After years of poor management, the Edmonton Oilers are finally back and should be taken seriously as Stanley Cup contenders for this season and the next several to come.
In 2015, the Edmonton Oilers streak of futility was seemingly coming to a close. They’d just won their fourth draft lottery since 2010 to move up and get the first overall pick in the 2015 NHL Draft. With that pick, they selected Connor McDavid, who had been hyped as a generational talent since he was 15-years-old, and the best player drafted since Sidney Crosby.
Along with McDavid, the Oilers had already drafted Leon Draisaitl with the third overall pick in 2014. With three other first-overall picks before that, surely the Oilers were headed for another generation of success after being a laughing stock of the league since their last Stanley Cup Final appearance in 2006.
Fast forward to the end of the 2018-19 season. After one playoff appearance in 2017, the Oilers had just missed the playoffs for the second year in a row and did not even come close to making it. McDavid and Draisaitl were everything that they were hyped to be and more, as both of them put up 100-plus point seasons, but everything else was a disaster. Once again, the Oilers were a laughing stock.
Then at the start of this season, something weird happened. The Oilers started the season 7-1-0, but it was written off as an easy schedule, and surely they would fall back off as they always have. But then something even weirder happened, when their blistering pace eventually slowed down, they stayed consistent and never fell apart like the previous seasons.
McDavid and Draisiatl were still dominating the league, but they were now getting contributions from up and down the lineup. You could point to Ryan Nugent-Hopkins‘ point per game pace, the emergence of Kailer Yamamoto, and the consistency of both Mike Smith and Mikko Koskinen in net as the difference this season for Edmonton, but more than anything it’s been the team-wide buy-in that’s made the Oilers into a real threat.
After buying on depth at the trade deadline with Andreas Athanasiou, Tyler Ennis, and Mike Green, all the sudden NHL caliber depth was no longer an issue. They could now run two dominant lines led by McDavid and Draisaitl, and torch opponents at will.
With everything going right where it all used to go wrong, the Oilers have turned from a punchline to a must-watch team, and in the weak Pacific Division, playoffs are all but a guarantee now with the division crown very much in their grasp.
On Monday night, the Oilers steamrolled the Nashville Predators with an 8-3 win. Draisaitl had his first career four-goal game and extended his league lead in points to 107. McDavid also put up a five-point night, putting him at 94 points in 60 games. It was the kind of performance that personifies just how terrifying this Oilers team is when they’re on their game. Heading into that third period tied 3-3, it’s almost as if they just decided at that point that the game was over, and casually scored five goals in about five minutes.
With the dominant win over the Predators, Edmonton moved within two points of the Vegas Golden Knights for the lead in the Pacific Division. While Vegas has won eight of their last ten games, they just lost Mark Stone for an indefinite amount of time, making that meager two-point lead anything but safe. With two games between Edmonton and Vegas before the end of the season, it’s a pretty bet to assume that those results will be the deciding factor for who wins the division.
Once the playoffs roll around, who knows what this team can do? The Oilers that made the playoffs in 2017 are quite different from the team we’re seeing now, and that team still was a game away from the Western Conference Final. McDavid and Draisaitl were still elite back then, but they’d still not hit their peaks like they’re hitting now. As long as the team around them doesn’t disappear, they can make a deep playoff run.
While the Oilers are far from a perfect team, they are no laughing matter, not anymore. They are Stanley Cup contenders and it’s time for them to be respected as such.
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