Oilers Starting to Look Like Cup Contenders

I know it’s December and there’s still over half a season left to be played, but there’s something special about the Edmonton Oilers. It’s hard to put my finger on it, but they seem different this season over last in a good way. Yes, they’re losing games they should win, like the recent 4-3 shootout loss to the St. Louis Blues on Dec. 15 at Rogers Place. And players such as Darnell Nurse are having bad nights, but overall as a team they seem more resilient, more focused than they have in the past two or three seasons.

Overcoming Injuries With the “Next Man Up”

No NHL team can ever use injuries as an excuse. Every season is filled with stretches of adversity and the Oilers have had their fair share. From the loss of Evander Kane to a wrist injury on Nov. 8 against the Tampa Lightning to injuries to Kailer Yamamoto, Ryan McLeod, and Warren Foegle, the Oilers have adopted a next-man-up attitude. It seems Oilers’ forward Klim Kostin got the memo.

Kostin who was traded from the Blues for Dmitri Samorukov back in early October looks like a keeper, even earning a Gordie Howe hat trick in the Oilers’ 8-2 victory over the Arizona Coyotes on Dec. 7. His grit and personality are a welcome addition to the team and the fans in Oil Country. Another player that looks like he’s ready to bust out is rookie forward Dylan Holloway. He’s big and fast out there, and is showing signs that he’s ready for more ice time. If he continues the current trend he’s on, the Oilers might be able to expect big things from Holloway in the second half of the season and later in the spring.

Dylan Holloway Edmonton Oilers
Dylan Holloway, Edmonton Oilers (Photo by Jonathan Kozub/NHLI via Getty Images)

Much has been written about the greatness of the Oilers’ dynamic duo of Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, and they’ve really stepped up their play in the first half of the NHL season. McDavid is on pace for a career year in goals and points, and is well on his way to a Hall of Fame career, while Draisaitl continues his dominance and looks headed for another 50-goal campaign. Two other players of note who’ve really helped soften the blow from the Kane injury have been Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Zach Hyman. Nugent-Hopkins is playing some of the best hockey of his career this season, and the same can be said for Hyman who brings an infectious workman-like attitude to the team.

Goaltending Better Than Last Season – With Room for Improvement

Staurt Skinner has been an absolute revelation in net this season. The Oilers have always been high on the young goaltender, but it seems his development has taken a huge step forward this season since taking over the No. 1 job from Jack Campbell back in November. Skinner is currently in the Top 16 among NHL Goaltenders in terms of wins (nine) and save percentage (.919) and he only seems to be getting better. In fact, the talk of Skinner being in the conversation for the Calder Trophy is getting louder with every game.

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Meanwhile, Campbell is showing signs of turning his game around. Even though Campbell’s play has been much maligned, he currently sits in the Top 25 amongst NHL Goaltenders for wins with eight. After such a challenging start to his Oilers career, you have to believe that Campbell will only improve in the New Year.

Oilers’ Schedule More Favorable In Season’s Second Half

The Oilers have racked up a lot of travel miles in the first half of the season, and there’s been a few games when you can tell they’ve run out of gas. Yes, they are finely tuned, million-dollar athletes, but they’re also human. With Edmonton being the northernmost major city in North America, Oilers players and managers know that travel will always be a challenge for the franchise. However, as the team looks ahead to 2023, they will be playing quite a few more games within the Pacific Division both home and away, and this will help cut the fatigue a little bit. Should the Oilers make the postseason, they could be a team with fresh legs, especially after playing so many home and away dates within their division.

Oilers Resemble 1971-72 Stanley Cup Champion Boston Bruins… A Bit

I was thinking about who the Oilers resemble in terms of past Stanley Cup Championship teams, and I couldn’t help but think of those powerhouse Boston Bruin teams of the early 1970s. The Bruins were led by Bobby Orr and Phil Esposito, the two top scorers in the league year in and year out. You can’t help but compare McDavid and Draisaitl to the Bruins’ top duo. (The only exception was that Orr was a defenceman, of course.)

Leon Draisaitl Connor McDavid Edmonton Oilers
Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid of the Edmonton Oilers (Photo by Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images)

I would give the old Bruins the nod in terms of forwards and defense, but the goaltending might be closer in skill than one thinks, especially if Skinner continues his strong play. If Skinner can turn into the second coming of Gerry Cheevers, then the Oilers really have something special between the pipes.

Those Bruins teams were skilled and tough, and it felt like they had the ability to score at will. Though the Oilers can’t match the toughness, they definitely have the skill to possibly match the Bruins. Only time will tell if the Oilers can win the Stanley Cup like the Bruins did back then, but they’re looking like they’re getting closer and closer with each passing day.

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