Zach Hyman is exactly what was missing in the Edmonton Oilers top-six

But the book on him if you’re a member of OilerNation, is he’s hockey’s pre-eminent worker bee

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Zach Hyman was an academic all-American at the University of Michigan and he’s an accomplished author of three children’s works, which shows his Renaissance Man side.


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But the book on him, if you’re a member of Oiler Nation, is he’s hockey’s pre-eminent worker bee.

His game is blue-collar where there are no days off, which is exactly what Edmonton general manager Ken Holland is now paying him $38.5 million over the next seven years for. To be the dirt road player beside Connor McDavid or Leon Draisaitl or Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, whichever centre the left-winger winds up with.

If the Oilers had a missing piece in their top-six before, they don’t now. If they needed several sheets of sandpaper, they’ve got it now with Hyman, along with his tool kit.

He is the 2021 version of the mulletted Ryan Smyth; works the boards, gets it to the net, takes a couple of cross-checks, keeps on smiling and supports the stars.

In his first two years at U of Michigan, playing for the tough-love Red Berenson, Hyman had nine points each season, 18 points in 79 games. By his fourth year there, playing with Dylan Larkin, Hyman was a Hobey Baker finalist as NCAA’s best player, and a brainiac in the classroom with a love of history.

A year later he was in the NHL, with the Toronto Maple Leafs, because he willed himself to get there.

And now he is here with the Oilers, video-conferencing Wednesday, fittingly with a picture of No. 99 in the background.

“Yeah, a print of Wayne Gretzky, an Andy Warhol copy,” he said.

Hyman, who had 43 points in 53 games, was the most annoying, most impressive Maple Leafs player in their three-game series blowout of the Oilers at Rogers Place this past season.


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If he wasn’t dogging McDavid, he was in Mike Smith’s face. The Oilers noticed, and when the Leafs had no room to keep him because they’re paying Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, John Tavares and William Nylander $40.4 million on the cap, they romanced Hyman.

“His greatest trait is his compete. He’s a forechecker, he’s relentless, he’s on the puck,” said Holland. “We needed, along with the addition of Warren Foegele, forwards who can try to create more pressure in the offensive zone. We don’t want to be just a rush team.”

Just because you do grunt work doesn’t mean you can play with the big guns, though.

“Zach has great hockey sense. When you play with star players, and he’s played with a lot with some of the greatest young players in Toronto, you have to think at their level. Plus, if he plays down the lineup, he’s got the game to do that and read off their grinding style. He brings a tremendous amount of versatility,” said Holland.

Hyman, his wife, Alannah, and even their Siberian husky, Lady, were all ears when the Oilers were wooing the forward, even the four-legged one.

“I think my dog’s the most excited to be going to Edmonton,” laughed Hyman, who came here for a summer relationship-building visit a week ago while his dog will probably flourish in the snow in January.

The trip to Edmonton was crucial for Hyman.

“I paid my way out there with my wife. Only place I visited. If Edmonton was a place I wanted to play in, it was important for me to see the city. My wife’s never been there and this season, when I was in Edmonton, I was stuck at the hotel,” he said.


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“We saw all the neighbourhoods we could potentially live in, we have a seven-month-old son named Theo and it was important we see where he could maybe go (to school). It was important to check all the boxes. Toured the rink and, as you all know, it’s an incredible facility, met the management team.”

He did his homework too. Hey, he had a 4.0 grade-point average in college.

“Once Edmonton came to the forefront from a hockey fit, for the opportunity to win a Stanley Cup, seeing the city, knowing the passion, the fan base, all the boxes seemed to be checked. Once I closed the door on Toronto, it was Edmonton all the way. A no-brainer,” said Hyman, who talked to McDavid as well as former teammates Tyson Barrie and Tyler Ennis, who all gave him two thumbs up.

Obviously, the chance to play with McDavid or Draisaitl was a selling point.

“They’re two of the best players in the world. Connor is a generational player. I had the opportunity to play with Auston and Mitch, John and Willy (Nylander). With Connor, his speed is off the charts. I’ll try to get him the puck as much as possible and give him second and third opportunities. If I can get the puck into his hands, we’ll be in good shape.”

Seven years is a long time on the body for the pounding game Hyman plays, also a 29-year-old. If Hyman plays like he normally does as one of the NHL’s premier support players, he’ll be worth every penny of his $5.5 million price tag.

And he can keep penning his children’s books, like: Hockey Hero, The Bambino and Me, and The Magician’s Secret. They bring out a softer side of a hard-to-play-against NHLer.

“It’s so important to be a multi-faceted individual because the hockey season is a roller-coaster,” said Hyman, who’s decided on a new ride with the Oilers.


On Twitter: @jimmathesonnhl

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