Oilers’ Top-6 Forwards Are Carrying the Team This Season

The Edmonton Oilers are of course like every other NHL team and run 11 or 12 forwards per game, but the effectiveness and the production of only six of them have carried the team through 14 games this season. Five of their forwards were at a point-per-game before the win against the Tampa Bay Lightning while the other seven had combined for seven goals and 17 points.

The Oilers’ offence is at the top of the league thanks to just half of the forwards. Their power play is also at the top of the league executing at a 32.7 percent success rate. It just so happens four to five of the six players I’m talking about make up the top power-play unit. The forwards who have carried the Oilers so far this season have been Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Zach Hyman, Evander Kane, and Ryan McLeod. Let’s dive into the reason why each player is a major contributor.

Connor McDavid & Leon Draisaitl: 2 Best Players in the World

There’s constant pushback from people that McDavid and Draisaitl aren’t the two best players in the world. Their consistent production, together or apart, tells a different story. They have paced the NHL in scoring almost every single season since they both began playing full seasons with the Oilers in 2016. The two have combined for five of the past six Art Ross Trophies and already lead the league in points by a large gap this season.

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

McDavid is scoring at a goal-per-game pace and has recorded 29 points in 14 games. Draisaitl is close behind him with 26 points. There are only two other players who have even reached the 20-point mark yet, Nikita Kucherov (21) and David Pastrnak (20). Looking at an overall picture of what the Oilers’ duo has done points-wise, they have dominated the rest of the league since 2016-17. McDavid leads all players with 678 points in 456 games while Draisaitl ranks second with 582 points in 463 games. There are only four others who have recorded 500 points in that span. They include Patrick Kane (527), Nathan MacKinnon (514), Brad Marchand (513), and Artemi Panarin (511).

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As for power-play production, McDavid and Draisaitl are dominant there as well. As expected, they sit number one and two in power-play goals and points this season. While they very much enjoy playing together on the power play, they have become extremely effective with the right linemates on separate lines at even strength. McDavid leads the NHL in even-strength points (15) while Draisaitl is once again close behind with 12. To be sitting at a point-per-game or nearly there at both even-strength and on the man advantage is next level and something the league hasn’t seen in many years. They continue to drive play and the team, giving the Oilers a chance to win every night.

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins & Zach Hyman – Great Contracts, Highly Underrated

Many people were caught up with the long-term contracts Nugent-Hopkins and Hyman signed and how it would impact the team later on. They missed the value each of them brings to the Oilers right now. Both are on pace for career years in goals and points. Hyman had a career year last season, his first with the Oilers, scoring 27 goals and 54 points. That’s six more goals and 13 more points than his previous career highs. He’s on pace for 35 goals and over a point-per-game if he continues producing.

Nugent-Hopkins played the best hockey of his career between 2018 and 2020. The majority of his ice time came alongside McDavid, but he also formed chemistry with Draisaitl in the later stages of that period of time. Nugent-Hopkins has once again been playing with McDavid and the results are showing. His career highs in goals are 28 and points is 69. He has seven goals and 16 points in 14 games, which means he’s on pace for 41 goals and over 82 points. If he continues to play on McDavid’s wing on the top line and be effective on the power play, this is attainable.

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins Edmonton Oilers
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Edmonton Oilers (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Between Nugent-Hopkins and Hyman, they’ve combined for 13 goals and 32 points through 14 games at a cost of just over $10.5 million. Add in their stellar two-way play, work ethic, leadership, and value on both special teams and they are irreplaceable.

Evander Kane, Unique All-Around Player

I’ll start by saying I hope Kane has a quick recovery from that brutal injury he suffered in the previous game. But up until now, he has been exactly what the Oilers have needed. He scores, racks up points, plays physical, and has really put his speed on display this season. Kane has continued to play a physical role for the Oilers as the team has less toughness on their roster this season. He has recorded over 50 hits already this season, contributed offensively and defensively on each of the top two lines, and has spent time on both special teams. His newly formed chemistry with Draisaitl comes at the perfect time with Nugent-Hopkins thriving on the top line with McDavid.

Ryan McLeod, On the Verge of a Breakout

McLeod has constantly shown his speed and potential this season already, taking a big step forward. The points may not have come yet, but they will soon. With his speed and ability to carry the puck seamlessly up the ice and through the neutral zone, he continues to create chances.

Ryan McLeod Edmonton Oilers
Ryan McLeod, Edmonton Oilers (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

He not only drives the third line and allows them to stay relevant, but he also leads the second power-play unit and kills penalties. He leads the Oilers’ depth forwards in goals and points and has become the third-line centre the team desperately needed. With McLeod in that role, it allows Nugent-Hopkins to play in the top six. I wouldn’t be surprised if McLeod’s talent eventually results in the third line and his linemates starting to produce much more this season.

Oilers Need Depth Scoring

It isn’t enough to just have an effective bottom-six, if you can even call what the Oilers have an effective bottom-six without producing offensively. Many teams get way more offence out of their bottom two lines than the Oilers have. This is true for past season and this one. I, and many others, thought it would be different this season since the depth looked much better. Things never seem to change. The top two lines remain productive as ever while the bottom-six struggles to even score.

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Seven goals and 17 points by the seven depth players, McLeod included, is less than McDavid and Draisaitl individually and just about even with Nugent-Hopkins and Hyman. That’s a huge gap between the two tiers of point-producers on the Oilers. The Oilers need much more from either Jesse Puljujarvi or Kailer Yamamoto considering each has spent time in the top-six. It may be more concerning that Yamamoto has averaged 16:27 of ice time and has just three assists in 13 games playing alongside the Oilers’ elite talent. Puljujarvi has played nearly four minutes fewer on average than Yamamoto. Both played great in the previous game versus the Lightning, but that will have to become a consistency if they are to change the narrative and be worth what the Oilers are paying them.

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Nothing appears to be able to slow the production of the forwards leading the charge in Edmonton. That’s both great and concerning. As the top players continue to pull the team forward, the depth really needs to step up and start producing if the Oilers want to climb to the top of the league and be a force to be reckoned with.

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