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Oilers’ top line scoring playoff goals at a rate we haven’t seen before


Do the Edmonton Oilers have the best attacking top line in the modern era of hockey?

While doing some research and preparation for the Stanley Cup Final, I was again drawn to Edmonton’s top line – anchored by the venerable Connor McDavid, joined on the wing by Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Zach Hyman – and how strikingly productive they have been this postseason.

The individual numbers speak for themselves: the triumvirate of attackers in Edmonton have already accounted for a staggering 30 goals, and that’s ignoring the damage being done from the Evan Bouchard defensive pairing behind them.

We know McDavid is what makes much of this tick. Already one of the most dominant skaters in NHL history, Florida Panthers head coach Paul Maurice acknowledged earlier in the week how difficult it is to defend a player with that degree of top-end speed and skill:

“You can't play a 1-on-1 game with [McDavid and Draisaitl]. Too fast. Too strong. Too skilled. It's a 5-man defensive game... We have to be mindful, but we can't be passive.”

McDavid is a challenge in and of himself, but full credit goes to the Oilers front office and coaching staff for finding perhaps the best complementary forward he’s played with over the years in Hyman.

Hyman is a puck magnet of the highest order in the low slot, and the exact type of forward you would create in a laboratory as a havoc creator and finisher to enjoin to McDavid. Bring a reliable two-way forward like Nugent-Hopkins into the fold, and you have a line where the sum of the parts appears greater than the whole.

If nothing else, it goes to show even the best player in the world can benefit from the teammates (and the environment) around him. That shouldn’t be lost on Oilers fans. Recall that in McDavid’s first three playoff appearances, the Oilers on-ice goal differential with McDavid on the ice was just +2 (19-17); hardly the type of dominance you need from your top line to win a Stanley Cup.

The Oilers are already eight goals better than their opponents this postseason in all of the McDavid minutes; much of that advantage has been created playing specifically with Hyman and Nugent-Hopkins, a line head coach Kris Knoblauch leaned on heavily in the third round against Vancouver.

It made me curious how this line would compare to other regular lines (at least 15 games together) we have seen during deep Stanley Cup runs in their respective years. Compare how this trio is scoring relative to some of the best lines ever assembled:

They are scoring postseason goals at a rate we haven’t seen before – whether that’s in comparison to other regular playoff lines we have seen in the modern era, or in comparison to league averages.

Recall that teams scored about 2.6 goals per 60 minutes at even strength this season. That would put the McDavid, Hyman, and Nugent-Hopkins line a staggering 123 per cent ahead of this year’s baseline. Couple that with the most electric power play in the league, and you have a whale of a challenge for the Panthers defence. (Though, if any team has the structure and personnel to slow down Edmonton’s attack, it may well be Florida.)

You need both persistent on-ice dominance and some degree of puck luck to score at these rates, even for a line with McDavid on it. And while the laws of regression always apply, the Oilers are merely four wins away from a Stanley Cup. Keeping this heater together for just two more weeks may be the difference between ending a 36-year championship drought in Edmonton, and not.

Lastly? Oilers in six. The pick back in October remains the pick here.

Enjoy the Stanley Cup Final.

Data via Natural Stat Trick,, Evolving Hockey, Hockey Reference, Natural Stat Trick