Projecting the top four teams of the Pacific Division in 2022–23

With the 2022–23 season nearly underway, let us examine the locale in which the Edmonton Oilers find themselves: the heated playoff race of the Pacific Division. For each team we will take a look at where their franchise is generally and what their current lineup might perform as.

I have provided mock lines, found on DailyFaceoff.com and provided some colour coding to illustrate roster strength. By the time the games start we should expect player ratings to fluctuate, younger players to increase their roles, line combinations to change, and so on.

Some ratings might be too high or low altogether—only watching how the regular season plays out will tell. But with some context, we might understand where each of the teams stack up against each other. There are tiers of strength throughout the division, but teams are presented in order of projected finish; let’s take a look at the top four.

#1: Edmonton Oilers

Last season

Nearly sputtering into oblivion, the Oilers turned their season around in mid–February when they made a coaching change to bring on Jay Woodcroft. Adding key pieces was instrumental in turning the Oilers from a bad team with star power into a well-oiled machine.

Since winning a round in 2017, the Oilers failed to make the playoffs, lost in the bubble play-ins, or were swept in the first round, and the foul taste of zero playoff wins loomed. Now, the newfound depth and structure and a Western Conference Final appearance has the mood surrounding the team greatly improved.

Management and coaching

Ken Holland returns as GM. Although his moves have favoured veterans and bandied about draft picks, the results and the roster have improved during his time.

There have been several controversial or unpopular moves, including using a Mike Smith–Mikko Koskinen tandem for three straight seasons, and more serious conversations surrounding Duncan Keith, Evander Kane, and most recently Jake Virtanen.

The Oilers have several important prospects en route as well, the lifeblood needed to sustain the window of contending status.

Jay Woodcroft gets his first full season behind the bench, which provides all the optimism the Oilers need. The change made an obvious, even drastic, impact last season. Along with a former head coach in Glen Gulutzan and rising star Dave Manson coaching the defence, the Oilers should feel confident in their staff.


Jack Campbell joins as a big UFA addition. Campbell, once a highly touted prospect, lost his way before running with the chance to be the Leafs starter for the past two seasons. It is a track record that is short one NHL experience, not to mention volatile, despite being behind a strong defensive team in Toronto. That said, Campbell should be expected to start a majority of the games and should continue his solid production.

Stuart Skinner is quickly ascending into a bigger role, likely taking on the backup spot full-time. Skinner will have to play regularly and although goaltending can be especially unpredictable, he has aced every test so far and held up well in a dozen or so starts last season.


Brett Kulak and Cody Ceci are great fits with the rest of the Oilers offensively inclined blueline. By this thought, the talents of Dmitri Samorukov and Markus Niemelainen might well factor into the Oilers play this season.

Darnell Nurse leads the charge but is coming off of hip surgery, an injury that can take a while to fully heal. Evan Bouchard is quickly becoming an elite player and he certainly has the chance to continue blossoming into an elite defenceman. Philip Broberg is not far behind and could elevate this blueline to one of the league’s best should he make the jump from elite AHLer to elite NHLer.

Tyson Barrie provides great offensive depth at the position and is suited for a deeper role as a specialist.


Just last season we were asking if the Oilers could survive without Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl on the ice, and here the Oilers are, completely turned around into a dominant forward group behind the two MVPs.

With Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Zach Hyman, Evander Kane, even Jesse Puljujarvi, Kailer Yamamoto, and Ryan McLeod, the Oilers have as deep a group as there is in the league to go with the best 1–2 punch down the middle. The Oilers’ top nine are as good as one could find in the NHL.

Veterans Derek Ryan and Mattias Janmark are more than a strong start to a potential fourth line.

Jump candidates

Skinner was quite capable in the NHL last season, acting as a sheltered backup for the first half of last season. Can he help keep the Oilers in the hunt for a division crown? They will need to keep Campbell fresh.

Broberg looked a bit green in his brief NHL stint last season, but has continued his dominant two-way play in the AHL. Broberg has all the tools to become quite similar to his teammate Nurse, a rare package, but will he be ready this season?

To some extent Dmitri Samorukov and Markus Niemelainen are candidates to greatly improve the depth of the Oilers blueline.

