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Draisaitl’s season shows Oilers’ hope goes beyond McDavid

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If you scan a list of the NHL’s leading scorers, one name might surprise you: Leon Draisaitl.

Heading into Friday’s games, the Edmonton Oilers forward ranks sixth with 89 points, and his 42 goals leave him second only to Alex Ovechkin.

When you hear people express disbelief that the Oilers can fail this hard with Connor McDavid on their roster, perhaps that shock should be adapted to also include Draisaitl.

To some extent, that only makes the Oilers’ mismanagement more damning. They’ve landed a superstar in McDavid, someone between a star and a superstar in Draisaitl (depending upon your taste), and oodles and noodles of draft lottery luck, yet they find themselves in this profoundly sad state.

That’s grim in the present, yet the “they have McDavid and Draisaitl” talking point should at least provide Oilers fans with at least some faint hope for the future.

Now, no doubt, Oilers fans are probably jaded. They’ve heard one too many times about an alleged light at the end of the tunnel.

Well … sorry. Let’s try to squint to see some light.

More on Draisaitl’s year

Before I delve a little deeper, it’s fair to provide some qualifiers regarding Draisaitl’s 42 goals and 89 points in just 70 games.

For one thing, there’s no denying that Draisaitl’s numbers are buoyed by the time he’s spent with McDavid. Anyone with a pulse would see their production improve alongside number 97, and Draisaitl is no different.

That said, it’s not like Draisaitl is wholly tethered to McDavid in the way that, say, Mikko Rantanen and Nathan MacKinnon barely ever play a shift without each other. As Natural Stat Trick’s listings show, McDavid is Draisaitl’s most common even-strength partner (648:10 with), yet Draisaitl’s also spent 435:24 without him.

The Oilers can wrestle with the loading up versus spreading the wealth question for years, but either way, it seems pretty clear that Draistail is for real.

This season’s numbers won’t be easy to match, though. Before 2018-19, Draisaitl showed some goal scoring ability, generating 29 in 2016-17 and 25 last season. His 42 goals come on an inflated 21.4 shooting percentage, much higher than his-already-fairly high career percentage of 15.7.

That number’s almost certain to go down, although maybe not catastrophically so if Draisaitl sticks with McDavid more often than not. (McDavid’s really that special.)

The best other pieces

Whether Draisaitl slides in on McDavid’s wing or serves as the 2C, the Oilers have two pieces just about anyone would clamor for at forward. So, what else?

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins: Somehow, he’s only 25; it feels like he’s been suffering in Edmonton for our natural-born lives.

Maybe RNH won’t ever dazzle quite at the level that you’d want from a top overall pick, but he’s a steady scorer, generating 22 goals already this season (two short of his career-high), and already set a new career-high with 58 points.

Nugent-Hopkins seems like a perennial trade rumor target, but Edmonton would be smart just to keep him. Much like with Draisaitl, RNH gives Edmonton some versatility. He can be a center, or also give McDavid a more talented winger than the Oilers have normally been able to furnish. At this prime-age and at an affordable $6M cap hit through 2020-21, RNH is a nice asset.

(You could argue that maybe there could be actual value in trading RNH but … *gets interrupted by Oilers fans shrieking at the mention of another risky trade*)

Oscar Klefbom – A very good, very affordable, defenseman in his prime at 25. Even more than RNH, thank goodness the Oilers didn’t recklessly trade Klefbom for peanuts.

Varied value

Jesse Puljujärvi – Look, for all we know, he really might be a lost cause.

But even if he is, and the Oilers decide to part ways with Puljujärvi, they likely wouldn’t have sold lower than if they moved him during this fraught, lost season.

And there’s a possibility that things could go very right. Maybe a new coach would give the 20-year-old a clean slate? Perhaps he’s just a guy, but one who might sign a team-friendly contract as an RFA this summer?

His development could be key in the Oilers giving their top guys crucial support. There’s plenty of room for growth, and it’s not that outrageous to picture Puljujärvi actually figuring things out.

