He was there when Edmonton Oilers general manager Ken Holland went fishing in the free-agent pool for a star goalie and came up empty.
He was there when frustrated fans called for the Oilers to acquire a No. 1 netminder via trade, but no such deal was ever coming.
And Stuart Skinner was there time and time and time again when the Oilers needed a big stop against the Winnipeg Jets on Thursday (Nov. 18) at Rogers Place. Skinner made 46 saves in regulation and overtime and stopped two shootout attempts to backstop the Oilers to a 2-1 victory over their Canadian rivals.
Making just the fourth start of his NHL career, the 6-foot-4 Edmonton product showed poise beyond his years while under constant attack from an explosive Jets squadron. After blocking 38 of 39 shots in regulation, Skinner came up with eight saves in overtime, which saw Winnipeg on a 4-on-3 power-play for more than three minutes.
It might be the most outstanding performance by a goalie thus far in the 2021-22 NHL season and was a statement from the 23-year-old goalie, who has never been seriously considered as Edmonton’s goalie of the future, but he should be.
Oilers Have Had Goaltending Issues
Over the last couple of years, there has been no greater source of consternation in Oil Country than what goes on between the pipes. Edmonton’s Stanley Cup contention window will be open for the next few seasons. Still, the Oilers haven’t procured a championship-caliber goalie to match their superstar forwards Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid.
It’s not Mike Smith. He’s turning 40 in March, breaking down, and won’t be around when Edmonton’s talented young nucleus hits its prime. And it’s not Mikko Koskinen, either. The 33-year-old reminded everyone on Tuesday when he gave up four goals in 40 minutes in a 5-2 road loss to the Jets that he’s neither good enough nor consistent enough to lift this team to the next level.
But what about Skinner? Everything in his resume suggests he’s capable of being the goalie that the Oilers need and Edmonton longs for.
Skinner Has a Track Record of Success
In minor hockey, Skinner was a two-time Alberta Major Bantam Hockey League champion (2012 and 2013) and Western Canadian Bantam champion (2013). In junior, he was a Western Hockey League champion (2018). In the American Hockey League, he backstopped the Bakersfield Condors to the John D. Chick Trophy (2021).
He was named the AMBHL’s Top Goaltender in the 2012-2013 season, became the Lethbridge Hurricanes’ all-time leader in games (182), wins (88), saves (5,318) and shutouts (10), and tied the WHL record for most shutouts in a single postseason (6).
The 78th overall pick in the 2017 NHL Draft, Skinner, began playing in the AHL in 2018-19. Last season with the Condors, he led the AHL in wins (20) and saves (753) while ranking second in goals-against average (2.38) and third in save percentage (.914) among goalies that made at least 20 appearances. He was named the CCM/AHL Goaltender of the Month for April, when he had a 7-2-0 record, a 1.93 GAA, and a .926 SV%.
After Smith was hurt in Edmonton’s third game of the season, Skinner was recalled on Oct. 20. Koskinen started seven straight games for Edmonton before Skinner finally got a chance to play on Nov. 9, against the Detroit Red Wings.
Edmonton’s goalies have alternated starts the last six games, and while Koskinen is 2-1 and Skinner is 1-2, the veteran has a 4.15 GAA and .883 SV% compared to Skinner’s 2.10 GAA and .940 SV% during that span.
Skinner’s Strong Start Puts Oilers in Better Spot
A major issue with Edmonton this season has been a tendency to fall behind early. The Oilers have allowed the first goal in seven straight games and 10 of their last 14. While there’s no shortage of blame to go around for these slow starts, the most accusatory fingers point squarely at Koskinen. In five of his last six starts, the Finish netminder has allowed a goal within the first four shots he’s faced, and in three of those instances, the goal has come on the opponent’s first or second shot.
Contrast that with Skinner’s performance Thursday night, when the young goalie made 31 saves before finally being beaten by Winnipeg winger Nikolaj Ehlers at 13:57 of the third period.
Skinner Could Be Edmonton’s Goalie of the Present and Future
One game in November does not a Stanley Cup in June make, but it should make another start for Skinner on Saturday (Nov. 20), when the Oilers return to action, against the Chicago Blackhawks at Rogers Place. With Smith sidelined indefinitely, now’s the time for the Oilers to give Skinner the ball and the opportunity to run with it. From a long-term perspective, this is Edmonton’s chance to find out what it has in Skinner. From a short-term perspective, Skinner arguably now gives Edmonton the best chance to win on any given night.
He’s a proven winner at every other level. And if Skinner just keeps doing what he’s always done, Oil Country will enjoy the present and start to feel much, much better about the future.
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.