It’s been five years since the Edmonton Oilers drafted goaltender Stuart Skinner in the third round of the 2017 draft.
The kid from the South Side Athletic Club had just finished up his third full season in the WHL playing with the Lethbridge Hurricanes. While his numbers weren’t tremendous in the regular season posting a .905 save percentage, a 3.26 GAA and a 34-18-5 record, his game elevated in the playoffs.
After a trade to the Swift Current Broncos the following year, he truly broke out. In 25 games, he posted a 16-6-2 record, a .914 save percentage and a 2.68 GAA as he backstopped the Bronc’s to a WHL title.
He turned pro the following year and has spent four years percolating in the Oilers’ system. All signs are pointing to him being a regular NHL goaltender this upcoming season.
“I have a strong belief in Stuart’s ability,” said Oilers head coach Jay Woodcroft in his season-ending press conference. “I’ve seen him grow with his on-ice skill set, I’ve seen him grow as a person. I feel good about Stuart Skinner and his potential as a really good NHL goaltender.”
One popular talking point from Woodcroft his year has been shared experiences. After all, he’s worked with a large number of players on the Oilers roster at some point or another. Skinner, now 23, backstopped the Bakersfield Condors to a Pacific Divison title while under Woodcroft. The trust is there.
This past year, the two got to work together more. Skinner ranked near the top in many goaltending statistics in the AHL. He played in 35 regular-season games in Bakersfield posting a .920 save percentage (6th), a 2.21 GAA (4th) five shutouts (T-1) and a 22-7-7 record.
For Skinner, however, he got his first shot in the NHL. He appeared in 13 games for the Oilers this season posting a 6-6 record, a .914 save percentage and a 2.62 goals-against average. For a good part of the year, he led the Oilers’ netminders in save percentage. He showed well, and earned his first NHL shutout in his final start of the season.
Heading into this season, Skinner is now waiver-eligible and it’s clear that he will be with the big club heading into next season.
“We have hopes for Stu Skinner,” said Oilers general manager Ken Holland, “but he’s 23 and to really expect him to come in and play 50, 55, 60 games is too much to expect and too much responsibility to put on him.”
Holland’s not wrong. You can’t pencil in Skinner for that number of games this year, but you need to have him as you backup, no doubt. I think 35 games is the right ballpark to ease him in.
What happens down the road, though? It’s hard not to see Skinner being able to take the reins as the starting goaltender in short order and the Edmonton Oilers need to plan for it. If Smith returns for next season, you’re going to need to bank on Skinner for likely more games. At Smith’s age, and his issues with injury this past season, you just can’t rely on him.
But what happens if Smith retires? The Oilers obviously need to find some sort of a replacement. I’d caution long-term deals to either Darcy Kuemper or Jack Campbell in free agency, even though they’re the belles of the ball. Can Holland convince either to come to Edmonton on a shorter-term deal at a higher AAV? Would a two-to-four-year deal at $6-$7-million be enough to entice them? Who knows. While the number sign on a deal like that could be scary, the Oilers will be bidding against a number of teams who are also looking for goaltending to get them over the hump.
They might be forced to go another route. Would a vet like Braden Holtby, Martin Jones or Casey DeSmith be tempting? Sure, there could be some value there.
But no matter how you cut it, the Oilers need to be focusing on their goaltending not only in the short-term but the long-term, too.