|The Oilers look to finish strong this season, going 4-0-2 in their last six games. (Photo by Getty Images).
It has been an absolute thrill to attend the last two NHL Entry Draft's to broadcast the selection of Taylor Hall
and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins
to the CHED audience in Edmonton. This year, I'll be on my way to Pittsburgh in June to make it three straight, though it seems unlikely that the Oilers will have the first overall selection again. With points in six straight games (4-0-2) and a 13-10-5 record in their last 28 games, the Oilers have strung together a pretty nice pace as they close out the year. How nice? The 31 points earned in their last 28 games would add up to 91 points if they executed the same pace over 82 games. That probably wouldn't get them into a playoff spot, but they'd be playing meaningful games into the final weekend at least. That won't happen this year, of course, as they've already been mathematically eliminated, but it gives promise for the start of next season.
So, where will they draft this year? A lottery team for sure, I think the Oilers are still likely to finish 28th or 29th. The Blue Jackets have 30th place sewn up and the Oilers are currently 2 points back each of the Canadiens and Islanders, but New York has a couple games in hand. In the West, the Oilers are just 3 back of Minnesota, but the Wild also have a couple games in hand. If Edmonton keeps it up, it's absolutely not out of the realm of possibility that they catch all of these teams, but the numbers lead me to guess that they'll probably just track down one of them and finish 28th. If that happens, they'll be slated to select third overall, but could end up as high as first overall or drop down a spot to fourth, depending on the lottery.
Before I head to the Draft this year, I'll have a brief stopover in Las Vegas for the NHL Awards on June 20th. The Oilers haven't had anybody nominated for anything in the last couple seasons, so I haven't attended the event. This year, I think we all expect that to change. Let's start with the Calder Trophy, for which Ryan Nugent-Hopkins
will surely be nominated, and potentially be the favourite going in. With 47 points, RNH is tied with Adam Henrique (NJD) and Gabriel Landeskog (COL) for top spot in the rookie scoring race. Points-wise, it'll be a heck of a finish down the stretch in this race. The thing is, Nugent-Hopkins has played 12 fewer games than Henrique and 21 fewer than Landeskog. The math suggests that a healthy season for the Oilers rookie would have, likely, led to a 65-70 point output. His 0.85 point per game pace is signifcantly greater than either Henrique (0.70) or Landeskog (0.62), and he's done that with a lower average time on ice, too.
If the trophy was judged strictly on offensive contribution, the thing wouldn't even need a vote. Anybody that watches can see how his vision makes everybody else on the ice a threat and he's been a huge part of a powerplay that has jumped from bottom five in the league last year to top five this year. The problems for RNH start when you see that Henrique's contributions will be on a team that makes the playoffs, and that could very well end up being the same for Landeskog. I think that Landeskog is the primary competition that RNH faces for the award, so let me focus on him for a minute. Gabe is the only Avalanche player to suit up in all of their games, so he gets points for durability. He plays a physical game and his 203 hits put him in the top 20 of the entire league in that category, adding to his top 25 designation with a +20 rating in the +/- category. There are a lot of things to like about Landeskog's game and it'll be a heck of a race to the finish line.
The other trophy that I expect the Oilers to compete for is the Lady Byng Trophy, awarded to the "player adjudged to have exhibited the best type of sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct combined with a high standard of playing ability". Since the lockout, the trophy has only been awarded to two players, Pavel Datsyuk and Martin St. Louis. St. Louis has won it the last two years straight, with point totals of 94 and 99, and PIM totals of 12 each year. Prior to that, Datsyuk won it four years straight and had PIM totals of 20+ each of those seasons, finishing outside the top 15 in scoring twice. I think Jordan Eberle
's year stacks up against the standard very, very well, assuming the PHWA is able to recognize more than a couple names when filling in this ballot.
Today, Eberle's 71 points have him 12th in NHL scoring. His 8 PIM are half of the next lowest total of anybody above him in the scoring race and, as a 21 year old All Star this season, his conduct on the ice is exactly what the league ought to be embracing. He's an exciting player, never seen losing his temper or whining on the ice, and has expanded his presence in a meaningful way off the ice, an example being his video shoot to promote Patrick Burke's "You Can Play" initiative. I won't pretend to know all the players around the league as well as I know Jordan, but the description for this trophy suits him perfectly. If he's not at least nominated for it, I'll be stunned.You can listen to Dan on Inside Sports weeknights from 6 to 9 on 630 CHED. Follow Dan on Twitter | @dantencer