It wasn’t a great weekend for the Edmonton Oil Kings. They dropped an overtime decision to the Calgary Hitmen on Friday night, a game in which they led 2-0 at one point, and then on Sunday afternoon, they lost 5-2 to Dylan Cozens and the Lethbridge Hurricanes.
All in all, a 2-1-1-0 start to the season isn’t something to complain about. They’ve won a couple of games despite the fact that they have not been playing great hockey. A big part of that can be blamed on the fact that they haven’t had their full team together for very long.
In junior hockey, having good players often means that those players need to spend stretches of the season away doing other things. Whether it’s for international tournaments or NHL training camps, teams need to be prepared for life without impact players at times.
For the Oil Kings, they’ve been feeling the effects of that early in the season. They had seven players attend NHL camps this season and it wasn’t until a week ago when the final piece, defenseman Matt Robertson, returned from New York Rangers.
You can tell that the team isn’t running at 100%. During the loss to the Hurricanes, there were a lot of stretches where they just couldn’t break up the cycle and when they finally got the puck, they struggled to make good passes. It was a sloppy game.
Things will get better throughout the year. There’s nothing with this team that has me worried about them in the long-term, but they are heading out on their first extended road trip of the season and it will be a big test.
Last season, their first six-game road trip resulted in a six-game losing streak. That came at a point where they were red-hot having started the season with a five-game winning streak. This year, things are a little bit different. They’ll start the trip on Wednesday when they head to Swift Current to take on the Broncos. From there, they’ll face the Winnipeg Ice, Brandon Wheat Kings, Regina Pats, and Moose Jaw Warriors in a span of just six nights.
The Central Division is going to be very tight this season and going out and laying an egg on your first road trip isn’t an option for this club especially considering the fact that they aren’t sitting on a 5-0 start to the year like they were last season.
One boost that the club could get soon is the arrival of Ethan McIndoe, who they acquired last week from the Spokane Chiefs. McIndoe, a Camrose, Alberta product, has spent the last four seasons in Spokane and has posted 40 points in each of the last two seasons.
He’s a good, veteran centre who will really help out the Oil Kings young forwards. He can score, he can play good in his own end, and he isn’t afraid to go to the tough areas on the ice. He should create more space for some of the Oil Kings skilled forwards. Personally, I would like to see him paired up with Vlad Alistrov for a few games. I think those two could really compliment each other.
Goal scoring hasn’t been a problem through four games, they’re tied for the fourth-most goals in the conference right now, but the addition of McIndoe should help their forward core close to where they were last season. Depth has been really solid for them, the Oil Kings have had nine different players score goals through four games and have ten players with at least two points. McIndoe will just push more players into better spots in the lineup while also helping their second line generate a little bit more.
The addition of another 20-year-old also meant the end of Dylan Myskiw’s Oil Kings career. Myskiw led the Oil Kings to their Eastern Conference Finals appearance last season and came into this year battling with Todd Scott for the starter’s gig. Both goalies played really well but Scott is a year younger than Myskiw and that was the difference as GM Kirt Hill had to clear out a 20-year-old to make room for McIndoe.
No doubt that it was a tough decision but no matter how you feel about the move, I think Oil Kings fans should have trust in Hill. He’s really done nothing but make solid moves since taking over as GM of the team.
Now, it’s up to Todd Scott to prove that he can handle being a starter in the WHL. In his two games since the trade, Scott has stopped 58 of the 67 shots he’s faced. The numbers aren’t great but he’s been peppered with high-quality chances. I think Scott can be a solid goaltender in this league, it’s just a matter of him staying healthy, which is not something he has been able to do to this point in his career.
As I said earlier, the next big task for the Oil Kings comes this Wednesday when they kick off their six-game Eastern Conference road trip in Swift Current.