considered, it’s great when McDavid and Draisaitl get on the scoresheet, but having depth players step up in clutch moments is just as critical, and even greater when it’s those unsung heroes that are the ones generating all the buzz after important games.

Oilers’ Offence Balanced With Contributions From Forwards & Defencemen

Some of the NHL’s powerhouses like the Tampa Bay Lightning, Boston Bruins and last season’s Stanley Cup champions, the Colorado Avalanche, have been eliminated from the postseason. That means the Cup is wide open for the taking and in order for the Oilers to capitalize on this opportunity they’ll need all hands on deck and the fact that 18 out of their 19 skaters recorded a point in the first round is a very encouraging sign.  

Taking a closer look at the Oilers’ depth contributions, as previously mentioned, forwards like Hyman, Kane and Yamamoto scored big goals in the first round, while Kostin tallied three himself while adding a physical element (20 hits) in limited ice time. Moreover, the Oilers’ trade deadline acquisition, Nick Bjugstad, scored two goals in Game 5, while also going 54-41 in the faceoff circle and Derek Ryan, who’s been solid defensively, scored a goal in Game 2.

Evan Bouchard Edmonton Oilers
Evan Bouchard, Edmonton Oilers (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

At the same time, Edmonton is not only getting offensive contributions from their forwards but from their blue line as well. Bouchard had a memorable series against the Kings, recording ten points in six games and his eight power-play points tied an NHL record for most power-play points by a defenceman in a series. The two pillars from the back end, Mattias Ekholm and Darnell Nurse combined for seven assists in the opening round, and even Brett Kulak, who’s elevated his game this postseason, scored his first NHL playoff goal in Game 5 — and all of this occurred while facing a tight Los Angeles defensive system.

Still, there are players that need to step up like the 100-point man from the regular season, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, who recorded three assists in the opening round but failed to score a goal. Also, while forwards Ryan McLeod and Warren Foegele haven’t scored either, their line with Derek Ryan is trending very well. According to Natural Stat Trick, in the last three games of the series against the Kings, that line combined for 17-4 in scoring-chances-for at even strength and it seems that trio is due to break out at some point. Also, another interesting stat is that Ryan, Kulak, Kostin and Foegele are ranked top four in the NHL in expected-goals-for-percentage at 5-on-5 among players who have played over 20 minutes.

All in all, the Oilers’ supporting cast has been shining in the clutch moments in the postseason so far, proving that the team is much more than just two superstars. That said, Edmonton is set to face Vegas for the first time ever in the playoffs on May 3, and they’ll have to continue the complete team effort if they hope to come out on top.

How do you think the Oilers will do against the Golden Knights in the second round? Have your say in the comments below!