With the 2022–23 Edmonton Oilers’ regular season starting Wednesday at Rogers Place against the Vancouver Canucks, the time has come to compare last year’s regular season starting lineup to this year’s lineup.
Yes, it seems like it was a while ago but we can’t forget that Dave Tippett and Jim Playfair were coaching the team heading into the 2021–22 season. Tippett and Playfair had seen a lot of success during the regular season, but during the 2020 qualifying round against the Chicago Blackhawks and the 2021 playoffs versus the Winnipeg Jets, all the wheels fell off the wagon. The Oilers didn’t rise to the occasion and lost both appearances, with the Jets series resulting in a full-on sweep.
These poor playoff appearances left Tippett and Playfair with little runway during the 2021–22 season. When the team started to sag, going 8-13-3 after December 1, Ken Holland was forced to make a move to revitalize the team and ensure they made it to the postseason; he decided to fire the tandem of Tippett and Playfair, replacing them with Jay Woodcroft and Dave Manson from the AHL farm team.
Since Woodcroft and Manson were hired, the Oilers went 26-9-3 in the final 38 games of the regular season earning both coaches contract extensions.
Comparing the lineups’ differences
According to Daniel Nugent-Bowman these are this year’s projected Oiler’s lineups as of October 9.
|2022-23||Evander Kane||Connor McDavid||Kailer Yamamoto|
|2021-22||Zach Hyman||Connor McDavid||Jesse Puljujarvi|
Connor McDavid remains the staple in both lineups, where the fundamental differences lie on the wings. The addition of Evander Kane midway through the 2021–22 season was precisely the type of player the Oilers needed – a power forward with some bite in his game who could also put the puck in the net. Kane finished the season scoring 22 goals and getting 17 assists for 39 points in 43 games last season. Kailer Yamamoto on the right side contributes to the line by providing tenaciousness while retrieving pucks and a stable defensive game; Yamamoto scored 21 goals and got 20 assists last season playing mostly with Leon Draisaitl.
When comparing this year’s lineup to last year’s, it’s clear that Kane adds depth and a dimension to the top six that the Oilers have not seen in some time. Zach Hyman posted 54 points in 74 games last season. He has shown he can play on the top line with McDavid, although Kane has posted better offensive numbers.
|2022||Dylan Holloway||Leon Draisaitl||Zach Hyman|
|2021||Ryan Nugent-Hopkins||Leon Draisaitl||Kailer Yamamoto|
The Oilers will have Leon Draisaitl centre flanked by the up-and-coming rookie Dylan Holloway who has had an incredible 2022 preseason. Zach Hyman adds reliable play in both zones and elite puck protection skills. Although the sample size is small, the line has succeeded in the games they have played together.
The Nugent-Hopkins, Draisaitl and Yamamoto line was dominant last season, outscoring the opposition 28-8 in 27 games, according to The Cult of Hockey of the Edmonton Journal. This line is much more proven than this year’s projected lineup with Holloway on the left side.
|2022||Ryan McLoed||Ryan Nugent-Hopkins||Jesse Puljujarvi|
|2021||Warren Foegele||Derek Ryan||Zack Kassian|
When comparing the two lines, it’s clear that Nugent-Hopkins is a stronger centre than Derek Ryan. Where Derek Ryan shines is in the faceoff circle, he has an excellent faceoff win percentage of 55.9% opposed to Nugent-Hopkin’s underwhelming 40.7% last season.
Looking at the wingers, Ryan McLeod provides more than one positive to this year’s projected lineup. His speed is his greatest asset, but he can also play center if need be. Having Puljujarvi on the right side is an upgrade in almost all areas except for physicality over Zack Kassian.
|2022||Warren Foegele||Brad Malone||Derek Ryan|
|2021||Colton Sceviour||Ryan McLeod||Devon Shore|
Warren Foegele on the fourth line adds a good mix of skill and physicality over Colton Sceviour who was mostly a non-factor player for the Oilers last season. Brad Malone is a reliable defensive centre with a physical presence but is mostly in the lineup for cap-saving reasons and will likely be sent back down to the AHL shortly after the start of the season. Derek Ryan on the right wing provides a strong faceoff option if needed by the team.
|2022||Darnell Nurse||Cody Ceci|
|2021||Darnell Nurse||Tyson Barrie|
Darnell Nurse remains on the left side for the Oilers. The only difference is on the right side where we see a switch between Cody Ceci and Tyson Barrie. Barrie struggled on the top line with Nurse, getting lost in his own zone. The switch between Barrie and Ceci added some stability to the pair as Ceci was more of a defensive defenceman who is rarely out of position in his own zone. There is a clear winner here.
|2022||Brett Kulak||Evan Bouchard|
|2021||Duncan Keith||Cody Ceci|
The second pairing is drastically different compared to last year’s opening lineup, with the new acquisition of hometown boy Brett Kulak, who held his own on the second pairing since he was brought in halfway through the 2021 season. Bouchard was brought up to play with Duncan Keith on the second pairing not long after the start of last season and showed he could compete at that level. Although it is close, with Bouchard’s continued development, the edge goes to the 2022–23 pairing.
|2022||Devin Shore||Tyson Barrie|
|2021||Kris Russell||Evan Bouchard|
The third pairing sees drastic change between the two seasons. Philip Broberg has had an underwhelming pre-season thus far, and it appears he may need more time in the AHL before he is ready to stay in the NHL for good. Devin Shore will be on the opening night roster against Vancouver, but time will tell if he or Broberg end up with the job long-term. Barrie was overwhelmed playing on the top pairing with Nurse at the start of last season but thrived in a third-pairing role. Kris Russell was a decent third pairing defensive defenceman for the Oilers when he was healthy, but over the summer became a UFA and signed with the Chicago Blackhawks.
|2022||Jack Campbell||Stewart Skinner|
|2021||Mike Smith||Mikko Koskinen|
Ken Holland made some big moves between the pipes over the summer, bringing in a completely new tandem in Jack Campbell and Stuart Skinner. Skinner is making the jump from the AHL to the NHL in a backup role. It’s no secret that this is a much better tandem in net than last year with Mike Smith, who was injured for long stretches of the season, and Mikko Koskinen, who was inconsistent when he was relied on.
Jack Campbell posted a SV% of .914 and a GAA of 2.64 with the Toronto Maple Leafs. Stuart Skinner had a SV% of .913 and a GAA of 2.62 in 13 games with the Oilers last season. Mike Smith posted a .915 SV% with a GAA of 2.81, and Koskinen posted a .903 SV% with a GAA of 3.10.
Overall this next season is looking favourable
Despite the Oilers being extremely tight up against the cap, Ken Holland kept most of the roster together while adding young talents like Holloway and Broberg. The Oilers have added to their depth up front and revamped their goaltending tandem which should help the team in competing for the Stanley Cup.
Are they better or are they worse? There’s only one way to find out. Do you think this year’s starting lineup is better? Let us know in the comments!
Photo by Brett Holmes/Icon Sportswire