Takeaways: Nugent-Hopkins giving Oilers true one-two punch at centre

Alex Chiasson scored the only goal in the shootout as the Edmonton Oilers knock off the Vancouver Canucks 3-2.

It’s a funny thing, isn’t it?

Edmonton Oilers general manager Peter Chiarelli has had his struggles when it comes to the bigger deals. But then he brings in a guy like Alex Chiasson on a Professional TryOut, dithers a while over whether or not the journeyman winger deserves a contract, and finally says, “OK, we’ll give you $650,000 on a one-year deal.”

While Taylor Hall notches 11 goals this season in New Jersey, and Jordan Eberle counts his 10 tucks in Brooklyn, Chiasson has delivered 17 goals and a shootout winner Wednesday night in Vancouver. Go figure.

It doesn’t right all wrongs, the Chiasson deal. We get that.

But in a season where so much of the support scoring has dried up, thanks to Chiasson the Oilers beat Vancouver 3-2 in a shootout to move into a tie for the final wild-card spot with Minnesota, just one point back of Colorado. He rifled home the winner after all the millionaires failed to score.

It marks the Oilers’ first back-to-back wins since Dec. 9-11, and in a crucial seven-game run to the all-star break they’re now 3-1 — with home games left against Calgary, Carolina and Detroit.

Edmonton can’t make the playoffs in this seven-game stretch, but it could miss the playoffs if it lets it go by without collecting the necessary points. With an off day Thursday and a Battle of Alberta set for Saturday night at Rogers Place, Edmonton has thus far made some hay that simply had to be made.

Here are our takeaways on the Oilers’ first win of the year against Vancouver, a true struggle against a Canucks team missing its best player, Elias Pettersson.

Who’s The Goalie?

When you let in just two goals in regulation, then stop all five shooters in a shootout, nobody is going to say that a goalie didn’t give his team a chance to win. But Mikko Koskinen also got what all good goalies get — a bit of luck to go with his fine play on Wednesday.

The Canucks had just 11 shots on goal and two counters through two periods, but if not for an offside challenge, the count against Koskinen would have been 12 shots and three goals. There were also a handful of Grade A chances that missed the net, particularly off the stick of Brock Boeser, who looked Wednesday like he was using someone else’s lumber.

Koskinen gets the win, and his game got stronger as the night wore on. What the Oilers need now is a month of this from the big Finn.

Head coach Ken Hitchcock is desperately searching for one of Koskinen or Cam Talbot to grab the No. 1 job and not let it go. So far, halfway through January, neither one has.

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RNH — Really Nice Hands

So, there’s a reason why the head coach settles on Ryan Nugent-Hopkins as the guy who gets his own line, while Draisaitl sadles up alongside Connor McDavid on the top unit. It’s because Nugent-Hopkins is turning into such a well-rounded, responsible, offensively dangerous player.

Nugent-Hopkins had two assists Wednesday, raising his totals to 15-29-44 in 47 games this season. His career-high in points is 56, a number he is set to surpass by 20 while giving Hitchcock an excellent start on a potent second line — if only the GM could furnish them both with the wingers needed to complete a trio.

Next time you look at a No. 1 overall draft pick who gets pushed too soon into a leading role in the NHL, think of Nugent-Hopkins. Today he is 25, has 500 games under his belt, and has grown into a player who gives Edmonton a one-two punch at centre that is more than good enough to build a successful team around.

Yamamoto and the Cave Man

To be honest, there wasn’t a ton to notice about fourth-line centre Colby Cave in his first game as an Oiler. Which is a good thing, when a new player travels three time zones to join a new team.

The book on Cave is that he is a dogged, hard-working depth player with exceptional intangibles. But, his skating is what has held him to just 24 NHL games in four professional seasons. Scouts say his skating improved since last season however, and sometimes a developing player and a team intersect at just the right moment that the fit is just right for all parties.

We’ll need to see more before saying that is the case with Cave and the Oilers, but in 9:35 of ice time he had a shot on goal, a couple of hits and a blocked shot.

Kailer Yamamoto, meanwhile, jumped right off of injured reserve and into the lineup. Like Cave, he played a careful, mostly error-free game.

Unlike Cave, Yamamoto will be expected to put up points if he is to stay in Edmonton. Is he ready? Or does the first-rounder need some more time in Bakersfield?

We’re not sure, but we’ll say this: We should know by the all-star break.

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