Oilers Need to Make Key Improvements in the Second Half

The famous line from the movie Forrest Gump, “life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re gonna get” might be the best way to summarize the Edmonton Oilers’ 2022-23 season. You just never know what you’re going to get from this team on any given night.

Edmonton Oilers Bench
Edmonton Oilers Bench (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

After a recent closed-door, players-only meeting following a humiliating home loss to the Seattle Kraken on Jan. 3, the Oilers came out with one of their best performances of the season in their next game beating the New York Islanders 4-2 two nights later. With an important four-game road trip coming up all against Pacific Division opponents, the Oilers are going to need to play some of their best hockey of the season in order to move up in their division.

Oilers are a Team Still Searching for an Identity

Who are the 2022-23 Oilers? Are they the strong, defensive-minded, tight-checking squad that went all the way to the Western Conference Final last season? Or are they back to being the Oilers from the decade of darkness – where fans’ expectations were crushed almost on a nightly basis? They might be somewhere in between at the moment, and that’s disappointing for a franchise that was gifted the generational talent of Connor McDavid in the 2015 NHL Draft.

What Do the Oilers Need To Gain Traction in 2023?

Trade suggestions and rumours to improve the Oilers’ defence seem to come up on a daily basis. Jakob Chychrun is often the first name that comes up when the question is asked about who could help the Oilers immediately. But he might not be what the team needs right now. Other names that have been suggested include Joel Edmundson, Luke Schenn, Jake McCabe and Mattias Ekholm.

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You have to believe that Oilers general manager (GM) Ken Holland along with assistant GMs Brad Holland and Keith Gretzky are having weekly, maybe even daily meetings with the Oilers’ pro scouting staff to try and bring in the right pieces to help the team. But GM Holland is a patient man, as he’s proven time and time again, so fans might not be able to expect a move until the trade deadline on March 3.

Who Do the Oilers Move to Improve the Team?

That’s another big question in Oil Country. It almost seems like a foregone conclusion that fan favourite Jesse Puljujarvi will be gone, either at the trade deadline or in the offseason. Other names mentioned have been Kailer Yamamoto, Philip Broberg and even Evan Bouchard. Their first-round pick in the upcoming 2023 NHL Draft could also be in play. Part of the reason they should be desperate to make a significant move is that time is running out, and they need to win while McDavid and Leon Draisatil are in their primes. If you have some pieces or even prospects that could strengthen the team, it might be prudent to pull the trigger on a trade that’ll help the Oilers’ chances of not only making the playoffs this season but also going on another lengthy run in the postseason.

Improvements in Oilers’ Goaltending Could Be Key To Success

Stuart Skinner has already proven he’s ready for prime time by grabbing the starters position from Jack Campbell. However, Campbell has been showing small signs as of late that he might be turning the corner on what’s been a disappointing season so far.

Stuart Skinner Edmonton Oilers
Stuart Skinner, Edmonton Oilers (Photo by Lawrence Scott/Getty Images)

If Campbell can continue to scratch and claw his way into being the goaltender deserving of his offseason contract, and Skinner continues his strong play, the Oilers will have a strong goaltending tandem which could truly benefit the team in the second half of the season.

Oilers Need to Make the Playoffs and Go On a Run to Satisfy Their Fans

It’s make-or-break time for this team, especially during the McDavid era. The franchise needs to do everything it takes and go all-in this season to help the team not only make the playoffs but go on another magical playoff run. Is it realistic to think the Oilers can climb the Pacific Division standings and move past the Kraken and Los Angeles Kings? Yes, because the talent is there. Can the Oilers reel in the division-leading Vegas Golden Knights? That might be a pipe dream at the moment, but crazier things have happened.

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The Oilers have the talent to not only make the playoffs but also make some noise in the postseason dance. If Evander Kane can find his form when he returns from injury that’ll only help the team more. But no one, not even Kane is sure what will happen. You could actually say that for the whole team, who have a chance to redeem a mediocre first half of the season with a strong performance down the stretch.