Canucks Gameday Preview: Edmonton Oilers – 10/12/22

Don’t look now Vancouver Canucks fans, but the 2022-23 regular season is about to begin! The journey to the playoffs kicks off at Rogers Place later tonight as Elias Pettersson and company will take on Connor McDavid and the Edmonton Oilers for the second straight year. Last time, the campaign started on Oct. 13 and saw Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Quinn Hughes score goals to tie the game 2-2, only to see Kyle Turris seal it in a shootout for an Oilers 3-2 win.

Vancouver Canucks Gameday Preview Quinn Hughes, J.T. Miller, Thatcher Demko and Bo Horvat

The last meeting between these two teams came in the final game of the 2021-22 season, which coincidentally ended up as another 3-2 shootout loss for the Canucks. Bruce Boudreau’s squad will be looking for something different this time around as they hope for a stronger start with him holding the reins instead of Travis Green. With that, let’s take a look at some storylines for both teams in this opening night matchup.

3 Storylines: Vancouver Canucks (0-0-0)

Can Kuzmenko & Pettersson Continue Their Strong Performance From the Preseason?

Since Andrei Kuzmenko joined the Canucks in training camp, he has been paired with Pettersson. The chemistry between them was evident almost immediately from the first preseason game against the Seattle Kraken as Pettersson set Kuzmenko up for his first goal on the power play with a perfect saucer pass for a tap-in.

Related: Canucks’ 3 Up, 3 Down: Boeser Return, Stillman Trade & More

Kuzmenko looks like the real deal early on, so it will be interesting to see if he can translate that preseason success to the regular season. Hopefully, it starts in Edmonton with his first NHL goal, which will most likely be assisted by Pettersson on the power play or via his shot which has already proven to be lethal to opposing goaltenders. Just ask Karel Vejmelka, as he was victimized by it on a breakaway in the Canucks’ final preseason game.

Is This the Beginning of a Vezina Trophy Campaign for Demko?

Last night on the New York Rangers and Tampa Bay Lightning broadcast and in his 32 Thoughts column, Elliotte Friedman predicted Thatcher Demko to win the Vezina Trophy over most experts’ odds-on favorite Igor Shesterkin. That’s a huge vote of confidence for the Canucks netminder who just came off his best season in the NHL where he put together a 33-22-7 record and a career-best 2.72 goals-against average (GAA). For what it’s worth, I also predicted that same result on the Blue Note Podcast’s 2022-23 season preview episode alongside my colleagues Mike Meyer and Ethan Carter.

Thatcher Demko Vancouver Canucks
Thatcher Demko, Vancouver Canucks (Photo by Derek Cain/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Demko hasn’t fared too well against the Oilers in his career, but not many goaltenders do when they face the likes of McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. Nevertheless, he is ready to take the next step in his development this season as he believes he had an “OK year” in 2021-22.

“…I mean, as a player, you’re always striving to hit new levels. I think you can definitely look back and admit that you had a great year — if you did. For me, sure, it was a step. But I definitely thought that there were stretches where I could have been better. I expect a lot more from myself this year. I’m not disappointed in last year, but I’m also not satisfied with it.”

That sounds like a man ready to break out and enter the Vezina Trophy conversation, not just in the top 10 (he finished seventh in voting last season), but amongst the finalists. That journey begins tonight in Edmonton.

First Game for Newcomer Riley Stillman

Tonight will also mark the debut of Riley Stillman in a Canucks uniform after being acquired from the Chicago Blackhawks last week. Wearing No. 61, which has been worn by only two other players in franchise history (Nic Petan, and Evan McEneny), he will attempt to start his stint with Vancouver off with a bang. Known for his physicality and propensity to block shots, his addition will make the club harder to play against, and along with Kyle Burroughs on the right side, a very mean bottom-pairing to help contain the talent of the Oilers’ elite top-nine.

3 Storylines: Edmonton Oilers (0-0-0)

Calder Trophy Push for Dylan Holloway?

Dylan Holloway appears ready to be an impact player in the NHL. After appearing in one playoff game last season where he spent a grand total of 3:27 on the ice, he is set to start the 2022-23 season alongside a three-time 100-point man in Draisaitl. If he manages to stay there all season, that’s a perfect recipe for a Calder Trophy if there ever was one.

