After a flurry of offseason transactions for an Edmonton Oilers team that fell short of expectations last season — suffering a sweep at the hands of the Winnipeg Jets in last year’s playoffs — they are out to prove their doubters wrong after a strong preseason showing. The Oilers went 6-1-1 through eight preseason games, suffering a regulation loss to the Jets, and an overtime loss to the Seattle Kraken. There has been an abundance of internal competition for players to earn roster spots and the newcomers have settled in nicely to their new home and roles for the most part. With the Oilers 2021-22 season opener on the horizon, it’s time to dissect the themes and takeaways from an action-packed preseason for the new-look Oilers.
Oilers Goaltenders Stand Tall
One of the Oilers’ biggest concerns heading into the 2021-22 season was their goaltending, after the team elected to bring back the same tandem as last season. General Manager Ken Holland re-signed Mike Smith to a two-year deal worth $4.4 million instead of diving into free agency to fill his needs between the pipes.
Mikko Koskinen, on the other hand, is entering the final deal of his contract, will earn $4.5 million this season, and has left the Oilers and their fans wanting more bang for their buck after an underwhelming 2020-21 season. Despite the inconsistency of Koskinen, and health concerns of Smith, the tandem has answered the bell in the preseason both playing extremely well.
Smith and Koskinen expect to split duties in the crease to some capacity, however the third goaltender job still remains up for grabs after the Oilers were made aware at the beginning of training camp that Alex Stalock will likely miss the entire season.
“At the end of the year we did a physical. Then he went home, he went in to have additional tests. And through these additional tests he found out that he maybe has some kind of a heart condition.”Oilers GM Ken Holland
Cue the emergence of Stuart Skinner as the Oilers’ third goaltender on the team’s depth chart. He has only played one NHL game, which came last season, and did not go well for the 22-year-old netminder. He did, however, put up career-best numbers last season for the Bakersfield Condors in the American Hockey League.
Prospect Ilya Konovalov also provided flashes of strong play in limited preseason action after posting a 9-7-2 record with a 2.29 goals-against average (GAA) and .923 save percentage (SV%) for Lokomotiv Yaroslavl in the Kontinental Hockey League last year. Despite his efforts, Konovalov will begin the 2021-22 campaign in the American Hockey League and make his professional hockey debut in North America for the Bakersfield Condors.
Oilers Goaltenders 2021-22 Preseason Stats
|Mike Smith||Mikko Koskinen||Stuart Skinner|
The Oilers’ high-powered offense has never been an issue, and will likely remain that way as long as McDavid and Draisaitl are on the roster, however, the question marks for the team were between the pipes. Each of the three goaltenders stood tall throughout the preseason, and look like they can provide a sense of stability heading into the season.
Oilers Bottom-Six Forwards Provide Depth Scoring
In past seasons, Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl have shouldered the bulk of the load in terms of providing the offense with little contributions from the remaining areas of their lineup. With this in mind as an area that needs improvement, Holland used the offseason to revamp his bottom-six forward group in the hopes of finding additional scoring to provide a more balanced offense.
Derek Ryan and Brendan Perlini were brought into the fold via free agency, and the team added Warren Foegele to the mix via trade, before signing forward Colton Sceviour to a Professional Tryout Agreement. All three of these players were key contributors to the team during the preseason while getting an extensive look throughout the preseason.
Perlini may come as the most surprising of the bunch, with his seven points in six games played, with six of those points coming as goals. The recent development surrounding Josh Archibald’s heart condition has opened a door for Perlini to play his way into the lineup on a regular basis and his preseason showing went well enough to warrant it becoming a reality. Sceviour is also helped by this situation and the inconsistent play of Ryan McLeod, who is also waiver exempt has also helped his case to get a contract with the team this season.
Newcomer Derek Ryan is strong in his own zone, and reliable on the penalty kill and in the faceoff circle, while also being able to chip in offensively. He will be a staple in the team’s bottom six this season. Turris has had a much better start in the preseason after a miserable showing during the 2020-21 campaign, and is up to four points through six preseason matches after posting five in his 27 regular-season appearances last season. Despite his efforts, he was placed on waivers and assigned to the minors with several other players at the end of the preseason although he remains a strong candidate to be recalled.
While Foegele and Kassian have been “okay” in the preseason, there is still more expected from both payers moving forward, especially since both expect to be contributors on the team’s third line. Kassian may still be working on getting up to speed and back into game shape after his injury last season, while Foegele may still be adjusting to a new life and system after coming over from Carolina.
Oilers Depth Forwards 2021-22 Preseason Stats
|Brendan Perlini||Derek Ryan||Colton Sceviour||Kyle Turris||Devin Shore||Warren Foegele||Zack Kassian|
Despite many of these depth forwards being put in bigger roles, and getting larger time-on-ice in the preseason than they are expected to play once the regular season begins, it is nice to see contributions on the scoresheet. The fact that the majority of this group has been positive in the plus/minus category shows that they are reliable in their own zone while also doing their part to contribute offensively, and help close the gap between the scoring of the top-six and bottom-six forward group.
Special Teams Continue to Dominate
Much of the Oilers’ success last season had to do with their league-best power play conversion rate, and they have picked back up where they left off last season. Through eight preseason games, the team has cashed in on 9 of the team’s 31 attempts on the man advantage for a 29.03 percent success rate. Although this is a smaller samples size than the course of the regular season, it is operating at an even better rate than their NHL leading 27.6% conversion rate last season. Bringing back Barrie who was a key piece to improving an already strong power-play unit that already featured McDavid and Draisaitl will help ensure the success rate remains status quo.
The addition of free-agent signing Zach Hyman into the team’s top unit could also help boost its numbers. Hyman is a great net-front presence, and although they have had other players in that role in the past, his tenacity and ability to battle for pucks make him even better than Alex Chiasson — or an aging James Neal — who has been featured in that role in the past. The preseason experiment of Jesse Puljujarvi on the top power-play unit has also been one that has paid great dividends, and could stick moving forward into the regular season.
The Oilers’ penalty kill also improved thus far, operating at an 86.3 percent success rate through eight preseason games. The Oilers finished with the ninth-best penalty kill in the 2020-21 campaign with an 82.5% success rate. The current preseason PK% if maintained throughout the regular season would rank as the second-best penalty kill in the league if compared to the 2020-21 regular season.
Despite the loss of Adam Larsson in the offseason who was a key contributor to the penalty kill last season, the team has not felt his absence as badly as many initially feared. The additions of veteran blueliner Duncan Keith, and Cody Ceci’s experience playing shorthanded, have played key roles in ensuring the penalty kill does not decline from last season.
Depth forwards like Derek Ryan, Warren Foegele, Devin Shore, Kyle Turris, and Colton Sceviour who are tasked with penalty kill duties have also helped maintain the success. If the Oilers can jump into the top five in penalty killing this season, they could find themselves in the winning column even more often than they were last season.
The Oilers are looking to shake off a tough playoff loss, and appear poised to be a top team in a very weak Pacific Division overall. Holland has set the team up nicely over the offseason with his additions, and has addressed major needs and holes in their lineup. They have come as advertised in the preseason with their goaltending, proving their worth, depth forward additions contributing on value contracts, and both special teams continuing to fire on all cylinders. It looks like the organization may have struck it rich with the team they have assembled in what should be a very promising season.
I am a graduate of Seneca Colleges Civil Engineering Technology Program and have turned my obsession for sports into a lifestyle. I have been covering the Edmonton Oilers here on The Hockey Writers since 2019. I love fantasy sports, collecting sports memorabilia and listening to classic rock with a cold one or a coffee in my hand.