Though the Edmonton Oilers have several positives so far this season, this article will take a closer look at the other side, with three disappointing players through the first 25 games of the season.
Not everything has gone right, as the team’s 14-11-0 record indicates. Those not contributing much to the success of the team are Jack Campbell, Jesse Puljujarvi, and Kailer Yamamoto. Campbell was expected to be the starter this season and maintain the numbers he has had throughout his career. There was hope that Puljujarvi would break out of his offensive slump by now, and Yamamoto has failed to do anything offensively when healthy. Here’s a look at how they have done and how they can contribute more moving forward.
Leading things off is Campbell, the most important of the three players who have disappointed this season. Expectations were high after he signed a five-year, $5 million average annual value (AAV) contract to bring stability to the Oilers’ net. That has not been the case, and some have even started to miss Mike Smith.
Campbell has had a rough start to his tenure in Edmonton, going 7-6-0 with a 4.12 goals-against average (GAA) and a .872 save percentage (SV%). He has had four quality starts for a .308 quality start percentage (QS%), much lower than the league average .53 QS% and what is considered bad (.5 QS%). He has had five really bad starts (RBS) this season, which is finishing a game below a .850 SV%; he had 10 in 47 starts last season and two in 22 starts the season prior.
There are a couple of reasons why Campbell is having trouble. First is the pressure of being paid a starting goalie’s salary. Until now, he hasn’t earned more than $1.675 million in a season, which likely pushed him to perform at his best to earn his paycheque.
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Campbell could also still be adjusting to a new system and a different style of defensive play. The defense hasn’t helped him out a ton with poor coverage and lots of chances. Regardless, he needs to come up with the big save sometimes and stop letting in soft goals. He has lots of time and less pressure now that Stuart Skinner has been able to step up and take over the net. But considering Campbell had a .916 SV% with the Toronto Maple Leafs and a .918 SV% with the Los Angeles Kings, he should be able to turn things around. Hopefully, the turnaround will come sooner than later, and this start is likely an anomaly in an otherwise solid career to this point.
There’s something wrong with Puljujarvi’s game that no one can seem to figure out. It’s not for lack of trying, seeing as he’s getting the opportunities many nights. Not only has he had a number of high-danger scoring chances, but he’s played in the Oilers’ top-six while the forward group is banged up.
With five solidified top-six players when fully healthy, the roster only has one open spot. Puljujarvi and Yamamoto were the two top candidates to fill that role, considering the seasons they had in 2021-22. Puljujarvi started last season great, the way he should have played with the best player and point-producer in the NHL, Connor McDavid.
The Finnish forward had six goals and 13 points in the first 11 games of 2021-22 and 10 goals and 23 points in the first 28 games of the season. There was a little decline over that stretch of games, but that was to be expected since he wasn’t considered a point-per-game player. The drop-off was much worse than that after he returned from injury.
In the 78 regular season and playoff games since that hot start, he has just seven goals and 22 points. Those numbers are not worthy of top-six minutes. Puljujarvi plays a strong defensive game and forechecks with high efficiency, so he would be best utilized on the third line (from “Player grades: McD and Drai massive again as Edmonton Oilers beat Montreal Canadiens,” Edmonton Journal, Dec. 3, 2022). But even so, the Oilers are cap strapped and need to see some offensive production from their role players. The way things are headed, the Oilers don’t have room and may have to part ways with him within the next year, and a change of scenery might be best for both sides at this point.
The other young forward, Yamamoto, has also disappointed this season. He played in the top-six for most of his games this season (13 GP) and managed to assist on three goals. Having spent almost all of his games with the league’s top two scorers, it’s a wonder that he managed to produce such little offence. He needs to start shooting more as well, since 15 shots in 13 games aren’t going to cut it or help get him out of his offensive slump.
Before his injury, Yamamoto was demoted from the top two lines to give others a chance to produce in that role. Not for a lack of trying, but he just wasn’t playing at the same level as last season when he scored 20 goals and 41 points. However, he is finally back in the lineup and skating on the top line. Maybe a little time off and a new opportunity alongside McDavid and Leon Draisaitl will ignite him and allow Yamamoto to start picking up some of the slack for the role players. He has proven to be a better finisher than Puljujarvi, and the Oilers should start to see some more production from him soon.
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I have confidence that at least two of these three players will turn things around. If not, and the struggles continue for a long period of time, changes may be coming.