Puck Drop Preview: 2022-23 Edmonton Oilers

2022-23 Edmonton Oilers
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Welcome to our latest series here at Last Word on Hockey. The Puck Drop Preview series takes you through each team as the season is fast approaching. The preview will focus on the narratives surrounding the team ending last year, during the offseason, and heading into the 2021-22 season. Puck Drop Preview also focuses on what the season has in store for each team from a roster and expectations perspective. Join us, as we look at all 32 teams before the season starts. Today, we take a look at the 2022-23 Edmonton Oilers. 

2022-23 Edmonton Oilers

2021-22 Season

The 2021-22 season was nothing short of great for the Edmonton Oilers. The road to get there was a bit up and down, but the end result was finally a performance worthy of respect. After two consecutive years of first round playoff exits, the Oilers took a major next step and made it to the Western Conference Finals.

NHL free agent frenzy

Although the team was ultimately swept by the Colorado Avalanche, the loss wasn’t entirely deflating. The Avalanche went on to win the Stanley Cup and the Oilers were competitive enough (despite the four-game sweep) to see what they were missing against the best team in the league.

The 2021-22 season was easily the best season in Edmonton since 2006 and it’s left the organization hungry for more.

A New Bench Boss

The 2021-22 regular season wasn’t all roses. After starting the season on a wicked pace, the Oilers seriously struggled in the depths of winter. At one point in early February, the team was multiple points out of a playoff spot. Injuries had mounted, Dave Tippett was struggling to innovate, and the team was spiraling.

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Then Jay Woodcroft was promoted to head coach, with Dave Manson joining as an assistant, and everything changed. The team found a new voice and started to play inspired. Under Woodcroft, the Oilers adjusted their defensive and neutral zone systems just enough to make a significant impact. The team defended less, cut-off the opposition in the neutral zone quicker, and attacked more.

The change immediately yielded better results, and the Oilers went on to secure second place in the Pacific Division.

Evander Kane: Difference Maker

The midseason signing of Evander Kane generated serious controversy. He arrived just prior to Tippett’s departure and it had many observers concerned that his presence would only deteriorate the situation further.

The complete opposite happened. Kane fit like a glove with his new team, scoring 22 goals in 43 games. He followed that up with a whopping 13 goals in 15 Stanley Cup Playoff games. His play and presence generated rave reviews from teammates and lead to him re-upping in Edmonton for four more years.

It’s tricky to imagine a scenario where the Oilers go on the run that they did without Kane’s elite goal scoring. For that, his signing was a massive win for the organization.

Extinguishing the Flames

The first postseason Battle of Alberta in decades did not disappoint – at least from an Oilers’ perspective. Edmonton defeated the Calgary Flames in a five-game, emotional series that drew the attention of the entire hockey world. In doing so, the team reached the peak of their great o2021-22 season, and quite frankly, out together one of the better series in Oilers’ history.

The series also made clear just how dominant Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl can be in a playoff setting.

2022 Offseason

The Oilers kept things simple this offseason, with only one major addition and an emphasis on stability. Considering their strong performance in 2021-22, keeping the band together makes sense.

The one area where the Oilers did need to make a change, goaltending, has been completely revamped. The Oilers kept with their newly formed tradition of stealing away ex-Toronto Maple Leafs‘ players and signed their new starting goaltender, Jack Campbell, to a five-year, $25 million contract.

Campbell is coming off of a season which saw him win 31 games (in 49 games played), with a 2.64 goals against average and a.914 save percentage. His backup will be Stuart Skinner, a highly valued piece of the organization. It’s a dramatic change from the Mike Smith and Mikko Koskinen duo, but it’s a change that was overdue.

The Oilers followed that up by re-signing midseason additions Kane and Brett Kulak. Depth players Mattias Janmark, Greg McKegg and Ryan Murray round out the additions, with Jake Virtanen and Jason Demers signing PTO’s with the team.

It’s worth noting that the Oilers have lost a significant chunk of veteran experience, with all of Smith, Duncan Keith, Zack Kassian, Josh Archibald, and Kris Russell heading out. Their play may have been declining, but this is a story worth monitoring.

Lineup Projections

Forwards

Evander Kane – Connor McDavidJesse Puljujarvi

Zach HymanLeon DraisaitlKailer Yamamoto

Ryan McLeodRyan Nugent-HopkinsDerek Ryan

Dylan HollowayDevin Shore – Mattias Janmark

Extras: Brad Malone, Greg McKegg

Top Six

Don’t read too much into the lines above. The Oilers have salary cap concerns and will be forced to forced to make a move of some sort to start the season with a change at forward most likely.

With that being said, the top six here looks as good as any top six the league has to offer. McDavid and Draisaitl will once again lead the way, this time with a full season of Kane in the mix. Can McDavid top his career-high 123 points from one year ago? Can Draisaitl top 55 goals? Could Kane reach or eclipse 40 goals? These are all exciting questions for Oilers fans, and barring injury, all seem plausible.

The biggest question marks here are Kailer Yamamoto and Jesse Puljujarvi. Both players performed well in stretches last year, but they need to find a way to consistently produce from October to April to keep their spots.

