‘No hands?’ ‘Grinder?’ Incorrect — Oilers’ Zach Hyman is a 50-goal scorer

Watch as Edmonton Oilers' Zach Hyman reaches the 50-goal plateau for the first time in his career with a tap-in goal against the Senators, and gets congratulated by his teammates.

OTTAWA — There are many ways to score 50 goals in a National Hockey League season, the only common denominator being that it’s a special, special skill to beat that many NHL goalies on that many nights in the best league in the world.

Especially when you’re Zach Hyman, described by Oilers teammate Connor McDavid as “a guy who was supposed to just be a checker in this league. Not sure if he would ever make it to this league.”

It’s been a hell of a journey for the third eldest player in NHL history to have his first 50-goal season, as the 31-year-old Hyman slots in behind Joey Mullen (32) and Johnny Bucyk, who did the deed at 35.

“In university, I had two goals my first year. I was drafted, and I was just a draft pick. I was no longer a prospect. Everyone kind of wrote me off,” began Hyman, on the night he scored his 50th in a disappointing 5-3 loss at Ottawa against the Senators

“Then I started to score, and I was an NHL player. But I was an NHL player who had no hands. A grinder playing next to Auston (Matthews) and Willie (Nylander). That was the narrative,” he said. “I scored 10 goals, then 15 and then 20. And then it was, ‘He’s an OK player. He just plays with good players.’ And I still have that narrative, which is awesome.”

Mike Bossy didn’t score 50 the same way that Glenn Anderson did, and you can’t get more dissimilar in style between the 52 scored by Dino Ciccarelli in 1986-87, and the 52 that Guy Lafleur rifled home eight years earlier.

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We would venture that Hyman, who angled his stick just so to ricochet a perfect McDavid pass into the Ottawa net in the second period Sunday night, is more in the mould of a Tim Kerr or a Dave Andreychuk.

Or perhaps Craig Simpson, who worked the crease with back-breaking effectiveness for the 1987-’88 Oilers. Or maybe, at times in his career, the great Phil Esposito, of whom they made T-shirts that said, “Jesus saves, but Espo scores on the rebound.”

“When I was with the (Toronto) Marlies, we called him ‘Shaq’ Hyman for a reason, because he got to the paint better than anybody,” said Toronto Maple Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe, who was behind the bench for Toronto’s AHL affiliate during Hyman’s rookie pro season.

“Now he’s playing with a guy who gets the puck to the paint and tilts the ice more than anybody maybe in the history of the game. (Hyman) works to get to the right places and is getting rewarded for it.”

“I wouldn’t be in this position without (McDavid),” admitted Hyman, “and it was fitting that he was able to set me up for it.

““This is a milestone that I don’t think anybody thought I would ever get to when I started my career. And I got to it, which is pretty crazy, honestly.”

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Somehow, a Jewish kid who scored just 13 goals in 114 games over his first three years at the University of Michigan, became the triggerman for a generational passer.

They say that great players are super difficult to play with, and Hyman’s combination of brains, courage, and hands in tight have become the dumpling to McDavid’s matzo ball soup.

And on the night that Stu and Vicky Hyman celebrated their 33rd wedding anniversary back home in Toronto, the eldest of their five sons took us back to the back seat of the family Yukon, a scene right of nearly every Esso commercial ever made.

“When you become an NHL player, so many people have sacrificed, have driven you to rinks … My parents, my uncles — everybody chips in to help you. There are so many people who sacrifice,” Hyman said. “My wife, watching kids by herself half the time. I think it means just as much or more to them, just to see you have success.”

Stu was driving in that SUV one day when Zach, a freshman under legendary coach Red Berenson at Michigan, called him.

“He goes, ‘Red told me that he likes how I play, and he wants me to be a grinder and a mucker. So, what does that mean?” Stu recalled with a laugh. “I go, ‘I guess that’s, like, the third or fourth line Zach.’ And he says, ‘Oh? OK. Thanks Dad. See ya.’

“As long as he was on the team, he just wanted to do whatever it took for the team to win.”

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By the time Hyman entered his senior year, Berenson told Stu, “I love Zach. I wish I hadn’t for four more years.”

Somehow, Edmonton lost a game here despite having the puck all night long, outshooting the Sens 36-16. It was a wasteful effort, but one that will be soon forgotten.

We’ll remember this night for one thing: The night the grinder with no hands scored his 50th goal.

“I think it just shows,” Hyman said in closing, “that if you just hit the little milestones along the way, and you just block out outside noise and work really hard — and you have a positive attitude — good things happen.”

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