The Edmonton Oilers currently sit four points back from first place in the Pacific Division with a game in hand—in March. The team’s unrelenting play, paired with crafty work from both general manager Ken Holland and head coach Dave Tippett, has helped Edmonton to find ways to win hockey games. They’ve only lost three in a row in regulation once this season, which is a miracle compared to 2018-19 when they lost three or more games in regulation five times.
Related: Top 3 All-Time Maple Leafs Goalies
(Please knock on wood before you continue reading.)
This is in large part due to the typical names spanning across headlines—the ever-consistent captain Connor McDavid, future MVP Leon Draisaitl, mid-season hero Kailer Yamamoto, rookie sensation Ethan Bear, and goalie tandem Mikko Koskinen and Mike Smith. But some names fail to generate as much hype, despite their integral role in the Oilers’ successful season (knock on wood again, please).
The Fallen Soldier: Sam Gagner
2019-20 stats (with Edmonton): 36 games played, 5 goals, 7 assists
Although Sam Gagner is no longer an Oiler—cue every Adele song ever written—it’s hard not to point out the versatile role he played throughout his second stint with the franchise.
Throughout 2019-20, No. 89 found himself in the minors, as a healthy scratch, on a line with McDavid, on the fourth line, on the power play, and no matter where he played, the London, Ontario native added depth, grit, and intelligence to the line-up.
In December, Tippett commented on Gagner’s versatile role:
“He’s a utility player, he’s smart enough to play in a lot of situations and that’s what you’re going to see; he’s going to go up and down the lineup.” (from ‘Oilers snapshots: Sam Gagner battling to find regular place in lineup’, The Edmonton Sun– 12/1/19)
When Gagner was an Oiler in 2019-20, he accumulated a point in 33 percent of his games, which is better than most bottom-six players on the roster:
Alex Chiasson has a point in 33.8 percent of the games he’s played, Josh Archibald has a point in 30 percent, Riley Sheahan gets on the board 23 percent of the time, Gaetan Haas has been added to the scoresheet in 17 percent of his games played, and Jujhar Khaira gets a point in 15 percent of his games.
Gagner’s on-ice talent made it possible for Holland to trade him to the Detroit Red Wings for top-six winger Andreas Athanasiou. And, the Oilers desperately need someone who can play with McDavid. This move, paired with acquiring Tyler Ennis and (the now-injured) Mike Green, will undoubtedly help to increase Edmonton’s odds of creating a splash in the playoffs.
Let’s hope the new top line builds some chemistry, but that’s a story for another day…
The Reliable Defenseman: Oscar Klefbom
2019-20 stats: 59 games played, 5 goals, 28 assists
Despite being the Oilers No. 1 defenseman, Oscar Klefbom doesn’t get the credit he deserves.
Since No. 77’s injury, the Oilers have gone 2-2-2, whereas, without the captain, but with Klefbom, the Oilers held a 3-1-0 record. These numbers, although minuscule, unveil the defenseman’s undeniable importance. However, his injury hasn’t created as much fear as McDavid’s did. Obviously, No. 97 is the best player in the NHL, and his presence makes a huge difference, but Klefbom’s presence does too.
It’s vital to note that Klefbom plays a huge role in quarterbacking the NHL’s best power play, while also being the go-to defenseman on the second-best penalty kill (PK) as well. He logs the most special team minutes out of all Oilers defensemen (223:13 on the PP, 156:58 on the PK; Nurse: 66:50 on the PP, 135:36 on the PK; Bear: 51:36 on the PP, 124:52 on the PK).
The Penalty-Killing Masters: Josh Archibald and Riley Sheahan
Archibald’s 2019-20 stats: 56 games played, 10 goals, 7 assists
Sheahan’s 2019-20 stats: 60 games played, 7 goals, 7 assists
During the 2018-19 season, Edmonton had a horrendous 30th-ranked PK. So what’s the big difference from this season to last? Archibald and Sheahan.
While both players haven’t contributed much offensively, they deserve a lot of recognition for their tremendous work while Edmonton is shorthanded.
This season, the Oilers’ special teams have contributed to their ongoing success. For example, their PK helped to keep them in the game in the 2-1 OT loss to the Boston Bruins, a game most experts had written off. In that game, both Archibald and Sheahan logged the most shorthanded ice time, helping the Oilers to kill seven penalties against the second-best PP in the NHL.
The Longstanding Oiler: Ryan Nugent-Hopkins
2019-20 stats: 59 games played, 19 goals, 34 assists
It’s normal for Nugent-Hopkins to go unnoticed, especially when he’s sharing a top-six role with Draisaitl and McDavid.
For example, in the last game against the Winnipeg Jets, No. 93 made an impressive pass to the Oilers’ captain, who then fed Draisaitl, who directed it into the back of the net. However, once the horn blew, the announcers focused on just McDavid’s pass rather than on Nuge’s pass, which went through three Jets’ straight to No. 97.
Nugent-Hopkins, like the German Gretzky, tallied three points in that game, including a beautiful game-winning goal but the headlines concentrated on Draisaitl (who definitely deserves it after surpassing the 100-point mark) and Smith (who stopped 38 of 40 shots).
Throughout 2019-20, Nugent-Nopkins has helped out on both special teams, has contributed offensively, and continues to be the Oilers’ best two-way forward. Nuge has 46 takeaways and just 36 giveaways, while Draisaitl has stolen the puck 53 times, but has given it away 77 times, and McDavid has taken the puck 51 times but has coughed it up on 74 occasions.
The entire organization has bought into building a playoff-ready team, one that’s equipped with a plethora of unsung heroes, depth players, tough guys, and superstars. It’s a good time to be an Oilers fan.