The Oilers have an interesting conundrum in net this upcoming season: what is going to happen in net?
The team relied heavily on a 39-year-old Mike Smith and Mikko Koskinen was a good pinch-hitter when he needed to be. At 5×5, the Oilers had a .916 save percentage, 19th in the leauge, while the club’s save percentage in all situations — a .910 — was seventh-best in the league.
While it’s clear Smith bailed the Oilers out by having one of his best seasons in the NHL, he can’t and shouldn’t be relied on to be able to do so next year. A UFA at season’s end, Oilers GM Ken Holland has already made it clear his desire to re-sign him.
It’s safe to assume that if it were to happen, Smith would be coming into Edmonton to serve as a backup goaltender. It’s unrealistic in my eyes to think he could repeat the type of season he just had.
So that brings us to goaltender number two, Mikko Koskinen. Truth be told, he’s likely a prime candidate for a buyout. He posted a .903 save percentage at 5×5, 39th of 43 goaltenders who played over 1000 minutes, and his -8.86 goals saved above average was abysmal, coming in 38th among the same eligible goalies.
It’s important to note lot of that was due to a heavy workload early in the season, but he didn’t really rebound from it much, either. He played 13 of the Oilers first 15 games and it was clear he wasn’t ready for that workload. I don’t think the Oilers can confidently go back to him next year. Buying out the final year of his deal saves the Oilers $3-million next year, but costs them $1.5-million in 2022-23.
Alex Stalock was claimed on waivers mid-season, but it’s clear that was a dart throw to be an extra goaltender in case of emergency. It’s hard to see where he fits in the organization.
But this all brings us to a wild card: Ilya Konovalov.
The Oilers inked him to a two-year entry-level contract in early May and the 22-year-old is destined for North America next season. He was tremendous in the KHL posting a 53-41-9 record, a .922 save percentage, a 2.14 GAA along with 14 shutouts in his 111 regular-season game career. He seemed to fall out of the rotation this last year with Lokomotiv Yaroslavl, but his numbers never faltered.
I have a hard time imagining him wanting to come over and play in the AHL for a full season and the Oilers need to prepare for him to challenge for NHL time right off the hop.
There’s a few other goaltenders the Oilers can look to for some guidance in this area. In the last two years, a number of other elite, young goaltenders have left the KHL for the NHL in Igor Shesterkin and Ilya Sorokin. Let’s look at their numbers and what they’ve done in North American since.
In the case of Shesterkin, he played seven seasons in the KHL appearing in 117 games. He posted a 88-19-15 record, a .935 save percentage, a 1.68 GAA and 27 shutouts. Drafted in the 4th round of the 2014 draft by the New York Rangers, he started last year in the AHL where he continued dominating with a .934 save percentage, a 1.90 GAA and a 17-4-5 record in 25 games.
He played so well that he earned a January call-up where he continued to play well. This year, he took over as the club’s 1A goaltender and hasn’t disappointed. All in all, he’s now appeared in 47 NHL games posting a .921 save percentage and a 26-16-3 record.
In Sorokin, he made the jump directly to the NHL. The New York Islanders took him in the 3rd round of the 2014 draft and he remained in the KHL until this year. In the KHL, he played in 244 games over eight years posting a .930 save percentage, a 1.70 GAA and 44 shutouts with a 134-64-22.
He spent no time in the minors playing 22 games for the Islanders this year. He posted a .918 save percentage, a 2.17 GAA and a 13-6-3 record.
However, the Oilers choose to progress with Konovalov — whether that’s putting him in the AHL first or allowing him to jump right into NHL action — it’s clear the Oilers might have a future starter and the team needs to plan for it. I don’t think it would be unrealistic for the Oilers to expect Konovalov to step in next year and provide a solid 40-50 games in net.
Now it begs to ask the question, can the Oilers trust Mike Smith to fill the other 40-odd games? I’d reckon the organization’s answer is yes.
I wouldn’t be so quick to do so.