For a number of seasons, the Edmonton Oilers were viewed as a top-heavy team, one that had two of the games best in Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, but lacked any sort of depth. That changed in a big way in 2021-22, as general manager Ken Holland was able to make the necessary tweaks to his roster to give his big guns support. It paid off immensely, as they advanced all the way to the Western Conference Final earlier this year, and are poised to go on a similar – if not better – run this season.
Many may be quick to point out that the Oilers have not been all that good to start the 2022-23 season, and in all honesty, they wouldn’t be wrong in their assessment. Through six games, the Oilers own a somewhat disappointing 3-3 record and have had serious issues giving up the first goal of any given outing. That said, it is very early into the season, and this team should be able to turn things around in a major way sooner than later. Still, their fanbase should be quite confident that their favorite team will hoist the Stanley Cup in 2023. Here are a few reasons why.
Goaltending Duo Has Improved
Is Jack Campbell a true number-one goaltender? Holland sure seems to think so, as he handed him a five-year, $25 million deal this summer. The jury still seems to be out as to just how good he is, however, as he has struggled with inconsistency at times and remains rather inexperienced at the NHL level. On top of that, the early results haven’t been overly promising, as he possesses an underwhelming 3.82 goals against average (GAA) paired with a .889 save percentage (SV%) on the year.
While Campbell may prove to never be a legitimate number one, he does seem capable of performing as a 1A with Stuart Skinner serving as the 1B. The latter has been fantastic in limited action this season with a 1.69 GAA along with a .944 SV%.
Obviously, Skinner is due for a bit of regression, as those numbers aren’t sustainable over the course of an entire season. That said, Campbell’s numbers should also improve in a big way as the year goes on. While these two certainly won’t be the best duo in the league this season, they are undoubtedly an upgrade over a Mike Smith and Mikko Koskinen pairing.
Oilers fans saw the combination of Smith and Koskinen sink this team far too often with back-breaking goals at inopportune times. Their new duo, at the very least, should prove capable of making the saves an NHL goaltender needs to make. That may very well be enough on this offensively gifted quad.
Offensive Powerhouse Up Front
As mentioned, this team was finally able to bring in some great offensive support last season, the biggest being the signing of Kane. The 31-year-old found chemistry with McDavid immediately upon joining the Oilers, scoring 22 goals and 39 points in 43 regular season games. He was even better in the playoffs with 13 goals and 17 points in 13 outings.
Hyman also proved to be a great pickup, as he had career highs with 27 goals and 54 points in 76 games, while also recording 11 goals and 16 points in 16 playoff outings. Those two, along with Nugent-Hopkins and the hopeful emergences of both Jesse Puljujarvi and Kailer Yamamoto, provide head coach Jay Woodcroft several options to pair alongside his superstars in McDavid and Draisaitl.
Of course, as mentioned, there hasn’t been a ton of change up front, so some may question why they give them a better chance this season than the one prior. The answer to that comes down to health. For those who may not remember, despite putting up a ridiculous 32 points in 16 playoff outings, Draisaitl battled a high ankle sprain for nearly the entirety of the postseason. Had he been healthy, those numbers would very likely have been even more incredible. He wasn’t the only Oilers forward banged up either, as both Nugent-Hopkins and Puljujarvi’s play was impacted due to injury.
Injuries do happen in playoffs, so expecting this team to be fully healthy upfront throughout a deep run isn’t very logical. That said, a player like Draisaitl, who has almost never battled injury in his career, should be able to be much closer to 100 percent healthy than he was this past Spring. That alone boosts the Oilers’ chances at a Cup in a big way.
Holland Finding Ways to Improve Roster
The hiring of Holland back in 2019, the move was met with serious skepticism amongst Oilers fans. Despite his long-time success in charge of the Detroit Red Wings, his tenure came to an end due to some very poor salary cap management. At times, his poor cap skills have shown up in Edmonton, but there is little denying that he is the best general manager they have had in quite some time.
With some of the moves he has made over the past year, there is plenty of reason to have confidence in Holland. He understands the position this team is in with McDavid and Draisaitl in their prime, and as proven by his resume, he knows what it takes to win. You can bet he will do everything in his power to improve this team’s blue line prior to the trade deadline. If, or perhaps once he does that, this team will be in as good of shape as any to take home the Stanley Cup.
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