Oilers’ Hyman showing he’s perfect partner for McDavid with career year

Zach Hyman scored a pair for his 40th goal of the year, Stuart Skinner made 32 saves, and Connor McDavid snapped a 10-game goal drought with the overtime winner as the Edmonton Oilers outlasted the St. Louis Blues 3-2.

EDMONTON — There are certain traits that are required to play — and thrive — next to someone who thinks the game the way Connor McDavid does.

You think it’s easy?

Ya, it’s not easy.

They always said that a fire hydrant could score 25 playing next to Wayne Gretzky, but in reality, the pressure to produce in that coveted spot is as acute as the lineup of teammates salivating to take your spot is long.

To think the game alongside a Gretzky, a McDavid or a Sid Crosby — to furnish Auston Matthews with enough useful pucks to produce 60 goals — it’s not something you can just go to the gym and work on.

You’ve got to be smart. Cerebral.

You’ve got to figure out the things that, in many ways, McDavid never had to — because the game comes so naturally to him.

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So, as Zach Hyman celebrated his first-ever 40-goal season with two goals in a 3-2 overtime win over St. Louis on Wednesday, it was a window into the world of a player who came here specifically to be McDavid’s finisher — then actively went to work to figure out how best to achieve that goal.

“You learn,” Hyman said. “He thinks the game so well. If I’m able to think it with him — and get to spots that that he can get the puck to — then we’ll have a good chance to score.

“I mean, I play with the best player in the world. So I’m very fortunate, and very aware that I’m pretty lucky.”

They always talked about how hard it was/ is to play with Crosby, and some of the players who figured it out the best weren’t superstars at all, with names like Chris Kunitz and Bryan Rust.

When the Toronto Maple Leafs opted not to find the money to sign Hyman three summers ago, allowing him to flee as an unrestricted free agent, they couldn’t have known they were severing ties with a player who would score 27, 36, and now possibly 50 goals this season in Edmonton.

Perhaps there aren’t enough pucks on the ice for one team to have both a Matthews and a Hyman anyway. Or enough teammates with the ability to maximize those assets.

But, wow.

Could Ken Holland have found a better ying to McDavid’s yang? With an AAV of $5.5 million, no less?

“He is always at the net, and that’s a guy I like to play with,” said McDavid, who scored the OT winner to snap a career-high 10-game goalless drought. “I like to do a lot of roaming around the zone, I’m not always the guy at the net so I need somebody who is going to be there and he is obviously there a lot.”

“I just keep trying to get open, “ Hyman reasoned, “and you (media) guys are on (McDavid) for not scoring. But it’s because he’s making those plays, and I’m the benefactor.

“He’s a generational player.”

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McDavid had two assists and the OT winner in the 3-2 win, and with 94 points on the season the Oilers captain crawls to just four points behind Nathan McKinnon (98) and nine back of scoring leader Nikita Kucherov (103).

McDavid stuffed 25 assists between goals No. 21 and 22 this season. Only Gretzky has had more, with 26 straight assists. Now, McDavid has a 24-game points streak on home ice, and won this one on a solo dash with time running out in OT.

Only a couple days before he had joked that he wasn’t going to shoot anymore, but disingenuously chopped a puck past a sliding Jordan Binnington and into the top corner.

“There was no one to pass to,” McDavid complained in jest. “I thought (Hyman) would be on the back side but he quit on the play, I guess.”

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The Oilers allowed the opening goal of the game for the seventh time in their past eight games — and in each of the five games of this homestand. Then they allowed another and trailed 2-0 not five minutes in.

But credit a team that found its legs, and a goalie who gave them every opportunity by closing the door for the final 55 minutes.

In the end, the game was perhaps saved by a Ryan Nugent-Hopkins backcheck, when he caught Robert Thomas from behind to lift his stick as he readied to shoot on a shorthanded breakaway.

It was a lovely bit of hustle by the sublime Nugent-Hopkins, who has become a players’ player.

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Those who know the game best heap praise on him nightly.

“You want to talk about underrated players in the league, he had a 100-point season last year and I still think he’s underrated,” gushed Hyman.

“He’s just such a huge, huge, huge part of our team, in all facets. He touches every part of the game: Even strength, centre, wing, powerplay, penalty kill… Out in the last minute. Out when you’re up. Out when you’re down. Out when you need a goal, and out when you’re tied.

“You can’t ask for a more do-it-right guy than Nuge.”

That Hyman, he’s a pretty smart guy.

He’s only made one mistake since coming to Edmonton: He signed a seven-year deal.

A contract that is in the conversation today for the most team-friendly in the National Hockey League.

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