Oilers’ Success In 2022-23 Will Rely on Skinner’s Performance

The Edmonton Oilers are dominating the headlines as we approach the start of free agency. They need to find a goaltender who can come in and be the immediate starter.

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It is still unknown which way the Oilers are leaning at this point. Our Jim Parsons did a nice job examining the different goaltending options available as the countdown to 10 A.M. mountain time Wednesday continues.

Related: Examining 3 Realistic Goaltender Options for Oilers in Free Agency

Jack Campbell appears to be the favorite at this time. The Oilers have enough cap space to pay up what Campbell is looking for. He would also join a favorable situation with a team looking to win the Stanley Cup now.

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This goaltending storyline is going to be the headline all season with the Oilers. It will be interesting to see who they land whether it’s through free agency or through a trade. Whoever they get is going to join a tandem with perhaps one of the most underrated players on the Oilers in 2022-23.

Setting the Goaltending Scene

All indications seem to point to Mike Smith retiring. If this is it, what a performance from him especially in helping his team all the way to the Western Conference Finals. While many folks wrote him and the Oilers off throughout the season, he played through it and won at the most important time.

Smith’s potential retirement does open the door for a new netminder to join. Whoever joins will get the majority of starts with the expectation of 45-50 starts not out of the question. That leaves over 30 potential starts for 23-year old Stuart Skinner. Outside of the expected names, he perhaps holds the key to how the 2022-23 season will go for the Oilers.

Stuart Skinner Edmonton Oilers
Stuart Skinner will play a big role in how the Oilers do in 2022-23. (Photo by Curtis Comeau/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

The question here with Skinner is will he be ready for this kind of expanded role with all of the expectations surrounding the Oilers? The one thing we can say for sure is that he has the confidence of management and the coaching staff.

It’s Skinner Time

Skinner got a taste of the NHL in 2021-22 after being one of the best AHL goaltenders in the league. He went 22-7-7 during the regular season while posting a 2.21 goals-against average and .920 save percentage.

Skinner appeared in 13 games for the Oilers recording six wins and his first NHL shutout against the San Jose Sharks. Given the fact he’s been in the organization since being drafted in 2017, the time has come for him to take the all important next step.

Skinner’s head coach Jay Woodcroft believes that he is ready for the task at hand. The growth for the Oilers will have to come from him and other young players. Woodcroft would know. He was his first coach when he got to Bakersfield.

“I have a strong belief in Stuart’s ability,” Woodcroft said. “I’ve seen him grow with his on-ice skill set. I’ve seen him grow as a person. I feel good about Stuart Skinner and his potential as a really good NHL goaltender.”

Woodcroft also described Skinner’s journey to this point. He was up and down between the AHL and ECHL in each of his first couple of seasons. Then in year three, he helped the Condors to a division title. That development has been paramount to his success and has him setup to take the next step.

Skinner also has the confidence of GM Ken Holland for an expanded role.

“We have hopes for Stu Skinner,” Holland said. “But he’s 23 and to really expect him to come in and play 50, 55, 60 games is too much to expect and too much responsibility to put on him.”

Need For Consistent Goaltending

With Smith likely done, the Oilers have to get consistency from whoever is in net. No matter if it’s Campbell, Darcy Kuemper or another goalie that comes in, Skinner will be expected to deliver.

Jack Campbell Toronto Maple Leafs
If Jack Campbell joins the Oilers, he would work in tandem with Stuart Skinner. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

If the Oilers hope to make another deep playoff run, Skinner is going to have to be one of the reasons. He needs to come in when called upon and give his team a chance to win every night.

The reason Skinner is in this position now? He is no longer waivers exempt. He can only report to Bakersfield if he clears waivers. This is his role now. He’s spent four years preparing for this opportunity.

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Skinner’s starts matter just like all goaltenders. With the Oilers, it takes on added importance. It only takes a couple of points to separate teams for home-ice advantage and matchups. He needs to be able to win tight games with everything on the line. It’s one thing to get some NHL experience. It’s another when it’s a playoff atmosphere every night.

Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl will get the headlines as they help lead the Oilers back to the playoffs in 2022-23. But if they want to secure the division and home-ice advantage, Skinner is going to be relied upon to deliver in his 30+ potential starts. In the event of injury, he’ll be pressed into number-one duty. Both he and the team seem confident that he’s ready for this.

They better be right. Because the fortunes of the 2022-23 season will rest in large part with the goaltending and in particular, with Skinner.