Fans of the Edmonton Oilers can’t wait for the season to get started. After their best playoff run since 2006 followed by a successful and efficient offseason, optimism is riding high in the Alberta capital. And why not? Oilers general manager (GM) Ken Holland along with assistant GMs Brad Holland and Keith Gretzky had what many have deemed a successful free agency period signing goaltender Jack Campbell, forward Evander Kane and defenceman Brett Kulak.
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Holland also locked in head coach Jay Woodcroft for three more years. The building blocks that Holland has been assembling especially halfway through the 2021-22 NHL season are coming together. With the 2022-23 NHL regular season just around the corner, here are 10 reasons why the Edmonton Oilers should be considered Stanley Cup contenders in 2022-23.
1. Connor McDavid
Every conversation pertaining to the Oilers’ success begins and ends with their captain. Not only did Connor McDavid win the Art Ross Trophy for the fourth time this past season with 123 points, he also led the playoffs in scoring despite only playing three rounds.
At the age of 25 years old, McDavid is in his prime, and after stepping up and leading the way for the Oilers in their recent playoff run, you know he’s hungry for more.
2. Leon Draisaitl
The second-best player in the world, who often doesn’t get the credit he deserves, Leon Draisaitl is now just 26 years old and continues to get better every season. In the 2022 Playoffs, Draisaitl finished in second place in scoring, one point behind McDavid, and he did it on one good leg after suffering what could’ve been a playoff-ending injury in the first round against the Los Angeles Kings.
The only one craving more team success within the organization than Draisaitl could be McDavid. Look for another big season from him.
3. A Strong Group of Veterans
It’s been 16 seasons since the Oilers have had this deep of a team. Led by veterans Darnell Nurse, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Zach Hyman, Kane, Kulak and Cody Ceci, this is the best line of talent the Oilers have seen in a generation.
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Barring injuries or career slumps, this line of veteran Oilers can give fans a legitimate reason to believe going into the 2022-23 NHL season.
4. Oilers Boast a Good Young Core
Only four players out of what can be considered the main core of the Oilers is over the age of 30, and it’s not by much. Both Hyman and Campbell are 30 years old while Tyson Barrie and Kane are only 31. When you consider a group of players such as Evan Bouchard, Kailer Yamamoto, Ryan McLeod, Stuart Skinner and Jesse Puljujärvi are all under 25, and throw in the 25-year-old McDavid and 26-year-old Draisaitl, you have to admit it’s a promising core. Fans are still waiting for breakout seasons from Yamamoto and Puljujärvi, and though they’ve shown promise, this could be the year.
5. Oilers Head Coach Jay Woodcroft
On Feb. 10, 2022, Jay Woodcroft replaced Dave Tippett as head coach of the Oilers after a 4-1 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks and he never looked back. Woodcroft brought fresh thinking and a swagger to the team, and this carried the Oilers all the way to the Western Conference Final in the 2022 Playoffs. What Oilers fans got in those five months was a small sample size of what Woodcroft and assistant coach Dave Manson are capable of. Now that Woodcroft has been re-signed for the next three years, fans are excited to see what he, Manson and the staff can do in the season ahead.
6. Oilers Goaltending
Based on how both Campbell and Skinner have been trending, Oilers fans should feel good about their goaltending heading into the 2022-23 season. Campbell was signed for five years and may be the starter for the next two or three seasons. Fans can expect Skinner to compete for the No. 1 position.
Skinner could be the true wildcard here if he shows signs of matching the performance of young goaltenders such as Jake Oettinger of the Dallas Stars, the Oilers’ goal crease will be in good hands for years to come.
7. Oilers Management Team
The Oilers’ management group blends the best of the new NHL with good old-fashioned hockey sense. Brad Holland, who was coveted by other teams in the offseason, chose to sign with the Oilers. He brings an analytical approach to the front office to complement the experience of his father Ken. Meanwhile, Keith Gretzky will continue to guide the fortunes of the Oilers farm team, the Bakersfield Condors. Gretzky’s contributions to the Oilers and building their farm system has gone under the radar for many years, but he’s definitely made a difference in helping turn the fortunes of the organization around.
8. Oilers’ Young Prospects
The Oilers’ cupboards have been restocked with prospects that look like they’re ready for prime time. Prospects such as Philip Broberg, Markus Niemelainen, and Dylan Holloway will be competing for spots with legitimate chances of making the opening day roster. The organization also boasts winger Carter Savoie, defenceman Dmitry Samorukov and young sniper Xavier Bourgault, who all may see action with the Oilers this season. Fans should tip their hats to former GM Peter Chiarelli, who really started to turn the Oilers’ farm system around. The club is truly reaping the rewards of his initial work.
9. Tradable Assets
The subject of who the Oilers should keep and who should be traded has been one of the most debated topics on sports pages and sports radio over the offseason. With Ryan McLeod still remaining unsigned, the Oilers will need to look at shedding some salary in order to get under the salary cap. Barrie and Warren Foegele seem to be the two names that come up most prominently when it comes to trade talk and reducing the salary cap. However, you can’t rule out the possibility of either Yamamoto or Puljujärvi being packaged in a trade as well, especially on the short-term bridge contracts both players recently signed.
10. The Oilers and Their Fans Are Starting to Believe
Belief has been in short supply in Oil Country over the past decade or so, but it doesn’t feel that way now. The Oilers seemed to have turned a corner in the 2022 Playoffs and gained valuable experience and belief that they have what it takes to get to the promised land. Realistically though, the Colorado Avalanche and the incredible Cale Makar still stand in their way, but hockey is an unpredictable game. You just never know. That’s why the 2022-23 NHL Season is going to be fun to watch if you’re an Oilers fan. They may have the talent, the chemistry and the right people steering the ship to get them sipping out of the Stanley Cup in 2023.