As the season winds down the Edmonton Oilers haven’t stopped running through opponents on their way to second place in their division. That is the highest or lowest they can finish with two games remaining, but some of the star players should still have more incentive than just staying hot before playoffs.
The top three Oilers’ centermen, Connor McDavid, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, and Leon Draisaitl all have a chance to reach impressive season and career milestones before the season is over. While other teams may be sitting their star players, the Oilers should keep them in the lineup to not skip a beat as they head into their first-round matchup with the Los Angeles Kings and look to win a playoff series for the first time since 2016-17.
Let’s get right into the milestones these players can reach against the San Jose Sharks and Vancouver Canucks over the next two games.
McDavid has been a force this season, especially as of late as he typically takes his game to a new level down the stretch for the playoff push. The Oilers needed that surge from him as they were fighting with the Kings and Vegas Golden Knights for a while for positioning in the division and the playoffs.
McDavid seems to have a tight grasp on the Art Ross Trophy this season once again after he has jumped from 111 points to 122 over the past four games. He has scored two goals and nine assists in that time and has a commanding seven-point lead on the next highest scorer, Jonathan Huberdeau. Over the past 23 games, McDavid has recorded at least a point in 20 of them for 15 goals and 43 points. During that span, he has two five-plus game goal streaks and 17 multi-point games.
Knowing all of that, McDavid needs eight points in the final two games against non-playoff teams to reach 130 on the season. He would be the first player since 1995-96 to score that many. He already joined Nikita Kucherov, Sidney Crosby, Jaromir Jagr, and Joe Thornton as the only five players to reach 120 points in a season in the past 20 years. With four points last game and a number of five-point outings to his name, 130 is within reach for McDavid (from ‘McDavid and Draisaitl not getting same Hart trophy love as others for MVP’, Edmonton Journal, April 25, 2022).
As for his career, he is four points from hitting 700 which is much more realistic and reachable considering he currently has multi-point games in four consecutive games. He is already fifth on the Oilers’ all-time points list, passing Paul Coffey this season, but McDavid needs just four assists to pass Coffey in assists for the Oilers and take the fifth spot in that regard as well. McDavid is sitting at 457 career assists while Coffey had 460 with Edmonton.
Nugent-Hopkins has been quieter this season for a number of reasons. He has only played 61 of the 80 games this season and missed the most time in a season since 2017-18 when he played 62 games. With the additions and elevated play of key wingers on the Oilers, it has given the team the ability to shift him to the third line to play centre and spread the wealth. This has worked wonderfully as regular linemates Derek Ryan and Warren Foegele have stepped up in a big way since the shift.
Nugent-Hopkins has gotten some attention for that, but not a ton in the points department despite having 49 points in his 61 games. A big reason could be the struggle out of the gates goal-wise for him. He was without a goal in his first 13 games and only had two goals by game 25. He was still contributing big time on the power play when the Oilers were on fire with the man advantage.
Nugent-Hopkins had 17 assists in those first 13 games, 11 of which came on the power play. We all saw how the Oilers’ power play can struggle without him on the ice throughout his month-long injury. Since his return, the team has gone 22-7-2 and allowed the power play and forward depth to get back to normal.
Related: Oilers’ Nugent-Hopkins’ Impact Under-Appreciated This Season
Knowing that Nugent-Hopkins is four goals away from 200 in his career, McDavid should be even more selfless in trying to set Nugent-Hopkins up for goals. We see it all the time with McDavid and Draisaitl when he is close to a milestone. The only way these two will be playing together though is on the power play or the final few shifts of the game. Jay Woodcroft has thrown Draisaitl on for shifts with McDavid and Evander Kane, so it’s not out of the realm of possibility Nugent-Hopkins will get shifts at five on five with the NHL’s leading scorer.
A more realistic milestone that Nugent-Hopkins may very well hit in the final two games is another assists mark. He sits at 331 for his career and trails Ryan Smyth and Ales Hemsky for ninth on the all-time Oilers assist leaderboards. They are both tied with 335. Though Nugent-Hopkins only has two assists in his past three games, they have been tougher opponents and he is fully capable of being a major contributor in a game.
The third and final member of the star trio for the Oilers who can hit a milestone is Draisaitl. It may seem like a longshot, but he has 55 goals on the season and has already set a franchise record for the most power-play goals in a season in franchise history with 24 and counting.
Five goals from 60, Draisaitl has been known to score in bunches, and he will have McDavid feeding him every opportunity he gets. This season alone Draisaitl has scored four goals in a two-game span four times and has scored five in a combined two games one of those times. The Oilers’ opponents in the Sharks and Canucks aren’t bad matchups for Draisaitl either, having scored a combined four goals in five games against the two.
The other mark he can pretty easily hit is a new career-high in points. Draisaitl is just one point back of his career-high of 100 points he set in 2019-20 when he won the Hart, Ted Lindsay, and Art Ross Trophies.
The Oilers will be looking to continue their success leading into the playoffs and you should be able to count on each of these players getting on the scoresheet. Whether they will hit all of the above milestones remains to be seen. It should be something fun and extra to watch for in the games. Which, if any, milestones do you think these three players will hit in the final two games? Let me know in the comments.