Hyman doing his part to save Oilers’ season
It wasn’t so much because of Hyman’s individual talent. Hyman had exemplified himself as a scrappy, reliable, and effective two-way forward with the Toronto Maple Leafs for years. That alone gave the Oilers real upside across their top two lines, and most importantly broadened the depth of talent at the forward position of an often top-heavy lineup — one that historically had relied perhaps a bit too much on the powers of Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl.
But those eyebrows did jump at a long-term deal for a then 29-year-old winger who, even in his best stretches with the Maple Leafs, was neither an elite goal scorer nor a high-end playmaker.
Typically, these contracts don’t age well — if not for the inherent injury risk and age-driven performance declines you start to see in this age range, then because we had already possibly surpassed the best of what Hyman would bring to the table at the NHL level.
Fast forward to this season. If there was a short list of Most Valuable Player candidates, Hyman has an argument to be included. And if the Oilers somehow can recover from a harrowing first six weeks of the season and return to the playoffs, they will be thanking Hyman for keeping the team alive when they needed him most.
That is no exaggeration. Consider two points: The Oilers are getting career-best individual production from Hyman to start this regular season and are also blowing teams off the ice when he jumps over the boards.
Hyman converting on a very high percentage of his scoring opportunities – he’s a career 13 per cent shooter who is north of 17 per cent so far this season – has meant routine advantage play for the Oilers whenever he’s deployed.
It’s fair to acknowledge Hyman has benefited from playing with elite talent, as most of his minutes at even strength have come with McDavid. Together, they have outscored opponents 18 to 9, the sort of dominance we have come to expect from the top of Edmonton’s lineup.
But I think it’s striking how well Hyman has played in all scenarios. With McDavid, he’s a routine converter of 97’s playmaking, winning pucks along the boards and creating havoc in front of the net. But Hyman’s lines without McDavid still win. That’s a huge lift for an Oilers team that’s struggled at times to execute at even strength in the non-McDavid minutes:
Goals, even over a couple of months of the season, can be highly volatile. You might look at McDavid away from Hyman, see how the Oilers have been crushed, and wonder what’s going on. The reality is goaltending performance can have an outsized impact on this sort of analysis, in both directions.
But when we talk about production, we are talking about results. The reason why the Oilers are back in the playoff hunt is because Hyman’s lines just keep winning, and that’s true despite the horrifying goaltending the organization has received since the start of the season.
The reason Hyman’s lines have been able to offset that goaltending problem is that they spend significant stretches in the offensive zone and generate major shot volume from the most dangerous areas of the ice (via HockeyViz):
It’s rather refreshing to write a flowing piece about an Oilers attacker carrying his team and it not being the fantastic duo of McDavid and Draisaitl. It’s a testament to how effective Hyman has been. We aren’t seeing a player whose agility or attacking craft is waning with age. Rather, we are seeing a veteran forward routinely work his way into the most dangerous scoring areas of the ice, and this season, his finishing rate is a full cut above what we’ve come to expect.
Perhaps there’s a bit of good fortune in there for Hyman, but this is also why you bet on players who can create their own offence (and I always emphasize here: there are many ways to do this).
In Hyman’s case, his hockey sense and offensive awareness routinely put him in areas where scoring chances can manifest. In a volume game like hockey, the more chances you get, the more opportunities there are to go on a scoring bender like the one he’s on right now.
Data via Natural Stat Trick, NHL.com, Evolving Hockey, Hockey Reference