Hyman will look to follow-up on his career-best season, while Ryan McLeod and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins will sprinkle in as needed. Dylan Holloway, one of the Oilers’ prized prospects, could see some time in the top six as the season rolls on.

Bottom Six

This is the spot of the roster that has the most questions and possibilities, because of the plethora of options that Woodcroft has at hand.

The Oilers will likely rotate Nugent-Hopkins and McLeod as their third line centres throughout the year. They may also help stick together  form what could end up being a legitimate, outscoring third line.. Mattias Janmark may make sense to start the season with those two, depending on how he performs in camp.

Similar to last season, the fourth line will likely consist of some assortment of Derek Ryan and Devin Shore, with AHL call-up favorites Brad Malone and Seth Griffith cycling in. The focus here will be assembling a strong group of penalty killers and role players, with a preference for up-tempo, speedy players.

The competition for these six spots will be fierce.

Defence

Darnell NurseCody Ceci

Brett KulakEvan Bouchard

Philip BrobergTyson Barrie

Extras: Ryan Murray & Dmitri Samorukov

Top Four

The biggest shift on the blue line, year over year, is the loss of Duncan Keith. Last year, he formed a formidable duo with Cody Ceci for much of the year, and later acted as a mentor for Evan Bouchard. Although he wasn’t perfect, Keith played well and his presence will be missed.

Darnell Nurse will resume his role as number one defenseman, with his shiny new contract kicking in this year. He played injured for much of the playoffs, but should be healthy to start camp. Ceci will likely stay in the top pair after performing well there to finish last season. According to Natural Stat Trick, Nurse and Ceci played together over 500 minutes at 5v5 last season. In those minutes, they posted possession numbers north of 50%, an expected goal share of 54% and an actual goal share of 53%. They were great together and should resume their role as the Oilers’ top pair.

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Kulak will permanently take over the Keith role as the veteran second pairing left defenseman. He’ll add cover to some of the younger left-handed blue-lines beneath him on the depth chart. Bouchard will round out the top four, fresh off of an excellent campaign. His offensive abilities continue to serve a need on this team and they should only get better this year. With a bit of power play time, he’ll flirt with 50-55 points and maybe more.

Bottom Pair

Philip Broberg is another one of Edmonton’s prized prospects and seems destined for a much larger role with the club. Last year he played in 23 games for the Oilers, and will almost certainly eclipse that this season. He’ll be cushioned in with a third pairing role to begin, with a ceiling that is much higher. His growth will be one to watch this season.

Tyson Barrie makes sense to serve as a mentor to Broberg to start, but the coaching staff will have options. A pairing of Broberg and Barrie will have some culpabilities defensively, but that could be mitigated with a heavy preference on shifts starting in the offensive zone.

Ryan Murray, Dmitri Samorukov, and Marcus Niemleinen will serve as depth options.

Goalies

Starter: Jack Campbell

Back-up: Stuart Skinner

Jack Campbell will assume the Oilers’ starting role, giving the Oilers their first legitimate starter in years. For the past three seasons, Smith and Koskinen provided more of a 1A/1B situation, with some decent upside but plenty of headaches in the process.

The Oilers are hoping that a true number one goaltender will lead to more consistency and better results in the blue paint. If Campbell can start around 50 games, provide similar numbers to his time in Toronto, and limit the number of “bad” goals – which both Smith and Koskinen gave up plenty of – then the Oilers will be more than happy.

Behind Campbell, the Oilers will run Stuart Skinner. Skinner has been in the organization for several years and will finally have an opportunity to take the next step into more regular NHL playing time. His numbers last season were solid, with a .913 save percentage in 13 games. This season, he’ll face a more difficult task, with tougher opponents and less opportunities for ideal starting situations. He looks well positioned for the challenge.

Players to Watch

Jack Campbell

Not to put too much pressure on the Oilers’ new netminder, but he’ll have plenty of attention and for good reason. He won’t be expected to serve as one of the league’s top three goaltenders or anything like that, but he will need to be consistent. If he can avoid the blunders we’ve seen from previous Oilers’ goalies, like goals on the first shot of the game or mishandling pucks leading to goals against, then that in itself will be a massive step.

A strong postseason performance would be the biggest contribution that he could make to the Oilers.

Evander Kane

Kane’s introduction to the Oilers’ couldn’t have gone better. As a result, he earned himself a nice new contract and a continued presence right next to two of the best players in the league. The question is, can Kane continue this stretch of good behaviour and high level of performance? If he can, it’ll go a long way towards ensuring success for the Oilers this season. If, however, he falters on or off the ice, it could have a massive effect on the team.

Prediction for the 2022-23 Edmonton Oilers

After a wildly successful run in 2021-22, the 2022-23 Edmonton Oilers look primed for yet another strong season. They appear to be the class of the Pacific Division, right alongside the Flames, and they should finish either first or second with injuries playing a factor in that seeding.

The Oilers are accurately pegged as a Stanley Cup contender, and should have the chops to make it to the Western Conference Finals again, especially with a healthy Draisaitl and Nurse. A Western Conference Championship seems possible, but goaltending and health will be the biggest contributing factors to that possibility.

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