The 2022/2023 season unofficially began yesterday with rookies taking their medicals. The Oilers rookies did their medicals and then flew to Penticton for the Young Stars Classic in Penticton. They practice today and then play the Winnipeg Jets rookies on Friday (5 p.m MT), the Calgary Flames rookies on Saturday ( 8:30 p.m. MT) and the Vancouver Canucks rookies on Monday at (3:30 MT).
Philip Broberg and Dylan Holloway are the two rookies who will make the Oilers’ season-opening roster, but how many games they play is unknown.
There aren’t many openings on the Oilers’ 23-man, err, 22-man, err, 21-man, err 20-man roster. The biggest question right now is how will they be cap compliant to start the season. A salary dump/trade seems inevitable for GM Ken Holland, but until that deal is made here is one question for every forward, defenceman and goalie who should, or has a chance, to be on the opening night roster.
Jack Campbell — How many games will he play?
Last season Mike Smith started 27 games, Mikko Koskinen started 43 and Stuart Skinner started 12. Edmonton hopes Campbell, their clear starter, will make more than 27 starts in net. He started a career-high 47 games for Toronto last season and has started 25, 22 and 20 in three other seasons. He doesn’t have a lot of wear and tear on his 30-year-old body, so fatigue shouldn’t be a factor. Ideally, he starts between 51-56 games. Half of the league (16 teams) had a goalie start 51+ games last year, but only six teams had a goalie start 57+ games. Campbell starting 51-56 games would be a good spot.
He posted a .914Sv% last year, which ranked tied for 11th among the 16 goalies who made 40+ starts. Mike Smith had a .915Sv% for the Oilers last year, so Campbell doesn’t need to play unreal to give the Oilers steady goaltending. He had a great start last season, posting a .937Sv% in his first 22 starts up to December 31st, but only had an .893Sv% in his final 25 starts between January 1st to April 29th. He’ll be looking for a bit more consistency.
Stuart Skinner — Can he beat playoff caliber teams?
He made 12 starts last season and posted a very respectable .913Sv% and 2.62 GAA. He went 6-6 in his starts, but was 0-2 v. playoff teams. The Oiler wisely sheltered him as he started twice against Seattle and once v. San Jose, Chicago, Winnipeg, Montreal, Ottawa, Columbus, Buffalo, Detroit, Dallas and Boston.
This year he could start 26-31 games (If Campbell is between 51-56), and Skinner will get a few more playoff-caliber matchups. He wants to prove he can handle those teams and be a consistent backup.
Darnell Nurse — Will he play over 40% of his time vs. elite forwards?
When Jay Woodcroft and Dave Manson took over one of their first changes, was to pair Cody Ceci with Nurse and then force fed them tough matchups. Nurse played a ridiculous 50.9% of his time v. Elite forwards. He and Ceci played very well together. They outscored elite competition 9-5 in those 309 minutes courtesy of PuckIQ. For a comparison, Cale Makar was 14-9 v. Elite in 287 minutes over the same span. Makar played 39% of his TOI v. Elite. Manson relied heavily on Nurse/Ceci, and it worked, but is that sustainable all season?
Usually, top pair D-men are facing elite forwards between 34-40% of the time. Nurse and Ceci were high, because they had success early, but also because the coaches didn’t have the same faith in the second and third pairings. I’d suspect Nurse will be closer to 40% v. Elite this season, but depending on his play, and the play of the other two pairs, he might have stretches where he is 45% or higher.
Cody Ceci — Will he play with Nurse all season or anchor the second pair?
Ceci was very steady last season, just like he was in Pittsburgh prior to signing. He isn’t flashy, but he’s a reliable defender. Part of him moving to the second pair will depend on how Evan Bouchard plays. Bouchard struggled when he was paired with Nurse facing tough competition. Manson wisely moved him down the lineup and slotted him in a position where he’d have better success. If Ceci continues his strong play this season, then maybe Manson looks at him and Brett Kulak as a second pair who can handle tough minutes, similar to Johnny Oduya and Nick Hjalmarsson in Chicago. They were an excellent pairing and took a lot of D-zone starts, which allowed Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook a few more offensive opportunities. If Ceci and Kulak play well, then making them a pair would be a good option that could limit the matchups for Nurse/Bouchard, but also allow those two to be in more offensive situations.
