Oilers Can Turn to Skinner in Net During Smith’s Injury Absence

There is a sense of unease in Oil Country, as Edmonton Oilers starting goaltender Mike Smith was placed on injured reserve on Oct. 20, after he was hurt against the Anaheim Ducks at Rogers Place the night before. Centre Devin Shore appeared to fall on Smith’s leg as he was covering the puck during a scrum at the side of the net. Smith left the game in the second period and was replaced by Mikko Koskinen, who backstopped the Oilers to a 6-5 win.

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This is what many feared might happen. There was already concern about rolling with the soon-to-be 40-year-old Smith and the inconsistent Koskinen, 33, who went 5-7 last season – with a .889 save percentage (SV%) and a 3.55 goals-against average (GAA) – while starting 12 of 13 games when Smith was sidelined.

That brings us to Wednesday’s transaction: Goalie Stuart Skinner was recalled from the Bakersfield Condors of the American Hockey League (AHL), and he has joined the Oilers for their two-game road trip.

Skinner Joins the Oilers for at Least Two Games

Koskinen and Skinner will be tasked with manning the fort until Smith returns. The hope is that Smith won’t be sidelined for long, but the details around the injury and timeline for his potential return remain uncertain.

If he’s out one week, he will miss two Oilers games, on Oct. 21 at the Arizona Coyotes and Oct. 22 at the Vegas Golden Knights. After that, they don’t return to action until Wednesday when they host the Philadelphia Flyers on Oct. 27. However, between Oct. 30 and Nov. 5, they play four games in seven days.

Head coach Dave Tippett has not mentioned how he will use his goalies in Smith’s absence, though Koskinen will start at least one of Edmonton’s next two games. But if they are looking for a silver lining to this situation, it’s the opportunity created for Skinner.

Oilers Need to Find Their Goaltender of the Future

Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl are signed through 2024-25 and 2025-26, respectively. With a roster rich in depth and potential, the Oilers have almost everything they need to be a Stanley Cup contender for at least the next few years. The X-factor is between the pipes. Smith has played very well but is in the twilight of his career, and if Koskinen has the potential to become a championship-calibre goalie, he would have shown it by now.

The only solution is to acquire an elite goaltender via trade or free agency, but that’s easier said than done. Presumably, general manager Ken Holland has tried and struck out in the last two seasons.

Stuart Skinner Edmonton Oilers
Stuart Skinner, Edmonton Oilers (Photo by Curtis Comeau/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

But what if the Oilers have their goalie of the future right under their nose in Skinner? He has made just one NHL start in his career: he spelled off Koskinen for a night when Smith was injured and backstopped the team to an 8-5 win over the Ottawa Senators. Skinner made 33 saves and performed better than the goals against suggests.  

Skinner Has Tremendous Potential

The Edmonton product, who turns 23 on Nov. 1, has been the epitome of steady development since the Oilers drafted him 78th overall in 2017, and he has won at every level.

Skinner backstopped South Side Athletic Club to consecutive Alberta Major Bantam Hockey League championships in 2012 and 2013 and was named the AMBHL’s Top Goaltender for the 2012-2013 season. He propelled South Side Athletic Club to its first Western Canada Bantam Championship title in 2013 and also helped Team Alberta capture gold at the 2013 U16 Western Canada Challenge Cup.

As a junior in the Western Hockey League, he rewrote the Lethbridge Hurricanes record book, becoming the team’s all-time leader in games (182), wins (88), saves (5,318) and shutouts (10). After parts of five seasons with the ‘Canes, Skinner was traded to the Swift Current Broncos in 2018. He backstopped Swift Current to the 2018 WHL championship, leading the WHL postseason with a 2.20 GAA and .932 SV% and a record-tying six shutouts.

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Last season, Skinner topped all AHL goalies in games (31), minutes (1,787) wins (20) and saves (753). Among goalies that made at least 20 appearances, he ranked second in GAA (2.38) and third in SV% (.914). 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%. Skinner was between the pipes for all of Bakersfield’s games in the 2021 AHL postseason, going 4-2 with a 2.68 GAA and a .907 SV% as the Condors captured the John D. Chick Trophy.

Before he was assigned to Bakersfield on Oct. 5, Skinner had a terrific preseason, playing more minutes than any of the Oilers’ netminders (160:28), with a 2-0-1 record, a 2.25 GAA and .920 SV%. He has since started two games for the Condors, winning both, including a 34-save shutout against the San Jose Barracuda on Oct. 17. That brings his career total to 42 AHL wins, including 4 shutouts, in 80 regular-season games.

The 6-foot-4 netminder’s resume speaks for itself. For however long Smith is sidelined, the Oilers have an opportunity to find out what they have in Skinner. Not only is he their potential goalie of the future, but he might also give the Oilers a better chance at winning than Koskinen does.

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