The Oilers have reached the halfway point of the 2015-16 season and are right in the mix in the Pacific Division, despite an injury-riddled first 41 games. Let’s take a look at five things we’ve learned about these Oilers through the first half of the schedule.
1. HALL RISING
Taylor Hall is really, really good. We knew that already, but you see it this year in full force. The 2010 first-overall pick is averaging exactly a point per game this season with 41 (16-25-41) in 41. As of the conclusion of Monday’s games, Hall was tied for fifth in scoring in the NHL. There have been times this season in which Hall has driven the pace of the Oilers, and he helped keep them afloat when they lost numerous forwards to injury.
Head Coach Todd McLellan has called Hall a “catalyst” for the team on multiple occasions and the numbers show it.
Another positive from Hall is that he’s managed to stay healthy. That could in turn be helping him hit his stride and produce on a consistent basis. Hall said one of his personal goals heading into the season was just to stay healthy because he can’t help the team if he’s not in the lineup.
Hall leads the Oilers in goals, assists and total points.
2. YOUNG GUNS
Two key contributors to any success the Oilers have had so far this season didn’t even start the year in the NHL. Darnell Nurse and Leon Draisaitl returned to Edmonton following their brief stints in the American Hockey League, with the attitude and mindset that they will not be sent back down.
Draisaitl has been a revelation. After recording only nine points (2-7-9) in 37 games last season, the 20-year-old centre has 32 (9-23-32) in 31 games this year. His hockey sense and dynamic passing abilities are off the charts. There have been times this season where he made no-look passes like he has eyes in the back of his head. The chemistry he has been building with his linemate Hall is noticeable as well. Hall has averaged more than a point per game with Draisaitl, and was at 0.8 in the 10 games prior to Draisaitl’s recall from Bakersfield.
Draisaitl is second on the team in scoring behind only Hall.
Nurse is another top-10 pick quickly becoming a contributor. The 20-year-old defenceman is highly touted, but perhaps it’s surprising just how much responsibility he has gotten so soon into his NHL career.
Nurse ranks third on the team in time on ice per game at 21:08, behind only Oscar Klefbom and Andrej Sekera. He is second among Oilers blueliners in shots on goal, showing he can chip in some offence. His point totals will likely only grow with time. There have been moments in the first half of the season in which he has taken it upon himself to spark offence. Take his first NHL goal vs. Minnesota for example. Nurse took the puck from his own end, weaving through the neutral zone, crossing the blueline and launching a rocket past Devan Dubnyk. He also plays an aggressive and physical game. He showed great courage backing a teammate and challenging Milan Lucic to a bout as well for his first NHL regular season fight.
Good signs for the Oilers moving forward.
3. IMPROVED RESULTS
Not only are the Oilers right in the thick of things in the Western Conference, thanks largely in part to a log-jam in the Pacific Division, they are markedly improved from last season.
Edmonton is 10 points ahead of last year’s total at this time, and they have eight more wins. In the previous season, the Oilers did not reach the 37-point mark until February 2.
This season, the Oilers posted a win streak of six games. Last year’s longest streak was four, set during the first month of the season.
4. GOALTENDING GAINS
The Oilers allowed the most goals in the league last season with 3.37 per game. That number has improved, now below three (2.98) at the halfway point of the season.
If it weren’t for a slow start to the season, that number would likely be much better thanks to some stretches of impressive goaltending by both the Oilers netminders.
One after the other, the Oilers goaltending tandem of Anders Nilsson and Cam Talbot has put together streaks of great games.
Nilsson started 13 of 15 games during a stretch from November 11 to December 11. He won six of seven starts during a span too, posting a .931 save percentage in that time.
Talbot has shown signs that he is improving as well. In his last 10 appearances, the goaltender has a .931 save percentage.
The future looks bright as well with Laurent Brossoit thriving as the work-horse for the AHL's Bakersfield Condors. Brossoit has a .928 save percentage this season and three shutouts.
5. PROMISING ROOKIE
We haven’t seen a lot of Connor McDavid this season. A broken left clavicle is responsible for pulling the 2015 first-overall pick out of the lineup prematurely. In the 13 games he played, however, we saw his dynamic talent.
McDavid has 12 points (5-7-12) in 13 games this season. There has been no official date announced for his return, but this week he began skating with the team and taking part in practice.
The Oilers are certainly eager to get him back in the lineup to help supplement the Hall-Draisaitl combination that has been providing much of the team’s offence. With the second line of Benoit Pouliot, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jordan Eberle beginning to chip in, getting more healthy bodies back only strengthens the Oilers chances for a fun second half of the season. Nail Yakupov began skating with the team this past week as well.