With ten games into the season, the Edmonton Oilers sit at a reasonably strong 7–3–0. The team find themselves second in the Pacific Division with a five game winning streak after defeating the Nashville Predators last night. Considering the uneven and at times tumultuous start to the season, it is a record that the Oilers have earned, and should also feel content with their overall game still a few steps behind where it needs to be.
The 4.10 goals for per game, as well as the 33.3% power play efficiency, denote the talent and skill the lineup boasts. Just as the 3.20 goals against per game, and 73.3% penalty kill efficiency, shows that there is still another defensive gear to the group.
Early on there is a plethora of developments, both positive and negative, that have begun to present themselves. It was notable that in much of coach Jay Woodcroft’s media he has stressed that this is a new season; the roles and processes that led to last season’s playoff run are in the past and even despite the fact that much of the roster remains intact from last season, there will be a new reality, a new formula, and a new level of play the Oilers will have to build together.
Coming off of a Conference Final appearance, the expectations of the team are quite high. We should hope, and quite frankly expect, to see the Oilers continue rounding into the structured and disciplined play of the contender they hope to reveal themselves as.
The Oilers have had phenomenal offensive production
Connor McDavid sits with over a goal and an assist per game, an absurd pace even for the sport’s top player. Those hoping for a 50 goals season are certainly feeling confident.
Draisaitl has 21 points in the ten games played, only a single point behind McDavid. The duo is as deadly as ever when it comes to dashing the opponent’s hopes of victory.
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Zach Hyman each have 12 points in ten games, gaudy totals to be certain. If either or both could maintain a point per game pace it would be an impressive accomplishment, though they can both be strong contributors to team success without such an elevated level of production.
Darnell Nurse leads defencemen with six points, somewhat unexpected as he is the third defenceman used on the power play. Both Tyson Barrie, still in the lead role, and Evan Bouchard slot in ahead of him in this area and have been factors in the unit’s success, but somehow it is Nurse still pacing the blueline in points. He is entering a new era, post-extension, that will see his contributions overlooked and under-discussed, but Oil Country would do well to remember where their bread is buttered on the back end. Nurse might as well find himself a part of a best on best team Canada this season, were such a thing to exist.
PDO is inconsistent throughout the team
Tyson Barrie and Brett Kulak saw elevated on-ice shooting and saving percentages this month. Naturally, Kulak will get a lot of credit for this defensive performance, like Barrie for the offence, but their success in both is something more. The pair have continued their strong chemistry from last season, and though they will not be able to sustain the roughly 110.0 PDO they have produced so far, it is a good sign for both contracts that they support each other so well.
Ryan Murray and Evan Bouchard as a pair, along with Jesse Puljujarvi and Dylan Holloway, all had terrible on-ice shooting and saving percentages. Especially for Murray, the bulk of the poor on-ice save percentage came during some early games where the Oilers looked disorganised. Puljujarvi’s overall PDO is just as much, thanks to the abysmal on-ice shooting percentage that sees him with but a single point so far. Holloway was victim to the Oilers’ slow start as much as he was not as prepared as his preseason might have led us to believe. Time will tell if the Oilers will decide to trust him for more than seven minutes per game or send him back to AHL Bakersfield Condors. Holloway could use the help to play more meaningful minutes, hopefully at centre.
Bouchard currently leads the blueline in xGA
Evan Bouchard leads the blueline in xGA/60 and is playing 1:21 of penalty kill time per game. Leading a third pair with both Ryan Murray and Markus Niemelainen being sheltered as his partner. This is a very strong start for Bouchard, proving that his defensive game is rounding out nicely, giving his potential ceiling an even loftier high. There’s not much reason to think that Bouchard would not thrive in more minutes, both at even strength and on the power play, especially with a more established partner.
Murray and Niemelainen are both fine partners for Bouchard, each offering their own flavour . However, it’s hard not to imagine what kind of success Bouchard might have with Nurse, Kulak, or even Philip Broberg. Given the growing two-way strength of Bouchard’s game, playing on the third pair might be looking more and more plausible for Broberg, as the two could begin to build chemistry that can blossom into a top pairing over the coming seasons.
Ryan McLeod leads a group of Warren Foegele, Jesse Puljujarvi, Kailer Yamamoto, and Derek Ryan with really strong xGA metrics. McLeod is establishing himself as a strong checking centre. His current line with Foegele and Puljujarvi has the reputations to be a defensive force and are producing the numbers to back it up. The trio has a mix of speed and snarl, enough to form an iconic third line. Yamamoto will never cheat you on effort and could easily find himself a part of this unit as the season progresses.
The debate of Skinner versus Campbell continues
Might this be the hot button issue of October? By all accounts, Stuart Skinner had a far better performance of the duo, including GSAA where he posted a 7.0 while Jack Campbell posted a -3.1.
Skinner, the hometown tendy, has risen above every challenge thrown his way. There’s no reason to think Skinner can’t become a top-tier starter in the near future, but it might be a bit much to ask that he never falters. In a vacuum there is nothing wrong with the Oilers leaning on Skinner a bit more while he’s hot.
Less promising is Campbell. Sure, there were a few goals allowed that might have been on the softer side, but it should be noted that in many of the games Campbell has started, the defensive effort was lacking as a whole as well. The most pessimistic of fans might see Campbell’s current play and contract as a bit too close to Mikko Koskinen’s to be unconcerned about the next half decade.
While there are certainly arguments to be made about how much of the cap should be allocated to goalies in general, what Skinner will ultimately command over the remainder of Campbell’s contract, or whether the latter can be moved on from, such thoughts are getting way ahead of ourselves.
The name “Broth Brothers” may start to stick for the tandem (Soup and Stu). Although it is just a bit of fun, it underscores exactly what they are, a tandem. Especially Campbell who has a more extensive track record, even the top goalies in the league need a more even split of starts than conventional wisdom used to suggest.
For his part, Campbell has an extremely limited sample as a starter, perhaps capping out as a 1A. Skinner looked on pace to step into a 1B type of role, meaning the expectation should be that the duo split starts, but also take turns being hot and cold to an extent. There should be some weeks or months where each looks like the better option, such would be healthy and appropriate competition.
Might Campbell be overpaid in the long run? It’s possible. Also possible is Skinner being more affordable over the next five years, with less bargaining leverage over the Oilers. Perhaps Ken Holland can keep the overall cost of the tandem at a very reasonable rate until the cap is rising enough for the conversation to be moot.
The path ahead for the team
In all, it is promising that the Oilers have shown signs of improvement and heart during the 2022–23 season’s first month. The road ahead will see a number of tough opponents, including the Florida Panthers and the recently dominant New Jersey Devils twice each. There will be a pair of road trips, one through the Southeastern USA and the other through the metropolitan New York area.
From a win/loss perspective, the Oilers should be aiming to upkeep the 2:1 ratio they have going. They can rely on their stars, but we should see a new cast step up over the course of the month if their success is to continue.
Photo by Curtis Comeau/Icon Sportswire