Oilers/Jets Playoff Primer #1 - Top Forwards
Next week the Oilers and Jets will face off for a playoff series that should certainly bring some high octane offense with some of the best offensive players in the league going head to head. On the one side you have a historic season from Connor McDavid with the Hart winner from last season Leon Draisaitl proving to be no slouch. On the other side you have Mark Scheifele leading the way with Kyle Connor and Nikolaj Ehlers right behind.
Today we are going to do a breakdown of the top three forwards for each team to see how they match up against one another. For the Edmonton Oilers we will be discussing Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins while on the other side it will be Mark Scheifele, Kyle Connor, and Nikolaj Ehlers.
Starting with the Oilers... what is there left to say about Connor McDavid. The now three time Art Ross Winner and soon to be two time Hart winner has had a historic season putting up 104 points in 55 games with one game left to go. When McDavid was on the ice this season, the Oilers scored 63 goals at 5 on 5 while only allowing 46, a GF% of 57.80. The only forward who played more minutes at 5 on 5 this season was Patrick Kane. To quickly compare, McDavid sat second in 5 on 5 minutes this season with 927 while Mark Scheifele was 5th with 898.
McDavid is one of five players this season to score 30 goals, he is even more brilliant on the powerplay and if you took away all of his goals, he would still have finished second in the NHL in points with his 71 assists. To top it all off, McDavid has absolutely feasted on the Jets this season with 7 goals and 22 points in 22 games. When McDavid was on the ice this season against the Jets, the Oilers scored 16 even strength goals while only allowing 3. McDavid is clearly the best player in this matchup.
Moving on we have the second highest producer in the league who is also a member of the Edmonton Oilers. Leon Draisaitl is one of the five players I mentioned that have scored 30 goals or more this season, with 15 of those goals coming on the powerplay. While McDavid is the straw that stirs the drink on the PP, Draisaitl is the finisher and with one game remaining Leon actually has a chance to surpass his previous career high in PP goals of 16. Draisaitl finished second in the league in scoring, which was 21 points behind McDavid and 14 points above the next highest scorer, Brad Marchand.
While it's quieted down since his Hart winning season last year, there is still a narrative of Draisaitl only producing this much because he played with McDavid. This year Draisaitl and McDavid played 332 minutes together at 5 on 5 while Draisaitl played 566 minutes away from Connor. When on the ice together at 5 on 5, McDavid and Draisaitl did produce 32 goals versus the 22 goals that were scored on the ice when Draisaitl and not McDavid were present, defensively Leon was better away from Connor. The Oilers allowed 15 goals in the 332 minutes Drai and McDavid played together and in the 566 minutes Drai played away from McDavid, the Oilers allowed 16 goals against. I fully expect McDavid and Draisaitl to be the Oilers 1-2 punch against the Jets.
Lastly we have Ryan Nugent Hopkins who finished the season with 35 points in 51 games. Despite being a contract year, Nuge has struggled this season despite getting gravy minutes with McDavid on the wing or centring his own line. His 7 even strength goals is one of the worst postings of his career. In terms of his minutes played, RNH finished 19th on the team with 2 primary assists. Kahun, Chiasson, Shore, Kassian, and even Kyle Turris were responsible for more first assists than Nuge.
Nugent-Hopkins is still a valuable player as he can play centre or the wing and he has come on a bit more in the past couple weeks but his struggles have hurt the team and this could be something that the Jets take advantage of.
Now it's time to look at the Winnipeg Jets.
First is the top centre for the Jets in Mark Scheifele. Scheifele once again has posted an above ppg pace with 21 goals and 61 points in 55 games this season. Scheifele leads the Jets in points this season and is second in goals behind Kyle Connor. One thing Scheifele has always excelled in is being able to log a huge amount of minutes. As previously mentioned, Scheifele logged the fifth most minutes among all forwards this season.
The biggest question and potentially biggest knock against Scheifele is whether the team benefits from playing so much. When Scheifele is on the ice, the Jets have scored 42 goals at 5 on 5 but they have allowed 44. +/- will always be a divisive stat but Scheifele has the second worst on his team at a -6, tied with Kyle Connor. These defensive issues were highlighted against the Oilers where Scheifele was on the ice for 3 goals for and 13 against when facing the Edmonton Oilers. Interestingly enough, when Scheifele was not on the ice the Jets outscored the Oilers at even strength 11-10.
Next down the line for the Jets is the team's leading scorer in Kyle Connor. Last season Connor became the heir apparent on wing over Patrik Laine with a 38 goal season and in a shortened season he has still been impressive. In addition to his 24 goals, Kyle Connor finished 19th in the NHL this season with shots on goal with 163. Since the 17/18 season, Connor has scored the 8th most goals in the NHL. He is a deadly offensive weapon for the Jets.
Again the issues with Kyle Connor are on the defensive side of the game. Connor despite his offensive prowess does not outscore the opposition when he is on the ice. This year Connor has been on the ice for 35 goals for and 39 goals against. Part of that is because of who Connor plays with, specifically Blake Wheeler. When Connor and Wheeler played together this year (308 minutes) they were on the ice for 11 goals for and 22 goals against. However in the 488 minutes Connor played away from Wheeler the numbers were positive 26-19 in favor of the Jets.
Lastly one could make an argument that Nikolaj Ehlers has been the most valuable member of the Jets this season. Ehlers played his last game on April 24th before suffering an upper body injury, After that the Jets went 2-6 and were outscored 23-18 in that time. Ehlers has shown he is the best 5 on 5 producer for the Jets this season and unlike Scheifele or Connor is not outscored when he is on the ice. This season Ehlers has been on the ice for 34 goals for and 18 against at 5 on 5. a 65.38GF%.
We can go down that list and look at players, Kyle Connor, Pierre Luc Dubois, Mark Scheifele, when Ehlers plays with these guys the Jets outscore the opposition and when Ehlers is away these guys get caved in. His injury is arguably the single worst one that the Jets could have sustained.
The final big question here, how did Ehlers fair against the Edmonton Oilers this season? Quite well. Ehlers went 7-2 against the Oilers at 5 on 5, out chanced and controlled possession against Edmonton when he was on the ice. Currently Ehlers is back in practice wearing a non contact jersey. A healthy Ehlers is arguably the most important piece up front Winnipeg has against Edmonton.
Ultimately no one should be surprised that the team with the two highest scoring players in the NHL is going to win this head to head. McDavid and Draisaitl are simply far superior to the top dogs in Winnipeg and every game the two teams have played these since against one another highlight that fact. That being said RNH is clearly the weak link this year in that group and regardless of who on Winnipeg you want to rank as their third best forward, the Jets have the edge.
Next time we will take a look at the remaining forward core for each roster and see how they matchup. Thanks for reading.