Edmonton Oilers: 4 Major Questions Heading Into 2022-23

The 2022-23 season is going to be one of high pressure for the Edmonton Oilers. After a fantastic 2021-22 campaign in which they advanced to the Western Conference Final, they are expected to do just as well in the coming year, if not better. Working in their favor is the fact that general manager Ken Holland had himself a very solid offseason, locking up a starting goaltender in Jack Campbell while also bringing back players such as Evander Kane and Brett Kulak on team-friendly deals.

Related: Virtanen PTO May Indicate Oilers Closer to Puljujarvi Decision

From an optimist’s perspective, there is plenty to be excited about in regard to this Oilers squad. That said, there are questions needing to be answered that will help determine just how successful they have the opportunity to be in 2022-23. Without further ado, here are four questions surrounding the Oilers right now.

When Will McLeod Be Signed?

After busting onto the scene and establishing himself as an everyday player in 2021-22, Oilers fans were penciling in Ryan McLeod as the team’s third-line centerman all summer long. Despite his underwhelming 21 points in 71 outings last season, people who watched this team on a regular basis understand how well he played night in and night out. The offense will continue to improve for the recently turned 23-year-old, making him a great option to indeed center the third line. However, there is just one issue.

Ryan McLeod Edmonton Oilers
Ryan McLeod, Edmonton Oilers (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

As we near the end of September, McLeod does not yet have a contract in place and remains a restricted free agent. Even with training camp getting underway this Wednesday, there has been little talk from the media surrounding any potential contract discussions, meaning there isn’t much of an idea as to when this matter will get resolved. Until it does, it is likely that Ryan Nugent-Hopkins will be viewed as a third-line centerman rather than a winger alongside Leon Draisaitl.

Will Either PTO Be Successful?

Early in the week, the Oilers announced the signings of both defenseman Jason Demers and forward Jake Virtanen to professional tryout offers (PTOs). Both have lengthy playing history at the NHL level in the past, but the question is, do either have a shot at impressing Holland enough to earn a deal?

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Virtanen’s story has been well documented in the past few days. Signing him to a PTO was met with plenty of scrutiny, and that will only continue if he does indeed earn himself a deal. He likely wouldn’t bring much offense to the table despite the player he profiled to be years ago but would add physicality to the bottom six. He last appeared in the NHL as a member of the Vancouver Canucks in 2020-21 and put up five goals in 38 games.

As for Demers, his signing hasn’t been nearly as discussed. The 34-year-old was unable to find work in the NHL last season, and as a result, had a brief stint in the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) while also getting the opportunity to suit up for Team Canada at the Winter Olympics. The stay-at-home defender had just four assists in 41 games with the Arizona Coyotes in 2020-21.

Who Will Be Traded?

Once both Mike Smith and Oscar Klefbom are placed on long-term injured reserve, the Oilers will still be slightly over the maximum allowable salary cap. That in itself wouldn’t work out, and is even more of a problem given the previously mentioned fact that they need to work out a deal with McLeod. It has been well noted that a trade needs to happen, and likely will in the coming weeks if not days.

The majority of the fanbase believes that Warren Foegele should be the man sent packing. He underwhelmed in his first season as an Oiler with 12 goals and 26 points, and would free up more than enough space if moved given his $2.75 million cap hit. That said, according to everything discussed by media in recent days and even months, he doesn’t appear to be the likely candidate.

Instead, the player who seems to be most likely heading out of town is Jesse Puljujarvi. The 24-year-old started out fantastic in 2021-22, but was very frustrating in the second half after being hit with COVID. For whatever reason, the fit between the team and player has never been a great one, which is rather disappointing given all the intangibles he possesses. His cap hit comes in slightly higher than Foegele’s at $3 million.

Jesse Puljujarvi Edmonton Oilers
Jesse Puljujarvi, Edmonton Oilers (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

One other potential trading option that has been discussed is Tyson Barrie. After an outstanding 2020-21 season in which he led all NHL blueliners with 48 points, he regressed in 2021-22 after being forced to battle Evan Bouchard for power play time. His $4.5 million cap hit would free up the most money for the Oilers, though trading him with no salary heading back the other way isn’t likely.

While the main reason for Holland to make a deal is to ensure he has room to sign McLeod, it would also prove beneficial for Virtanen and Demers. The Oilers would then have the money to sign one, or perhaps both, to league minimum deals if they see fit.

Which Young Prospect(s) Will Make an Impact?

One of the more exciting things for the Oilers heading into training camp will be to see how their young prospects perform. After years of struggles due in large part to poor drafting, this organization has changed things around in a big way on that front and as a result, has a number of prospects who appear to have solid NHL futures ahead of them.

Some of those young prospects, in fact, may be ready to make an impact as soon as this season. Philip Broberg is expected to start the year with the big club, while other defensemen in Dmitri Samorukov and Markus Niemelainen may earn that right with a solid camp. As for forwards, Dylan Holloway appears to be NHL-ready and has many believing he will earn a spot with the Oilers. There is also Xavier Bourgault who may be able to sneak his way into the fold.

In net, barring any surprises, Stuart Skinner will be backing up Jack Campbell. The 23-year-old proved in a brief showing last season that he is NHL-ready, and is the first successful homegrown goalie the Oilers have had in some time.

Oilers’ Stanley Cup Window is Now

In recent seasons, it was apparent to everybody that the Oilers had a talented team, though not many thought of them as a Stanley Cup contender at the time. That has changed in a big way as of late. Not only are Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl continuing to get better, but as mentioned previously, they have a number of young prospects that will soon be pushing for NHL jobs. While it won’t come easy in a Western Conference that features teams such as the Colorado Avalanche and the revamped Calgary Flames, the Oilers Cup window is officially open and should continue to remain so over at least the next few seasons.

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