By gaining points in three straight games, the Oilers seem poised to break into the Western Conference’s top eight soon.
While Jordan Eberle, Taylor Hall, Justin Schultz and Ladislav Smid have had good seasons so far, these three players, in ascending order, have been the most important in contributing to Oilers’ wins this year.
3. Devan Dubnyk
Dubnyk has had a handful of off-nights in 2013, but he has had many more strong games than weak ones this year.
He has faced more quality shots than his opponents’ goaltender on most nights but has kept the Oilers in these games despite the large shot discrepancies.
Additionally, he has exuded a lot of confidence, and is now entrenched as the Oilers’ starting goaltender. The team has come to trust that he will give them a chance to win every night.
Dubnyk’s progress was certainly slowed by the lack of opportunities he was given during his prime development years in the minors, but he is beginning to reach his potential along with several other young Oilers.
2. Sam Gagner
Sam Gagner’s play has been sublime this year.
He has quietly evolved into one of the better second-line centers in the NHL. While his defensive play continues to be a work in progress, Ralph Krueger has matched him with talented linemates who can complement his exceptional puck skills.
Even on the nights when Gagner has not contributed offensively, which has not been very often, he hasn’t made the glaring mistakes in his own end that have haunted him in years past.
The organization could do much worse than the one-two punch of Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Gagner down the middle.
While not the conventional choice, Shawn Horcoff has proven his value to the Oilers every time he has been healthy enough to play this season. Horcoff is at his best when he is playing a relatively straightforward, north-south game.
His prowess in the faceoff circle is well established, and the tough minutes he has logged against the top lines in the Western Conference have been vital when the Oilers have enjoyed success.
With Horcoff in the lineup, it also means that Eric Belanger, when healthy, can move to the fourth line. This is much more in line with Belanger’s current level of play.
The Oilers can boast a record of 6-2-2 with Horcoff in the lineup, and his value to the club is undeniable.