The Edmonton Oil Kings season gets underway on Sept. 22nd with the first of back-to-back games against the Red Deer Rebels. After a tough 2022-23 season that saw little to no success in their win column, the Oil Kings will be looking to bounce back and find success after a number of moves they’ve made during the off-season. The team finished with just 24 points as a team last season, having only 10 wins, four overtime/shootout losses, and a whopping 54 losses through 68 games. They finished dead last in their division, 42 points behind the Swift Current Broncos, as well as 16 points behind the Spokane Chiefs, who were second last in the entire league.
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The team went into rebuild mode last season. They traded away the rights to star Dylan Guenther and Jordan Ramsay to the Seattle Thunderbirds for a massive return of draft picks and prospects, traded the rights to Luke Prokop to the Thunderbirds, and also moved Logan Dowhaniuk to the Moose Jaw Warriors in exchange for Nathan Pilling and a draft pick. It was a huge change up for the Oil Kings, but they’ve had a strong track record with rebuilding fast and improving their roster shortly, thereafter, so this should be a much stronger season for the team.
They brought in some fresh faces in Aidan Litke, Marc Lajoie, and Ty Nash, who will all play massive roles with the Oil Kings this upcoming season and have three players (Pilling, Lajoie, Vojtech Port) who are attending NHL camps and will likely come back to play big roles with the team. On paper, the Oil Kings have a very strong roster and one that will be very fun to watch. Looking ahead to puck drop with a week until the new WHL season starts, here are three players to watch going into the 2023-24 season, who I would expect to have massive breakouts.
Cole Miller – 18 Years Old, Forward
Cole Miller was one of the stronger Oil Kings’ forwards last season, playing through one of the toughest seasons the team has had in years. He is coming off his first full season in the WHL, having scored 10 goals and adding nine assists for 19 points through 61 games. During the 2021-22 season, he did play 48 games, scoring nine goals and adding seven assists for 16 points after starting out the season with NAX U18 Prep in the Canadian Sports School Hockey League (CSSHL), where he had nine assists through five games.
He’ll likely be a top-six forward again this season but will have some new weapons around him. He is a natural playmaker, who is able to make plays that not a lot of guys can make. He sees the ice really well and is able to lead a rush to help his teammates earn scoring opportunities. I expect a massive breakout season for Miller, who I can truly see reaching the 30-35 point mark. He will likely see some power-play time, and based on his strong performance so far during pre-season, he is bound to continue improving stats-wise, as well as all around the ice at even strength.
Aidan Litke – 20 Years Old, Forward
Litke is entering his third full season of WHL hockey and was acquired by the Oil Kings this off-season. He played the previous two seasons with the Portland Winterhawks and earned a reputation as an offensive machine. Winterhawks fans seemed to love Litke, so for the Oil Kings to go out and grab a veteran guy to help lead the way offensively, he seems like the kind of player every single team in the league would want on their team. Through 123 games with the Winterhawks, Litke scored 31 goals and added 36 assists for 67 points, which comes out to a 0.54 points-per-game average.
I believe Litke will be top two in scoring with the Oil Kings in the 2023-24 season. That’s not to put any pressure on him to perform, but I think he has the skill to lead the way offensively. He seems to have a knack for putting the puck in the net, as well as being able to find plays for his teammates to finish off. He will be a huge factor to the Oil Kings’ success this season as one of three overage players the team can have.
Vojtech Port – 18 Years Old, Defenseman
Port was drafted by the Anaheim Ducks in the sixth round of the 2023 NHL Entry Draft at 161st overall. While getting drafted wasn’t entirely expected, it was well deserved. He is viewed as an offensive blue-liner who doesn’t sacrifice his defensive game to jump up and create plays for his teammates. At 6-foot-2, 168 pounds, he has some height that he uses to his advantage, and he has a powerful skating stride for a tall guy. Watching Oil Kings games last season, he immediately stood out as one of their best players.
He is coming off of his first season in the WHL, where he played only two games with the Red Deer Rebels, where he got no points, but joined the Oil Kings for 46 games. In those games, he scored four goals and added 13 assists for 17 points, and will be looking to improve that this season when he returns from the Ducks’ rookie camp. This season, Port has already played with Czechia’s U20 team, scoring one goal through four games.
All three of these players will be massive factors to the Oil Kings’ success this season. The team has made the right moves and built around the right guys in order to have a chance at making it back to the playoffs. While it may still seem like a long shot, they are a much better team with much more skill than last season, and I’m confident they can prove they aren’t just all hype.