Evan Bouchard — Can he bring his playoff intensity to the regular season?
I thought Bouchard increased his competitiveness and battle level in the playoffs. It was impressive for a rookie. Yes, he was a rookie in my eyes despite the NHL’s odd rule he wasn’t, but I digress. Bouchard’s offensive contributions aren’t a concern for me. I expect he will produce at least 40 points, and likely will surpass 50. I’m more interested in the strides he takes defensively. He learned a lot playing with Duncan Keith, and the main thing was being more competitive at key moments in the game. He performed well in the playoffs and that should give him lots of confidence that he can not only produce offence, but be a reliable defender this season.
Brett Kulak — How will he handle being the 2LD?
Kulak played 18 regular season games and 16 playoff games for the Oilers. In the regular season, he mainly in the third pair and faced 21% Elite, 34.2% Middle and 44.8% Grit. In the playoffs he and Tyson Barrie were solid and played almost identical minutes as Keith/Bouchard. The Nurse injury was a factor, I’m sure, in how the D were deployed.
Between 2019-2021 with the Canadiens Kulak faced Elite competition 30-33% of the time. And he had solid numbers, most importantly outscoring them 39-30. Kulak is the clear 2LD to start the season, and that wasn’t the case in previous seasons in Montreal. Every player wants more responsibilities, and Kulak has more than enough NHL experience to handle the increased role on a nightly basis. But it is different being asked to be a top-four guy for 82 games than it is for 30-40. Fatigue, mental preparation and the nightly toll of facing tougher competition regularly will be different. He is excited about the challenge and I’m curious to see how he performs.
Tyson Barrie — Will he be on the roster after the trade deadline?
Barrie and Kulak were a great pair in the playoffs. Historically Barrie has elevated his play when the games matter most in the playoffs. He’s been a solid player for Edmonton since arriving as a UFA. The reason he’d be moved isn’t due to lack of solid play, but more that Edmonton might need to change the makeup of their blueline. They do need some more size, and in a cap world salary is always a factor. I think Barrie has been much better than his detractors suggest, but overall team fit and salary could lead to a move.
Philip Broberg — Will he retain the sixth D spot?
Ken Holland said Broberg has to play his way off the team in training camp and preseason. Broberg is on a similar career projectory as Evan Bouchard. Last season Broberg played 31 games in the AHL and 23 in the NHL. In 2021 Bouchard played in Sweden and 14 in the NHL. Bouchard became a regular last year, and after a rough first half, where he was playing too many minutes against tough competition, but when placed lower in the lineup he had more success.
Broberg likely won’t start the season in the top four, and he will get to find his NHL legs in the right spot in the third pair. That doesn’t mean he won’t play important minutes, just fewer ones. The Ryan Murray signing gives the Oilers a veteran D-man who will push Broberg for ice time. Healthy competition is good.
Ryan Murray — How many games will he play?
Last season NHL teams averaged 3.5 D-men playing 70+ games, so injuries are inevitable and Murray will play. But, when the D corps is healthy how often will he be in the lineup? Murray played 37 regular season games for the Avs last year, but didn’t dress in the postseason. He is a reliable defender, and with the Oilers so close to the cap his $750K cap hit gives him an advantage over Slater Koekkoek ($925K) to start on the opening night roster. But with Murray, Koekkoek and Markus Niemelainen in the mix it will be interesting to see who ends up playing more games.
Connor McDavid — Who will be his regular RW?