Dylan Holloway found himself in the lineup in the Conference Final after a lengthy injury kept him without a real chance of fighting for a spot. The forward brings a great versatility with a well rounded skillset, and looks quite likely to bolster the Oilers already strong top nine.


The Oilers have a glut of forward prospects, many of which will be AHL rookies. As the group develops it is quite likely that not all of them will fulfill their potentials. However, it is quite promising that some of the group can start giving the lineup some reinforcements on cheap deals. For this reason mid-level forwards are the most likely to be moved on from for cap purposes.


Simply put, the Oilers expectations of themselves are as high as can be. The Oilers will look to prove their elite level of play under Woodcroft was no fluke and that their pace under the coach of a top five team league wide is sustainable. The Oilers need to continue improving, especially through the development of key young players, to close the gap between their goals and their reality.

#2: Calgary Flames

Last season

The Calgary Flames are the incumbent division champions in the Pacific Division, as far as the regular season is concerned. Last season was perhaps the high point of the last decade, or more, as new life was breathed into a Flames organisation that had been toiling in mediocrity for too long.

Management and coaching

Brad Treliving returns as GM, as his long tenure has had its share of peaks and valleys. At this point confidence in his program might be at an all time high, partly due to last season’s strong results, but also thanks to an exciting and transaction–filled summer. With such high level acquisitions, Treliving might find himself an early frontrunner for the Jim Gregory General Manager of the Year award.

Daryl Sutter is one of a kind and has the Flames rolling with his straightforward and responsible style. As much as anything, the level of buy-in from Flames players to his vision and system has been credited for the team’s turnaround.


Jacob Markstrom is an elite goalie in the back half of his career. It is true that the Flames tight defensive system aided his results last season, earning a Vezina nomination, but so too did their over usage of him potentially have ill effects. The Flames used him as an old school, nearly-every-game starter, which did not help backup Dan Vladar get much of the experience he might have been due.

Vladar has shown some promise in his brief experience with the Flames, as well as the similarly stout Boston Bruins, and should be relied upon more heavily this coming season. Perhaps he can prove he should be considered for a stronger role and reputation, in turn keeping Markstrom fresh for when the games mean more.


The Flames have one of the league’s top bluelines, likely headlined by newcomer MacKenzie Weegar. Weegar brings well-rounded two-way contributions at a possible best-in-league level. Simply, the Flames got an incredible return in the Matthew Tkachuk trade.

Chris Tanev is one of the more under appreciated talents, in part due to the very defensive nature of his style. He, like his brother, possesses a rare physicality in strength and stamina, not to mention intensity that sees him occupy a role and style that few around the league can come close to.

Then there’s the towering resurgent Nikita Zadorov, who under Sutter’s coaching has proved to have a more positive impact on defence than many had expected. He still takes lots of penalties, however.

Both Noah Hanifin and Oliver Kylington are very strong transition players. Although not necessarily dynamic, power play leading, individual offensive players, they are strong promoters of team offence as a whole thanks to their skating and passing skills.

Of course, Michael Stone always seems to find himself in an increased role towards the end of each season and is worth knowing for this folklore alone.

As a whole, the group is formidable and possesses a diversity of skills. Perhaps it is this support, or Sutter’s coaching, that makes us think more highly of each individual, but they have earned this esteem all the same.


The foremost area of change from last season, the Flames saw Johnny Gaudreau, Tkachuk, and Sean Monahan—not long ago their foremost players—move on. Despite this, there is legitimate hope that this group is as effective as they were last season.

Nazem Kadri comes off of a career season and a Cup ring to boot, as an unrestricted free agent signing. There might be some concern that his being on the plus side of 30 years old is not conducive to his maintaining this new level, but those familiar with Kadri’s game know that his development hasn’t exactly followed the typical peaks and valleys.

Kadri has always had the skill and heart to be an elite player, but his journey has seen him continuously improve the way he is able to leverage those, a trend still ongoing as of last season. Though time shrinks us all, Kadri still has a number of productive seasons in his future.

Kadri joins a strong centre ice group featuring the defensive talents of Elias Lindholm and Mikael Backlund, who should both continue to thrive under Sutter. The forward group as a whole does lend itself to defensive utility and/or intensity with the likes of Blake Coleman, Milan Lucic, and Dillon Dube, and to an extent depth options like Trevor Lewis.

