Former top draft picks are set to meet for the first time in the postseason as the Edmonton Oilers take on the Vegas Golden Knights. Connor McDavid, the first overall pick in the 2015 Draft, is coming off a 153-point regular season for the Oilers, the highest point total of the past 25 years. At the other end of the ice, Jack Eichel, who went second overall in 2015, led the Golden Knights with 66 points in 67 games.
While McDavid vs Eichel will be the headline of the series, there are many other plot points to monitor, especially in Game One. Puck drop is scheduled for 9:30 PM ET on ESPN.
Coaching Decisions Will be Crucial
Oilers head coach Jay Woodcroft will be responsible for deciding whether to keep McDavid on a line with fellow superstar Leon Draisaitl or to split the two up and enhance the potency of two lines rather than overload one. Draisaitl was Edmonton’s leading scorer in the first round, racking up seven goals and 11 points, and he was on the ice for 19 of Edmonton’s 25 first-round goals.
Following that decision, Golden Knights bench boss Bruce Cassidy will need to figure out when to deploy Mark Stone, one of the league’s best defensive forwards. If McDavid and Draisaitl are on separate lines, who does Vegas send Stone out to limit? The Golden Knights’ team defense is consistently good, but they’ll be tested against the Edmonton offensive juggernaut.
Other Names to Know
Evan Bouchard has burst onto the scene this postseason; the young defenseman is tied with McDavid at 10 points through the opening round (two goals, eight assists). However, the point dropoff after that is steep. Klim Kostin, Evander Kane, Zach Hyman, Mattias Ekholm, and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins are all tied for fourth on the team with four points. Can Edmonton’s depth scoring take enough pressure off the superstars to spur an advance?
Vegas’ defensemen will have their hands full, but Shea Theodore, Alex Pietrangelo, and Alec Martinez will be up to the task. Martinez led the NHL in blocked shots in the regular season, Pietrangelo leads the Golden Knights in time on ice by a large margin (nearly 4:30 more per game than the next closest player), and Theodore would be a top pairing player on most clubs.
Who’s In Net?
Both clubs carry goaltending questions into the second round, and with sky-high expectations for both teams, leashes will be short.
Edmonton is likely to start Stuart Skinner in Game One. Skinner had a 3-2 record in the first round against the Los Angeles Kings with a 3.43 GAA and an .890 save percentage. Those numbers aren’t great, and Jack Campbell (who earned a win in relief in the first round) is waiting in the wings if his name is called.
For Vegas, expect Laurent Brossoit to keep things rolling. Brossoit went 4-1 in the opening round against the Winnipeg Jets, posting a 2.42 GAA and a .915 save percentage. However, the Golden Knights also have deadline acquisition and future Hall of Famer Jonathan Quick, rookie phenom Logan Thompson, and excellent-in-a-pinch Adin Hill on standby.
Odds and Pick
Edmonton is a road favorite at -120 in the opener, while Vegas is +100 at home. The over/under is at 6.5.
There’s great value in taking the Golden Knights as a home underdog here, and I think they’ll take Game One at T-Mobile Arena.
Score Prediction: Vegas Golden Knights 4, Edmonton Oilers 3