Kailer Yamamoto, Evan Bouchard – For Peter Chiarelli’s many many many foibles, he seemed to fall in line with conventional wisdom in recent drafts, which feels like a good thing. That can always change, as prospects are tough to project, but players like Yamamoto and Bouchard might be able to provide future boosts. That’s important if the Oilers remain cap-crunched thanks to lousy contracts like those of Milan Lucic and Kris Russell.

Adam Larsson, Darnell Nurse – We can go back and forth about how valuable these two defensemen are. Opinions likely range based on the ups and downs of their seasons. But, really, both have reasonable-enough contracts, and can probably help a team win. They sure beat many of the Oilers’ other options, whether they are in the system or free agency.

(Maybe a trade would actually make sen—*interrupted by another shriek*)

Andrej Sekera – It’s been a lost season for the veteran defenseman, but maybe he’s not as “done” as he seemed?

The 32-year-old’s been limited to 12 games played so far, and hasn’t scored much (two assists) or logged big minutes (16:33 TOI average), yet Sekera’s possession numbers are strong enough to prompt some positive thinking. If nothing else, maybe Sekera could take minutes from lesser defensemen, like Russell?

***

The Oilers have some fantastic pieces (McDavid, Draisaitl), and some undeniable problems (bad contracts, executive who still might not “get it”).

Ultimately, there’s no downplaying how important it is to hire the right GM, and to make sure that no one gets in the way, bungling things like always. It would be convenient if this was just a matter of Chiarelli messing things up, but Edmonton’s issues extend well beyond Chiarelli’s era of errors.

The thing is, if a new GM hit the right notes, the Oilers could actually become a team worthy of McDavid’s and Draisatil’s time — and maybe turn things around pretty quickly.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Push for the Playoffs: Another chance for the Blue Jackets

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Push for the Playoffs will run every morning through the end of the 2018-19 NHL season. We’ll highlight the current playoff picture in both conferences, take a look at what the first-round matchups might look like, see who’s leading the race for the best odds in the draft lottery and more.

After getting shut out by the Pittsburgh Penguins on Thursday night the Columbus Blue Jackets’ playoff chances were looking pretty bleak. They had fallen four points back of the Penguins and were still two points back of the Carolina Hurricanes and Montreal Canadiens for a Wild Card spot, with both teams in action on Friday night. It was entirely possible that they could be entering tonight’s home game against Pittsburgh four points back of any playoff spot and having to face a team they have lost to now eight times in a row.

That is why they play the games.

After the Hurricanes and Canadiens were both thoroughly routed on Friday night, with both of them giving up eight goals in the process, the Blue Jackets are now in a position where, with a win on Saturday, they could move back into a playoff spot, jumping ahead of the Canadiens with still one game in hand and a head-to-head meeting remaining.

The key is finally finding a way to beat a team they have dropped eight consecutive games to.

Carolina is in action again tonight in Nashville while the Canadiens have the night off.

Over in the Western Conference, the Arizona Coyotes have a chance to capitalize on Minnesota’s loss to Florida on Friday night and could pull to within a single point of the Wild if they can beat the Los Angeles Kings. The Coyotes would still have a game in hand on the Wild.

The Avalanche, meanwhile, are facing what has to be considered a must-win game against the Buffalo Sabres. With Gabriel Landeskog now out for what looks to be the remainder of the regular season their playoff chances are already looking bleak, but failing to get two points against a fading Sabres team would be pretty crushing to whatever is left of their chances.

