The Magnificent Seven are driving Edmonton Oilers' early season excellence

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Seven magnificent players are driving the Edmonton Oilers’ hot start to the 2021-22 season.

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Those seven are, in order of their excellence to date: Leon Draisaitl, Connor McDavid, Darnell Nurse, Zach Hyman, Mikko Koskinen, Cody Ceci and Jesse Puljujarvi, with honourable mentions going to Kailer Yamamoto, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Evan Bouchard.

At the Cult of Hockey, we rate players on all kinds of factors, such as goal and point scoring, special teams and physical play. My own view is most influenced by advanced analytics, namely the video review work that Bruce McCurdy and I do on Grade A shots for and against the Oilers.

Each game we repeatedly go over video of all Grade A chances, figuring out and debating which players made major mistakes on Grade A shots for and Grade A shots against, keeping careful notes, recording them and publishing them for public scrutiny.

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I’ve been doing this review process on goals since the 2007-08 season and on all scoring chance shots since 2010-11, with the focus on Grade A shots starting in 2015-16, McDavid’s first season.

During the McDavid Era, I’ve never seen results as good as we’re getting right now — in admittedly a small sample size — from Draisaitl at centre, Hyman at wing and Nurse on defence.

Puljujarvi and Ceci’s Grade A shots plus-minus numbers at even strength are also outstanding, bettered by only a few players in the last seven years, while Koskinen is playing as well as he did in his peak 2019-20 season with a .915 save percentage.

As for McDavid, he’s having a typically excellent season, creating more on the attack than he’s ever done before at even strength, but having a few more defensive struggles than usual.

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When it comes to centres, Draisaitl’s at +2.0 Grade A shots per game, which is better than McDavid in his MVP season of 2020-21, when he was at +1.9 Grade A per game (with a game defined as 15 min of ES playing time).

Drai’s current rate also exceeds the +1.6 Grade A shots plus-minus from his MVP 2019-20 season.

On the wing, no winger has come close to the +2.4 Grade A shots plus-minus that Hyman is putting up right now. He’s crushing it both on the attack and on defence. He’a two-way steamroller.

And Nurse? He’s got the best number we’ve ever seen for a d-man in a Top 4 heavy minutes role against tough comp. He’s at -0.2 Grade A shots per game ES, better than Andrej Sekera’s -0.3 per game in his stellar 2016-17 season (If you’re wondering why top d-men are in negative territory, and wingers tend to have higher plus-minus numbers on Grade A shots, it’s simple: wingers and centres have the most offensive opportunity so will tend to put up more major contributions to Grade A shots for; d-men, and then centres, have far more defensive responsibility than wingers, so will tend to have far more major mistakes on Grade A shots against).

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There has been some talk about improved Oilers depth this year. It’s fair to say the teams’ Core-12 is massively improved, the Top 7 forwards, Top 4 d-men and No. 1 goalie who are at the heart of any winning team. Ceci and Keith have made for a dependable second-pairing and the Oil now have enough forwards to fill out two outstanding lines. Koskinen has so far risen to the challenge as a No. 1 replacement.

But the essential story of the Oil’s season to date is the fantastic play of the Magnificent Seven.

Can they keep it up?

I won’t bet against McDavid and Draisaitl.

As for the other five, we shall see. They have not reached these heights before, at least so far as I’ve charted. But fingers crossed they can maintain their high level.

At the Cult

McCURDY: Player grades in huge win over Blues

LEAVINS: Maybe we should all be glad Tortorella is on ESPN — 9 Things

McCURDY: Player grades — Oilers leave 2 points behind in Buffalo

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