Many preseason polls predicted the Edmonton Oilers would make the playoffs in the 2021-22 season, but very few saw the team achieving a .737 winning percentage by American Thanksgiving. This time of year, the one-quarter mark in the 2021-22 NHL season, gives teams and their fans a healthy indication of whether their team will make the playoffs. Things are looking up for the Oilers despite a rash of injuries to key players including Mike Smith, Darnell Nurse and Duncan Keith.
Draisaitl and McDavid Leading the League in Scoring… Again
Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid are on a tear when it comes to the points race. Draisaitl is currently on course for 50 goals in 50 games, while McDavid continues to add to his personal highlight reel with some of the greatest individual efforts the Oilers’ franchise has ever seen. And that’s saying a lot considering Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier and Paul Coffey all played for the Orange and Blue.
Individual achievements aside, the 2021-22 version of the Oilers have a lot of positives going for them. Young Stuart Skinner is showing a lot of promise in net, and currently boasts a .928 save percentage. He’s going to make it difficult for general manager Ken Holland and the Oilers’ brass, who have some tough decisions to make once Smith returns from the injured reserve list.
Another young player who is also turning heads is smooth-skating defenceman, Philip Broberg, who despite playing fewer than 10 NHL games, is already drawing comparisons to former NHL great Jay Bouwmeester. Broberg, called up from the Oilers’ American Hockey League (AHL) farm team in Bakersfield to fill in for the injured Keith, is making a strong case for staying up in the NHL permanently. Additional positives for the Oilers include the recent play of Ryan McLeod, Cody Ceci and the overall performance of former Toronto Maple Leaf Zach Hyman, who despite a dip in goal scoring recently, has added the right amount of energy and sandpaper to the Oilers’ top-nine forward group.
There’s Always Room for Improvement
Ask any of the fans on Twitter what’s wrong with the Oilers, and you could spend weeks reviewing their answers. You see everything from Ryan Nugent Hopkins needing to score more, to Jesse Puljujärvi needing to stay on the top line. This isn’t a perfect team, but it’s also one that is just a few key players away from being a perennial member of the upper echelon of the NHL.
Oilers coach Dave Tippett and his staff have been putting some of their lines in blender overdrive recently in hopes of lighting a fire under newcomers Warren Foegele and Derek Ryan, as well as members of the fourth line. Colton Sceviour is playing well, and giving the team the right energy in his role in the bottom six; however, after such a great preseason, winger Brendan Perlini has been sitting in the pressbox more often than not lately. With all the shuffling in the bottom six, you know the coaches aren’t happy, and that most likely means the insertion of new blood by the trade deadline.
The NHL Season is a Marathon Not a Sprint
There are ebbs and flows to every NHL season — some players come out of the gate like the house is on fire only to cool off mid-season, while others get hot at just the right time and become household names. How will the Oilers do in the remainder of the season? That’s the key question.
Despite the strong play of goaltenders Skinner and Mikko Koskinen, there are still questions as to whether the Oilers have the right combination of goaltenders to go far in the playoffs. After a lengthy rest from injury, Mike Smith could come back and repeat his 2020-21 season performance, but who will be his backup? Is Holland still shopping for a No. 1 goalie from another team? The Oilers also have to be wondering whether their defence is good enough, and if they have to add some toughness to the bottom-six forward group. Fans will be on the edge of their seats looking for answers come trade deadline day.
Flames Pushing the Oilers is Good for Edmonton
One of the biggest surprises in the first quarter of the NHL season has been the play of the Calgary Flames. Some were predicting they wouldn’t make the playoffs, especially after a disappointing campaign last season, but never count a Darryl Sutter-coached team out. Believe it or not, a strong rivalry with the Flames will benefit the Oilers. Ask any member of those great Oilers teams of the past, and they’ll tell you that a great Flames team only made them better, Gretzky and Messier included.
All NHL players have pride, and you better believe that both teams will be pushing each other. Hockey fans who remember the Battle of Alberta in the ’80s are hoping that the hostilities will truly be reignited this season. Just imagine if the Oilers and Flames were to face off in the playoffs. That would be Epic with a capital E.
D. Edward Bochon covers the Edmonton Oilers. His background is in marketing writing where he worked with the Edmonton Oilers, the Edmonton Football Club (now known as the Elks), and the Edmonton Rush of the NLL.