Mysteries of the Edmonton Oilers revealed! How to again ramp up Kailer Yamamoto's even strength scoring

Edmonton Oilers Kailer Yamamoto (56) gets a tap on the helmet by Leon Draisaitl (29) after scoring on Ottawa Senators goalie Marcus Hogberg (1) during NHL action at Rogers Place in Edmonton, January 31, 2021.Edmonton Oilers Kailer Yamamoto (56) gets a tap on the helmet by Leon Draisaitl (29) after scoring on Ottawa Senators goalie Marcus Hogberg (1) during NHL action at Rogers Place in Edmonton, January 31, 2021. Photo by Ed Kaiser /Postmedia

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There’s plenty going right with the Edmonton Oilers right now, but there are a few things that could be better, including Leon Draisaitl and Kailer Yamamoto’s even strength scoring, which has dropped off significantly from last year.

How much better will the Oilers be if those two reach their top level on the attack at even strength? I’m still hoping to see it.

As it stands now, this current team is the highest scoring Edmonton Oilers team since the glory teams of the Messier-Gretzky era.

They are averaging 3.62 goals per game, an improvement of the 3.14 goals per game they got last year.

The 2016-17 Oilers, the one other strong Oilers team in the Decade of Darkness-plus era, got just 2.96 goals per game. The low point of this era came with the 2010-11 Oilers, which scored just 2.33 goals per game.

When it comes to the heart of the game — the hard and dangerous Grade A scoring chance shots on for and against — Edmonton is averaging 13.1 Grade A chances per game and giving up just 10.4 Grade A chances. That difference is a sizeable and significant margin in Edmonton’s favour.

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How can you improve on very good?

Yet the Oilers can still improve.

Indeed, they’ve been improving all year. They’ve gone from having not one line that was truly clicking to having all four lines making a solid contribution. The bottom two lines have really stepped up, with the Nitty Gritty Dirt Line of Jujhar Khaira, Tyler Ennis and Josh Archibald providing all kinds of energy, and the Gaetan Haas, Alex Chiasson and James Neal/Patrick Russell line providing shut down defensive play.

How then can Edmonton take one more step?

Kailer Yamamoto’s point production and Leon Draisaitl’s goal-scoring are down significantly at even strength, and it’s not because they’re just having bad luck on the attack.

Draisaitl’s rate of goal scoring was 1.3 goals for every 60 even strength minutes played last year. This year it’s about half of that 0.7 goals per 60.

Why?

There’s no mystery here. Simply put, he’s getting far fewer Grade A shots at even strength this year, just 1.4 Grade A shots per 60 this year, as compared to 4.6 per 60 last year.

The same holds true with Yamamoto. There’s no mystery about his huge drop in point scoring at even strength this year, down from 3.3 points per 60 last year to just 1.8 points per 60 this year.

He’s not getting as many Grade A scoring chance shots this year, with 3.8 per 60 this year as compared to 4.6 last year.

Most significantly, he’s not making as many major contributions to Grade A scoring chances either, just 5.7 per 60 this year as compared to 9.5 per 60 last year.

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That’s a huge drop off in Yamamoto being in the middle of the most dangerous of scoring chances. He was an attacking menace last year. This year’s his offensive game is meh.

The big fix

How to fix it?

You want to get Draisaitl using that great bomb shot of his more at even strength, right? You want to have Yamamoto combine better on the attack with others, correct?

The solution is to put Draisaitl with a player who is an excellent set up man, and to put Yamamoto with a player who loves to execute the give-and-go and can make tricky combination plays with other players.

Dominik Kahun, their current linemate, shows signs of being such a player, but overall he’s been a bit too passive. He needs to assert himself with the puck more. Maybe he’ll do that.

Of course, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins would be a perfect fit with Draisaitl and Yamamoto. If it were up to me, the Dynamite Line of RNH, Draisaitl and Yamamoto would be re-united at once.

RNH is doing well with McDavid. He’s making big plays on more Grade A chances than ever, even if his even strength scoring is down a bit from last year.

If he were to move off of McDavid’s line, there would have to be an apt replacement. But it strikes me that the attacking core of the top line could well be McDavid and Jesse Puljujarvi, who is coming into his own as an attack forward. It could well be that Draisaitl and Yamamoto would benefit far more from playing with RNH than do McDavid and Puljujarvi.

Would Kahun be a good fit with McDavid and Puljujarvi? Would Zack Kassian, Tyler Ennis or Joakim Nygard? How about Dylan Holloway, when he makes the jump from college hockey as is expected later this year?

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Or the Oilers could trade for a winger who would fit well with McDavid or Draisaitl.

Edmonton is obviously doing well enough that it’s not a top priority to reunite the Dynamite Line, but to win in the 2021 playoffs, to get by powerful attacking teams like the Maple Leafs of Toronto and the Jets of Winnipeg, this Oilers team is going to have to reach its highest possible level of play.

A re-united Dynamite Line will allow the Oilers to shift into overdrive, so I still expect it will happen.

P.S. The Oilers have brought in prospect Tyler Tullio from the Slovak League to play in Bakersfield. Tullio, Edmonton’s steal of a fifth round pick in the 2020 draft, had 13 points in 19 games in the Slovak League. He’s a smart, aggressive player with some skill, a Kris Versteeg-class winger.

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