Tencer's Blog: The Homestretch
Dan Tencer blogs about what he'd like see in the season's 12 remaining games
|Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is currently 3 points back of Gabriel Landeskog in the rookie scoring race. Will the 18-year-old get enough down the stretch to earn serious consideration for the Calder Trophy? (Photo by Getty Images).
For starters, I'd like to see the team win at least 6 of the remaining games. In their last 23 matches, the Oilers have gone .500, posting a record of 10-10-3. 6 wins in the final 12 would allow them to continue that run and finish the final third of the year with a pretty decent run. They'd get to 33 wins, which is 8 more than last year, and 73 points, which is an improvement of 11.
It certainly isn't the type of jump that everybody had hoped for heading into the year, but I think it would at least border on acceptable incremental improvement after back-to-back 30th place seasons.
Up front, there are some readily achievable milestones that can be hit. Jordan Eberle would likely be a top 10 goal scorer in the league if he could get to 35 goals, a number that only 7 players hit last season. Eberle has 30 right now and Taylor Hall is just a handful away from joining him, currently sitting at 27. The last time the Oilers had two guys score 30 goals was 1996-97 when Ryan Smyth had 39 and Andrei Kovalenko had 32. Speaking of Ryan Smyth, he's currently sitting at 19 goals on the season and a 20 goal year is nothing to scoff at for a 36 year old veteran.
Another Ryan, Nugent-Hopkins, has a shot at being a 20 goal scorer in his rookie season. At this point, I think The Nuge is pretty much a lock to get nominated for the Calder Trophy, but I think he'll need a bunch more points if he wants to overtake Gabriel Landeskog to win it. Right now, Nugent-Hopkins is 3 back of Landeskog and Adam Henrique for the rookie scoring lead.
It must be noted that RNH has played 23 fewer games than Landeskog and 13 fewer than Henrique, so he has a distinct points per game advantage. The Oilers have never had a player win the Calder Trophy, so that would be a nice nod for both Nugent-Hopkins and the organization, not that their youth movement really needs any louder of an introduction across the league.
In goal, it would be nice to see Devan Dubnyk finish strong. Between last year and this year, Dubnyk has posted a record of 27-30-9. That represents 63 of a possible 132 points, which is just below .500 from a points perspective, significantly better than the team has averaged over the same span (Nikolai Khabibulin's record over the same span is 22-51-10).
From a straight win percentage standpoint, Dubnyk has won 41% of his decisions and Khabibulin just 27%. It's pretty clear to me that Dubnyk is part of the goaltending equation going forward, but while I think those numbers are very strong for a 25 year old goaltender on a bottom ranked team, I don't think it's overwhelmingly obvious that he's a #1 goalie. He'll get another chance to show his stuff next year before that decision ultimately gets made, and a strong finish to this season would set him up nicely.
Experience for players like Teemu Hartikainen and Linus Omark will be extremely valuable for evaluation heading into next year, and 12 more games of rock solid consistency will further solidify things for the defense pairing of Jeff Petry and Ladislav Smid. And, on top of all that, a number of UFA and RFA players will be showcasing their stuff for new contracts (think Smyth, Petry at the top of the list).
Soon enough, it'll be time to look back on all of this...but not yet. In the final dozen games of the season, let's hope the list above ends up with a lot of checkmarks on it.
You can listen to Dan on Inside Sports weeknights from 6 to 9 on 630 CHED. Follow Dan on Twitter | @dantencer