The theme of the year for the Edmonton Oil Kings has been their inconsistency. The team started the year with a five game winning streak, then lost eight in a row before going on to grab points in ten straight, and now, they’ve dropped four consecutive decisions.
This is a very young team and expectations weren’t very high to start this season so as a whole, the first third of the season has been a success. The fact that they’re just three points out of first is fantastic, although the first place Red Deer Rebels have three games in hand on them, but it’s clear that this group needs to learn how to consistently play complete hockey games.
“Maturity is a big factor in it. The mental part of it is really big with every level of athlete, but especially with these kids. It’s a process,” said Assistant Coach Luke Pearce.
One big reason the Oil Kings have been struggling lately has been their slow starts. Although they’ve gotten the first goal in 50% of the games over this four game losing skid, they haven’t asserted any sort of dominance early in the game. In a word, they’ve been sluggish.
“It’s been a couple games now where we haven’t come out ready to play. We’re stepping up in the last ten minutes but it’s too late,” said defenseman Matthew Robertson following the team’s loss to Moose Jaw on Friday.
They have been getting better as the games have gone on. They’ve outshot their opponents 55-31 in the final frame over the last four games.
“You can’t rely on playing hard ten minutes to get back into it. You’re not always going to get those breaks” added Assistant Coach Luke Pearce.
Lately, though, they have been relying on late comeback attempts and it hasn’t been working. They’ve also been relying too much on Captain Trey Fix-Wolansky, who has four goals and four assists over the last four games. A staggering number when you consider the team only has nine goals in that span.
The lack of secondary scoring is a massive concern and something Luke Pearce knows needs to be corrected.
“Not scoring, in general, is a concern. We got to watch pretty special run from Trey and some guys watched for too long and felt like he was just going to win us hockey games instead of taking that opportunity to learn from him and see why he was having the success he was,” he said following the team’s loss to Moose Jaw.
The next stretch of hockey will be an important one. Tonight, they’re in Calgary to face the Hitmen who are 10-14-2-1 on the season. That’s a very winnable road game. Then, they’ll return home to face the Regina Pats on Wednesday and the Kamloops Blazers next Saturday. Both of those teams sit below .500 on the season.
Their schedule eases up a bit, and they finally have a consistent stretch of home games. The timing is right for the Oil Kings to turn this around.
The Oil Kings were killed by injuries in the crease at the start of the season. Todd Scott, who was the presumed starter coming into training camp, went down before the season even began. Sebastien Cossa, who is viewed by many as the future between the pipes for the Oil Kings, also went down during the preseason.
That left the team with just Boston Bilous, which led them to go out and acquire Dylan Myskiw from the Brandon Wheat Kings. They didn’t give up very much to get him, so the general thought was that once Todd Scott was healthy, they would simply move on from Myskiw.
Dylan Myskiw made that into a problem. He’s come in and taken over the starting job and although his numbers don’t look good, a 3.10 GAA and a 0.899 save percentage, he has given them a chance to win almost every single night.
Now that Todd Scott is healthy and ready to return to game action, the team has three goalies on their active roster.
I believe the organization is high on Scott, so I can’t see him being moved and Dylan Myskiw has been better than Boston Bilous through the beginning of this season. It’s also important to remember that the team is banking on Sebastian Cossa being on the roster full-time next season.
I don’t have any inside information, but there’s a part of me that thinks this could be the end of the line for Boston Bilous here in Edmonton. If he isn’t moved, then the team will have to part ways with one of their veterans before the January 10th trade deadline.
WHL TRADE MARKET
As I just said, the WHL’s trade deadline is a little over a month away and this past week we saw the market really heat up.
On Thursday, the Lethbridge Hurricanes, who are right behind the Oil Kings in the WHL standings, went all in and acquired Jake Leschyshyn and Nick Henry from the Regina Pats. The Hurricanes paid a hefty price that included two roster players and five draft picks (could be as many as seven picks if Leschyshyn and Henry return for their overage seasons) but at the end of the day, they acquired two elite point producing forwards.
In a response to the Hurricanes suddenly becoming the Central Division favourites, the Red Deer Rebels made a splash of their own acquiring Stars prospect Brett Davis and 19-year-old forward Cam Hausinger from the Kootenay ICE. This was a large deal, that involved 11 pieces going between the two teams. Four players and five draft picks were a part of the package going back to Kootenay.
The Central Division just got a lot more difficult and I’ve already touched on the Oil Kings lack of secondary scoring. I don’t think the organization is in a spot where they can go and give up a large amount of draft picks for one impact player, especially if that player is in their final season, but I could see them making a move to bring in a scorer for the rest of this season. It just won’t be on the same level as the moves the Hurricanes or Rebels made.
The realistic goal this season wasn’t a championship, the organization just isn’t at that part of the cycle yet, but the start to their season has been a pleasant surprise and they’re looking like a playoff team. So while they don’t need to mortgage the future for a playoff run this year, I think GM Kirt Hill should be trying to do something to give this team a fighters chance of winning a playoff round.