He’s so dominant that 100+ points is expected from him. It isn’t even considered a question if he will score 100+ points. We could ask if he will score 130 points, but would anyone really be surprised if he did? I’m more interested in who will play with him. Last season he played 1,327 minutes at 5×5. The most common forwards to play with him were Jesse Puljujarvi (612 minutes), Zach Hyman (494), Evander Kane (418) and Kailer Yamamoto (318). Kane only played half the season and was third. He will be McDavid’s most common left winger, but who will play on the right side? Will it be a revolving spot, or will there be a regular there. Whoever plays there the most will need to finish more plays than the RWs did last season.
On a side note, I do think he will score 130 points. It will be fun to watch. He took his game to a new level in the playoffs, and that will carry over this season. He will score 50 goals for the first time in his career as well.
Leon Draisaitl — Will he avoid the oddity of a December skid?
In December 2019 and 2021, Leon Draisaitl, struggled defensively. In the 25 combined games Draisaitl was -30. In the other 126 games in those two seasons, he was +40. I don’t have a rational explanation as to the goals against oddity of December 2019 and 2021. I’ve seen some suggest the lack of sunlight in Alberta is a factor, as December has the fewest hours of sunlight, but I can’t see any direct connection to that. It has been a simple unexplained oddity for me. It was crazy how in 2019/2020 Draisaitl was somehow -24 in 14 games in December, but +17 in the other 57 games. It was such a wild swing. And again last year he was -6 in 11 games in December, but +23 in the other 69 games. Injuries on the blueline did play a factor last season, but over his entire career Draisaitl is -25 in December, but +49 in the other months.
I feel he is better defensively than he gets credit for, and if he avoid the December drag, he will have a season that could earn him a few Selke votes.
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins — Will he bounce back offensively?
He only scored six goals at 5×5 and only one goal on the power play. He was ninth among forwards in 5×5 points/60 at 1.46 sandwiched between Devin Shore (1.48) and Warren Foegele (1.38). He did score 50 points, so some might feel he was fine offensively, but 44% of his offence was power play assists. For comparison, 15% of Draisaitl’s overall points were PP assists, and 26% for McDavid. RNH was also a gaudy 40% in the faceoff dot. Small detail, but after 11 years in the NHL he should be better than 40%.
Despite his regular season struggles, he performed well in the playoffs, but his regular season 5×5 scoring has not been where it should be the past two seasons.
Over the past two years, 390 forwards have skated 750 minutes at 5×5. RNH ranks 152nd in TOI, is 163rd in shots on goal, 235th in points and 263rd in goals. In that time RNH’s three most common linemates are Kailer Yamamoto, McDavid and Draisaitl. For two seasons he hasn’t produced like a top-six forward at 5×5.
Evander Kane — Should we expect 40 goals from him?
Kane scored 35 goals in 58 regular season/playoff games after signing with the Oilers. It was the best stretch of his career, by far. His previous best was 30 goals in a 69-game stretch in 2011/2012. Kane scored five goals in his first 15 games with the Oilers, but continued to get more comfortable and then finished with 13 in 15 playoff games.
Kane and McDavid seemed to gain chemistry the more they played. Kane is the best goal-scoring winger he’s played with, except Draisaitl, and Kane should set a new career high. He was on pace to 42 goals (22 in 43 regular season games), but he has never played more than 75 games in a season. If he plays 75+ games then he will have a realistic shot at 40 goals.
Zach Hyman — Can he set new career highs again?
Hyman scored 27 goals and 54 points last season, and both were career highs. He followed it up with 11 goals and 16 points in the playoffs. He had five goals and 13 points in 32 playoff games in Toronto. Hyman’s playoff production was somewhat overlooked due to the unreal production of McDavid and Draisaitl as well as Kane’s 13 goals, but Hyman was a huge contributor as well. Will he reach the 30-goal plateau this season? He should.
Last year he led the Oilers with 100 shots from the inner slot, right above the blue paint. McDavid was second with 84 shots followed by Draisaitl at 68. Hyman and McDavid each had 17 goals from their shots while Draisaitl scored 23. If Hyman gets that many shots from around that close again, I’d wager he’ll have a higher SH% than 17. Most forwards are 20% or higher, and often over 25% from there. Hyman’s will be a bit lower, as he often is hammering at rebounds while the goalie is down, but he should still be above 20% from there.