Dylan Holloway Edmonton Oilers
Dylan Holloway, Edmonton Oilers (Photo by Jonathan Kozub/NHLI via Getty Images)

Holloway already has had success against the Canucks – albeit in a preseason game – scoring a hat trick in the Oilers’ 7-2 dismantling of what you can only describe as the Abbotsford Canucks on Oct. 3. It remains to be seen if he can have that sort of impact against the full power of Vancouver’s lineup, but since Draisaitl has a habit of torching them in the past (17 goals and 43 points in 38 games), odds are Holloway will be potting his first in the NHL tonight.

New Goaltending Tandem of Campbell & Skinner

The Oilers will be unveiling a new goaltending tandem in Jack Campbell and Stuart Skinner this season, two netminders that don’t have a ton of experience against the Canucks. In fact, Skinner hasn’t even played a regular season game against them yet. Campbell, on the other hand, has three games to draw upon – most recently in a game back on March 5, 2021, where he allowed five goals en route to a 6-4 loss.

Related: Oilers Goaltending Tandem Gets the Great One’s Seal of Approval

The Oilers hope that isn’t a sign of things to come tonight as he will face all three players that scored on him: J.T. Miller, Brock Boeser and Tanner Pearson. Regardless, after dealing with the up-and-down nature of Mike Smith and Mikko Koskinen’s performances in previous seasons, the crease should be more secure with Campbell and Skinner taking the reins in 2022-23.

Massive Stanley Cup Expectations Going Into 2022-23

Almost everyone in the hockey world is tabbing the Oilers to break through the proverbial wall and not only make it to the Stanley Cup Final this year but also win their first championship since 1990. The Colorado Avalanche denied them that chance in 2022 when they swept the Western Conference Final and eventually raised the Cup after a 4-2 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Connor McDavid Evander Kane Edmonton Oilers
Connor McDavid and Evander Kane of the Edmonton Oilers celebrate a goal (Photo by Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images)

Despite McDavid dominating the playoff landscape with 10 goals and 33 points in 16 games, a combination of their goaltending and defence wasn’t a match for the Nathan MacKinnon-led Avalanche. Now bolstered in one of those areas going into the 2022-23 season along with a full season of Evander Kane riding shotgun with No. 97, they have as good of a chance as any team of winning it all by the time the door closes on the playoffs in June.

Projected Line Combinations, Defence Pairings & Starting Goaltenders

Vancouver Canucks

Tanner Pearson – J.T. Miller – Brock Boeser
Andrei Kuzmenko – Elias Pettersson – Nils Hoglander
Vasily Podkolzin – Bo Horvat – Conor Garland
Dakota Joshua – Nils Aman – Curtis Lazar

Quinn Hughes – Luke Schenn
Oliver Ekman-Larsson** – Tucker Poolman
Riley Stillman – Kyle Burroughs

**Reported by Ian MacIntyre that Ekman-Larsson was missing from the morning skate. We will have to see if he’s in the lineup come puck drop tonight.

Thatcher Demko started two games against the Oilers last season and came away with an 0-1-1 record with a 1.99 goals-against average (GAA) and .941 save percentage (SV%). In 11 career games, he has a 3-7-1 record with a 2.84 GAA and .918 SV%.

Morning skate forward lines per Harman Dayal on Twitter; Defence pairings from practice on Tuesday per Brendan Batchelor on Twitter

Edmonton Oilers

Evander Kane – Connor McDavid – Jesse Puljujarvi
Dylan Holloway – Leon Draisaitl – Zach Hyman
Ryan McLeod – Ryan Nugent-Hopkins – Warren Foegele
Brad Malone – Devin Shore – Derek Ryan

Darnell Nurse – Cody Ceci
Brett Kulak – Tyson Barrie
Ryan Murray – Evan Bouchard

New goaltender Jack Campbell started one game against the Canucks last season with the Toronto Maple Leafs where he allowed five goals on 28 shots. In three career games, he has a 1-1-1 record with a 3.03 GAA and .886 SV%.

Morning skate lines per Jason Gregor on Twitter

Canucks Next Game: Oct. 15 @ Philadelphia Flyers (0-0-0)

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