If you have paid any attention to the bottom of the NHL Western Conference standings the past few seasons, you may have noticed that the Edmonton Oilers have been stockpiling an otherworldly amount of offensive talent. While their defense and goaltending still aren’t up to snuff and probably won’t be for another year or two, these guys are going to be fun to watch for years to come because they are going to score bushels of goals. Taylor Hall. Jordan Eberle. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. Nail Yakupov. Justin Schultz.
Just thinking of this reminds me of a Rolaids commercial from the 1980’s where a catcher needs to pop a pack of the stuff just watching video of Rickey Henderson stealing bases and wondering how on earth he was going to stop him from stealing at will. Opposing teams should feel the same way when it comes to trying to stop the Oilers whenever the lockout comes to an end, because they should be able to score often. We are talking a return to ‘80s-style Oilers hockey. It’s going to be awesome to watch. So which player is most likely to be the first to score 100 points in a season?
As much as Schultz is destroying the AHL right now and will have gobs of targets available to him at the NHL level, he is a defenseman and will not be scoring 100 points in a season, so we can cross him off the list. Hall is going to have to learn to stay healthy and play an entire season if he ever hopes to reach the century mark, so I’m counting him out. Yakupov is playing like Pavel Bure Version 2.0 in the KHL right now, but it remains to be seen whether he’ll be much of a facilitator or not, so the jury’s out on how quickly he’ll progress.
Which leaves us with Eberle and Nugent-Hopkins. A lot of the talk surrounding Eberle has been that he played out of his mind last season at a completely unsustainable level long-term, but what if this was just his coming out party and he is able to replicate those numbers on an annual basis? 34 goals and 76 points in 78 games is pretty fantastic for a second-year player. Imagine how things might go with the additions of Yakupov and Schultz to the arsenal. More options equals more opportunities for points when one of the other studs on the Oilers are is covered.
Nugent-Hopkins was a revelation in his injury-shortened rookie campaign. After being absolutely robbed of the Calder Memorial Trophy last season, Nugent-Hopkins is going to come back healthy, with extra weapons to dish to and with an excellent chance to challenge Eberle as the team’s points leader. His presence alone completely changed the dynamic of the Oilers’ power-play unit, with teams flailing and struggling to keep up with him at every turn; this will only continue to be the case as he grows stronger, faster and even more agile.
My money is on Nugent-Hopkins to break the 100-point barrier first, and it will be by the end of his third season in the league—unless this season gets canceled, in which case he will do so the following year, in his second actual season of hockey. The fun part will be when Eberle crosses the 100-point barrier in the same season, just maybe a handful of games later.