Part one of this series established that the Oilers will need to be better at even strength. Now we'll look at the likelihood of that actually happening. Who needs to be better 5x5? Is it realistic to expect improvement?
Jordan Eberle led the Oilers in even strength scoring during the 2011-12 season with a massive 56 points. That number had him tied for seventh in the NHL in scoring at 5x5, which underscores how incredibly huge his season was. It's also probably unrealistic for fans to expect him to match it. To reach that level in consecutive years would mean that Jordan Eberle is in the Stamkos/St. Louis/Malkin/Sedin class of player, and there isn't enough information to anoint him as such just yet.
However, the Oilers have some other players who were plenty productive at even strength.
Sam Gagner was third on the Oilers and 100th of all NHL skaters in even strength production with 12-23-35. He was third among Oilers forwards in 5x5 ice time per game, and that number could increase next season as his workload and responsibilities increase.
Just behind Gagner was Taylor Hall, who played 14 fewer games than Gagner but managed to put up 14-18-32 at even strength. Over a full season Hall was on pace for 43 even strength points, which would have been tied for 48th in the league. One look at Behindthenet.ca will show clearly that Hall is already driving the play 5x5 like no other on the team. If he can stay healthy the Oilers will have a dominant force on their hands.
Interestingly, though Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is known as a powerplay wizard he also managed to be quite productive when the teams were even. He scored 15-14-29 at even strength, which was good for fifth on the Oilers. It seems reasonable to assume that RNH won't go on scoring more goals than assists in any situation, and the assists may begin to pile up as his ice time and experience increase.
Finally, there's Ales Hemsky, who had a down year in every area of his game. His 27 even strength points ranked sixth on the Oilers and were a low total by his standards. In 2010-11 Hemsky had 31 points 5x5 in just 47 games. The year before that he had 14 in 22 games, and in 2008-09 Hemsky scored 35 in 72. Unless he has completely lost his game, we can expect Hemsky to bounce back.
Nail Yakupov is a wild card because there's no way to know how productive he will be at even strength or even how he will be used. No one thought Nugent-Hopkins would be as dominant as he was as a rookie, especially 5x5, and yet he was.
Ryan Smyth was solid in 2011-12 with 15-23-38 at even strength, which was second on the team. However, it's hard to imagine that Smyth will continue to produce at a rate that had him tied for 74th in scoring at 5x5. It will be plenty if he continues to chip in.
The Oilers need more from Eric Belanger (ten points at even strength), and Magnus Paajarvi (six even strength points). Both players are capable of giving more and should be relied upon to produce. If they don't, the team could have trouble rolling lines that are each a threat at evens strength.
Ryan Whitney will have to give them more also, as he had just ten points at 5x5. In 2010-11 he had 18 even strength points in just 35 games, and the year before that he had 22 in 81 games.
In goal, Devan Dubnyk had a 0.927 save percentage at even strength, which was good for 17th in the league among goalies who appeared in at least ten games. What the Oilers need is more of that kind of goaltending over a longer period of time. If Dubnyk can keep up his performance over 65 games instead of 47, the team will be in much better shape.
When you add it all up, the Oilers have the potential to be better at even strength. Their 5x5 goal differential in 2011-12 was -14, so there's work to be done. However, the young core has already shown that they are good building blocks for the future. Fewer injuries and more playing time from them will eventually push the Oilers over the top, even if it's not next year.