It might still be early in the season, but big improvements are needed from the Edmonton Oilers if they are to go deep in the 2023/24 campaign.
The Alberta outfit are, at the time of writing, seventh of eight teams in the Pacific Division standings but could be starting to find their feet.
They have already fired now former head coach Jay Woodcroft and have gone 2-0-0 in two games under Kris Knoblauch.
The hopes of the Western Conference outfit could rest on the form of Zach Hyman, with the left winger shining during the early stages of the season.
|To win Stanley Cup||+1600|
|To win Western Conference||+800|
|To win Pacific Division||+2800|
Having made it to the postseason in each of the last four years, Edmonton were expected by many to challenge towards the top of the rankings again this term.
The Oilers couldn’t have gotten off to a worse start though, falling to an 8-1 defeat at the hands of their Canadian rivals – the Vancouver Canucks – in the opening game.
That was followed up by a 4-3 loss to the Canucks in the reverse fixture, before a much-needed 6-1 win at the Nashville Predators in Game Three.
That was their only win though in their opening seven matches – a run which included a 7-4 defeat against the Minnesota Wild – but Kris Knoblauch’s men have started to find improvement, especially in recent weeks.
A 4-1 victory in Seattle against the Kraken on November 12 could prove to be the result that kick-starts their season, with Edmonton following that up with two further wins.
Victory at home to the New York Islanders was emphatic (4-1) and then the Oilers also secured an overtime home win over the Kraken.
Just how far they have come will become clearer over the remainder of this month, with some tough matchups ahead for the five-time Stanley Cup winners.
Their next four games are all on the road against teams in the Eastern Conference – the Tampa Bay Lightning, Florida Panthers (+750 to win the Eastern Conference), Carolina Hurricanes and Washington Capitals.
Zach Hyman is playing in his ninth NHL season and the early stats suggest this could be one of his best campaigns, which it may need to be if Edmonton are going to stand a chance of success.
The 31-year-old spent six years with the Toronto Maple Leafs, but his career has taken a big step forward since arriving in Alberta.
Hyman - +12500 to win the Rocket Richard Trophy - scored 27 goals in his first season with Edmonton before racking up 36 goals and 47 assists in the last campaign.
He already has eight goals in the first 15 contests this term. That's more than anyone on the team including reigning Hart Trophy winner Connor McDavid (four) and 2019/20 Hart Trophy winner Leon Draisaitl (six).
Evander Kane, also used on the left wing, has seven goals which is good for second-most on the team.
Connor McDavid, the Oilers' captain who is a three-time Hart Trophy winner, has a point per game so far. He might be the only player in the league who would be disappointed with that point ratio.
Coming off a 2022/23 season where he scored almost two points per game and led the league in both goals (64) and assists (89), McDavid is currently on pace for 82 points this season.
If he ends the season with 82 points, that would be the lowest point-per-game ratio of his career and the lowest points total since his rookie year, where he notched 48 points in 45 games.
For a guy who has notched over 100 points in six of his eight NHL seasons, the ninth-year player will certainly want more from himself.
McDavid's talent is such that despite the slow start, he is still the +300 favourite to win the Hart Trophy.