The trade deadline is in the rearview mirror and their playoff chances are essentially non-existent. We’re used to it around Oilersnation. Still, if you’re reading this article I would imagine that you plan on watching the final 17 games of the Oilers schedule, just like I will.
Now that we’re at the point of the season where the results really don’t matter, what are some things to keep an eye on? Here are five things I’ll be paying close attention to as the season draws to a close:
5) Leons Race For 50
Three or four weeks ago this would have seemed unlikely, but over the last ten games he’s scored seven goals and it’s brought his season total up to 40. There are still 17 games left in the season and based on how well he’s playing, it’s looking like a realistic milestone for Draisaitl.
At times, he gets ripped by some fans and media for looking lazy or for having bad body language but he has a chance to join a club that is filled with Oilers legends this season if he can get to 50 goals.
The franchise has seen a player score 50 goals 15 different times. Wayne Gretzky did it eight times, Jari Kurri did it four times, Glenn Anderson accomplished the feat twice, and Mark Messier did it once.
In what has been a very dark season, Leon has been a shining light on most nights and his chase for 50 goals will give us all something to cheer for down the stretch.
4) Mikko Koskinen, Is He a Number One?
It’s been an up and down season for the big Finnish goaltender. He made a poor first impression on Oilers fans with a pair of horrendous showings in the preseason. He then went on to basically not play for the first month of the season. After that, he took over the crease and posted a few shutouts. We all remember how good he was for that stretch in late November/ early December.
Then the team around him began to crumble and Koskinen hit a rough patch. It also went hand in hand with Oscar Klefbom and Kris Russell being injured.
Now, he’s on top of his game once again and it’s no coincidence that his numbers started improving once Klefbom, Russell, and Andrej Sekera all returned to the lineup. If everyone can stay healthy for the final seventeen games, it should allow us to get a real read on how good Koskinen can be with a complete group of NHL defensemen in front of him, which he hasn’t had very often this season.
Some will say “oh it doesn’t matter how he plays in garbage time” but 11 of their final 17 opponents are either in a playoff spot or currently in the thick of the playoff race. The teams trying to score goals on him won’t be viewing these games as “garbage time”. This last stretch will actually go a long way in determining how Oilers fans and management feel about their goaltending situation heading into the offseason.
3) A Look at a Healthy Blueline
Another benefit of having their six regular defensemen all healthy is that it will give management a chance to get a good honest read on the group they have. No more excuses about a player playing over their heads or anything like that. For the most part, these guys are in roles that line up with how much money they make, although that’s a whole different discussion. The only thing I will add to this that in an ideal world, Kris Russell would be on their third pairing and Darnell Nurse would have a better partner who can move the puck efficiently, which is something Nurse really struggles with.
The organization has the likes of Ethan Bear, Caleb Jones, Joel Persson, and Evan Bouchard who could all realistically push for full-time NHL work next season as well, so these final 17 games will be crucial for probably four of the Oilers current starting six defensemen. If they don’t want to be dangled as trade bait, they’ll need to prove their worth during the final 17 games.
2) Which Bottom Six Players Will Earn Jobs?
The Oilers have a lot of them, but not a lot of quality. The door is wide open for anyone to step up in the final 20 games and get their name pencilled onto the 2019-20 roster. Josh Currie has been a great story and Colby Cave only has one goal but is looking like a solid player considering he’s only making league minimum. Jujhar Khaira, Kyle Brodziak, Milan Lucic (sadly), Sam Gagner, Ty Rattie, and Alex Chiasson are all realistic candidates as well.
A lot of those players will also be getting some extended looks in the top six and that will go a long in determining how they’re viewed by the organization.
What I’ll be looking for is versatility with these guys. Which players can be quality, impactful, bottom six forwards while also being able to step up into the top six when needed. Can they play on the second powerplay unit and kill penalties? That would help as well.
1) Just Watch The Condors!
Kind of a cheap one but really, if you want to see meaningful hockey within the organization, just buy an AHL TV Pass! You can watch a high level of hockey and see a group of players that should be pushing for jobs on the Oilers next season.
Tyler Benson, Cooper Marody, and Kailer Yamamoto are the three that intrigue me the most up front. On the back end, not only will you see Caleb Jones and Ethan Bear, but you might even get a look at Evan Bouchard if the London Knights get eliminated early enough.
They’re a good team and if you want a hockey team to root for this spring, why not start tuning into the Condors broadcasts.