IF PLAYOFFS STARTED TODAY

Eastern Conference

Lightning vs. Canadiens
Capitals vs. Hurricanes
Islanders vs. Penguins
Bruins vs. Maple Leafs

Western Conference

Flames vs. Wild
Jets vs. Stars
Sharks vs. Golden Knights
Predators vs. Blues

TODAY’S GAMES WITH PLAYOFF CONTENDERS

Sabres vs. Avalanche (3 p.m. ET)
Blues vs. Sharks (4 p.m. ET)
Maple Leafs vs. Oilers (7 p.m. ET)
Senators vs. Bruins (7 p.m. ET)
Red Wings vs. Lightning (7 p.m. ET)
Flyers vs. Islanders (7 p.m. ET)
Penguins vs. Blue Jackets (7 p.m. ET)
Kings vs. Coyotes (8 p.m. ET)
Hurricanes vs. Predators (8 p.m. ET)
Blackhawks vs. Stars (8 p.m. ET)
Golden Knights vs. Canucks (10 p.m. ET)

EASTERN CONFERENCE

PLAYOFF PERCENTAGES (via Sports Club Stats)

Tampa Bay Lightning — Clinched
Boston Bruins — 100 percent
Toronto Maple Leafs — 100 percent
New York Islanders — 99.7 percent
Washington Capitals — 99.6 percent
Pittsburgh Penguins — 97.3 percent
Carolina Hurricanes — 84.5 percent
Columbus Blue Jackets — 60.7 percent
Montreal Canadiens — 52 percent
Philadelphia Flyers — 4.1 percent
Buffalo Sabres — 1.1 percent
Florida Panthers — 0.9 percent
New York Rangers — 0.0 percent
Detroit Red Wings — 0.0 percent
New Jersey Devils — 0.0 percent
Ottawa Senators — Out

Western Conference

PLAYOFF PERCENTAGES (via Sports Club Stats)

Calgary Flames — 100 percent
San Jose Sharks — 100 percent
Winnipeg Jets — 100 percent
Nashville Predators — 99.8 percent
St. Louis Blues — 98.5 percent
Vegas Golden Knights — 97.9 percent
Dallas Stars — 89.2 percent
Minnesota Wild — 42.2 percent
Arizona Coyotes — 38.2 percent
Colorado Avalanche — 27.8 percent
Edmonton Oilers — 4.4 percent
Chicago Blackhawks — 1 percent
Vancouver Canucks — 0.7 percent
Anaheim Ducks — 0.0 percent
Los Angeles Kings — 0.0 percent

JACK OR KAAPO? THE DRAFT LOTTERY PICTURE

Ottawa Senators — 18.5 percent*
Los Angeles Kings — 13.5 percent
Detroit Red Wings — 11.5 percent
New Jersey Devils — 9.5 percent
Anaheim Ducks — 8.5 percent
Vancouver Canucks — 7.5 percent
Chicago Blackhawks — 6.5 percent
New York Rangers — 6 percent
Edmonton Oilers — 5 percent
Buffalo Sabres — 3.5 percent
Florida Panthers — 3 percent
Colorado Avalanche — 2.5 percent
Arizona Coyotes — 2 percent
Philadelphia Flyers — 1.5 percent
Columbus Blue Jackets — 1 percent**

(*OTT’s 2019 first-round pick owned by COL)
(**CBJ’s 2019 lottery-protected first-round pick is owned by OTT. If top three, moves to 2020)

ART ROSS RACE

Nikita Kucherov, Tampa Bay Lightning — 108 points
Patrick Kane, Chicago Blackhawks — 96 points
Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers — 94 points
Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins — 87 points
Mikko Rantanen, Colorado Avalanche — 85 points

ROCKET RICHARD RACE

Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals — 46 goals
Leon Draisaitl, Edmonton Oilers — 41 goals
Patrick Kane, Chicago Blackhawks — 40 goals
John Tavares, Toronto Maple Leafs — 37 goals
Brayden Point, Tampa Bay Lightning — 37 goals

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

With Landeskog out 4-6 weeks, Avs’ playoff hopes look bleak

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The odds were already against the Colorado Avalanche in their push to make the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Now they’re going to need to try to make up ground without their captain.

The Avs announced that Gabriel Landeskog is expected to miss four-to-six weeks with an upper-body injury.

