The Edmonton Oilers are through 40 percent of their games in the 2019-20 season. Their 18-11-4 start is still a huge success, even with a 1-2-1 homestand and losses against Vancouver, Ottawa and Buffalo. Let’s check which Oilers are trending up and down after 33 games.
Ethan Bear might be one of the best stories in the entire league, let alone the Oilers. A fifth-round pick in 2015, Bear’s playing over 21 minutes a night alongside Darnell Nurse and is the better player on that pairing in his fair share of games. Bear had a mammoth opportunity when Adam Larsson when down with an injury early in the season and he’s seized it and more with his play. Bear provides puck-moving and skill that the Oilers have desperately lacked on the right side defence. Neither Larsson nor Kris Russell provide the same skills Bear does in the top four.
Bear is second in total 5v5 time for the Oilers. The team gets the best percentage of shot attempts with Bear on the ice. According to PuckIQ, Bear faces the second-most time against what they consider ‘Elite’ opposition. The 22-year old defenceman is among the Oilers best blueliners this season.
The Mikko Koskinen extension was perplexing for a number of reasons. Why sign an unproven goaltender for that kind of money? Why sign him days before you’re firing your general manager? Why not wait? Well, it looks a lot better now. Up until the game against Carolina, Koskinen was hovering near a .920 save percentage in 18 games. He’s mostly split the workload with Mike Smith, but Smith’s recent play suggests Koskinen should get the bulk of the starts going forward. The Hurricanes six goals against Koskinen don’t help his case, but he’s a better bet to play well down the stretch compared to a 37-year old Smith.
Koskinen’s .914 save percentage is still respectable. Of goalies who have started at least 15 games, Koskinen ranks 11th in the league behind Buffalo’s Linus Ullmark and tied with Colorado’s Philip Grubauer.
Who would have thought Zack Kassian would be on pace for 29 goals and 55 points? Playing with Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl is a hell of a spot to be in. Kassian’s emergence as a complimentary scorer is nice, but it shows two things: one, McDavid and Draisaitl are unreal, and two, who you play with matters a ton. Kassian couldn’t score beside Mark Letestu and Kyle Brodziak. With McDavid and Draisaitl, he’s on pace for nearly 30 goals.
Kassian’s producing five-on-five with the big boys. That’s all you can ask of him in that premium position.
Adam Larsson’s played 11 games with zero points, averaging 17 minutes a game and the Oilers have been outscored 2-9 with him on the ice five-on-five. Larsson ranks last in shot-attempts among Oilers defenceman. There’s bound to be an adjustment period coming off a significant injury, but Larsson’s struggled since returning from injury, and this is after a particularly shaky 2018-19.
Forget what it cost to acquire him, the Oilers should think long and hard about moving Larsson. Larsson’s reputation might already exceed his on-ice value. Right-handed defencemen are always in demand. Plus, the Oilers may finally have a surplus on right-side defencemen and could move Larsson for help up front. Sure, it’d be a bit suspicious the Oilers are selling a right-handed defenceman and relying on an incredibly green right side, but stranger things have happened.
Mike Smith was a decent signing. Smith had been an above-average goaltender prior to last season. Smith also recovered in the latter half in 2018-19, so it was a decent bet he’d be better than his .898 save percentage last season. That’s been true for the most part this season. Smith still has a .908 save percentage and that includes a stretch where he’s stopped less than .880 percentage of the shots faced in six of his last eight games. Smith is what he is. Maybe he’s less of a 1A/1B goaltender and more of a backup at this point in his career, but that’s still okay.
The journeyman winger had a career season scoring 22 goals and 38 points with the Oilers last season. It was hard to see the Oilers not signing a 20-goal scorer they found for dirt cheap, so they rewarded the much-travelled Chiasson with a two-year deal for $2.15-million a season on July 1st.
Chiasson’s on pace for eight goals and 27 points. That’s not terribly far off from production you’d expect for a $2.15-million player, but a far cry from his 22-goals last season. Chiasson is what he is, a fourth-liner who can chip in on the power play, but he’s just not a 20-goal man, unfortunately.