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Photo Credit: Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports

I’d Start Skinner Tomorrow

Edmonton is 11-4. They’ve had a great start, but some of the same issues from previous seasons are once again becoming an issue. They are allowing too many 5×5 goals. They have gifted their opposition “easy goals” on errant passes by defencemen, or turnovers by forwards, and Mikko Koskinen’s softgoalitis has reappeared. The Oilers need a reset, and that is why I’d start rookie Stuart Skinner.

Skinner has played well in his three appearances. His only blemish was fanning on the puck in Detroit which led to the Red Wing’s third goal. He made some solid stops in that game despite the loss. He also lost to Buffalo, but none of the goals were weak, and last night, when he relieved Koskinen to start the third period, he looked very poised stopping all eight shots he faced, four of which were quality saves.

The Oiler’s defensive woes are a team-wide issue. There isn’t one defence pairing, forward line or goalie who gets a free pass. They all need to improve, but Koskinen’s numbers over his past five starts are the reason why I’d give Skinner his first home start of the season.

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Koskinen is 4-1 in his last five starts, but he has a .882Sv% and 3.82 GAA. He was excellent in the victory in St.Louis. I give him full marks for that win — he stole that game — but on Tuesday he allowed an awful goal to Adam Lowry on the Jet’s first shot of the game at 2:09. In his last five starts he is -0.12 in goals relative to expected and -0.1Sv% relative to expected which ranks 40th in the NHL.

Yes, Duncan Keith can make a better dump in, but it wasn’t like he passed it right to the Jet’s stick. It hit a leg, and Lowry’s goals come off a shot from the top of the circle. That should be a routine save. All day. Every day.

Courtesy of Clear Sight Analytics Koskinen is 19th in goals saved at +3.47 on the season, but the past five starts that has dropped. Where he suffers most is on low% goals. He has allowed seven this season, which is tied for 2nd most in the NHL. Allowing seven weak goals in 10 starts is simply too many.

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This has been Koskinen’s nemesis since he arrived in Edmonton. He will play well for long stretches, and make some great saves, but he routinely seems to lack focus and allow goals to squeak by him. To me, that is a lack of mental focus, especially when it happens early in games. The main job of a goalie is to win, and Koskinen is 9-2, and he deserves credit for out-duelling the opposing goalie many nights. But his softgoalitis is part of his repertoire. It has been for three seasons, and until I see a significant stretch of games without it, I still believe it is there. That is who he is. He is a solid NHL goalie, but struggles focusing on “easy shots” at times.

There is some risk to starting Skinner against the red-hot Jets (8-1-2 in their last 11), but there is also a potential reward in giving him a start against a top team. He could play well and show the organization, and his teammates, he is ready for more responsibility. None of us will know when a player is fully ready, whether it is a forward, defenceman or goalie. Most young players will have ups and downs in their first seasons. If Skinner starts, and plays great against the Jets, that doesn’t mean he is automatically capable of being a consistent NHL goalie, but at this point I’d be willing to give him a shot.

Skinner has stopped 63 of 69 shots he’s faced, and really it is 63 of 68, as he wasn’t in the net on the Wing’s third goal. He has a respectable .913sv%.

I’m also thinking big picture with this decision. Skinner requires waivers next season. Edmonton drafted him in 2017 and this is his fourth pro season. He spent one year in the ECHL, the previous two in the AHL, and was recalled this year when Mike Smith was injured. He’s been developed properly, and giving him a few more starts while Smith is out could give them a better sense of what they have.

The past 10 Stanley Cup winners have all won with a homegrown goalie. The last team to win a Cup without one was Boston in 2011 with Tim Thomas. Thomas was drafted by the Quebec Nordiques in 1994. He played the next three seasons at the University of Vermont and then bounded around the ECHL, IHL, AHL, Finland, and Sweden, before the Bruins signed him for the 2002/2003 seasons.

Between his draft year and his first NHL appearance on October 19th, 2002, against the Edmonton Oilers, Thomas had quite the journey.

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He played 107 games with Vermont.
One with Houston in the IHL.
Six with Birmingham in the ECHL.
Thirty-two with HIFK in Finland.
Four with team USA at the World Championships.
Fifteen with Hamilton in the AHL (Oilers affiliate).
Thirty-six with Detroit in the IHL.
Forty-three with AIK in Sweden.
Thirty-two with Karpat in Finland.

Then he signed with the Bruins. He played four NHL games in 2002/2003, as well as 35 with Providence in the AHL. He spent the entire 2003/2004 season in Providence as well, and then after the lockout he started the first 26 games in the AHL, before being recalled to Boston on January 10th, 2006, and he never left the NHL again.

Boston didn’t draft him, but they did develop him more than any other NHL team as he played 104 AHL games over three seasons with Providence. Any NHL team could have claimed him on waivers in 2003, 2004 or 2006. But I digress.

The recent trend of Cup winners points to teams drafting and developing their own goalies. The Oilers are entering their window where they should be a legit contender in the next five years, so they need to at least look at the possibility they have a goalie from within. I don’t know if Skinner will be that guy. Goalies are incredibly difficult to assess long term. Many of them never find their groove in the NHL until they are 25 years of age. Skinner is 23, but his developmental curve suggests he could become an NHL starter down the road. I wouldn’t rush him and anoint him the starter right now, but I’d start him tomorrow against Winnipeg.

He has played well, while Koskinen’s numbers in November haven’t been great. The Oilers as a team haven’t been great defensively 5×5.

Give Skinner the start and see how he responds. And maybe it jumpstarts his teammates to be more aware defensively.

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