The Oilers picked up a statement win at home last night, taking down the defending Stanley Cup Champions by a score of 4-2. They’ll be right back in action on Saturday night as they head to Calgary for yet another Battle of Alberta with the Flames.
1. With last night’s win against St. Louis, the Oilers will head to Calgary tied with the Flames for second in the Pacific Division. The Oilers also have a game in hand over the Flames, so a win tonight, which would be their first in the head-to-head this season, would be huge. A win tonight for the Oilers and a loss by the Canucks would put Edmonton in a tie for first place in the Pacific Division. We’re going to see a lot of bouncing up and down in this division down the stretch.
2. When the Oilers and Flames met earlier this week, it was the Flames travelled to Edmonton immediately after playing the Blues at home. The Oilers are in the exact same situation Calgary was last time, so there aren’t any excuses to be made about being tired after a hard-fought game against the Blues the night before the Battle of Alberta.
3. One player who won’t be tired tonight is Tyler Benson, who appears set to make his much-anticipated NHL debut tonight as James Neal deals with a foot injury. Benson was recalled after Joakim Nygard was placed on the Injured Reserve with a hand injury, but he wasn’t able to make it from Bakersfield to Edmonton quickly enough to get into last night’s game against the Blues. Instead, his debut will come in the Battle of Alberta.
4. It’s incredibly refreshing that the Oilers have NHL-calibre prospects kicking the door down from the AHL. In the past, prospects were thrown into the deep end and the AHL team was almost entirely filled up with journeymen. This year, we’ve seen multiple prospects come up and make a difference at the NHL level. Ethan Bear started the season with the Oilers due to injury, Kailer Yamamoto was recalled in December and has been a huge addition to Edmonton’s top-six, and now Benson and Caleb Jones will get a chance to prove themselves. Outside of lottery picks, drafting and developing players hasn’t been a strength of the Oilers over the last few years. That’s finally changing and it’s massively important to the organization’s success.
5. When was the last time the Oilers had this strong of a pipeline of legitimate prospects playing in the AHL? It probably isn’t even a fair comparison because most of them were there because of the lockout, but you’d have to go back to the 2004-05 Edmonton Roadrunners to find as strong of a crop of prospects on an Oilers’ farm team. That team had Raffi Torres and Jarret Stoll who would play key roles on their Stanley Cup Final run the following season and other guys like Tony Salmelainen, Doug Lynch, and Jeff Woywitka who were used in the trades to acquire Chris Pronger and Jaroslav Spacek.
6. This debut has been a long time for Benson, an Edmonton native. He represents the first local product to grow up in the Oilers back yard and come through the Oilers’ system with this much hype in a long time. Benson burst onto the scene as a 14-year-old with a record-setting 146-point for South Side Athletic Club’s Bantam AAA team in 2013-14. He was taken first overall in the WHL’s Bantam Draft by the Vancouver Giants and put up 45 points in 62 games as a 16-year-old rookie. His draft year was mired by injuries, but the Oilers still made him the 32nd overall pick at the 2016 draft. Last season, he made his professional debut, posting 66 points in 68 games for the Bakersfield Condors, which was far and away the best AHL season by a 20-year-old the Oilers’ organization had seen in over 20 years.
7. The last time there was a highly-anticipated debut of a local product like this would be when Mike Comrie joined the Oilers mid-way through the 2000-01 season. Much like Benson, Comrie became a well-known prospect after a huge season for CAC. As a 15-year-old playing Midget AAA, Comrie posted 103 points in 33 games in 1995-96. He played two years for the St. Albert Saints of the AJHL before going to the University of Michigan. Comrie scored 44 points in 42 games in his freshman season and was drafted by the Oilers with the 91st choice in the 1999 draft. He spent one more year at Michigan before pivoting to play for the Kootenay Ice of the WHL. After half a season in Kootenay in which he scored 79 points in 37 games, the 20-year-old Comrie joined the Oilers.
8. Comrie would put up a solid 22 points in 41 games for the Oilers that season, followed by three more points in six playoff games. If Benson could come up and produce at that clip in the team’s remaining 31 games, that would be a huge boost. A couple of months ago, we were talking about how the Oilers needed two pieces to fill their top-six forward group. Now, it looks like both holes could be filled with internal options. Kailer Yamamoto has eight points in 10 games since his December recall and has found a home on the second line with Leon Draisaitl and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. Perhaps Benson could be an ideal fit alongside Connor McDavid and Zack Kassian on the top line. If that’s the case, Ken Holland’s life becomes much easier at the trade deadline.
9. Lost in all of the excitement regarding Benson has been Caleb Jones, who will get his first real chance of the season to play in a comfortable position. Jones had mostly been playing for the Oilers on his off-side, but, due to an injury to Kris Russell, Jones will be able to play on the left side of the third-pair with Matt Benning. Last night, the duo played 11:52 together at even strength and were on the ice for 22 shot attempts for and only seven against. They also outscored the Blues three to zero during that time. Though the minutes were sheltered, that third pairing was dominant.
10. It’s incredible we’ve talked this much about Oilers prospects making their way up from the AHL this season without even mentioning Evan Bouchard, who could be the best of the bunch. The 20-year-old has posted 27 points in 43 games for the Condors, which is second among rookie defenders in the AHL. Barring another blow to Edmonton’s blueline, it’s unlikely we see Bouchard this season, but he’s yet another name kicking the door down from the AHL. It really is refreshing to have these options.