"If only the Oilers had someone like Zach Hyman."
That was one of the major talking points shared amongst the Oilers media whenever the Toronto Maple Leafs would waltz through Edmonton prior to this season.
Hyman's profile was an intoxicating one, to be fair. You can't hate them for lusting. Commended for years as the ultimate off-ice student, Hyman's instincts on the ice grew like a weed during his six seasons in Toronto, with his offensive toolbox eventually catching up with his trademark relentlessness and tireless work ethic to create the perfect modern power forward that, on paper, seemed tailor-made for a spot on Connor McDavid or Leon Draisaitl's wing.
And, to Ken Holland's credit, he went out and got him, signing Hyman to a seven-year deal this past offseason worth an AAV of $5.5 million which thereby locked him in as a member of the Oilers' core for the foreseeable future.
Now, does Hyman's deal have the potential to age like milk in the coming years? Sure. All deals of that magnitude do, especially when given to a 29-year-old energy winger with a surgically repaired ACL whose entire game revolves around physicality.
But that's a problem for Future Ken Holland™. Current Ken Holland™ is feeling pretty good right now. And why wouldn't he be? The Oilers woke up on Friday just eight wins away from Stanley Cup glory, having just eliminated their hated cross-province rivals in five games thanks to a decisive road victory that has now catapulted them into the Final Four.
Hyman played a massive part in getting them there. And throughout his first season in Oilers' blue, the plucky power forward has been everything the organization could have ever hoped for -- and perhaps more.
When handing out a massive contract, most GMs hope for their marquee signing to perform at a level that matches their career-best paycheck. Well, that's exactly what Hyman did in 2021-22, setting career highs across the board -- from goals to assists to points to, even, ice time shots -- providing an immediate return on Holland's sizable investment.
Hyman flirted with 30 goals all year long before a six-game injury absence ultimately held him to 27. No matter, though. His offensive game took yet another leap forward this season, with Hyman beginning to show a penchant for seeking out his own opportunities around the net in lieu of deferring to a surrounding teammate as he would in years past.
Edmonton Hyman looks like a more aggressive, confident Hyman. And in the playoffs, that confidence has only continued to flourish, with Hyman's eight goals in 12 games thus far having proved crucial to the Oilers' success.
Those goals, mind you, have come in a variety of different ways. In the second round alone, Hyman found the back of the net via short-handed breakaway, back-door tip, net-front rebound, and long-range shot off the rush. His impact is no longer confined primarily to puck battles in the corner. Hyman is exploring the studio space in Jay Woodcroft's aggressive system, evolving as an offensive weapon almost by the day while maintaining his defensive prowess in the process.
A change in usage has certainly helped spark that newfound flame.
In Toronto, Hyman never began more than 46 percent of his shifts in the offensive zone, with both Mike Babcock and Sheldon Keefe opting to use him in a matchup role against top competition.
That still is the case in Edmonton, just with a minor tweak. Woodcroft has taken a slightly altered approach, dialing back the difficulty on Hyman's deployment by just enough to put him in a position to succeed with a 55.7 percent OZS share in the regular season.
The playoffs have seen that move slightly, but not by much. Hyman is still predominantly seeing defensive-zone faceoffs when tossed over the boards during the first two rounds, lining up for 63 D-zone draws compared to 59 and 50 in the neutral and offensive zones, respectively. But his zone starts have stayed largely the same, with Hyman beginning 54.69 percent of his shifts in the opposing end, and using that deployment to propel himself, and the team, offensively.
On a roster that boasts two of the best players to ever set foot onto NHL ice, the Oilers rely on Hyman to a significant degree in their most crucial moments, even feeding him more ice time than McDavid himself in two of the Oilers' five games versus Calgary.
That's what Hyman has been for his whole career; the perfect wingman for his superstar centers. Auston Matthews was a terrific trial run in Hyman's early days, while John Tavares offered a similar challenge briefly later on.
McDavid is on a whole other level, though, and Hyman hasn't skipped so much as a single beat, looking just as comfortable when placed alongside one of arguably the two most gifted point-getters in the league as he does when sacrificing his body as the anchor of Edmonton's penalty kill.
The Oilers have long wondered what it would be like if they could just get their hands on a player like Zach Hyman. Well, now they've got him. And the results have landed them closer to Stanley Cup glory than they've been in decades.