The Edmonton Oilers just finished busting out of a six-game losing streak and appear to be back to playing the type of hockey that made them successful at the beginning of the season. The team battled through injuries and adversity, and the poor play of late displayed some of the team’s glaring issues that remain regarding the team’s roster construction. The Oilers will need to ask Santa for a few key pieces in order to continue to find success this season and make a deep run for the playoffs. If the Oilers are on the nice list this season, hopefully, Santa will be able to deliver everything the team is asking for on this Christmas Wish List.
Rest, Recovery, and Good Health
This seems like it will be the top priority on all 32 NHL teams’ wish lists because of the growing concerns about COVID-19 and how many players are being affected by it. Aside from those general concerns, the team battled through multiple injuries over a significant stretch of games and forced rookies into prominent roles. The team’s defense corps was returning to full health just before Christmas, getting back Darnell Nurse, Duncan Keith, and Slater Koekkoek, but much of the team is now in COVID protocols.
Mike Smith, the team’s expected starting goaltender, has missed the majority of the season thus far due to injury, forcing Mikko Koskinen and Stuart Skinner to man the crease. The team is without some notable players due to COVID protocols (which team isn’t these days), but they are also without versatile forward Zach Hyman, who is out with an upper-body injury. Getting players like Smith and Hyman back will allow the opportunity to give Koskinen some rest and boost to the top-six forward group.
Legitimate Third Line Center
The Oilers thought they found their third-line center when they signed Derek Ryan over the offseason, but that has not been the case so far this season. After being given the opportunity to take on that role, he conceded the job to 22-year-old Ryan Mcleod, who played with the Bakersfield Condors in the American Hockey League at the beginning of the season.
Although McLeod is performing better than Ryan, he still is not producing, scoring only three goals with no assists through 18 games played. In a similar fashion, Ryan, through his first 26 games as an Oiler, has scored just two goals also with no assists to go along with a minus-10 rating. It’s one thing to not be providing offense, but to not be helping your team defensively like Ryan is expected to do is more concerning.
McLeod is still inexperienced, and it appears Ryan is more suitable for a fourth-line role which enhances the need for General Manager Ken Holland to address the third-line center spot. The Oilers need someone who is solid enough defensively but able to chip in and provide depth scoring to help Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. This is surely an area that needs to be addressed in order to give the team a chance to be successful come playoff time.
Number One Goaltender
Despite Mike Smith re-signing during the offseason after his strong showing in the 2020-21 season, he does not appear like he will be able to take on the same workload he did a year ago. Skinner is the best goaltender currently on the roster based on statistics, despite playing fewer games than Koskinen and his losing record of 4-5-0 through nine starts this season.
Despite Koskinen’s struggles last season, he should continue to carry the majority of the starts this season until Smith returns. After a strong start in 2021-22, his numbers are beginning to plummet. He now owns a 3.16 goals-against average and .902 save percentage with a 12-6-0 record through 17 starts. Koskinen’s numbers are returning to mediocrity, and his old concerns beginning to arise. It’s no secret that he does let in some questionable goals that change momentum in games. While Skinner may very well be the long-term answer in the crease, he is not ready to assume that role just yet.
For a team like the Oilers that is expecting to compete now and take a run at the Stanley Cup, a competent and reliable goaltender is a necessary addition. General manager Ken Holland should be actively looking to bolster the goaltending position via trade as the season progresses closer to the trade deadline after he failed to address this area of the roster in the offseason.
Top-Six Winger Before the Trade Deadline
This is an area that the Oilers need to address, considering the minimal contributions they are receiving from Kailer Yamamoto. Considering the opportunity he is given to play on the team’s second line alongside skillful offensive players like Leon Draisaitl and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, his production is not up to snuff.
He is still only 23 years old, but his five goals and two assists through the first 29 games played this season leave him tied with defensive defenseman Cody Ceci for 11th on the team in scoring. That is just not good enough for anyone playing in a top six-role on a potent offensive team like the Oilers.
His one-year, prove-it contract that he signed over the offseason worth $1,750,000 is working against him right now, and if he continues playing like this, he won’t earn himself much of a raise, if any at all. The contract makes him an easy candidate to be pushed down the lineup if the Oilers can work out a way to bring in a better option to provide scoring help on the team’s second line. In order to get a deal done, the Oilers could give up extra assets in order to bring down the salary of the player they’re acquiring. And with the way Yamamoto is performing, it should be seriously considered.
Depth Scoring Contributions
This is a major area of concern for the Oilers because they lack scoring help after their top players. This is something they struggled with last season as well, although players like Hyman and Jesse Puljujarvi are helping to close the gap and providing support. After that, though, there is a significant drop-off that’s making it difficult for the team to win games when McDavid and Draisaitl aren’t at their best. The only two players in the bottom-six forward group that contributed double-digit scoring through 29 games are Zack Kassian and Warren Foegele. The fourth-line players like Colton Sceviour, Kyle Turris, Tyler Benson, and Brendan Perlini are giving the team next to nothing in terms of offensive production.
Head coach Dave Tippet gave multiple opportunities to several different bottom-six players to claim a full-time spot in the lineup, which is causing him to use a rotation-based approach. The problem with rotating players in and out of the lineup is the lack of consistency and chemistry players can develop as opposed to if they knew their role on the team day in and day out. However, the constant rotation is warranted considering only two players in the bottom-six forward group have amassed double-digit points through the Oilers’ first 29 games.
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Getting contributions from throughout your lineup is a key aspect in ensuring the team is competitive in both the regular season and playoffs. It is hard to trust your bottom two lines on the ice if they are largely ineffective most of the time, and the Oilers need to find a combination of players who will start to contribute or hope the ones they have can step up.
Santa Needs to Deliver for the Oilers
If Santa can’t grant the Oilers all these wishes on their list, hopefully Ken Holland will be able to by addressing some of these concerns through the trade market. If the Oilers can get some of the things on their wish list, they should see drastic improvements to the team’s play and place in the standings. Hopefully, they end up on Santa’s nice list this year and get rewarded for their hard work and receive exactly what they need for this holiday season.
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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.