Connor McDavid did another Connor McDavid thing Wednesday, with a brilliant deke on Olli Määttä that set up an easy tap-in goal for Leon Draisaitl. It was McDavid’s second assist in the game, and it gave the Oilers a 2-1 advantage that, unsurprisingly, they would not keep for long.
With goals from Conor Sheary and Evgeni Malkin, the Penguins retook the lead and kept it for a 3-2 win, leaving Edmonton with a 3-7-1 record in the early part of a season that was supposed to be the next step up from last year’s 47-26-9 campaign. Instead, it’s been McDavid and Draisaitl failing to overcome a mostly lifeless and disjointed supporting cast that can’t do anything to put the puck in the net. A month into the season, Edmonton has fewer points than every team but the Arizona Coyotes. Yikes.
As promising as the Oilers looked in their 2017 playoff run—their first postseason appearance in over a decade—the beginning of this season has been a quick, brutal reminder of how that team got assembled in the first place. Generational studs like McDavid and Draisaitl aren’t in Edmonton because of any kind of front office savvy, but because this franchise was so incompetent for so long that eventually it couldn’t avoid tanking its way into some talent.
The Oilers aren’t quite as bad as their current place in the standings, but that’s not much of a compliment. While veteran winger Patrick Maroon and 2011 first-overall pick Ryan Nugent-Hopkins have gotten off to solid starts, most of the squad has been entirely unremarkable. Milan Lucic, a 20-goal scorer in three of his last four seasons, has only one so far, while newly acquired Ryan Strome also can’t produce. Other depth guys like Zack Kassian and Jussi Jokinen each have only one point to their names and can’t pick up the slack. It’s too early, as well, to rely on 19-year-old Kailer Yamamoto or other youngsters like Drake Caggiula and Anton Slepyshev. And Cam Talbot in net is nothing to build a dominant defense around.
This isn’t a great roster, and while some of the Oilers’ losses can be chalked up to bad luck—their shot attempt numbers are best in the league—it’s a small consolation that a team many favored to at least make the conference finals is outplaying its current position in the basement. Ranking dead last in the league with just 2.2 goals per game is a major problem, even if Edmonton can rely on the shooting imbalance to bump them up slightly.
It feels almost cruel at this point to continue to bring up the Oilers’ trade of Taylor Hall in the 2016 offseason, but one can’t help but notice that his 15 points in New Jersey are currently more than any Oiler so far this season. And Jordan Eberle, the guy they gave up for Ryan Strome, would be second only to McDavid. Meanwhile, 24-year-old Adam Larsson, the defenseman they got in return for Hall, has yet to definitively prove that Edmonton made the right call in giving up a back-to-back All-Star, putting up average shot attempt numbers and limited offense in his first season with the team.
While the jury is still out on both of those moves, and one trade isn’t the difference between the team’s current state and a Stanley Cup run, Edmonton’s biggest need right now is a secondary scorer just like Eberle or Hall. The Oilers’ current holes and shortcomings are a reminder of all the their recent dysfunction, which didn’t go away just because they lucked into some lottery wins. It sure is thrilling to have McDavid frustrating otherwise high-class defenders in every period, but the organization needs to make the most of his skills, or otherwise remain an average team squandering the hockey’s most compelling young talent.