At Random: My Oilers’ prediction for 2023-24
Photo credit:© Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports
1 month ago
When I look at the edition of the Edmonton Oilers that will open their 2023-24 season against the Vancouver Canucks Wednesday, I see the best version of this team since the post-Gretzky group that sipped suds from the Stanley Cup in 1990.
When you start with Connor McDavid, who’ll take another run at 150 points and of all the silverware he’s eligible to win, and Leon Draisaitl, who will give McDavid a go for the Rocket Richard Trophy, you’ve got the best one-two punch in the game. I’ll take it a step further and say the Oilers have the most gifted group of top-six forwards in the NHL. Name a better bunch.
The Oilers have added Connor Brown to the mix on the right wing alongside McDavid, his former teammate with the Erie Otters in the OHL. Then, there’s Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Zach Hyman, both coming off career years and Evander Kane, who is looking to put a tough season injury-wise behind him.
Now, factor in cornerstone blueliner Mattias Ekholm for a full season instead of just the 21 games we saw him last season – the Oilers went 18-2-1 in that stretch — after he was acquired from Nashville. Ekholm and Evan Bouchard were money together on the depth chart behind Darnell Nurse and Cody Ceci. When everybody is healthy, we’ll see Nurse with Bouchard, Ekholm with Philip Broberg and Brett Kulak with Ceci to start this season.
THE ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM
Apr 1, 2023; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; Edmonton Oilers goaltender Stuart Skinner (74) celebrates with goaltender Jack Campbell (36) after his 6-0 victory over the Anaheim Ducks. The win was goaltender Jack Campbell (36) first shout-out as an Edmonton Oilers at Rogers Place. Mandatory Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports
The Oilers don’t need to match the league-leading 325 goals they scored last season or have a historically good power play again to take a run at the Cup. What they need to do is improve at keeping pucks out of their own net. That starts from the goal crease on out with Jack Campbell and Stuart Skinner. I know, thanks Captain Obvious. Still, that’s easier said than done. The PK has to be better and the blueliners need to make fewer big mistakes.
We know what happened last season. Campbell was pegged as the starter but struggled mightily and lost the net to Skinner. As good as Skinner was in his 50 appearances, his game dropped off in the post-season – he was .883 in 12 games — and Campbell was the better of the two, albeit in very limited minutes. Teams can’t win bupkis with a save percentage that starts with eight in playoffs.
As I wrote on the weekend, Campbell has looked like a new man in substance and style in the blue paint through training camp. At 3-0 with a 0.99 GAA and .971 save percentage, it’s easy to argue he’s earned the start against Vancouver tomorrow.
It’s more important, of course, that he and Skinner find some consistency. Do that, and coach Jay Woodcroft has the luxury of running a tandem that plays a more even split than a year ago. I thought Skinner wore down a bit as last season went on. There is no downside to having two stoppers on top of their games.
THE BOTTOM LINE
As for bold predictions, Frank Seravalli has posted some really good ones here and Ryan Whitney has picked the Oilers to win the Cup. Whitney isn’t alone.
As for me, when I look at McDavid and Draisaitl, at the addition of Brown, when I consider a full season from Ekholm and allow for a bump to the .910 range in combined save percentage for Skinner and Campbell, I not only see a team that can win the Stanley Cup, but one that will. There, you have it.
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