Andrew Mangiapane and strong PTO candidate Sonny Milano both bring some strong defensive impacts, but are perhaps more thought of for their speed and offensive capabilities. Mangiapane, in particular, might show even more than he already has with increased usage.

Jonathan Huberdeau bookends the Flames additions, replacing much of the top level skill the Flames lost this summer. His acquisition and subsequent extension have gone a long way towards preserving the Flames viability as a contender with perhaps a vacancy in legitimate offensive talent. Tyler Toffoli, a Sutter retread, helps in this regard as a scorer the Flames will depend on for offence.

Jump candidates

Speaking of offensive skills, Matthew Phillips sees his best chance to become an NHL regular, as the small but talented forward might be a welcome stylistic addition to this lineup. However, he was sent on waivers during the preseason, as was budding prospects Jakob Pelletier and Connor Zary. For the time being only Adam Ruzicka is on the cusp of transitioning into a full-time NHLer.

On the backend the current spots are fairly well spoken for and Jusso Valimaki might yet again have a difficult time earning Sutter’s trust for a regular spot. Valimaki has shown signs of legitimacy for a few seasons now, yet remains at an arm’s length.


Despite a strong present the Flames do have some interesting players en route. From power forward Matthew Coranato to strong defence prospect Jeremie Poirier to standout goalie prospect Dustin Wolf the Flames should expect strong reinforcements in the coming seasons.


The Flames are looking to build off of their strong showing last season, as their depth and cohesive team play will be the hallmark of their team once more. Perhaps improved in said areas, the Flames need to build their identity with a strong regular season. As division contenders, the eyes of the fan base likely turn towards the playoffs, where Sutter’s tactics and disposition will see the Flames well equipped to succeed. 

#3: Los Angeles Kings

Last season

Perhaps a surprise to some, the Los Angeles Kings authored a 44–27–11 record, good enough for third in the Pacific Division. They lost to the Oilers in a tightly contested seven game series.

Management and coaching

Marc Bergevin joined the front office group quickly after his departure from Montreal, famous for controversial trades and disappointing—or even controversial—draft picks. He certainly provides experience to the group as a whole, one looking to return the Kings to past glory.

Rob Blake, as GM since 2018, has seen the team turn its fate around, returning to the playoff while currently sporting one of the league’s most well-regarded prospect pools.

Former Oilers coach Todd McLellan has been at the head coaching helm over the recent turnaround, a welcome sight for the long-tenured bench boss.


The Kings return with their tandem of Jonathan Quick and Cal Petersen, who went fairly even on their sharing of the crease. The thought is that at some point Petersen might surpass Quick, as the younger player shows signs of a relatively stable ascension from the college ranks to NHL starter. With that in mind, Quick was still the goalie to get the nod in their playoff series against the Oilers last season.

Quick, like former Oilers starter Mike Smith, is particularly mercurial as it comes to goalies. Perhaps more than his fair share of soft goals or even blooper worthy plays, Quick is distinct in his successes. With an ultra aggressive style that sees him scorpion his way towards shooters in close, there is a blend of explosiveness and athleticism as there is instinct and improvisation. Hands down one of the most entertaining goalies to watch, Quick can still author otherworldly efforts and steal sure goals and games alike.

The steadying progression of Petersen is a perfect compliment to the peaks and pedigree of Quick, themes that throughout the rest of this roster are aptly captured here.


Yes, Drew Doughty still leads the blueline, despite missing much of last year with injury. One might argue the cap hit is steep, but Doughty’s play is still at a high level, despite the waning chances of another Norris Trophy. Although there are some criticisms of his defence during some leaner years for the Kings, Doughty can still be an effective contributor in all phases of the game.

The Kings had to deal with many long injuries outside of Doughty’s last season, giving them a deep look at their defence group. Matt Roy and Sean Walker slot in behind Doughty on the right side, a duo that possess more quality than name brand. Sean Durzi will push Walker for a more offensive role on the third pair, as will Jordan Spence. The pair of Durzi and Spence were fantastic in their auditions last season.

The left side provides similar depth, but perhaps more defensive talent. Mikey Anderson is on a very small contract, a one-year, $1M deal that helped the Kings stay cap compliant, but does not at all illustrate the level of play he brings. Longtime Vancouver Canuck Alexander Edler is still a savvy and aggressive presence.

