The Edmonton Oilers season gets underway against the Vancouver Canucks on October 12th and expectations are high in Oil Country heading into 2022-23. For the first time since 2005-06, the Oilers made it all the way to the Conference Finals off of some incredible offensive performances. Sure, the final series was a massive disappointment but the playoff run created a buzz and energy around the team that hasn’t been felt in years.
With another year of experience under the belt of the core leadership group and more tinkering by general manager Ken Holland, this year’s edition of the Edmonton Oilers is possibly the strongest roster (on paper) that the team will have iced in decades and is starting to turn some heads around the league.
And because of that, anything short of another deep playoff run is going to be a disappointment. The Oilers are a favourite to win the Pacific Division, battling it out with the Calgary Flames again, and have a decent predicted shot at winning the Stanley Cup.
These predictions aren’t even that far-fetched (says a totally unbiased Oilers fan). But with two of the best players in the world in Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, they already have a leg up on the competition. The depth forwards/scoring have been addressed with players like Evander Kane, Zach Hyman, and Dylan Holloway. Defensive depth is growing as they bring in players like Brett Kulak and have prospects such as Evan Bouchard, Philip Broberg, and Markus Niemelainen working their way through the system. And bringing in a legitimate starting goalie in Jack Campbell sort of brings it all together.
No quest for the Stanley Cup is easy, however. They all come with a series of ‘if this, then that’ type statements creating the perfect situation for a team to win it all. The Oilers are no different.
For the Edmonton Oilers season, here are a few major storylines to follow that will dictate how the team does.
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Is Evander Kane for Real?
In Kane’s half-season with the Oilers after signing with the team in late January, he put up amazing offensive numbers. He scored 22 goals and 39 points in 43 games, he may not have set a career high in totals, but his pace was the highest of his career. Nearly a point per game over 43 games is a big enough sample size to begin wondering what he would do over the full season.
Kane’s likely place in the lineup is on McDavid’s wing, which gives the latter one of the best wingers he has ever had (who isn’t named Draisaitl).
So spending an entire season on the wing of the league’s most talented player makes it a fair assumption that the pace set by Kane in his 43 game debut would continue. And the Oilers desperately need it to work out. Depth scoring has historically been an issue in the McDavid era and having a supporting cast player able to put up 30 goals and 60 points would be huge to taking the burden off of the shoulders of the team’s captain.
Kane does have a couple of 30-goal seasons, but he has never hit 60 points. Is this the year he finally does?
Can Brett Kulak Survive on the Second Pairing?
Back at the trade deadline last season, the Oilers acquired Kulak for William Lagesson and a draft pick. Seemed like a fairly unimportant trade at the time, mostly just shoring up depth.
Turns out, Kulak was an amazing addition and finished the season strong. Strong enough to earn a four-year extension. And, he is the presumed second-pairing defender. After Duncan Keith’s retirement, this is a new role for him and a promotion from the usual third-pairing role he was in last season. He should also see some penalty kill time.
Because of the depth on the left side for the Oilers, being Broberg, Niemelainen, Slater Koekkoek, and Ryan Murray, if Kulak can’t cut it as the second-pairing defender, Edmonton may be in a bit of trouble. They definitely don’t have the cap space to acquire a worthwhile replacement without sacrificing depth in other areas of the roster or selling futures which is not a great strategy for a team trying to open their Cup window.
So is Kulak’s solid defensive performance at the end of 2021-22 an accurate representation of what he can do as a second-pairing defender? Or will he regress and leave the Oilers with a huge hole at 2LD?
How Will the Oilers" Goalie Tandem Play Out?
Signing Campbell this offseason gives the Oilers a solid and legitimate (though fairly unproven) option as a starting goalie. With 135 appearances in his career and only surpassing 41 games once, the Oilers are really banking on the Vezina-calibre start to the 2021-22 season that he had back with the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Even though Campbell is the presumed starter, prospect Stuart Skinner is finally going to be on the NHL roster full-time this season. After a couple of years where he seemed to be blocked and stuck in the minors, it is finally time for him to stick around.
Now Skinner has even less NHL experience, only 14 games. So this tandem could be a real gamble.
Not only is it unknown what the game split will be between the two, it’s also hard to tell which of the two ends up being the starter or the 1A. Or if either of them are going to be good enough to be the full-time starter.
Ideally, these two split the crease as 1A/1B goalies. This means the team has two solid options to turn to in any situation. But it is still a huge question mark. Who will take the reigns as the starting goalie for the Oilers?
This Edmonton Oilers season is one of the most hyped and anticipated of the last couple of decades. But there are still some storylines to keep an eye on that might make or break the season. What Oilers storylines are you following heading into the 2022-23 season? Drop a comment down below!
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