His production could also go up if he banged home a few more on the power play. He had five PP goals, on 30 shots, in 163 minutes in the regular season, but scored three goals on 16 shots in 50 minutes in the playoffs. His SH% went from 16.7 to 18.7, so not a massive jump, but his shot rate was much higher in the playoffs. It was 9.87 in the regular season, but 17.8 in the playoffs.
Hyman doesn’t transport the puck much, and he doesn’t have to when playing with McDavid or Draisaitl, so increasing his new career-high of 27 assists could be more of a challenge than his goal production.
Kailer Yamamoto — Will there be fewer peaks and valleys?
He had a solid season producing 20 goals and 41 points, but he had stretches where he was red hot or ice cold. He went seven games without registering one shot on goal, but also had a stretch of 8 goals and 15 points in 12 games. Some players are streaky, and he might be one, but he’d like to reduce the length of the lows. When he gets hot he can ride it for weeks, even months like he did when he was recalled during the 2019/2020 season. Ultimately if he finishes the season with 20 goals that will be a solid campaign, but can he find more consistency throughout the season?
Jesse Puljujarvi — Did he improve his puck skills?
Effort is never an issue with Puljujarvi. He gives you a solid effort most nights, he just needs more polish in his game. He had the fourth most slot shots on the team last season with 93, which is to be expected when you play mainly with McDavid and Draisaitl, who are both top-five in completed passes to the slot. Playing with those two means you will get more quality scoring chances. Puljujarvi scored 13 goals from the slot last year, and nine came from the inner slot (Stats courtesy of Sportlogiq).
His 13 goals weren’t bad, but his SH% from the slot (13.9%) needs to be better. Kane was 26.3% (20 goals on 76 shots), Yamamoto 24%, (19 on 79 shots) and Hyman was 17.5% (26 goals on 148 shots). The only forward among the 12 regulars who had a lower SH% from the slot was RNH, which matches what we wrote about him above.
McDavid and Draisaitl will find the open guy in the slot, and if Puljujarvi’s finishing ability improves he could push to be a 20-25 goal scorer for sure.
Ryan McLeod — Will he be the regular 3C?
He’s had a steady, positive development curve since turning pro. He learned to be a pro in the AHL in 2020, then got a taste of the NHL in 2021 playing 10 games, and last season became a regular after playing seven games in the AHL. McLeod was mainly a bottom six forward and because Jay Woodcroft knew him when Woodcroft took over he gave him more opportunities on the penalty kill. McLeod relished the opportunity and in the playoffs was on the first PK unit exclusively. He was also used on the wing at times, and that is where he started to use his speed more to his advantage. As noted above, RNH needs to produce more 5×5 when playing LW in the top six, but if he doesn’t we might see him and McLeod swap spots at times. I do think McLeod is better served to be the third line centre. He doesn’t have the tenacity of a Yanni Gourde, but he has the speeds and smarts, and Gourde was hugely important as a 3C for the Lightning. If McLeod can continue to develop into that role this season, his importance in the playoffs will be a huge addition for Edmonton.
Warren Foegele — Will he become a regular on the PK?
In 2020 and 2021 Foegele was a regular penalty killer with the Carolina Hurricanes, and they had the third and fourth best PKs those two seasons. Foegele’s numbers were very solid. He wasn’t on the first unit PK, but was more in the second unit and performed well. Players like having a specific role. Play Foegele with McLeod on the third line and on the PK, and make them take pride in being sound defensively. A few more minutes a game could benefit Foegele’s 5×5 play as he’d feel more involved in the game. He needs to show Woodcroft he can do it, but past history suggests he can and Woodcroft told me he will be given every opportunity in the preseason to win a job on the PK.
Derek Ryan — Can he keep up?
