Projecting the Edmonton Oilers: Centers

Last time we talked I ventured into the realm of player point projections for the 2015-6 season. In my exuberance I got a little carried away on Taylor Halls totals. I know that 90 points isn’t likely a realistic number given that the Art Ross went to Jamie Benn last season with 87. Now I am not saying that it is impossible for Hall to get that high of a total just highly unlikely. The X-factor for how well Hall will produce is going to be the phenom. No I am not  talking about the Undertaker for all you WWE fans, although the ‘Taker has always been my favorite wrassler. Of course I am talking about Connor McDavid. We all know he will be an amazing player but what we don’t know is just how amazing and how soon. If the McSaviour steps in and immediately starts kicking ass and taking names then there may be the possibility that we will see Taylor Hall mentioned as an Art Ross candidate. Not likely but still possible. With that out of the way it is time to get to the projections for the centers.

Before I am going to start we will need to figure out just who these players are. We know that this position is finally a strength for the organization after years of not having 4 guys that can play in the world’s toughest league. This season we have three proven pivots in Nuge, Letestu, and to a smaller degree Lander. Lander came a long way last season in proving he belongs at this level and can be a complementary offensive player. His two-way play has always been up to par but with virtually no offense at the NHL level until this past season he was viewed as a bit of a tweener. Too good for the AHL but not good enough for the NHL. For whatever reason he took a massive step forward last season and the third line center position is his to lose in training camp. Obviously the fourth center that will be lifting asses out of seats for years to come is Connor McDavid. He is a guarantee for top 6 minutes from the outset and will get a ton of power-play time and a big zone start push. The kid has excelled at every level he has ever played so there is little reason to doubt that the trend will change to start the year. Now that we have got our list of competitors let’s get to it. Or as the immortal Jim Ross used to say, “Business is damn sure about to pick up!” I love that guy…


When we talk about Ryan Nugent-Hopkins as a player it is easy to forget that he is still only 22 years old and hasn’t even hit his peak years yet. As insane as it is to think, Nuge will still get better as a player. He is already a very solid two-way player but with another year of experience Ryan will likely be even better than before. How much better is open to debate but what isn’t open for debate is his importance to this team. Last season he proved that he can push the river without Taylor Hall to his left and is able of controlling the game when he is on the ice. There isn’t one part of RNH’s game that I feel is lacking. I would like to see him shoot the puck more but that would be the only real issue I would have with the kid. After missing 20 games in his rookie season, a year in which he was robbed of the Calder, Ryan has been a fairly durable guy even though there was some question in his draft year about whether his slight frame could handle the beating he would get. Over the past three seasons Nuge has only missed 16 games. Pretty damn good for a guy that people thought wouldn’t be able to handle the hitting at the NHL level. Last season we saw Nugent-Hopkins start with the usual suspects. Centering the top line with Hall and Eberle on his wings. When Hall was lost to injury Benoit Pouliot was given the opportunity to fill the enormous hole left in the absence of number 4, and he did fine. Well he did great but we don’t want to give Benny a swelled head.

After the post yesterday we already have our predictions for who Nuge will play with. My best guess is he will play a lot of time with Pouliot and Eberle. Their chemistry in the second half of the season was great and I don’t see any reason to change that now. So we know who the players but how are they going to be used? I doubt they will take a ton of defensive of draws, Lander and Letestu will likely get the lions share of those, but I doubt he gets the zone start push from previous years either. The cherry assignments are definitely going to the McDavid line. We need to put that kid in the best possible position for success. That means a ton of offensive zone starts and a lot of power-play time.

The question then is how much will this affect the output of the RNH trio? My answer to that is not a whole lot really. These three are going to see an over abundance of the neutral zone starts and should still be able to make hay out of it. Nuge last season played 76 games. He had 24 goals to go along with his 32 assists. The 56 points he totaled last season tied his career high while his 24 goals set a new career high. The best part about these stats is that his shooting percentage of last season is entirely sustainable. It is a higher than his career average to this point but if we remove the lock-out season where it was drastically low he is right around par for the course. Next season I see Ryan playing in pretty much every game or damn close to it and putting up very similar numbers despite a change in his zone starts. Nuge will hit the 20 goal mark again but little higher I think. I am going to say 22 goals and 33 assists. That’s 55 points for any of you that need a calculator to add it up. Are we concerned about this total? Not really, I think if Nuge an top 50 next year we are in good standing.

