The Edmonton Oilers will have a different starter in this year’s playoffs compared to their previous run, and barring something completely unexpected, it’s not the goalie anyone expected it to be in the offseason. Stuart Skinner appears set to take the crease in Game 1 when the Oilers open the Stanley Cup Finals this year. This comes off the back of the Jack Campbell signing, where he was expected to be the guy through the remaining years of the existing McDavid and Draisaitl contracts.
Based on recently deployment, the Oilers have decided that Skinner is their guy, at least for the remainder of the season. With Skinner being a rookie, his NHL sample size is restricted to his 42 games played this season and to the 13 he played last year, with no playoff appearances over that stretch. These games at the major league are likely the best indicator for how he will fair against NHL shooters but some players thrive under the pressure of the playoffs while others shrink in the spotlight. Here’s an examination of Skinner’s past performance in the playoffs and if it gives any clues to how he might do.
Skinner’s time playing minor hockey
Breaking on to the scene with the South Side Athletic Club (SSAC), Skinner played on some stacked team Bantam AAA teams. His first Bantam team featured three other future NHL draft picks in Giorgio Estephan, Tyler Benson and David Quenneville. The team was a juggernaut, finishing first in the Alberta Major Bantam Hockey League (AMBHL) with 55 points in 33 games.
Skinner more or less split the net with goalie partner Matt Berlin through the regular season, but ended up playing all 11 playoff games, losing once on route to the provincial title. During this span, his goals against average of 2.60 was nearly identical to the 2.59 from the regular season while the saver percentage dipped from .910 to .900.
SSAC would end up falling 3–0 to a Burnaby Winter Club squad featuring future pros Mathew Barzal, Adam Musin, Ty Ronning, Dante Fabbro and Ty Schultz in the Western Canada Bantam Championship, but Skinner showed he had the mental fortitude to hold up in playoff situations, even as a first year.
While Estephan would graduate to Midget, SSAC added future Oiler James Hamblin in the 2012–13 season along with a bevy of other players that would end up playing junior and college hockey. The Southside squad improved on their results from the previous season, moving up to 60 points in 33 games.
Skinner improved to a .929 save percentage and 1.75 goals against average over 21 games in the regular season before taking off with a .947 SV% and 1.45 GAA in the 11 playoff games he played on route to a second straight provincial title. The only loss they suffered during this run was to a Sherwood Park team led by Sam Steel and Carter Hart. SSAC would not be denied a second time, winning the Western Canadian Bantam championship in the 2012–13 season.
During Skinner’s first year Midget, SSAC did not have a great team, missing the playoffs entirely. It did not appear to be at the fault of Skinner, who posted a .916 SV% before immediately graduating to the WHL following the conclusion of the minor hockey season.
The Oilers’ current starting goalie showed even in minor hockey that he was able to elevate his game and win in the playoffs.
Transition into junior hockey
Skinner had been pegged as a junior hockey standout right from Bantam. He was the only goalie drafted in the first round of his WHL Bantam Draft, and the Lethbridge Hurricanes gave him starts even as a 15-year-old. The Edmonton product did not disappoint. He played 43 games in his rookie season, going 13–20–5 with a .909 SV% and 3.69 GAA with one shutout for a struggling Hurricanes squad that ended up missing the playoffs.
He improved even more in his draft year, improving to a 27–10–1 record with a .920 SV% and three shutouts, leading the Hurricanes to a Central Division title. However, Skinner and his teammates would struggle come playoff time, losing to the Wildcard Seed Regina Pats 3–1 in a best of 5. This is the lone rough playoff season for Skinner, as he held an 0.862 SV% in the series.
Skinner would completely take over the Hurricanes crease int he 2016–17 season, starting 60 out of 72 games. His metrics sank a bit during the regular season, but he was up to the task in the playoffs, climbing to .916 SV%. During this playoff run, Lethbridge would beat Red Deer in Game 7 to advance past the first round, followed by topping Medicine Hat in Game 7 overtime to move to the Eastern Conference finals. Their run would come to an end when they played Regina for the second straight year, falling in six games to the squad led by Sam Steel and Adam Brooks, both of whom had 100+ points during the campaign.
The final season of Skinner’s junior career started off tough, where he earned just a .897 SV% in his first 31 games with a beat down Lethbridge squad. He was traded to the contending Swift Current Broncos prior to the deadline, where the team was in desperate need of goaltending. Skinner delivered, posting a 16-6-2 record backed by a .914 SV% in the regular season, then elevating even further to a .932 SV% in 26 games, helping win the WHL Championship. This run was capped by outdueling fellow Edmonton area product Carter Hart in the finals, as the Broncos topped Hart’s Everett Silvertips in six games. Swift Current would struggle at the following Memorial Cup, but this hasn’t been an anomaly for the WHL winners due to the extra travel they face in their league.
Getting into the pros with AHL Playoffs
When Skinner first pro season did not go as planned. He struggled with both the Bakersfield Condors and Wichita Thunder, who were the Oilers’ ECHL affiliates at the time. Skinner ended up spending most of his time in the coast, posting a .903 SV% in 41 games while he an .879 SV% in 6 regular season cames with the Condors. Come playoff time, start Shane Starett was struggling, leaving the door open for Skinner. The rookie seized the opportunity, going 2–1 in 4 games with a .918 SV%.
Skinner would spend the majority of his time with Bakerfield the following season, where the Condors would miss the playoffs again in part to the struggles of the goaltending, including Skinner’s sub .900 results. However, the following season is where Skinner would really take off, He started 31 of 42 games, playing with little rest after returning from Edmonton where he made his NHL debut and backed up Mikko Koskinen after Mike Smith was injured prior to the opener.
He posted a .914 SV% in 31 games with a 20–9–2 record along with two shutouts. He followed this up with a .907 SV% in the playoffs, beating Anaheim’s affiliate in the San Diego Gulls 2–1 before eventually winning the Pacific Division playoff with a 2–1 series defeat over the Henderson Silver Knights, who are Vegas’ affiliate. This included outdueling current Vegas netminder Logan Thompson, who was named AHL goalie of the year for the pandemic-shortened season.
Skinner split the 2021–22 season between Edmonton and Bakersfield, playing the vast majority of the games when he was in California. He led the Condors with a .920 SV% in 35 games played compared to a new highest save percentage of .893. Come playoff time, Skinner posted a .911 SV% in five starts, which included sweeping the Abbotsford Canucks before falling to the first place Stockton Heat.
Skinner has the skills
Stuart Skinner has routinely been “the guy” for his teams come playoff time. He’s shown that he not only has the ability to elevate his play in the postseason, but he has the ability to keep pace with some of the league’s best goalies and teams. Perhaps most importantly for the Oilers moving forward is the fact that Skinner has won big games when they matter most. Based on Skinner’s regular season results so far and his playoff track record, the Oilers and their fans should have confidence that their rookie starter will be able to handle the load once the games truly matter in April.
Photo by Derek Cain/Icon Sportswire