Colorado’s final game of the 2018-19 season takes place on April 6, so Landeskog would need to recover faster than the lower end of that injury window to play again during the regular season. As you can see from The Push for the Playoffs, the Avalanche are currently ranked 10th in the West with 70 points, leaving them four behind the Minnesota Wild for the second wild-card spot.

Landeskog isn’t on the same level as the Avalanche’s dynamic duo of Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen, but the sturdy Swede nonetheless brings a useful mix of skill and physicality to the table. Landeskog already collected a career-high of 69 points in 68 games this season, so this is a huge loss for the top-heavy Avalanche.

Rantanen saw Landeskog get injured in a collision with Dallas Stars goalie Ben Bishop.

“I was right behind him when it happened,” Rantanen said, via NHL.com. “I think Bishop kind of tackled him behind the net, and that’s where he got hurt. I hope it’s nothing serious and we get our captain back in the lineup.”

It didn’t look like an enormous bump, but sometimes innocuous-looking hits can cause injuries, or aggravate previous ones. No doubt, this really hurts the Avalanche.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Push for the Playoffs: Hurricanes, Canadiens look to build some cushion in East

Push for the Playoffs will run every morning through the end of the 2018-19 NHL season. We’ll highlight the current playoff picture in both conferences, take a look at what the first-round matchups might look like, see who’s leading the race for the best odds in the draft lottery and more.

The Carolina Hurricanes and Montreal Canadiens received some big help on Thursday in the form of the Columbus’ Blue Jackets loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins (read about it here), keeping both of them two points up  in the Eastern Conference Wild Card race.

Now they have a chance to help themselves on Friday night.

The Canadiens missed an opportunity to gain some ground with their loss to the San Jose Sharks on Thursday, but are right back in action tonight when they visit the Anaheim Ducks with Carey Price going for the franchise’s all-time wins record. A win would give them a four-point cushion over the Blue Jackets heading into the weekend with still one head-to-head meeting remaining on the schedule. Given where the Ducks are in the standings and how they have played for most of the season you have to think this is two points the Canadiens do not want to leave sitting on the table.

Carolina, meanwhile, looks to continue its white-hot play since the start of the calendar year when it plays host to the Winnipeg Jets. The Hurricanes are 19-6-1 since the start of the new year and would jump back into the third spot in the Metropolitan Division with a win over a slumping Jets team that is stuck in a back-and-forth race with the Nashville Predators for first place in the Central.

Elsewhere in the East, the Washington Capitals are facing a completely depleted New Jersey Devils roster and have a chance to regain the top spot in the Metropolitan Division with a win.

Out west, the Minnesota Wild are coming off of a massive win over the Tampa Bay Lighting on Thursday night to increase their current point streak to eight games. They have a chance to make it nine games in a row on Friday against the Florida Panthers. A win would increase their lead over the Arizona Coyotes to five points in the Western Conference Wild Card race.

IF PLAYOFFS STARTED TODAY

EASTERN CONFERENCE
Lightning vs. Canadiens
Islanders vs. Hurricanes
Capitals vs. Penguins
Bruins vs. Maple Leafs

WESTERN CONFERENCE
Flames vs. Wild
Predators vs. Stars
Jets vs. Blues
Sharks vs. Golden Knights

TODAY’S GAMES WITH PLAYOFF CONTENDERS
Minnesota Wild vs. Florida Panthers (7 p.m. ET)
New Jersey Devils vs. Washington Capitals (7 p.m. ET)
Winnipeg Jets vs. Carolina Hurricanes (7:30 p.m. ET)
Montreal Canadiens vs. Anaheim Ducks (10 p.m. ET)

Here is today’s Stanley Cup Playoff clinching scenario:

The Lightning will clinch a playoff berth:
• If the Canadiens lose in regulation at the Ducks.

