After a very entertaining and successful 2021-22 season, the Edmonton Oilers are looking to go even further. The Oilers have made the Stanley Cup Final only once (2006) since their last Cup championship in 1990. The greatest trophy in sports has also not been raised by a Canadian team since the Montreal Canadiens in 1993. However, the Oilers should be among the favourites to hoist the Cup in 2023, and here’s why.
Contributing Players on Entry-Level Contracts
Every team needs a handful of players to outperform their contracts, even if they are entry-level deals. The Oilers have the opportunity for some of their younger players to step up and play big roles, including Evan Bouchard, Philip Broberg, Stuart Skinner, and possibly Dylan Holloway.
Bouchard broke out in his first full NHL season in 2021-22 and gave the Oilers a legitimate offensive threat from the blue line at just $863,333. With a full season of mentorship under coaches Jay Woodcroft and Dave Manson, Bouchard should only get better. The ceiling is very high, and his defensive game should round into form soon enough. The Oilers will need to take advantage of the final year of the young defenceman’s entry-level deal before he is paid significantly more.
Edmonton is also hoping Broberg pops off the same way that Bouchard did last season. That way, the Oilers would have two years of a young and talented defenceman on his entry-level deal, contributing largely to the success of the team. Broberg will have an opportunity to succeed if he performs. The Oilers won’t be afraid of moving Brett Kulak to the third pairing, where he was extremely effective last season and giving Broberg extra responsibility up the lineup. This will allow him to play top-four minutes in his rookie season. He may also see some time on the second power-play unit with Duncan Keith’s retirement.
Oilers general manager Ken Holland has finally found a goaltending tandem with no constraints, and it has allowed Skinner to finally graduate to the NHL. The 23-year-old goaltender outperformed both Mike Smith and Mikko Koskinen when he got his shot and had a very good season in the American Hockey League (AHL). The home-grown, hometown goalie will get his chance to backup Jack Campbell and give the Oilers a great 1-2 punch in net this season.
As for Holloway or even Xavier Bourgault, they could bring scoring to the forward group, given the opportunity. It is no guarantee that either will make the Oilers right away, but will likely see some games in the NHL at some point in 2022-23 and showcase the team’s future (from ‘Lowetide: Are Oilers prospects Philip Broberg, Dylan Holloway NHL-ready?,’ The Athletic, June 20, 2022).
Oilers Are Over the Hump
It took the Oilers 10 seasons to get back to the playoffs after their 2006 Final appearance. The team looked promising in 2017 when they almost advanced to the third round before things blew up in their faces in the seasons to follow. Bad contracts took their toll, and it was two more seasons of struggle and a new general manager before the Oilers were built back up and ready to compete.
The first obstacle the Oilers had to overcome once qualifying for the playoffs was to make it out of the first round. The shortened 2019-20 season messed with the Oilers’ chances at a higher seeding and forced them into the play-in round. They were stunned, and as the highest seed in the play-in round, were eliminated by the Chicago Blackhawks 3-1. It didn’t get any easier the following season in 2020-21 when the Oilers were swept by the Winnipeg Jets after losing three of the games in overtime.
Last season, the Oilers almost suffered a first-round exit for a third consecutive season before Connor McDavid put the team on his back. The Oilers advanced past the Los Angeles Kings and Calgary Flames to make it to the Western Conference Final for the first time since 2006, and it was a major step forward. It gave the organization confidence that the dark days may be over, and the team has only gotten better from there.
Oilers Upgraded Heavily This Offseason
Not to be outdone by the Calgary Flames this offseason, the Oilers had a stellar offseason that saw many important pieces to last season’s success return. The Oilers brought back possibly the best finisher McDavid has had as a winger in his career besides Leon Draisaitl. Evander Kane returned on a great deal to help the Oilers reach the promise land. The team also re-signed Kulak for four seasons at a very cheap price considering the market this offseason for defensive defencemen. He will play where the Oilers need him at five-on-five and have a big effect on the penalty kill.
The Oilers also re-signed Kailer Yamamoto and Jesse Puljujarvi at a fair price short-term, and both could break out. Ryan McLeod, the other restricted free agent, should have a short-term contract soon enough.
But the most exciting signing is Campbell. The Oilers finally have a starting goaltender for the next five seasons. Though he may not be as experienced as other goalies his age, his career has been impressive. Edmonton hasn’t had a legitimate starter since Cam Talbot in 2016-17 and could have used some big saves last postseason. That’s an area Campbell could have helped with. He has already gone through adversity last season with Toronto and is ready for a fresh start this season.
Oilers Stars Performed in Playoffs
Despite losing in the third round of the playoffs, the Oilers had the top-two scorers in the 2022 postseason. McDavid led the NHL with 33 points, and Draisaitl was right behind with 32. They put up points almost every game and set a few records. Draisaitl was the MVP against the Flames in Round 2, and in Game 3, he recorded four assists in the second period to set the NHL record for most assists in a single playoff period and tied the NHL record for most points in a period.
Draisaitl wasn’t the only Oiler setting records. Kane scored a hat trick in that same game when Draisaitl assisted on all of his goals. It was the fourth time in franchise history a player has scored three goals in a single playoff period. Kane also recorded five multi-goal games in the first two rounds on his way to 13 playoff goals.
That’s not all. Zach Hyman enjoyed playoff success for the first time and scored 11 goals in 16 games. Seven of those goals came during a six-game goal streak where he was unstoppable in the second round. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins also put up six goals and 14 points in 16 playoff games and contributed offensively and defensively on special teams. There’s no reason to think that with their core and the young players who continue to improve, the Oilers can’t replicate their playoff performance in 2023.
Oilers Are Offensive Juggernauts
Not only did the Oilers finish seventh in the NHL in regular-season goals last season, but they’ve also gotten better. Kane will be with the team for an entire season and will surely add to that total. The team is also expecting even more from Yamamoto, Puljujarvi, and McLeod, while Bouchard’s ceiling is very high.
Edmonton will always be a threat with McDavid and Draisaitl on the roster. McDavid won his fourth Art Ross Trophy last season with 123 points. That point total led second place by eight points while playing 80 games. At just 25 and after a stellar playoff performance, many believe he hasn’t reached his full potential yet. As for Draisaitl, he is now a two-time 50-goal scorer and has reached the century mark in points three times in the past four seasons. He has one Art Ross Trophy to his name and will continue to challenge for the Rocket Richard Trophy, Art Ross Trophy.
The Oilers still have Bouchard, Darnell Nurse, and Tyson Barrie on their roster, all are offensive threats from the blue line. Nurse has scored 10-plus goals in a season twice in his career and scored 16 goals in 56 games in 2020-21. Though his power-play time is limited with Bouchard and Barrie on the team, he receives a ton of ice time and contributes at five-on-five for a much improved Oilers team in that regard. Bouchard led the Oilers’ defence in goals and points last season and should see more power-play time and ice time this season. Barrie led all defencemen in the NHL in points just two seasons ago and plays on one of the best power plays in the league. Add rookie Broberg to the mix along with the underrated offensive production of Cody Ceci, and it is a special group.
Throw in a number of core wingers who can easily put up 50-plus points, and the Oilers will be among the top scoring teams in the NHL in 2022-23. They should be a lock to make the playoffs, but with the experience many players gained after a successful 2021-22 season, expectations are very high, and it could be their year.
Rob Couch is a THW freelance writer covering mainly the Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames. He covers everything you need to know about fantasy hockey. He will also keep you up to date with NHL Stats News and trade talks.
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