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Is it time for the Oilers to give Olivier Rodrigue a look in the NHL?
By Zach Laing1 month ago
When Jordan Binnington made his NHL debut with the St. Louis Blues on Dec. 16, 2018, it came at one of the lowest points of their season.
They were 12-14-4 heading into a game that night against the Calgary Flames, and starting netminder Jake Allen had been blown up for four goals in the first frame. Binnington was out for the second and third, allowing two on 12 shots. His next game was another relief appearance on Dec. 29th against the Philadelphia Flyers, and it wasn’t until Jan. 7th, 2019, that he got his first start in the NHL.
At that point in the year, the Blues were virtually ready to throw the towel in on the season. Their 17-19-4 record was the fourth-worst in the league, and this Binnington kid — a 25-year-old drafted in the third round of the 2011 draft — had been tearing up the AHL for three years straight.
With nothing to lose, he turned aside all 25 shots shutting out the Flyers. The rest is history.
St. Louis went on a seemingly improbable run the rest of the year, surging to the 12th-best record in hockey and earning the third spot in the Central Division. It all came on the back of Binnington, who appeared in 32 games for the Blues that year, going 24-5-1 with a stunning .927 save percentage and 1.89 goals against average. They fought and clawed through six and seven-game series against the Jets, Stars and Sharks before earning a Stanley Cup Finals berth against the Boston Bruins. And much like he was in the regular season, Binnington was an unstoppable force in the post-season coming second in Conn Smythe voting behind Ryan O’Reilly.
Up to when Binnington took over the crease, the Blues’ goaltending had failed them. Their team save percentage was 27th in the league, with Jake Allen going 14-13-4 with a .898 percentage and Chad Johnson going 2-8 with a just-as-bad .888 save percentage.
The Edmonton Oilers of today find themselves in a similar position to that of the Blues of yesteryear. The date on the calendar is similar to when the Blues made their swap, and while the Oilers have been sunk by the league’s 25th-ranked team save percentage, Edmonton fares much better in standings, now sitting in a playoff spot.
And while the Oilers’ save percentage has undoubtedly improved, climbing to the league’s 11th ranked since Kris Knoblauch took over, there’s still a glaring hole in the crease for this team. Stuart Skinner has rebounded nicely this year, and while Calvin Pickard’s shown well in spot starts, the Oilers can’t feel confident with this duo down the stretch run of the season and into the playoffs.
There are parallels between Jordan Binnington and Oliver Rodrigue. Drafted by the Oilers in the 2nd round of the 2018 draft, Rodrigue has been percolating in the Oilers system for some time, but much like Binnington did, has seemed to hit another level. Over the last two seasons, he’s posted a 20-16-3 record and a .915 save percentage across 41 games. In a dozen starts this season, he’s allowed two or fewer goals in seven games and has taken the reins as the Bakersfield Condors’ starting goaltender.
This, however, has been complicated with Jack Campbell’s assignment to the AHL, given he’s stolen 11 starts, multiple of which Rodrigue would’ve had. It’s gotten to the point, however, where the organization can’t wait for Campbell to find his game any more — Olivier Rodrigue needs starts.
Edmonton could surely find a backup-level goaltender on the trade market. There are more than enough names floating around, but the issue is that there are even more teams than those who aren’t comfortable with their netminding. We’ve seen save percentages plummet seven percentage points since Binnington stepped in the league, but it doesn’t mean teams are comfortable.
Given the supply and demand of the position and the fact the Oilers — like others — might have to pay hefty prices to lure the Karel Vejmelka’s of the world loose, it would only be smart for the team to see what they had in Rodrigue by giving him a few starts in the National Hockey League.
There’s no better time for the Oilers to do it than this month. There are multiple soft spots in the schedule in January, including two games against the Chicago Blackhawks, one against the Montreal Canadiens, a game against the Columbus Blue Jackets and one against the Nashville Predators, a tough team the Oilers have no issue corraling.
Looking at that list, the smartest spot for the Oilers might be to give Rodrigue the crease for two games at the end of the month. My colleague Tyler Yaremchuk opined last week on The Jason Gregor Show that the Oilers should give Rodrigue the start on Tuesday, Jan. 23rd against the Blue Jackets. It’s a great spot for him to step into the crease, but I’ll go one further and say he should get the start against Chicago two nights later, no matter the result of the first game.
Debuts are never the easiest of things for any player, let alone a goaltender, to have, and setting Rodrigue up for success in the best possible way would be wise. That week, the Condors play on the Sunday prior to the Blue Jackets game, the Wednesday night on the road in San Jose, then again Friday and Saturday at home.
The Oilers would have to make a transaction to do so, and waiving Adam Erne would make the most sense, given he’s likely to be an extra forward when Sam Gagner returns from injury. It would limit the Oilers from exposing Pickard on waivers, while the AHL Condors could call up a netminder from the ECHL Fort Wayne Komets.
Time is ticking on the March 8th trade deadline, and the Oilers need to find an answer in their crease before then.
Zach Laing is the Nation Network’s news director and senior columnist. He can be followed on Twitter at @zjlaing, or reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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