Ryan’s never been a burner, but he’s an incredibly smart player, and when given the chance he can finish. He only had 32 shots from the slot last year, but scored on nine of them (28.1%). Ryan turns 36 in December, and his biggest challenge this year might be against Father Time. He was very important on the PK last year for the Oilers, especially in the faceoff dot, and right now he’s the only right-shot faceoff guy they have. They need him to drink from the fountain of youth to start the season.
Mattias Janmark — Where will he play?
What role will he fill? He will be battling Foegele and Dylan Holloway for ice time on the left side. He’s averaged 1:28/game on the PK the past five seasons, so he gives Woodcroft another PK option. If the Oilers move one of Foegele or Puljujarvi, which I foresee happening due to a lack of cap space, then Janmark could slot in on the third line. He isn’t a flashy player. I’m curious to see him on a regular basis and see element/role he excels at most. He’s a bit of a wildcard for me.
Dylan Holloway — Will he be a regular in the lineup?
He will be on the day-one roster, simply for salary cap purposes. Because he has performance bonuses the Oilers need him on the opening day roster so he is a $925K cap all season. If he isn’t on the opening day roster, then when he is recalled during the season he’d actually be a $1.441m cap hit. It is an odd rule where his performance bonuses and his base salary are added together to make his cap hit. So he will be here for at least one day, but how many games will he play and will he start the season in Edmonton? The Oilers don’t have to rush him. They will need to decide if he is better off playing on the fourth line in the NHL, or first line in the AHL. I’d go with the latter. I think Holloway has to be a regular in the top-nine to remain in Edmonton. We might see him go up and down a few times, depending on how he plays. He likely won’t get PK time to start the year, and will get a bit of time on the second unit PP, but that unit doesn’t play much. It is difficult for a bottom six forward to get more than 10-11 minutes of 5×5 time most nights, so opportunity and TOI will factor in where he plays this year.
Devin Shore — Can he reduce his goals against?
Shore’s offensive production was more than adequate for a bottom six, mainly fourth line player last year. He produced 1.48 points/60 at 5×5, which was seventh best among the regular forwards. His GF% was 44.1% (15-19), and he needs that to be closer to 50% and more reliable. Shore can play wing or centre, but he’s in a battle with Brad Malone for the fourth line C spot or 13th forward position.
Brad Malone — Will he win the 4C job?
Malone did dress for two playoff games last year while Shore sat in the press box. Woodcroft is very familiar with Malone’s game. He brings more physicality and tenacity than Shore, and with Josh Archibald and Zack Kassian gone, the Oilers need someone to replace their aggressive play in the bottom six. Malone is a great example of perseverance. He was a regular with Carolina in 2015 and 2016, but signed with Washington for the 2017 season, but spent the full season in the AHL. The next three seasons, he was on two-way deals with Edmonton, and in 2021 he signed an AHL only deal, before the Oilers signed him to a pro-rated NHL deal in February, and then re-signed him with a two-way deal this summer. He’s get grinding and battling in last season when Woodcroft was still coaching in Bakersfield he said Malone was has continued to improve as a player. Woodcroft knows his game, and really likes his personality, and Malone could find himself on an NHL opening day roster for the first time since October of 2016.
What pressing question do you have for a player or players this season?
- When: On Thursday, January 12th, we’re jumping on a flight at the Edmonton International Airport and making our way to Vegas. On Sunday evening, we’ll fly back from Vegas to Edmonton. So the dates that you need to block off for this trip are January 12th to 15th.
- Where we’re staying: After landing in LV, we’ll jump on the free shuttle and make our way to the Park MGM before settling in for a good night’s sleep. 😉
- What you get: Your roundtrip flight, hotel, shuttle, viewing party (Friday night), game entry — we got seats this time (Saturday night), and exclusive entry into our pre-trip ‘get to know everyone’ event.
- How Much: The total cost for the trip, flight, hotel, and entry to the game is $1499 per person (based on double occupancy)
- Tickets: Ready to dive in? Click this link.
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