Connor McDavid
Connor McDavid

There is nothing I can say about this 18 year old kid that hasn’t already been said by someone. If you want some background information on this kid there is scads of articles out there to fill your little McD fix. I’ve also already established that I think he will play mostly with Taylor Hall on his left and if I have to pick one for the right it would likely be Teddy Purcell. Well Purcell until Novemberish, then I see Yakupov taking his rightful place in the top 6. So what will a season of Connor look like? This kid is going to do some amazing things I tell you. Fantastically amazing things. This kid is so good that he will be able to do things that we just don’t think are even possible! I know that we have to temper our expectations for this coming season but that is easier said than done. Every time Connor has come to a new challenge has not only completed it, he has absolutely crushed it!

The speed with which McDavid plays is unlike anything I have ever seen before. He seems to always have another gear to go to. It doesn’t matter what opposition seem to throw at him he always seems to not only persevere but excel. It is so hard to be anything less than exuberant when we talk about Connor, and because of it I have seen some pretty outlandish ideas about how his season could go. One post I read said that he would not only win the rookie scoring race but he would also win the Art Ross trophy as league leading scorer. There is a good chance the guess is right about the rookie race although guys like Jack Eichel and Sam Reinhart will want to have something to say about that before all is said and done. So before we get to point predictions for the second coming of Gretzky I will make a few guesses about some accolades he will win this year. I think that yes he will be the rookie scoring race winner this year. No I don’t think he will win the Calder. Not that I don’t think he will be deserving but the league seems to not want Oilers rookies to take home that honor. Maybe it is our punishment for drafting first overall four times. Who knows. He will be at the all-star game and will make the all rookie team. I also think that McDavid will be the Oilers MVP this season. Those are my predictions, if I am right I expect glorious applause and champagne showers but if I am wrong I will categorically deny ever making any such statements.

After we have all dried our tears as the realization dawns on us that our favorite son likely won’t receive the proper respect that is due him. We can continue on safe in the knowledge that one day soon we will get to see Connor take us back to a long drink from Lord Stanley’s Cup. Now that I have warmed you to the cockles of your heart maybe even to the sub-cockles area, as Dennis Leary once said, we can move on to the point predictions. If we use the stats from the past season and adjust it to NHL levels using Gabriel Desjardins NHL equivalencies it would mean translate to roughly 21 goals and 35 assists. Of course when I figure those totals out I am pro-rating his numbers over a full 72 OHL season before I converted to NHL scoring estimates. So as we know McDavid played 47 games in the OHL last season and had 120 points. 44 goals and 76 assists. When we use that ad figure out the totals over a 72 game season it would look something like 67 goals and 116 assists. Those are absolutely insane numbers! Do I agree with the totals that Mr. Desjardins’ ratio suggests? Not necessarily. I think that he likely exceeds those numbers. He will receive a huge zone start push and will play a lot on the power-play which should hopefully be humming along under McLellan. My personal best guess for his production this season is 24 goals and 40 assists. In all reality I would be happy with anything above 50 points but I think Connor will have higher expectations for himself than I do. He is an intense competitor that won’t accept anything less than his best 100% of the time. What are your guesses for this young superstar?

Anton Lander
Anton Lander

Anton Lander took some major strides last season once he finally had a head coach that trusted him and believed in charge of his usage. Lander finally developed the offensive consistency that media and fans alike have been hoping for since he first arrived in Edmonton. He played with a variety of players last season and that might have helped his numbers a little bit. Taylor Hall is one hell of a line-mate to have if you are expecting to provide offensively. In his 38 games last year Landy managed 6 goals and 20 assists. Fantastic numbers for a third line center, which is exactly where he will fit into the roster again this fall. The players on his wing this year won’t necessarily be of the same caliber as Hall but with guys like Yakupov and Korpikoski there should still be a decent contribution to goal total this year. For all we know the other wing could be filled with Leon Draisaitl. That would be a nice line to get to watch for the season!

