We are about two and half months until the 2022-23 regular season begins in the NHL. I know most, like me, are anxiously waiting to see what the Oilers can do this season after their mid-season acquisitions have stuck around. Training camp begins Sept. 11, and we will start to see if there are any surprises or standouts early. Then the regular season kicks off on Oct. 7 with games overseas.
The first game of the Edmonton Oilers’ schedule next season is against the Vancouver Canucks on Oct. 12, and thus starts the road to the Stanley Cup. Just a short time after the 2022 NHL Draft and free agency, let’s take a look at what the Oilers’ roster should look like heading into next season, including the unsigned restricted free agents.
Line 1: Zach Hyman – Connor McDavid – Evander Kane
Connor McDavid is the best player in the league and will always have the top line locked down. Last season, Zach Hyman played a good amount on McDavid’s line in the first half of the season and did very well. Once the lines were stacked up and Evander Kane joined the fold, Hyman was bumped to the second line. He was still able to do a ton of damage at both ends of the ice and his puck-retrieving skills, speed, and finishing ability will continue to work very well on the Oilers’ top line.
Kane played almost exclusively with McDavid when he arrived in Edmonton through the second half of the season and playoffs. He was extremely effective at scoring goals and was that physical and net-front presence the Oilers needed high in their lineup. With how McDavid worked with both Hyman and Kane last season, the Oilers must keep them together in 2022-23.
Line 2: Ryan Nugent-Hopkins – Leon Draisaitl – Kailer Yamamoto
This line combination of Leon Draisaitl centering Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Kailer Yamamoto has more or less been together since Yamamoto made his mark halfway through the 2019-20 season after being called up. He came in with 26 points in 27 games and this trio helped keep the Oilers in contention while McDavid lost games due to an injury.
This trio also became the top line that season and as Draisaitl is expected to centre his own unit since it’s not must-win playoff games anymore, he should have his two most consistent wingers alongside him. Yamamoto scored 20 goals last season and is a very hard-working puck retriever, while Nugent-Hopkins has the scoring and passing ability that works well with Draisaitl’s skillset.
Line 3: Dylan Holloway – Ryan McLeod – Jesse Puljujarvi
This may be a very young line if things work out. As of right now, Jesse Puljujarvi is going to get signed through arbitration and hasn’t been dealt yet. That means he may very well be a part of the Oilers when the season begins. There are arguments for and against moving him, but a third-line role while he rediscovers his scoring touch could do him well.
Puljujarvi would be centered by a speedy up-and-coming Ryan McLeod who took massive steps forward throughout last season and should be the Oilers’ third-line centre for years to come. The left side is where it may get tricky, as Dylan Holloway has only played one game in the NHL and it was the team’s final game of the playoffs last season. I do believe he will make the team out of training camp this year barring any injuries, and he would be most effective playing in a role that isn’t the fourth line. The Oilers could also very well go with a more veteran presence to play with Puljujarvi and McLeod, but that remains to be seen.
Line 4: Warren Foegele – Mattias Janmark – Derek Ryan
Warren Foegele is another name that has been dangled out there in trade talks, but for now, he is still an Oiler. He was less effective later in the season and didn’t see much time in the postseason. He won’t be out of the lineup if the Oilers hang onto him, but should be more effective in a fourth-line role where there is less pressure to put up points.
Mattias Janmark, the Oilers’ newest addition will surely make the lineup and can either play the wing or down the middle, depending on how the team feels about the position of Derek Ryan. Ryan is strong in the faceoff circle but played better on the right wing last season. This could turn out to be an underrated fourth line who could actually put up a decent amount of points throughout the season.
I will mention three players who should be in contention for spots but may not get full-time roles. The first is Tyler Benson who the Oilers once again took a chance on and extended a qualifying offer. He altered his game to play more of a checking role rather than put up points, but with Jay Woodcroft coaching, he may be able to find a bit of a scoring touch that allows him to be effective for them. Devin Shore should be an extra while Greg McKegg has a chance to bounce between the NHL and American Hockey League (AHL) next season.
Pairing 1: Darnell Nurse – Cody Ceci
The top pairing for the Oilers seems to be a lock. Darnell Nurse is the Oilers’ number one defenceman and played best with Cody Ceci by his side. The Oilers tried out all three right defencemen they have on the top pairing and concluded that they played best when Ceci is next to Nurse shutting down top players together.
Pairing 2: Brett Kulak – Evan Bouchard
Last season, Evan Bouchard had Duncan Keith next to him helping with development and Bouchard took huge strides from where the Oilers thought he would be. With Keith retired and Brett Kulak taking a bigger role with the team next season, he should complement Bouchard perfectly and help him focus even more on the offensive side of his game.
Last season Kulak did wonders for Tyson Barrie and they were a very good combo in the playoffs. Barrie became a better defensive player because of it, and the hope is that Bouchard can also benefit from the work and style of play Kulak shows.
Pairing 3: Philip Broberg – Tyson Barrie
Philip Broberg should finally get his shot in the NHL in a full-time role next season and start off easier on the third pairing. He will be beside Barrie who isn’t as much of a liability defensively as he was in the past. The offensive potential between the two should be strong and they will be matching up against weaker competition. Broberg should be given some time to get used to the speed of the game, but we should also see an uptick in offence from him after his very strong AHL season and being paired with the offensively-minded Barrie.
The Oilers haven’t signed a defenceman in free agency that can be their seventh, so it should be between Markus Niemelainen and Slater Koekkoek. Niemelainen is reaching the age where he needs to start spending more time in the NHL than AHL, but he proved he can bring something nobody else on the Oilers’ defence can, and that’s a great amount of physicality. He won’t play as much in the NHL if he’s selected as the seventh defenceman but he should still get his chance to log some minutes. Koekkoek is their other option if the Oilers think Niemelainen would do better getting into more games in the minors.
Jack Campbell – Stuart Skinner
The goaltending was set when Jack Campbell signed in Edmonton. He is being paid starter money and will surely play 50-plus games for the team if he stays healthy. He was an All-Star but struggled afterwards for some time. However, his game did come back before the playoffs began. Stuart Skinner is no longer waiver exempt and is going to be the backup. He played very well in his 13 games last season and had himself a great AHL career proving he is NHL-ready (from ‘Their Stanley Cup window open, the Edmonton Oilers roster enters a new era: 9 Things’, Edmonton Journal, July 17, 2022).
The Oilers signed Calvin Pickard as their third goaltender since they don’t expect Ryan Fanti or Oliver Rodrigue to be called up if one of the goalies gets injured. He will be available if needed but won’t push for a spot over Skinner as the backup in the NHL.
If the Oilers can get Yamamoto, Puljujarvi, and McLeod signed and get contributions throughout their lineup more like they did last season, they will be fine and compete for not only their division but the Stanley Cup once again.