The Edmonton Oilers gave the fans their Christmas gift early by decisively putting the screws to the Minnesota Wild on Thursday. There's plenty to dislike about a season that has seen the Oil go 15-16-3, but here are a few other little presents that Oilers fans have enjoyed.
1) Ryan Nugent-Hopkins! The one known as the Nuge (or NUUUUUGE) is leading all rookies in points by a mile. His 13-21-34 is ahead of the next-closest (Adam Henrique) by 9 total points, and he's got 2 more goals and 4 more assists than any other rookie. If he can somehow keep this up he'll be the highest scoring Oilers rookie ever in the NHL. Happily, Nugent-Hopkins is also a plus-1 on the season, which is a testament to his complete game.
2) Ryan Smyth's Return! If Ryan Smyth was on pace for forty points and had something like 7-10-17 so far the fans would probably be happy with that production from a 35 year old. Hell, just having Smytty back is morale boost enough. But instead of that, Smyth has put up 13-15-28 and a plus-3 rating in just 34 games. He's on pace for 31 goals and 68 points as of this writing.
3) Jordan Eberle! Eberle's 15 goals puts him on pace for 36 on the year and if he keeps this up he'll finish with 87 points. If that actually transpires it would be the highest point total by any Oiler since Doug Weight posted 90 way back in 2000-01. Point totals aside, Eberle has been an absolute treat to watch since joining the Oilers and especially this year.
4) Tom Gilbert and Ladislav Smid! After being the whipping boys of many Oilers fans for a number of seasons, these two defensemen have finally silenced all of the critics and come into their own. Gilbert and Smid are the Oilers' one high quality defense pairing that could potentially be patrolling the blue line for years to come, and if Whitney ever finds his game again it means the Oil are that much closer to being complete on the backend.
5) Taylor Hall! Hall is quietly on pace for 26 goals and 63 points, which would be the highest point total of any Oiler since Dustin Penner in 2009-10. Eberle and Nugent-Hopkins (as well as a shoulder injury) have stolen some of the luster from Hall's sophomore season, but so far he's been immune to the slump and has steadily improved his play. Hall got better as last season went on, so it's not out of the question to expect big things from him in the second half.
6) Ryan Jones! Jones signed a new two-year deal in the off season that had some fans wondering if he had been overpaid for one 18 goal year. Jones has proven that he is a solid two-way player and he's already got 11 goals on the season. He's on a staggering 27 goal pace right now, and he's sixth in PK ice time per game at 2:44. Even if Jones repeats as an 18 goal man he's become an indispensable part of the team.
7) Nikolai Khabibulin! Khabibulin posted a 10-32-6 record last season with a fugly 3.40 GAA and 0.890 save percentage. This year he's done a complete 180 and has been one of the team's MVPs at the Christmas break. His 2.00 GAA and 0.932 save percentage are perhaps unsustainable over a full year (they would be the best numbers of his career), but his play is vastly improved. This is the best Khabibulin has played since his last season in Chicago when he posted a 0.919 save percentage and 2.33 GAA, and he's been exactly the goaltender the Oilers thought they were signing.
Like I said, there are plenty of negatives as well, but at Christmas time you've got to accentuate the positive and eliminate the negative. Just wait until next year...