The Edmonton Oilers have been on a roll since our last Oil Check going 5–1–0 with the biggest win of the season occurring in Boston. The only loss was to the Toronto Maple Leafs on Hockey Night which was still fun to watch as the Oilers built up a 3–1 lead only to lose 7–4. It was a classic Entertaining Game Oilers Lose (EGOL) if I ever saw one!
The Oilers recovered though winning all three games last week in convincing fashion to currently sit third in the Pacific Division with 86 points and only 6 points away from #1 Las Vegas and 4 points from #2 Los Angeles–both of whom they play in this upcoming stretch of games.
Oiler forwards are healthy
The forward group has returned to full health allowing coach Jay Woodcroft to deploy the classic 12F–6D lineup which has been rare this year due to injuries. Having Evander Kane and Kailer Yamamoto back from injury has not only bolstered the top six but the entire forward group.
The Kane–Connor McDavid–Zach Hyman line is a dynamic line that can outwork you, score highlight reel goals or both. The work ethic from Hyman and power forward ability from Kane are excellent complementary wingers for McDavid. It is a shame that Kane has missed half the season due to injuries but his hat trick on Saturday afternoon versus the Seattle Kraken was worth the wait.
With Yamamoto returning we have also seen the return of the three amigos, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Leon Draisaitl, and Yamo, on the second line. This line is fun to watch especially when they have the puck or are forechecking in the o-zone. Their ability to battle, cycle, and wear out their opponents is second to none. The work ethic, passing, and finish ability of these three are quite impressive and has been ever since Dave Tippett tried them out only to favor Draisaitl and McDavid on the same line. It almost seems unfair to call them the second line as line 1B sounds more appropriate.
Kane and Yamamoto returning has meant the move to a better suited bottom six role for Warren Foegele, Klim Kostin, and Mattias Janmark. Add Nick Bjugstad from the deadline and the bottom six has truly been solidified. There is still the possibility of any of these forwards moving up the lineup due to injury or performance and thanks to injuries earlier in the season they all have experience playing those minutes.
After the deadline I forgot Devin Shore changed his number and at first I didn’t recognize him as he looks taller wearing #19. Maybe his play has improved since the beginning of the season to now but I must say the new number suits him much better than #14 did.
Bouchard promoted, Broberg demoted
The addition of Mattias Ekholm has brought balance to the Oilers defence group. Evan Bouchard now has the proper mentor to help the young defender grow into a bigger role on the team. With Tyson Barrie gone, Bouchard can also now run the top power play in the league and gain valuable experience going forward. The cost to acquire Ekholm was hefty, but the return on investment has been fair already and will pay dividends going forward. Ekholm’s first goal as an Oiler was a beauty!
Bouchard moves up while Philip Broberg moves down to the seventh spot as Vinny Desharnais has passed him on the depth chart. Desharnais has been a great story and pleasant surprise on the backend. Each game I see his confidence growing and Woodcroft has not been afraid to use him in key situations late in games either. At 6’6” he has an huge wingspan reminiscent of Zdeno Chara. I don’t want to put any undue pressure on his development but any time a dman reminds you of Chara, it’s worth noting.
That’s not to say that Desharnais has not had his moments as early on he did take a couple bad penalties battling in front of the net. However, he showed restraint by not taking the instigator when the Oilers had a lead against Dallas; instead he took his lumps and ended up bringing one of the Stars snipers to the box with him.
Broberg being passed by Desharnais does not mean we have to throw the baby out with the bathwater, far from it. Broberg is only 21-years-old and is still has room to grow into his true NHL potential. Especially when you consider Bouchard is only 23, which is why Broberg being the seventh defenceman is a good thing as it allows him to practice, travel with the team, and available in case of injury.
Brett Kulak was moved down to the third pair with Ekholm’s arrival and I think it’s fair to say the Kulak–Desharnais/Broberg pairing is the best third pair the Oilers have had in a long time. Kulak is now the shortest Oilers defenceman at 6’1”. While height isn’t everything, it is what you would prefer when all else is equal, especially when selecting defencemen.
It will be interesting to see how the 3rd pair is deployed in the playoffs. Will they be good enough to lighten the load on Darnell Nurse and Cody Ceci? Aside from Ceci this is the most balanced defence group the Oilers have had in a while and the more they spread the minutes around the better.
Skinner takes on the role of starter
It’s Stuart Skinner’s world and we’re just living in it. It’s clear that he has become the Oilers #1 netminder as Jack Campbell was unable to keep the consistency he found in January. Skinner went 5–1 in the last six games and while not perfect, he has made the saves when he needed to and kept the Oilers in games with a steady presence. This is exactly what the Oilers need from their goalie as they do not have any shutouts this year and prefer to out score their opponents.
It will be interesting to see how many starts Campbell gets down the stretch as there is only one more back to back left. Call it a hunch but I have a feeling this season could boil down to a call by Woodcroft to start Campbell when no one expects it and he steals a game in the playoffs.
What the near future holds for the Oilers
The Oilers play six games before our next Oil Check. Three of those games are potential playoff match ups against the Golden Knights twice and Kings once. The other games are against two of the current bottom four teams in the Western Conference playing Arizona twice and San Jose.
This stretch of games will be determined by how they play against L.A. and Vegas. If they consider themselves to be contenders then they need to win two of those games. They should win all three against the teams out of the playoffs but it is the NHL and you can forgive one off night. With that said, 8 out of the next 12 points is possible and considering the way the Oilers are playing right now, I wish the playoffs were starting this week.
Photo by Curtis Comeau/Icon Sportswire