2019 first-round pick Tobias Bjornfot has been increasing his NHL role for parts of three seasons but is still growing his game, being waiver exempt might impact his assignment out of camp. 24–year–old Jacob Moverare is a stay at home type defender who had a decent first stint in the NHL last season.

In all, this blueline has a nice blend of defensive and offensive skills, and should be more than enough to keep the Kings competitive headed into the spring.


The theme of known quality and potential upside is continued in this forward group. There is perhaps no finer 1–2 defensive punch at centre across the league with the likes of Anze Kopitar and Phillip Danault, both potential Selke Trophy candidates in their own right.

Adrian Kempe did well in producing beside Kopitar last season, but the addition of Kevin Fiala represents a huge upgrade to the wing of this top line. Meanwhile, Trevor Moore was fantastic on Danault’s wing, with his strong forechecking and board play complimenting his centre nicely. Victor Arvidsson is a volume shooter who provides some offensive touch to the stout duo.

The bottom-six is anything but boring, with several prospects that might revolutionise the Kings forward group as a whole. Quinton Byfield leads the group, as the big centre has a rare skill set that might see him achieve star status. It hasn’t happened for Byfield yet and the shutdown of the OHL certainly did him no favours in his development.

Even though he hasn’t become a top player in the NHL yet, Kings fans need look no further than Leon Draisaitl as a former third overall pick for an example of a big centreman who took a bit longer to meet his star potential.

Arthur Kaliyev is a sniper who has the reputation of not being able to contribute outside of that role, however if he rounds out his game he could become an impactful forward, perhaps akin to Patrick Laine. Rasmus Kupari and Gabriel Vilardi are playmakers who have yet to make their mark as long term NHLers. Alex Iafallo and Blake Lizotte are capable bottom-six contributors with potentially higher upside.

In all the Kings have a strong forward group, while the improvements of Byfield and Kaliyev, among others, and the addition of Fiala give them a ceiling even higher than that. With a lot of proven defensive capabilities across their lines, it will be that improved level of skill that might see the Kings to contending status.

Jump candidates

Samuel Fagemo, Alex Turcotte, Akil Thomas, Tyler Madden, and Jaret Anderson-Dolan all have had strong stretches in the AHL in recent seasons. It’s unlikely that they will all make their way into NHL regulars, especially for the Kings, but each of them have some legitimate hopes to do so in their own right.

Perhaps Lias Andersson continues some positive growth after a tough start to his career with the New York Rangers.

On defence both Helge Grans and Brandt Clarke are highly thought of prospects, both right shots. With so much depth in front of them, their likelihood of cracking the NHL roster this season is quite unlikely, although as long term projects the upside is tantalising.


With so much young talent en route, yet with a desire and opportunity to compete now, the Kings are certainly one of the most interesting teams to track across the league. Their deep prospect pipeline affords them the opportunity to make some blockbuster deals should the opportunities present themselves.

For the most part, as veteran talents like Doughty, Kopitar, Danault, and Quick decline with age, the large wave of young players begin to take the torch, keeping the Kings strong all the while.


Although the Pacific Division looks to be stronger than last season the Kings are expecting to find themselves in the playoffs once again, if not improve on their performance from last season.

#4: Vegas Golden Knights

Last season

Despite swinging a blockbuster trade for Jack Eichel, the Vegas Golden Knights endured a tough season, both in injuries and perhaps subsequently performance wise. Missing the playoffs, this was the Golden Knights’ worst finish to a season—an outlier in their brilliant but brief existence.

Management and coaching

GM Kelly McKrimmond returns, as does president George McPhee; the duo has overseen the Knights from the beginning. Despite their strong on-ice performances and great in-arena atmosphere, there is a growing concern about how aggressive they have been in overturning their roster. When in Rome, I suppose.

Bruce Cassidy joins after being let go by the Boston Bruins—a surprising move given his strong record as head coach. Since his departure there have been rumoured rifts between him and some players, as well as fans who thought he was inflexible in adjusting. Regardless, Cassidy has a strong track record and will bring a fresh start.


