Streaky, roller coaster ride, hot-and-cold. Those were the buzzwords that were used to describe the Edmonton Oil Kings earlier this season. Since the calendar has flipped to 2019, I think “consistent” has replaced those.
They aren’t winning every single game, but they’re in almost every game and that’s not something you could have said about them earlier this season. Goaltending and improved play in their own end are big reasons why they’ve been able to consistently put together solid efforts recently but the biggest improvement has come in the depth scoring department.
At the start of this season, it seemed like the only way this team could win was if Trey Fix-Wolansky carried the offence. He was on an incredible run in the early months and now that he’s cooled off, the Oil Kings have seen other players step up and start generating goals.
In their last seven games, they’ve had 13 different players score goals. That’s not something you would have seen in October or November. In that time, Trey Fix-Wolansky has scored just once.
Liam Keeler, Carter Souch, Vlad Alistrov, and Scott Atkinson have been noticeably better as of late and are seeing their names appear on the scoresheet with more regularity. Quinn Benjafield is healthy and has provided a nice boost as well but the two new guys have really been grabbing my attention.
Andrew Fyten was acquired from the Swift Current Broncos back on December 13th and he’s been one of their best forwards ever since coming over. He’s registered 10 points in 15 games as an Oil Kings after potting 17 points in 27 games with the Broncos.
Even when he isn’t registering on the scoresheet, he’s making an impact. He’s quickly become their best defensive centerman, he kills penalties, and he provides a physical presence that this team needs.
“I just play a hard two-way game. I take pride in defence more than offence. Blocking shots, taking faceoffs doing all the little things right is what will get me to the next level,” said Fyten in our recent conversation.
He brings some much-needed playoff experience to this young Oil Kings team as well. He’s appeared in 30 WHL playoff games, including 24 during his championship run with the Swift Current Broncos last season. That experience and leadership will be leaned on heavily as this team rolls closer to the postseason.
“I’m more of a lead by example kind of guy and that translates into the type of player I am. I just try to do the details right and show everyone the way,” added Fyten.
The other new face around the team is Josh Williams, who has registered a stat line of 2-3-5 in seven games since being acquired from Medicine Hat at the deadline.
It’s been a hectic few weeks for Williams, who has only practised with his new team twice despite playing seven games due to participating in the CHL Top Prospects Game and a family emergency.
Now, he’s ready to get settled in and he’s more than excited to be in Edmonton, where he’s quickly become an important member of the organization’s young core.
“His shooting threat is there and we’re going to look for ways to use that more but he’s fitting in well,” said the teams Assistant Coach Luke Pearce.
Depth has been huge for the Oil Kings and it will have to continue to be as they head down the stretch. The games are getting tighter and more defensive and that trend will continue.
“We’ve seen a real shift in the league with how tight games are. We talk to our group a lot of about that. This isn’t the WHL of October, it’s a whole new game,” added Pearce following his teams 2-1 win over the Prince George Cougars on Sunday.
That win over the Cougars was a prime example of what a lot of this teams wins will have to look like. There won’t be a lot of 6-5 wins between now and the end of the season. Instead, they’ll need to play strong defensive hockey and get some scoring from unlikely sources on some nights.
They got that on Sunday as Conner McDonald hammered home a pair of goals with just 2:07 of game time. He now has 12 goals on the season and what a season it’s been for the 19-year-old defenseman, who sits tied for second for goals by a WHL defenseman.
He’s taken massive strides with the puck on his stick and has given them a booming shot to put on top of their top powerplay unit, but his coaches have noticed a big difference in his play in his own end too.
“His defensive game has gotten better and that gets overlooked with his offence. Tidying up in his own end and with his breakouts has allowed him to feed the offence a little better,” added Pearce, “contributing from the back end can be a streaky thing at times and he’s been trending in the right direction for a while now”.
“Better late than never,” joked McDonald after his first career two-goal game in the WHL.
He came into the league as a 16-year-old with the Kamloops Blazers and spent a season and a half there before being acquired by the Oil Kings.
He was a part of the first wave of young talent that kick-started the organizations rebuild and now, he’s finally getting the soak in some team success in Edmonton.
“As a unit, we’re playing the best hockey I’ve ever been a part of here. It’s really exciting to be a part of it,” added McDonald.
Currently sitting atop the WHL’s Central Division, the Oil Kings will look to win their second straight game on Tuesday night when they host the Brandon Wheat Kings from Rogers Place.