Oilers Should Keep Hyman on the First Line With McDavid

If one thing should remain the same from the lineups Jay Woodcroft has put together in his first five games as the Edmonton Oilers‘ head coach, it’s Zach Hyman on the top line. Not only has he elevated his game and seen results, he is one of the players benefiting the most under the new coach and system.

The Oilers brought Hyman in at a decent price, so he should continue to be utilized to get the most out of him. He is a workhorse and plays the game hard.

Production Over the Last Five Games

It helps a bit for Hyman’s sake that Jesse Puljujarvi will miss some time with an injury. Not for five-on-five, but because of the position they both play on the power play. Puljujarvi had become a fixture on the power play, whether it was with Dave Tippett or Woodcroft. That’s not a knock on Hyman’s ability in the net-front role, it’s a testament to how well Puljujarvi has been able to get to the right areas, despite hardly being rewarded.

Zach Hyman Edmonton Oilers
Zach Hyman, Edmonton Oilers (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Hyman is tenacious around the net, versatile, and an excellent puck-retriever which is needed when the Oilers’ power play gets lots of shots and good chances. Not many have been going in, so that means there are a ton of loose pucks in front of the net and in the corners.

Hyman’s ice time has been increased by a big margin, averaging about 20:30 a game over the past five and playing as much as 22:24 in the win over the Winnipeg Jets. In the previous five games, he didn’t even play over 18 minutes once. While playing on the top line under Woodcroft, Hyman has four goals and one assist, going positive in each of the five games. Only one of the goals has not been at even strength (“Oilers’ Zach Hyman: Scores again Saturday”, CBS Sports, Feb. 19, 2022).

Hyman’s Style of Play Works With McDavid

As we saw at the beginning of the year, Hyman has been able to produce at even strength and on the power play beside the best player in the game. He was signed to do just that and be a speedy puck-retriever who drives the net hard and isn’t afraid to take a beating to get a dirty goal.

Connor McDavid isn’t one of the NHL’s top puck-retrievers and should not be expected to be, so it makes perfect sense to have a linemate who can do it for him and get the puck to him. In the past, wingers with size and a lack of speed have been given trials beside McDavid, and they were almost never able to create quick transitions and odd man rushes because McDavid would have to slow down for them to catch up. There’s no worry about that with Hyman, as he is very fast in a straightaway and has his stick on the ice for those tap-ins or close deflections.

Hyman talks about the stars on the Oilers saying, “We’ve got some skilled players who are able to transition quickly and do things on the rush and cycle.” Hyman was directing the attention to McDavid, his linemate, and Leon Draisaitl, but he too possesses the speed and ability to cycle the puck and keep control of it in the offensive zone.

Connor McDavid Edmonton Oilers
Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

McDavid too is dangerous without the puck and can score, so when Hyman is doing laps with the puck, the attention is taken off of McDavid. He is able to get open like how so many are able to do for him when he has the puck.

To address the effort and work ethic, Hyman states, “You can’t win if you don’t work…you can always control your work ethic”. Hyman has always been a player to work really hard, and now we’re seeing the same from every other member of the team on a nightly basis.

Can’t Break Up the Oilers’ Third Line

We did see Hyman get some reps beside his shorthanded partner Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, and it looked solid. Those two work well together and are both a threat on the penalty kill to create offence and spend time in the offensive zone. So I wondered how they would look with a third man on that line.

It was going well, but Tippett messed with the lines too much between games and during games, so we never got to see them work for an extended period of time together. That’s nothing to worry about now though, as Woodcroft has found wingers that have played very well beside Nugent-Hopkins on the third line, allowing the rest of the lineup to fall into place.

Related: Oilers’ Woodcroft Getting Most Out of Newly Formed Third Line

Warren Foegele and Derek Ryan’s seasons have turned completely around on the third line while Hyman has also enjoyed success where he is playing. Don’t fix what isn’t broken, so there’s no need to split up that third line or to take Hyman off the top line.