Edmonton Oilers

It’s Amazing What Good Defense Can Do!

There’s a particular type of referred forward that is very envied in our game today. A player who scores tons of goals in the juniors shows off their skill to the world and makes an early impression in the NHL. They grow and grow defensively, which proves to us the incredible talents they are. Jonathon Toews, Anze Kopitar, Sidney Crosby, and Patrice Bergeron spring to mind, but many others are in the NHL. As you notice, these players are all centers who, when asked to play the wing – can – but they thrive best in the center position. Some wingers do go through this same growth.

Many of these players I listed could have a chance at beating the Great One if scoring was their number one priority. If they cared about personal stats, they could be one of the best – points-based. But these types of players prioritize winning; they work on growing their game and becoming – what we think of them as – Hall of Famers or on the verge of becoming one.

This evolution shouldn’t be assumed with all of the young talents we have in the game today. These players are considered Hall of Famers for a reason – they were willing to do it. The league is full of players who dominate in the juniors and come to the NHL and do the same – were given tons of opportunity and money and carried on in their careers…

In Canada, players have received criticism over the years – mainly, Auston Matthews, Connor McDavid, and Leon Draisaitl. Even William Nylander and Kyle Connor can be added to this list. But all of the players mentioned are in a different class than the other players in Canada.

These players can fill the nets in the regular season – like this season, for example – but can they do the same in the playoffs?

The criticism about these players has gotten quieter over the years, but these three stars have become point per game players and better in their end. It doesn’t matter how much you score if you are digging the puck out of your net all of the time.

For example, McDavid is consistently scoring at an excessive rate that defense mattered less – but things changed when he stopped putting up five points a game. They started to lose games at an excessive rate.

The extra effort – oh so often – can turn your defense into offense, which can drastically change the game.

These players still like to have an offense-first mentality, but this is the style of play that has made Edmonton so good under Jay Woodcroft. Even under Jay Woodcroft, they would occasionally float the puck into a pile of bodies – hoping that it would find its way into the net. Without cautioning, what might happen if the puck doesn’t get through and goes the other way – for an odd-man rush.

Even in the d-zone, they would try to get the puck by a player and turn the puck over, and you have an odd-man rush down low in front of your net. These are the types of plays Edmonton needs to get out of their game – not trying to force plays. But this is most evident in their type of offense.

The conversation around Matthews has changed. He has gone from a below-average defensive contributor to above average. You notice this change more this season than you have in years past.

Have these guys come far enough to bring what Kopitar and Crosby bring every night? They have an offensive talent that many other players don’t have – like Matthews’ platinum wrist shot or Mcdavid’s burst of speed. And once they grow in their defensive game, they could become the league’s next Selke winner.

Over the past couple of years, you can see the difference in players’ mindsets. They backcheck more, give the extra effort to steal a loose puck, and use their defense and turn it into offense. Making the close games, we see today.

If these three stars keep giving the extra commitment it could be what finally pushes the Leafs and Oilers deep in the playoffs – which is what all these fans want.

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