The Oilers are off to a nice start so far this year. They have an 8-6-1 record through 15 games and they sit in a tie for 4th in the Pacific, only 2 points back of the three teams that they are chasing going into play today. It’s a tight division to say the least. Connor McDavid set a record this year by getting a point on the Oilers’ first 9 goals of the season. Leon Draisaitl has firmly established himself as the 2nd most productive player on the team over the last two seasons. Beyond that, the offence dries up. Secondary scoring was a concern heading into the season, and it was a concern at the start of the season.
Before training camp started, I wrote a piece on where the secondary scoring will come from this season. I defined secondary scoring as 45 points over an 82-game season. I categorized the players into groups based on who SHOULD provide secondary scoring, who COULD provide secondary scoring, and who WON’T provide secondary scoring. Here are the group and how they have fared so far:
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins: 17 points in 15 games (93 pt pace). He is the 2nd leading scorer on the team behind McDavid. His production has increased largely because of his new position on McDavid’s wing, but full credit goes to Nuge for getting the job done on a nightly basis.
Milan Lucic: 4 points in 15 games (22 pt pace). Lucic has improved his game greatly from last season. He has been better defensively, he has been a better passer, he isn’t giving the puck away as much this year… but he still isn’t producing at a level that the Oilers need him to be. He has been moved down to the 3rd line. 45 points is probably unrealistic for Lucic this year.
Jesse Puljujarvi: 1 point in 10 games (8 pt pace). This has been a hugely disappointing start for Puljujarvi based on how much confidence he had this summer and how well he played this preseason. He has been up and down the line-up, and he has been a healthy scratch for 5 games (including 4 consecutively). I find it odd how we were talking about how much confidence he had coming in to the season, and how now we’re talking about how much confidence he doesn’t have.
Ty Rattie: 3 points in 6 games (41 pt pace). Rattie is close to be being on pace for the 45 points that I defined as suitable for secondary scoring. He missed 9 games with an oblique injury. The Oilers went 5-3-1 without him in the line-up. Although he is looking like he will be a contributor, his impact isn’t really why the team has been winning lately.
Pontus Aberg: 5 points in 11 games (37 pt pace). Aberg was obviously put on waivers by the Oilers and claimed by the Ducks, but I included him in my piece pre-training camp. I was in the minority of people that actually liked him. A 37-point pace is pretty much where I figured he could end up if given an opportunity. He’s got that opportunity in Anaheim, and he is making the most of it. I’m happy for him. Still, it wouldn’t be good enough for my definition of secondary scoring.
Kailer Yamamoto: 1 point in 12 games (7 pt pace). It was nice to see Yamo get his first NHL goal earlier this year. That’s all he’s been able to produce though. Like Puljujarvi, he has been up and down the line-up. He was given a chance on McDavid’s line. He was effective on the forecheck, but he didn’t produce. He does a lot of the little things well, but it’s clear that he isn’t ready to produce at a high level in the NHL right now.
By my count, only 1 of the 6 players outside of McDavid and Draisaitl that we would either expect or reasonably hope could produce at least 45 points is on pace to clear that mark. That suggests that secondary scoring is still a big concern for the Oilers this season. They needed Lucic to produce at a reasonable level, and they needed one or two of Puljujarvi, Rattie, and Yamamoto to produce as well. Rattie is the only one of those 4 that is even close to where he needs to be offensively.
Despite this lack of production from some secondary guys that need to produce, the Oilers have still been winning games. The offensive production has been coming from other places. Those guys were in my group of guys that I said WON’T provide secondary scoring (or that would’ve been in this group upon signing a contract). This is called depth scoring. Depth scoring differs from secondary scoring because it comes from guys that really aren’t expected to produce. Here is where this depth scoring has been coming from:
Alex Chiasson: 6 points in 9 games (55 pt pace). He has never scored more than 35 points in a season. Since he hit that mark in 2013-14, he hasn’t got more than 26 points in a year. Chiasson’s goal scoring has been huge for the Oilers recently, but we can’t expect it to continue for long.
Tobias Rieder: 7 points in 15 games (38 pt pace). His career-high is 37 points. He is on pace for a career year as of today! The fact that all 7 of his points are assists is troubling though. His contributions have been nice so far, but they still fall short of my 45-point expectation for secondary scoring.
Drake Caggiula: 5 points in 11 games (37 pt pace). He has had a hot hand of late. His production has only come in 3 of his 11 games though. He has two 2-goal games to his credit so far, one of which came while playing with McDavid. He has brought a dogged determination on the forecheck, and he has been finishing well. However, I don’t know if we can expect this kind of production to be sustainable. Last season he had a career-high of 20 points in 67 games. This is only his 3rd NHL season, so we should expect some level of growth. I’m not sure if he can nearly double his pace from last season though. Once again, 37 points wouldn’t be enough to qualify as secondary scoring.
They also got a 2-goal performance from Kyle Brodziak in Detroit… his only 2 points of the season. Basically, what I’m saying is that secondary scoring is still a big concern in Edmonton. The Oilers have been winning games because the big 3 of McDavid, Draisaitl, and Nugent-Hopkins have been producing, and because their depth scoring is hot right now. There are other factors too, like the solid goaltending (for the most part) from Cam Talbot. Mikko Koskinen has surprised with a few big wins, including a shutout against Chicago. Oscar Klefbom is 4th on the team with 8 points. Klefbom being healthy and producing is huge for the Oilers.
Make no mistake about it, the Oilers are in the thick of the battle in a wide-open Pacific Division. Based on the numbers so far, they are going to need a bit more offensive production from certain players if they are going to make the playoffs. I’m looking to Ty Rattie as the guy with the best odds of providing that extra offensive punch. I’m also looking to the third line with Lucic and Ryan Strome (1 goal in 15 games) to start contributing more offensively as well. The depth scoring we’ve been getting from Chiasson, Rieder, and Caggiula will dry up at some point. Guys like Lucic, Strome, Puljujarvi, and Yamamoto need to be able to step up and produce when the others start slumping. They are capable. Whether or not they will remains to be seen.