EASTERN CONFERENCE

PLAYOFF PERCENTAGES (via Sports Club Stats)
Tampa Bay Lightning — 100 percent
Boston Bruins — 100 percent
Toronto Maple Leafs — 100 percent
New York Islanders — 99.4 percent
Washington Capitals — 98.4 percent
Pittsburgh Penguins — 95.2 percent
Carolina Hurricanes — 87.3 percent
Montreal Canadiens — 72.1 percent
Columbus Blue Jackets — 44.8 percent
Philadelphia Flyers — 2.2 percent
Buffalo Sabres — 0.5 percent
Florida Panthers — 0.2 percent
New York Rangers — 0.0 percent
New Jersey Devils — 0.0 percent
Detroit Red Wings — Out
Ottawa Senators — Out

WESTERN CONFERENCE

PLAYOFF PERCENTAGES (via Sports Club Stats)
Calgary Flames — 100 percent
San Jose Sharks — 100 percent
Winnipeg Jets — 99.9 percent
Nashville Predators — 99.7 percent
Vegas Golden Knights — 97.6 percent
St. Louis Blues — 96.5 percent
Dallas Stars — 87.7 percent
Minnesota Wild — 54.4 percent
Arizona Coyotes — 34.4 percent
Colorado Avalanche — 24.7 percent
Edmonton Oilers — 3.8 percent
Chicago Blackhawks — 0.8 percent
Vancouver Canucks — 0.6 percent
Anaheim Ducks — 0.0 percent
Los Angeles Kings — 0.0 percent

JACK OR KAAPO? THE DRAFT LOTTERY PICTURE
Ottawa Senators — 18.5 percent*
Los Angeles Kings — 13.5 percent
Detroit Red Wings — 11.5 percent
New Jersey Devils — 9.5 percent
Anaheim Ducks — 8.5 percent
Vancouver Canucks — 7.5 percent
Chicago Blackhawks — 6.5 percent
New York Rangers — 6.0 percent
Edmonton Oilers — 5.0 percent
Florida Panthers — 3.5 percent
Buffalo Sabres — 3.0 percent
Colorado Avalanche — 2.5 percent
Arizona Coyotes — 2.0 percent
Philadelphia Flyers — 1.5 percent
Columbus Blue Jackets — 1.0 percent**
(*OTT’s 2019 first-round pick owned by COL)
(**CBJ’s 2019 lottery-protected first-round pick is owned by OTT. If top three, moves to 2020)

ART ROSS RACE
Nikita Kucherov, Tampa Bay Lightning — 108 points
Patrick Kane, Chicago Blackhawks — 96 points
Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers — 94 points
Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins — 87 points
Mikko Rantanen, Colorado Avalanche — 85 points

ROCKET RICHARD RACE
Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals — 46 goals
Leon Draisaitl, Edmonton Oilers — 41 goals
Patrick Kane, Chicago Blackhawks — 40 goals
John Tavares, Toronto Maple Leafs — 37 goals
Brayden Point, Tampa Bay Lightning — 37 goals

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Push for the Playoffs: Avs look to gain ground in West race

Push for the Playoffs will run every morning through the end of the 2018-19 NHL season. We’ll highlight the current playoff picture in both conferences, take a look at what the first-round matchups might look like, see who’s leading the race for the best odds in the draft lottery and more.

Out east, all eyes will be on the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Columbus Blue Jackets on Thursday night (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN), but in the Western Conference, a Central Division matchup between the Colorado Avalanche and Dallas Stars has quite of bit of playoff intrigue.

The Avs visit the Stars knowing a win could put them in a good spot. The Stars sit in the first wild-card spot on 73 points, following by the Minnesota Wild in the final playoff seed on 72 points and the Avalanche sitting on the periphery with 70 points.

Given that the Wild are in Tampa to face the nearly-unbeatable Lightning, a win for the Avs, who meet the streaking Stars — winners of their last three games — would be a huge boost to their playoff chances if Tampa can take care of business a few states over in Florida.

“For us, it’s not really pressure,” Avs forward Sven Andrighetto told the Avs’ website on Wednesday. “It’s a position we want to be in. We’re playing meaningful hockey, hockey that matters. Every single point, every game matters… to make the playoffs or not.”

