Oilers defenceman Mattias Ekholm discusses his career-year, tactical changes under Kris Knoblauch, and Stuart Skinner’s turnaround

Michael Mazzei
20 days ago
Mattias Ekholm has been having quite a remarkable season for the Oilers.
He has once again been leading the charge with steady play at both ends of the ice, has been a physical force with crushing hits, and has even reached numerous personal milestones along the way. One thing that the Edmonton faithful did not account for was him having a career year offensively with 44 points (11 goals and 33 assists) through 76 games played.
Even though he is surprised at himself for what he has been able to accomplish to this point, he is not complaining one bit if it means team success as he told Gino Reda during a recent one-on-one interview for TSN’s That’s Hockey.
“I don’t really know the last time I had this kind of offensive production, but it’s obviously a lot of fun,” he said. “It’s been a good month both for the team and myself, so it’s always fun to contribute offensively.”
The play that secured his career season offensively was a slap shot from the faceoff circle, a move that he says comes naturally to him. While that proved to be his only point of the night, that goal would eventually be the game-winner in a solid win over the Golden Knights to help close the gap on the Canucks for the Pacific Division crown.
That was one of a a few impressive victories the Oilers have gotten over the past few weeks with the other being against the Avalanche. It is quite telling that the team was able to put forth a convincing effort against the last two Stanley Cup winners, both of whom had to go through Edmonton on their quest for glory.
To Ekholm, he is impressed not only with the defensive structure and solid all-around performances but also with the fact they have been able to do so without the services of Connor McDavid.
“To be honest with you, it’s not, it’s not a bad timing to have that either,” he said. “Obviously we miss our captain, we want him back as soon as we can. But at the same time, just in time for the playoffs, this is elevating other people’s roles on the team and make them feel good about themselves playing well.”
“It’s nice for us as a team to see that we’re not just relying on one or two guys here. We can really play as a good team.”
Full credit goes to Kris Knoblauch for implementing a system that is getting the most out of the players the Oilers have assembled and it is coming into its own just in time for the playoffs. Edmonton has already had the best record in the league since they fired Jay Woodcroft on November 12th, but a lot of that has to do with the team adjusting to this new approach that has been working out well for them.
Ekholm feels there were many factors in how the Oilers were able to get the campaign back on track, one of them being their approach to rush defence.
“I think the way we’re defending the rush is one thing that has really helped us,” he said. “You look at all these top teams like Dallas, Colorado, Vegas: they’re really dangerous off the rush and we were lacking in that department. Whether that was a lack of structure or lack of effort, whatever that was I’m not sure, but I do feel like it’s taken big steps under Khris and he’s brought in a good way of doing it.”
Another major reason why Edmonton is on its way to the postseason instead of counting down the days to the draft lottery is the dramatically improved play of Stuart Skinner. After starting the season 1-4-1, he regained his All-Star form to the tune of a 34-9-4 record amidst a dominant run which included 12 wins during the 16-game winning streak.
There is certainly an argument to be made that Skinner has been the Oilers’ MVP for players not named McDavid or Leon Draisaitl because it is hard to imagine the team would be able to get back to the level they expected to be if they were unable to get timely saves from their 25-year-old netminder.
There is a lot to be impressed with by the play of the projected Game 1 starter. To Ekholm, it is Skinner’s calm presence in the crease that stands out the most which he feels is why the Canadian goalie has been the backbone of the team.
“I think it’s just his presence out there. He doesn’t throw himself to stuff; he just seems very calm, very composed,” he said. “I’m not a goalie expert, but from what I can see and from what I can feel out there, I feel like he’s done a really good job of getting in front of that initial shot and then it’s on us as D-man and low forward to clear the puck out and make sure the rebounds are not there.”
This upcoming playoff run is going to be a pivotal one for the franchise in a lot of ways. With Draisaitl’s contract nearly up, Evander Kane being a wild card, and questions surrounding the offensive depth of the team, how things go in the spring will play a major role in determining the future course of the Oilers.
Following last night’s loss to the Canucks, Edmonton sits second in the division and their first-round opponent if the postseason started today would be the Kings for a third consecutive year. That is far from a sure thing as their other potential matchups could also be the Golden Knights or Ekholm’s former team the Predators. Meaning that it will not be an easy matchup to begin the postseason regardless of who they will face.
No matter the opponent, Ekholm feels good about this year’s group going into the postseason.
“I feel great. I feel as optimistic as ever. I think we have a really good group here,” he said. “We were playing some good hockey coming down the stretch here and we all know it’s the little details in the playoffs. So all we can do is prepare as much as we can, play as good as we can coming down the stretch here.”
You can listen to the full interaction between Reda and Ekholm down below:

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