This player to me is the hardest to forecast his numbers for next year because in all honesty I am not entirely sure of who he will play with. My best guess could be way off and that will have a big impact on his numbers. While his point totals are definitely a very important part of the picture there is a lot more to Anton Lander then goals and assists. Anton brings considerable two-way skill and decent face off skills to a team that sorely needs more defensively responsible players.

My projection for Lander is that his scoring levels will remain roughly where they were last year with 12 goals and 30 assists. Really nice numbers for a 3rd line center and depending on who his wingers are the numbers could move in either direction. I wish that I were more confident with my guess on this player but I am not at all. I hope that I am right or even pleasantly surprised as any measurable drop in scoring could be seen as a step backwards in his development and could spell the end of his career as an Oiler.

Mark Letestu

Mark Letestu is one of the newest Edmonton Oilers, joining the franchise on the opening day of free agency. He was signed to a three-year contract with a cap hit of 1.8 million dollars and will fill the vacant fourth line center position once filled by defensive stalwart and faceoff guru Boyd Gordon. I will confess I don’t know very much about the guy and don’t profess to know. For my requirements I read a few different sites breakdown of who the player is and what he will bring to the team. The most notable being from our friends over at the Oilers Rig. In the piece Alex Thomas, aka @alex_thomas14, gives his two cents on both Letestu and Sekera. If you haven’t read the piece you really should as Alex is one of the young shining up and comers in the Oilers blogging arena. I respect his opinions and his writing is generally very in-depth and informative. Should you have missed the article it is available to read here. I wouldn’t be a very good Beer Leaguer if I didn’t also mention that our very own Beer League Hero had an excellent post of his own  the subject that I recommend you to read to get a better idea of the player. If you have a hankering for more information read that piece here.

We can expect he will fill a defensive role for the most, similar to that of Gordon last season. His wingers will more often than not be Matt Hendricks and Rob Klinkhammer with Luke Gazdic making the occasional appearance. The trio is not going to be expected to do a lot offensively but will be tasked with taking the worst zone starts and a lot of time in their own zone. He has been adequate in a bottom six role in Columbus and will bring a lot more offense to the line up then Boyd Gordon could have ever hoped to. My guesstimate is that he will end the season with somewhere between 20 and 25 points and that is about as close to a point total that I am going to go on a player that I don’t know.

Those will be the four most used centers that we will have over the course of the 82 game schedule and it is a far deeper talent pool than a year ago. For the first time in a long time we will have competition at camp at every position, center included. It is an exciting time to be a Oilers fan for sure and I can only see it getting better from here on out. I can’t wait to see what the future brings for this fast young team! Thanks for reading and as always I want to hear from you! In the comments or on twitter, @cooke_rob. Next time we are going to look at the situation on right wing where there will be plenty of competition at amp for the four available slots. Remember if you like our great little site visit our T-shirt shop and get your very own Beer League Heroes shirts!




Rob Cooke Written by:

I will come back to this when I can think of something interesting to say here.

  • Nesral

    Nice work. These re’s look pretty balanced. I do wonder about the zone start assumptions though. Dallas was an outlier with his deployment but lowetide keeps suggesting that McClellan will be an even spread coach focusing more on matchups.

    Other issue, (and I think it is reality) is the only real scoring bump comes from your 2c and even then it is only about 15 goals from the whole line. That leaves us more than -60 in goal distribution. That still leaves us terrible. I assume by extrapolating your work eberle breaks even. Purcell gets a slight bump. Yak continues on from the second half with a slight bump and Klinkhammer doesn’t score. That leaves the 1 line breaking even, 2 line up 25 goals tops, 3 line up 5-10 based on the rough start last year, 4 line up 5. 40 goals total increase. 45 left to make up and no one represents mcdavid as a corsi winner or a defensive stalwart.

    When I read stuff like this I see why the hill climbing will be soo hard.

    Good read, thanx for the thoughts.