Robin Lehner is out for the year. The time shared with Marc–Andre Fleury never seemed to go well and now with the top role unquestionably his, it underscores how unfortunate the injury is for the player.

The Golden Knights turn to a trio of options, perhaps all with a chance to emerge as the Golden Knights leader in games started by season’s end.

Incumbent, per se, is Laurent Brossoit. At 28, he is reaching his last hurrah and has really only proven to be a backup option at this point. However, this is as good an opportunity as one might ever find to be featured as more.

25-year-old Adin Hill was signed after building an interesting resume in stops in Arizona and San Jose. On a Vegas team that expects to be stronger than Hill’s other NHL stops, he is a sneaky good pickup for the Knights and might as well have the inside track on this starting role.

Finally, Logan Thompson is generating the most buzz of the trio. The youngest, at 23 years old, Thompson put up a very strong performance in his time with the Golden Knights last season. Though he should still be afforded some developmental patience, many would go as far as to call him the expected starter.

Though it is not necessarily the ideal goalie situation for a team with legitimate playoff aspirations, the Golden Knights at least possess depth and options.


The strength of this blueline starts with Alex Pietrangelo and Shea Theodore. Were one to build a best-on-best team Canada roster this season, the duo would certainly warrant consideration, though perhaps not as much as in years past. Regardless they provide a strong foundation for the Golden Knights’ blueline.

Alec Martinez might be getting longer in the tooth, yet is still an effective top four contributor when healthy. Nicolas Hague has great skating for his huge frame, and has shown favourably on pairings with both Pietrangelo and Zach Whitecloud over the years.

Whitecloud and Brayden McNabb are proven NHL contributors and underscore the themes of size and physicality throughout this blueline.


Maybe a few years ago the court of public opinion might have been higher on Jack Eichel and Mark Stone’s contributions, yet a union might see them both with the strongest linemate of their careers. Perhaps health and circumstance will see Eichel at his best altogether, closer to the comparisons of superstar talent drawn in his past.

Jonathan Marchessault represents a strong stylistic comparability as an offensive option. It is a need enough that veteran Phil Kessel should figure into a prominent role on a similar basis.

The group of William Karlsson, Reilly Smith, and Chandler Stephenson are effective, but appreciate being pushed down the lineup as they are here. These three do an effective job at characterising the Knights as a whole, degrees of speed and defensive ability.

Nicolas Roy and Keegan Kolesar are both of the big bodies that the Knights seem to favour deeper in the lineup. Both produce strong underlying flow of play metrics as well, solidifying them as key pieces to this lineup. Though the scoring touch might be in short supply, the pair might offer a welcome fit for Kessel, who has flourished in a lone wolf type of offensive role often throughout his career.

Jump candidates

For once we might see some home grown Knights make their marks on the NHL roster. Brendan Brisson, Pavel Dorofeyev, and Ivan Morozov have produced well in the high ranks of the NCAA, AHL, and KHL respectively.

The scorers are all welcome additions to a forward group that might be wanting for such talents. An infusion of skill on an entry level contract would go a long way towards the Knights viability as a contender.


The Knights are aggressively invested in the here and now, that said they have not thrown caution to the wind as it pertains to their future.

In particular there are some strong prospects on the blueline, headlined perhaps by Kaeden Korczak and Daniil Chayka. Their continued growth would certainly be welcomed in years to come as veterans like Martinez and Pietrangelo decline.

The Knights would do well to add an exciting prospect up front, though with the AHL Henderson Silver Knights fighting well, establishing their player development brand altogether might be the foremost goal.


The Knights were humbled by a tough outcome last season, but certainly expect to reassert themselves as Cup contenders in 2022–23. It’ll start with a new push for the playoffs with hopefully a healthy lineup for the season.

The push for tops in the Pacific

So far we’ve discussed who will be at the top of the Pacific Division. While it may not be these four teams leading the division by season’s end, at least the Albertan teams should pan out in the top half.

For the teams currently ranked third and fourth, there might be a bit more variance as either the Kings or Golden Knights may falter, or someone from the bottom half might have a surprise jump. Stay tuned to see how the bottom four is predicted to pan out.

Photo by Curtis Comeau/Icon Sportswire

Gregory Babinski

twitter: @axiomsofice

Leave a Reply

Back to top button
%d bloggers like this: