Power Play Will Be Key To Oilers Season

So here we are. Mere hours away from the start of another Edmonton Oilers season and hockey fans across Oilers Nation can barely contain themselves. While winning games during the 2015-16 campaign will still prove to be a challenge for this group, the addition of Connor McDavid has allowed the masses to focus on the future with renewed optimism.

With the Oilers roster being what it is and the difficulty that comes with staying relevant in the Western Conference through an 82-game schedule being what it is, this team will have their work cut out for them. While trying to keep pucks out of their net will be a focus for Todd McLellan and his coaching staff, it will be this group’s ability to produce on the power play that will ultimately determine whether or not they can stay in the playoff race.

Since 2011-12, the only season’s the Oilers have made serious inroads in the standings have come during years in which they were successful on the man advantage. After finishing with a league-worst 62 points in 2010-11, Edmonton added Ryan Nugent-Hopkins into the mix in 2011-12 and the power play went from a 14.5% efficiency to 20.6%.

That bump played a major role in allowing the Oilers to improve by 12 points in the standings and it would have likely been even greater, had Nugent-Hopkins not missed 20 games with a shoulder injury. Despite the injury, RNH finished fourth among forwards in power play assists with 20 and Taylor Hall ended the year in a tie for fifth in power play goals with 13.

(Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports)
(Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports)

Take Us Back To 2011-12/2012-13

While 72 points may not sound like much, consider Edmonton had missed the playoffs by a staggering 35 points the previous season and were able to cut that back 21, despite having a rather limited roster. The same held true during the lockout shortened 2012-13 campaign.

Another successful season at 20.1 % on the power play and not surprisingly, the Oilers continued to show improvement in the standings. Despite crumbling down the stretch against superior competition, Edmonton finished twelfth in the West with 45 points and actually held down a playoff spot at the Trade Deadline. Unfortunately for them, that changed under the guidance of Dallas Eakins.

[Related Article: The Importance Of Todd McLellan]

After putting together the third and eighth best power plays in the NHL during the previous two seasons, the Oilers fell to 21st and 19th over the last two and the latter improved greatly after Eakins was replaced with Todd Nelson in early December. Not surprisingly, Edmonton once again plummeted to the very bottom of the standings. On a team as flawed as this one has been and remains, producing on the man advantage is an absolute necessity. If they can’t score on the power play, this team can’t win many hockey games.

Justin Schultz
Justin Schultz (Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports)

Unlocking Justin Schultz

The same will hold true for 2015-16, but the Oilers do have two aces in the hole. Obviously one is McDavid and the other is McLellan and his coaching staff. Outside of the 2013-14 campaign, the San Jose Sharks power play clicked at a 20+% rate and were more often than not, in the top five.  While having the likes of Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau and Dan Boyle during the prime years of their careers didn’t hurt, McLellan and his staff found a way to keep the group productive on a yearly basis.

Should Jay Woodcroft be able to work his magic on the man advantage in Edmonton and help turn Justin Schultz into the quarterback this organization hoped they were getting when they signed him as an unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2012 and develop Nail Yakupov into the trigger man many think he can become, this could turn into something pretty special.

One can make the argument the trio of Jordan Eberle, Taylor Hall, and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins are about to enter their prime years and with Connor McDavid now on board, the Edmonton Oilers seem to be well positioned to take their power play to the next level. For their sake, it had better play out in said fashion or this could be another very long season in the Alberta Capital. Let the fun begin.