This NHL season is again shaping up to be anything but normal as teams navigate schedule changes while dealing with players in and out of COVID protocol on top of the usual injury issues that create roster flux.
Like so many of their rivals, the Edmonton Oilers have felt the wrath of the 2021-22 season has wreaked havoc on their roster. They haven’t played their 30th game yet, and already the Oilers have used 30 players. That number could grow when the Oilers return to action on Wednesday (Dec. 29) against the St. Louis Blues as defenseman Dmitri Samorukov is set to make his NHL debut.
On Sunday (Dec. 26), Samorukov, 22, became the ninth player to be called up from the Bakersfield Condors. Seven of those players began their season in the American Hockey League, three of whom had no prior NHL regular-season experience.
Edmonton’s active roster includes defensemen Samorukov, Philip Broberg (also recalled on Boxing Day), William Lagesson (recalled Nov. 19), forwards Ryan McLeod (Nov. 8) and Brendan Perlini (Dec. 14); and goaltender Stuart Skinner (Oct. 20). Blueliner Markus Niemelainen (recalled Nov. 30) is on injured reserve, while forwards Cooper Marody and Seth Griffith were both called up earlier this month but have since been reassigned to the Condors.
The Oilers have racked up more air miles flying between Edmonton and California than they would have liked, but their call-ups have performed much better than expected, in some cases even outplaying the players they’re filling in for.
Niemelainen, Broberg Highlight Defensemen
Before landing on injured reserve on Dec. 17 with a fractured hand, the 23-year-old Niemelainen was a revelation, providing the Oilers with the physicality that they were missing. In just seven games, the 6-foot-5, 205-pound Finn racked up and 36 hits and nine blocked shots. Niemelainen, who made his NHL debut Dec. 1 in Edmonton’s 5-3 victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins, ranks first on the team in hits per game (5.1) and is second only to shot-blocking king Kris Russell in blocks per game (1.3).
Broberg and Lagesson were simultaneously recalled when veteran rearguards Duncan Keith and Darnell Nurse were both moved to injured reserve on Nov. 19. During his first stint with the Oilers, the 20-year-old Broberg played eight games. He had a terrific NHL debut, recording an assist and registering a plus-1 rating in Edmonton’s 5-2 win against the Chicago Blackhawks on Nov. 20, but was pointless and posted a negative rating in each of the seven games since.
After averaging nearly 20 minutes in his first four appearances, Broberg played less than 12 minutes per game in his last four. He was sent down to Bakersfield on Dec. 14 and subsequently had a pair of strong outings for the Condors before his latest recall. Lagesson, who appeared in 27 games for the Oilers between 2019-20 and 2020-21, has been in and out of the lineup. The 25-year-old has suited up seven times, logging 13:17 minutes per game. Among Edmonton blueliners, he ranks first in Fenwick (58.1%) and is second to Nurse in Corsi (56.9%).
McLeod, Perlini Highlight the Forwards
Only three weeks ago, Perlini was on waivers. The veteran of five NHL seasons was pointless and managed just six shots in 13 games before the Oilers assigned him to the Condors on Dec. 7. He went down to Bakersfield, had two goals and 12 shots in two games, and was quickly recalled when McLeod went into COVID protocol on Dec. 14. In two games since returning, Perlini has one goal, one assist, and nine shots and has helped the Oilers win consecutive games following a six-game losing streak.
McLeod, 22, who made his NHL debut last spring, also started the season in Edmonton but lasted only two games before being sent down to the AHL on Oct. 19. In the time since being recalled, he’s appeared in 13 games and scored the first three goals of his NHL career. He is now out of protocol and could play against St. Louis.
Marody and Griffith were pressed into action in Edmonton’s 5-3 road win against the Seattle Kraken on Dec. 18, after three forwards – McLeod, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, and Devin Shore – all entered protocol in a span of three days. Both had prior NHL experience but have spent most of their pro careers in the AHL but gave Edmonton exactly what they needed: half a dozen minutes each of steady play in the bottom six, with Marody chipping in an assist. Both were reassigned on Dec. 20.
Skinner Makes A Name for Himself
By far, the biggest impact from the Bakersfield bunch has been Skinner, who was called up after starting goalie Mike Smith got hurt on Oct. 23 in the season’s third game. No one expected him to be around this long, but as Smith’s recovery has dragged on and veteran goaltender Mikko Koskinen has proven less than reliable, the 23-year-old has stepped up and provided a few quality starts. He’s 4-5-0 with a .916 save percentage, and his 2.70 goals-against average is significantly better than Koskinen/Smith’s combined 3.15 GAA.
As the NHL season pushes forward amid so much uncertainty, organizational depth will continue to be tested. However, the Oilers can take comfort in knowing they have players ready to answer the call when needed.
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Brian is an Edmonton-based sports writer and broadcaster. His experience includes working as a sports reporter for the Edmonton Sun, where he covered the Edmonton Oil Kings 2013-14 Memorial Cup championship season.