You can make an argument for a number of players to be added to this list of breakout performers for the Oilers. Injuries and call-ups paved the way for several young players to grow and develop at the NHL level. These are in no particular order, but here are five of the Oilers players who enjoyed breakout success in 2015-16.
1. CONNOR McDAVID
The 2015 first-overall pick would have enjoyed even more success than he had in his rookie season had he not suffered a broken clavicle in November, shortening his year by 37 games. Regardless of the time missed, McDavid was as electric and dynamic as anticipated coming into the draft. The 19-year-old centre became an offensive catalyst and a leader for the team, finishing at a more than point-per-game pace with 48 points (16-32-48) in 45 contests.
McDavid was named the NHL’s Rookie of the Month for October, February and March — the three months he played in their entirety.
McDavid earned recognition for being able to make players around him better. He boosted offensive numbers for players like Jordan Eberle, Patrick Maroon and Nail Yakupov when they were placed on his wing. It’s hard to describe a rookie season as a “breakout” campaign when there isn’t a previous sample of work at the NHL level, but McDavid belongs on this list.
McDavid earned a lot of praise from numerous players and his head coach at the year-end media availability. They applauded his leadership skills off the ice to go along with his elite skating and talent on it.
2. BRANDON DAVIDSON
Brandon Davidson is the perfect example of a tried and true development philosophy. Drafted in the sixth round in 2010, Davidson was allowed to simmer in the American Hockey League for multiple seasons before earning a taste of the NHL in 2014-15. This season, Davidson began and finished the year with the Oilers, becoming arguably the team’s best defenceman in the absence of injured Oscar Klefbom.
Davidson was consistently being deployed for more than 22 minutes a game toward the end of the season and drew much praise from Head Coach Todd McLellan.
“He just gets the job done,” McLellan said earlier this season. “He can play the game, a skating game, he can play a passing game, he can play a physical game. He’s got the tools that can be used in any type of environment."
Davidson, unfortunately, saw his season cut short due to injuries, but the way he played when healthy deserves recognition. He signed a two-year extension with Edmonton in February.
3. CAM TALBOT
The Oilers targeted and acquired Cam Talbot at the 2015 NHL Draft, via trade, in the hopes he’d grow into the number-one goalie role in Edmonton. After backing up Henrik Lundqvist in New York, Talbot was eager to prove he could play the bulk of games and put up good numbers.
After a rocky start, Talbot worked hard to right his ship and did just that, finishing strong from December on. He took over the starting role and ran with it, posting impressive individual performances along the way like a 40-save shutout against Vancouver on March 18 and a 35-save blanking of the Flyers in Philly on March 3.
Talbot, despite an early slump, finished the season 13th in the NHL in save percentage among goalies with at least 50 starts (.917). In his final 17 games, he went 9-6-2 with two shutouts and a .930 save percentage.
Talbot inked a three-year extension in January. Following two campaigns as a backup in the Big Apple, Talbot established himself as a workhorse in Edmonton headed into 2016-17.
“I could have played another 28 in the playoffs if I needed to, but unfortunately that’s not the case this year,” he said. “I think that I’ll just keep training the same way I’ve been training and come into camp. There won’t be as much of a transition period for me next year — working with a new team and a new goalie coach — and I’ll be more familiar next year to start the season so hopefully there’s no dips like that to start and we hit the ground running.”
4. LEON DRAISAITL
Leon Draisaitl’s 2015-16 season is the very definition of breakout. After just nine points (2-7-9) in his first 37 NHL games in 2014-15, Draisaitl began the year down in the AHL this season. Injuries made it possible for the 20-year-old centre to show his progress at the NHL level and he took advantage of the opportunity.
The 2014 third-overall pick scored 19 goals and added 32 assists for 51 points in 72 games this season. The offensive outburst began early in his call-up. He wasted no time making an impact, scoring two goals in his Oilers season debut against Montreal on October 29. He had three goals and four assists in his first three games.
Draisaitl stayed hot, tallying 17 points in his first 10 games with the Oilers this season. He showed his versatility, being able to flip between centre and wing.
There was a moment in a game against Chicago in November, in which Draisaitl blew past Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane to set up Taylor Hall in front. The players around the locker room were thoroughly impressed with the skill and progress Draisaitl displayed in his second season.
“I think it’s for real,” McLellan said during a particularly hot streak for the young centre. “I don’t see him lacking any confidence or failing at all at this point. Can we expect him to produce at the rate he is? I think that’s a little unrealistic but I do think he’s for real.”
5. PATRICK MAROON
Patrick Maroon’s performance at the end of 2015-16 could hold a long-term effect on the team heading into next season when you consider the winger has, for now, secured a spot on McDavid’s wing.
“I think that he has the opportunity to have a really healthy, long career here with us,” said McLellan. “His summer is going to be extremely important. I think he’s beginning to realize this would be a real good landing spot for him long-term so that’s a great thing.”
Maroon was acquired from Anaheim in exchange for a fourth-round pick and a prospect. Since joining the Oilers, Maroon showed leadership skills and an ability to play up and down the lineup, including top-line minutes. He scored eight goals and tallied 14 points in 16 games for the orange and blue. He’s had breakout performances before with other franchises, including an 11-point playoff run in 2014-15 with the Ducks. However, 2015-16 was the Oilers first taste of Maroon and he delivered.
He looks to keep it going next season in his first full year with his new club.
“I’ve got to perform, I have to be ready and that’s just playing good and performing and putting the numbers up you’d like to put up,” he said. “If you don’t do that then you’ll see yourself drop pretty far in the lineup. I don’t want that to happen again. It happened in Anaheim, and I don’t want that. I want to be a role player on this team moving forward. It’s a big summer for me. I can come here and prove to them I want it. You can always improve on things.”