Oilers News & Rumors: Skinner, Woodcroft, Niemelainen, Trade Talk

In an Edmonton Oilers news and rumors update, the team has made some changes in goal as Mikko Koskinen is back from his COVID protocol stop. What is the future for Stuart Skinner? Meanwhile, the Oilers continue to roll under new coach Jay Woodcroft.

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Defenseman Markus Niemelainen is making some noise in a positive way and the team picked up a massive win putting them back into playoff contention and sitting third in the Pacific Division. Finally, are the Oilers going to try and fix their goaltending or their blue line issues at this year’s deadline? One insider doesn’t think they can do both.

Oilers Send Skinner to AHL, Bring Back Koskinen

The Oilers made changes to their goaltending tandem on Wednesday as Skinner was sent back down to Bakersfield of the AHL and Koskinen was activated off of the COVID protocol list. Koskinen was ready to go a little sooner, but taking him on the California road trip didn’t make sense because of quarantine issues after recrossing the border. The plan was to get in and out of California with a good record and bring Koskinen back once the Oilers returned home.

Despite the fact that some fans are clamoring for Skinner to get more of an opportunity to earn a spot in the Oilers’ net, moving him down gives him a chance to continue playing in a lot of games and staying fresh. The Oilers would have a tough time moving Koskinen around and Ken Holland has said he’s eager to see what Koskinen and Smith can do when both are healthy and evening splitting games.

Related: 3 Takeaways From Oilers’ Win in L.A. to Remain Unbeaten With Woodcroft

Skinner will get another shot. He’s shown well and has a .913 save percentage this season over 12 games. That’s the best among all three Oilers’ netminders.

Woodcroft Hire Paying Early Dividends

Woodcroft became the first head coach in Oilers franchise history to go 3-0-0 in his first three games. The Oilers were hoping that hiring him would give the team a surge and that’s clearly happened. What’s been getting most of the attention over these past three games is how Woodcroft — and his assistant Dave Manson — don’t seem to be afraid to make decisions that are different than his predecessor.

Jay Woodcroft Edmonton Oilers
Jay Woodcroft, Edmonton Oilers head coach (Photo by Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images)

Even in a tight game like the one against Los Angeles, he’s lowered the ice time for stars like Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, upped the ice time for other, more unexpected players, run an 11F/7D system with more defensemen on the ice to spread out the minutes and given many of his former Bakersfield guys opportunities in key situations. Players are responding and guys like Derek Ryan, Ryan McLeod, Kailer Yamamoto and William Laggeson (just to name a few) have played well.

In general, the Oilers have looked more disciplined defensively under Woodcroft, covering the neutral zone more effectively and not giving the opposition the middle of the ice. 

Markus Niemelainen Literally Stepping Up

When someone says a player is stepping up, it typically means they are taking an opportunity and running with it. Defenseman Markus Niemelainen is doing that for the Oilers, but he’s also literally stepping up on the opposition’s players and laying them out with numerous hits which is what is getting him noticed.

Markus Niemelainen Edmonton Oilers
Markus Niemelainen, Edmonton Oilers (Photo by Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images)

Niemelainen is bringing an element to the Oilers they haven’t had in some time. He’s physical and doesn’t care who he hits as long as he’s hitting someone. The key is that he’s not taking himself out of the play or being defensively irresponsible. It’s getting noticed by the organization and speculation is that when Duncan Keith returns from injury, Niemelainen is not the player who will be leaving the roster.

Top Right-Shot Defenseman Oilers’ Deadline Priority

According to Darren Dreger of TSN, the Oilers are prioritizing adding a top-three or top-four right-shot defenseman at this year’s deadline. While the team has been much better over the past couple of games at limiting chances against, one of the main reasons Dave Tippett was let go was because the Oilers leaked high-danger scoring chances.

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Dreger believes the Oilers can’t fix both the goaltending and the right-shot blue line issues so they’ll focus on a defenseman. Does that mean the team is shopping Tyson Barrie? He scored his first point in 12 games Tuesday night.