While the Edmonton Oilers fell short of their ultimate goal in 2022–23, it was a great season for the team. This performance was indeed achieved as a group, but it was propelled and adorned by sterling individual seasons from a number of Oilers. Leading the charge was, of course, the supreme talents of Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, who in many ways redefined what we deem possible on the ice. Beyond them were several Oilers who enjoyed strong seasons, even career years as the Oilers asserted themselves as perennial contenders.
With that in mind we asked our readers which Oiler is most likely to repeat their stellar performance of last season.
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Nugent-Hopkins 2022–23 may not be replicable
In a distant fourth in our poll, there is clearly some sense of acknowledgement that Ryan Nugent-Hopkins will be hard pressed to replicate his 100-point season in 2022–23. In some ways, this was a bit of an evening out from the hockey gods, as RNH’s overall contributions have oftentimes outweighed his scoring totals over his career.
En route to a significant total, Nugent-Hopkins scored a whopping 46 power play points. Despite the unit truly running through McDavid and Draisaitl, RNH was indisputably a major factor in the Oilers record setting power play. Nugent-Hopkins’ even strength production may lag behind other 100-point scorers around the league, but there are certainly stranger or bolder predictions than to think RNH will score an abnormal amount of power play points once again.
With a long and affordable contract, Nugent-Hopkins would seem to be a major player in the foreseeable future, and so long as he occupies a spot on the top power play alongside McDavid and Draisaitl, we should see significant scoring totals from him. Perhaps 30 goals and 100 points might be too steep an expectation, but 20 and 60 seems a tad modest.
Hyman’s numbers are sustainable
In 2022–23, Zach Hyman finished third with 36 goals and fourth with 83 points for the Oilers. While a point per game might not have been expected when Hyman joined the Oilers as a free agent, a significant number of voters felt that his results are sustainable. Though a rise in scoring league wide helps, as does the Oilers supreme power play, another factor in forging this belief becomes apparent as we examine Hyman’s career arc.
A late bloomer, Hyman saw his impact on the game increase, just as we saw his level of skill increase. Each season, it seems Hyman has added another couple of skilled manoeuvres to his growing arsenal. While a deft touch does lead to more puck control for Hyman, so too does it continue to unlock his ability to read the play, allowing his linemates to flourish in positions of strength.
On the foundation of his dogged work ethic, evidenced in battles along the boards and at the netfront, this heightened level of cerebral subtlety is ageing Hyman like a fine wine. In some ways, Hyman is still developing his game and growing his influence on play. Oiler fans are clearly keen to this, leading to a high degree of certainty that Hyman can replicate a career year at age 33.
Fans have faith in Skinner
Amid Jack Campbell’s early season woes, Stuart Skinner ran away with the starting job in a Calder Trophy worthy performance by the rookie goaltender. With a new contract, an All-Star appearance, and a 50-win team, the hometown Skinner was unblemished in his excellence before the 2022–23 playoffs. This might have been foreshadowed, as Skinner has shattered optimistic projections for at least three seasons straight.
Of course, the playoffs were by no means a disaster from Skinner’s standpoint, winning the first playoff series he was the starter for. Though he was pulled in one game against the Los Angeles Kings, Skinner and the Oilers found more trouble with the Vegas Golden Knights. Campbell, whose early season struggles lingered, was quite solid in relief. Given the increasing usage of goalie tandems to prioritise rest, not to mention Campbell’s history in high leverage moments, it might be fair to question whether or not the Oilers should have rode the hot hand, or given Skinner a rest, if only for a few games.
Still, this might be the closest thing we can find to a speed wobble on Skinner’s upward trajectory over the past few seasons. The world of goaltending is mercurial, if not nebulous, giving credence to Skinner’s consistency to this point. While surely there will be downs in Skinner’s career, there’s good reason to believe that he is capable of even more.
If he is able to replicate his success throughout his contract, his next deal will come with a significant raise, and his reputation will reflect that. Fans around the league might not be overly familiar with Skinner and the potential future before him, but Oilers fans are clearly believers, as evidenced with a significant portion of votes.
Mattias Ekholm: 52%
Just as fans from around the league might not fully understand some of the longer tenured Oilers on this list, so too might Oiler fans have not understood where Mattias Ekholm’s game was when the team acquired him at the 2022–23 deadline. Ekholm was well known circa 2016–17, when his Nashville Predators went to the Stanley Cup Final, but as the Preds floundered into the playoffs bubble in recent years eyes turned elsewhere, to other teams. Of course, it didn’t help Ekholm’s case that he was then into his 30s, an increasingly scrutinised measure for players.
Still, within the first days of Ekholm’s time as an Oiler, it became obvious that he was still at the height of his powers. Looking as fast, strong, and physically imposing as ever, Ekholm brought a defensive ability seasoned with the savvy of experience. Instantly, the entire blueline was transformed, augmented. Evan Bouchard had an optimal partner with which to blossom, the penalty kill had a premier option, the continued forging of a more defensive mentality as a team thanks to what might end up as the best move of Ken Holland’s tenure as Oilers GM.
As far as replicating his play, Ekholm looks to be in top form. An advantage over others on this list is that Ekholm will not have the burden of any specific stat total, an empirical measure of judgement. Instead it will be the feeling of security that fans and teammates alike will feel that Ekholm is measured by, along with overall team performance. The addition of Ekholm took the Oilers blueline from a unit with some good pieces to one of the better groups in the league.
All together it is not entirely surprising to see Ekholm come away as the leading vote getter in this poll. Perhaps it is a matter of being the new shiny toy, but Ekholm has clearly captured the hearts and minds of Oil Country, a great player who embodies the next step in the Oilers journey towards the eternal glory of a Stanley Cup victory.
Photo by Curtis Comeau/Icon Sportswire