IF PLAYOFFS STARTED TODAY

EASTERN CONFERENCE
Lightning vs. Canadiens
Bruins vs. Maple Leafs
Capitals vs. Penguins
Islanders vs. Hurricanes

WESTERN CONFERENCE
Flames vs. Wild
Sharks vs. Golden Knights
Predators vs. Stars
Jets vs. Blues

TODAY’S GAMES WITH PLAYOFF CONTENDERS
Panthers at Bruins, 7 p.m. ET
Blue Jackets at Penguins, 7 p.m. ET (NBCSN; live stream)
Islanders at Senators, 7:30 p.m. ET
Wild at Lightning, 7:30 p.m. ET
Sabres at Blackhawks, 8:30 p.m. ET
Avalanche at Stars, 8:30 p.m. ET
Canucks at Oilers, 9 p.m. ET
Flames at Coyotes, 9 p.m. ET
Blues at Kings 10:30 p.m. ET
Canadiens at Sharks 10:30 p.m. ET

Here are today’s Stanley Cup Playoff clinching scenarios:

The Lightning will clinch a playoff berth:
• If they defeat the Wild in any fashion AND any of the following occurs:
• The Canadiens lose in regulation at the Sharks
• The Blue Jackets lose in regulation at the Penguins (NBCSN; live stream)
• Both Montreal and Columbus lose in any fashion

OR

• If they get one point against Minnesota and both Montreal and Columbus lose in regulation.

EASTERN CONFERENCE

PLAYOFF PERCENTAGES (via Sports Club Stats)
Lightning – 100 percent
Bruins – 100 percent
Maple Leafs – 100 percent
Islanders – 98.6 percent
Capitals – 98 percent
Penguins – 90.6 percent
Hurricanes – 85.5 percent
Canadiens – 68.4 percent
Blue Jackets – 56 percent
Flyers – 2 percent
Sabres – 0.5 percent
Panthers – 0.5 percent
Rangers – 0 percent
Devils – 0 percent
Red Wings – 0 percent
Senators – 0 percent
WESTERN CONFERENCE
PLAYOFF PERCENTAGES (via Sports Club Stats)
Flames – 100 percent
Sharks – 100 percent
Jets – 99.9 percent
Predators – 99.8 percent
Golden Knights – 98.4 percent
Blues – 97.2 percent
Stars 82.8 percent
Avalanche – 45.6 percent
Wild – 41.8 percent
Coyotes 28 percent
Oilers – 3.5 percent
Canucks – 2.1 percent
Blackhawks – 0.9 percent
Ducks – 0 percent
Kings – 0 percent

JACK OR KAAPO? THE DRAFT LOTTERY PICTURE
Senators – 18.5 percent*
Red Wings – 13.5 percent
Kings – 11.5 percent
Devils – 9.5 percent
Ducks – 8.5 percent
Blackhawks – 7.5 percent
Canucks – 6.5 percent
Rangers – 6 percent
Oilers – 5 percent
Panthers – 3.5 percent
Sabres – 3 percent
Avalanche 2.5 percent
Coyotes – 2 percent
Flyers – 1.5 percent
Blue Jackets – 1 percent**
(*OTT’s 2019 first-round pick owned by COL)
(**CBJ’s 2019 lottery-protected first-round pick is owned by OTT. If top three, moves to 2020)

ART ROSS RACE
Nikita Kucherov, Lightning – 108 points
Patrick Kane, Blackhawks – 94 points
Connor McDavid, Oilers – 92 points
Sidney Crosby, Penguins – 86 points
Mikko Rantanen, Avalanche – 85 points
Nathan MacKinnon, Avalanche – 84 points

ROCKET RICHARD RACE
Alex Ovechkin, Capitals – 46 goals
Leon Draisaitl, Oilers – 41 goals
Patrick Kane, Blackhawks – 40 goals
John Tavares, Maple Leafs – 37 goals
Brayden Point, Lightning – 37 goals
Jeff Skinner, Sabres – 36 goals


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck