Now that the season is over and the offseason has slowed down, it is time to reflect on the season that was. Over the next few weeks, we will be giving out grades and analysis on each player who played 19 games or more for the Edmonton Oilers in the 2022–23 season.
Overall, the season can be looked at as a success. Although the ending was disappointing, the Oilers finished the season with a 50–23–9 record, a total of 109 points. The first time they’ve hit 50 wins since 1986–87 and the most points since 1985–86. Things are looking promising for Edmonton’s competitive window, even though they only made it to the second round of the playoffs this season.
Plenty of players had noteworthy campaigns individually, either positively or negatively. Today let’s look into the 2022–23 campaigns for Darnell Nurse, Derek Ryan, Jesse Puljujarvi, and Klim Kostin.
Darnell Nurse: B
The negatives to Darnell Nurse’s overall performance are well documented, in fact dominating the discourse of his evaluation. To reduce our understanding of what Nurse brings to the lineup would be a disservice to objective analysis, however.
Yes, it’s true that Nurse makes about $1-2M more than one would like, and the length of the deal has some wondering that it might be a more burdensome contract by the end of the deal. It’s also true that Nurse had a few erroneous moments that resulted in goals against through some giveaways or lapses in coverage. In the salary cap world of the NHL, this is a perfect storm for increased criticism, even ire from certain portions of the fan base.
Still, it should be remembered that Nurse brings a lot to the ice. Once again Nurse was the Oilers leader in icetime, if only barely after the Mattias Ekholm and Evan Bouchard pairing took shape. Nurse still managing to command these minutes while paired with Cody Ceci shows us just how impactful Nurse is. He holds up nicely relative to an Ekholm-Bouchard pairing that has two players complementing each other and are held up in an esteem similar to Nurse’s—if not thought of as better players than Nurse outright by some. It might be more true for Nurse than most players, that with a bit less of a cap hit and a more favourable defence partner perception of his play would be vastly different.
The grade of B here indicates that Nurse lived up to what we should expect of him quite squarely, a minute-munching top pairing defender at even strength, a solid second power play option, and a capable second penalty kill option. The Oilers penalty kill did leave something to be desired in 2022–23, and having Ekholm, a more natural top penalty kill option, will do well to improve the group, easing the load on Nurse, and better maximising Nurse’s effectiveness overall.
Derek Ryan: B
The seemingly ageless wonder known as Derek Ryan defied our knowledge of the aging curve once again in 2022–23. Ryan might well have earned a grade of B in all of his NHL seasons, as nothing much has been expected of Ryan as an NHLer. Yet here we are, eight seasons into his NHL career with Ryan as one of the stronger bottom-six forwards on the team. At age 36, Ryan put up consistent offensive totals compared to his career average. Though his 20 points scored in 2022–23 were less than the 22 he scored in 2021–22, his 13 goals were the most he’s scored in a season since 2018–19 with the Calgary Flames.
Naturally, Ryan is a depth piece on the Oilers, and won’t have as big an effect on the game as several more of the Oilers better players. Still, his contributions were noteworthy, most of all jumping up to the third line down the stretch of the regular season and the playoffs, forming a formidable trio alongside Ryan McLeod and Warren Foegele. Most armchair coaching lineups would have had flashier names with higher upside in such a role, but the truth is that Ryan was the best option when the moments loomed largest.
At a $1.2M cap hit, one year into the two year pact, this is fair enough value for the Oilers. At the signing of the deal, some might well have bemoaned its length, even criticising Oilers GM Ken Holland. Though there might well be some merit to such criticisms, Ryan has more than done his part, continuing to be a valued and regular contributor to team success.
Jesse Puljujarvi: C
It seems, for now at least, that the saga between Jesse Puljujarvi and the Oilers is over. While the journey has had more than its share of twists and turns over the years, let’s focus in on what was Puljujarvi’s final season with the team.
The upside of Puljujarvi has always had its merits, from a stellar junior career, a high draft pedigree, outstanding defensive impacts, as well as a strength as a forechecker that is becoming a more valued skill league wide. To this effect, Puljujarvi was also at his most truculent role n 2022–23, using his size to his advantage, throwing hits, and fighting more than ever before. The problem is that the negatives have always been quite evident as well, with a visible lack of both agility and scoring touch, Puljujarvi has often left more to be desired on the ice. This has likely exacerbated some confidence issues, either within himself or his coaches, if not many corners of Oil Country at large.
This season was no different, as Puljujarvi failed to produce consistently enough to warrant a top-six role. At a $3M cap hit, this was quite simply untenable for the Oilers, who used the cap space of offloading Puljujarvi to afford Ekholm. Since being moved on from, Puljujarvi hasn’t exactly disproven this evaluation either. Puljujarvi was outside of the Carolina Hurricanes regular lineup in the playoffs, and underwent another offseason double hip surgery. Like many injured UFAs, Puljujarvi remains on the market, and it’s hard not to think that these lingering hip issues haven’t played a factor over the years, especially in regards to his agility.
For now, and throughout his time with the Oilers last season, Puljujarvi remains a forechecking specialist best suited for third line minutes, though his pedigree and contract set the scene for more. By the measure of all involved it was a disappointing season for Puljujarvi, though he would still make a smart addition for an NHL team at the right price.
Klim Kostin: B+
The discrepancy between Puljujarvi and Klim Kostin’s grades are representative of some curious similarities and key differences between the two: big power wingers who were formerly first-round draft picks. Kostin’s stock was never quite as high as Puljujarvi’s, though there was still some hope that Kostin could develop into an impactful NHLer. Both fizzled out of the organisations that drafted them last season, though Kostin was moved on from a few months earlier, acquired from the St. Louis Blues in an early season trade for Dmitri Samorukov.
Far less accomplished than Puljujarvi, Kostin had stalled out on the Blues, only able to earn 11 points in 46 games across three seasons in the NHL, while producing less than outstanding AHL results. Everything changed for Kostin after being traded to Edmonton, with nearly everything going as well as could be hoped for from both player and team.
Kostin, like Puljujarvi, was a physical presence. Unlike Puljujarvi, however, Kostin shot the lights out, posting a 19.6% shooting percentage, good for 11 goals in his 57 games as an Oiler. Call it luck, call it scoring touch, but this key difference, along with their cap hits at the time, and current health status, might be the biggest advantage that Kostin had over Puljujarvi last season. This could also be why one remains unsigned and the other earned a raise, after Kostin was traded to the Detroit Red Wings.
While both players bring a rare combination of size and skill, and in a vacuum Puljujarvi might be the better player, Kostin earns a far better grade because of the expectations each were operating under during the 2022–23 season. Whether it was a career season for Kostin, or an outright change in his overall career trajectory, it must be acknowledged that Kostin exceeded all expectations.
Photo by Curtis Comeau/Icon Sportswire
More player grades: Part I