Last offseason, the Edmonton Oilers landed their prized free agent target with the Zach Hyman contract. The (at the time) 29-year-old had, to that point, spent his entire six-season NHL career with the Toronto Maple Leafs, putting up a career-high 21 goals and 41 points back in the 2018-19 season.
Hyman had earned a reputation as an energetic spark plug of a player and an extremely likable person. Leafs fans were extremely disappointed to lose him, telling us Oilers fans that we were about to be impressed with his work ethic and hustle.
When the Oilers signed Hyman to a seven-year, $38.5 million contract, my jaw dropped. I wasn’t huge on paying someone with injury issues and a 41-point career high $5.5 million per season. For seven seasons. The contract takes him to 36 years old. I was convinced this was going to be Milan Lucic 2.0.
One year into the Zach Hyman contract, however, his critics could not be more wrong, and that is a very good thing.
Proving the Doubters Wrong
Look, it’s only been one season. Even Lucic was decent in his first year as an Oiler, putting up 50 points in 82 games.
But Hyman very quickly set a career-high in goals (27), assists (27), points (54), and time on ice per game (19:28) in his first season with the Oilers. And now that I’ve had a chance to watch him for a full season, I can confidently say there are a few things that he does and traits of his playstyle that tell me I may be very wrong about this contract.
Zach Hyman"s Speed
First, Hyman can actually skate. He is able to keep up with the play, both physically and mentally. He can get back to defend in time, he can (somewhat) keep up with Connor McDavid if need be, and his brain works fast enough to process the play and react to how the Oilers’ stars approach the game.
For example, Hyman can actually use his speed to get himself on a breakaway.
Simply having the speed to play effectively is a huge positive for a player of Hyman’s style. The worry would be his knee injuries impacting this over time, however.
Something that is incredibly important with the roster the Oilers have built is having skilled players who can play both sides of the puck, including penalty killing. Hyman has shown himself to be an excellent penalty killer. He has an insane ability to control the puck, stall any offensive progression by the opponent, and forecheck relentlessly.
A great example of these skills is one of the most impressive showings anyone has ever seen from a single player in demonstrating puck control, forechecking, and relentless pressure.
Hyman basically controls the puck for 30 seconds straight in every single zone, including fighting off multiple San Jose Sharks players behind their own net. And this type of play is not a one-off either, he shows glimpses of this on a regular basis. Probably why he is relied on for the Oilers on the penalty kill, as he averaged the second-highest shorthanded time on ice per game amongst Edmonton’s forwards.
Enamoring the Fans
Oilers fans will always have a soft spot for energetic, hard-working players that can fit the Ryan Smyth mold. There is a reason we call for his number to be retired, and it is because of how much we value his effort and contributions on the ice. Hyman fits quite well in this spot.
He is a top-six winger who excels in the heart and effort aspects of the game, has more than enough skill to not be out of place playing with guys like McDavid and Draisaitl, and has a dedicated, infectiously positive personality that draws people to cheer for him.
Fans go crazy for players of this archetype and Hyman fits the bill about as well as anyone else has since Smyth himself.
Ultimately, it is still early in Hyman’s tenure with the Oilers. He still has six more seasons on the contract and things could very quickly take a turn, similar to what happened with Lucic. Players of this playstyle are prone to having their careers and production level take a quick nosedive once they hit 30.
Watching Hyman play, it is obvious that he does a lot of little things differently in ways that suggest, to me, that he might be able to remain a positive and productive contributor for most of this contract. He has the speed right now to be a good player in today’s NHL, the offensive instincts to drive and create chances, he can backcheck and defend with the best of them, even being a reliable penalty killer for the Oilers.
The early indications are that I am wrong about the Zach Hyman contract. Even if Hyman’s production dips, he is an effective enough player in other ways and will have built up goodwill from the fans that it might get us through the rest of the contract feeling like it was a win for the team.
How do you feel about the Zach Hyman contract after his first year with the Oilers? Drop a comment down below!
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