Oilers depth makes them a force to be reckoned with

Edmonton Oilers Ryan McLeod
Photo credit:Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports
Zach Laing
1 day ago
This Edmonton Oilers team has a different feel to them.
For years, the franchise has taken flack from all sorts of people in and around the game for being a top-heavy, one-dimensional game. It was Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl and then nobody else.
It’s taken them time to shake that sentiment, and this year’s team might just be the one to do it. However, the improvements over the years have been notable.
In the 2020 and 2021 playoffs, when the Oilers were eliminated in four games by the Chicago Blackhawks and swept by the Winnipeg Jets the following year, fielded some lineups that, looking back in hindsight are lucky to have even made the post-season. It’s no wonder they only won one of those eight games.
The 2021-22 season was when they began to really address the depth of the team. Offseason moves saw the Oilers sign Zach Hyman and Cody Ceci were signed in the offseason while Warren Foegele and Duncan Keith were acquired in trades. During the season, they added Evander Kane as a free agent, while trading for Brett Kulak.
After making it through to the Western Conference finals, more offseason surgery came in 2022, and more in-season additions followed. Jack Campbell was signed in hopes of securing the crease, only for that to fall apart and Stuart Skinner and Vincent Desharnais to emerge. The additions of Mattias Janmark, Klim Kostin, Nick Bjugstad, and the home-run trade for Mattias Ekholm furthered that.
Tweaks continued into this season despite little cap space, as the club signed Corey Perry, and acquired Adam Henrique, Sam Carrick and Troy Stecher.
Here’s a full look at the rosters for Game 1 of the 2021, 2022 and 2023 playoffs, compared to the Oilers lineup in Game 5 against L.A. last night. Players in blue are on the roster today, while those in orange have departed.
The lineup changes are overwhelming over the course of four seasons. It’s hard to look back at the 2021 playoff team that got swept by Winnipeg. Domink Kahun on the top line? Yeesh.
Edmonton’s much needed improvements over the course of these four years are what played key for the Oilers against the Kings, as Kris Knoblauch comfortably rolled four lines through virtually the whole series. What’s been key for the Oilers is that while the underlying numbers at 5v5 paint a picture of the Los Angeles Kings dominating the shot attempt share (57.34 percent to 42.66 percent), the Oilers were effectively able to choke them out of generating quality looks with a much narrower expected goal share (52.09 percent to 47.91 percent) and scoring chance share (50.96 percent to 49.04 percent).
And when it came to the high-danger chances (51.49 percent), and high-danger goals (66.67 percent, 6 to 3), those numbers ring further true.
It highlights the Oilers’ willingness to give up volume, but not give up quality looks. The top line was the biggest mover of this, as Henrique, McDavid, and Hyman dominated the Kings in every facet of the way, with Ryan McLeod and Corey Perry, with either Dylan Holloway or Warren Foegele, able to do much of the same.
“We have good players in the press box,” said Oilers head coach Kris Knoblauch after Game 5, referencing the likes of Sam Carrick and Connor Brown, who were regulars throughout the season. “It’s hard not to be playing them, but DR, these two games he’s played — the end of the game four, the 1-0 game in LA, he’s out there in the last five minutes.
“Tonight, you see the desperation with him after breaking his stick and the plays he’s making. We’ve got some good players who aren’t playing, as you mentioned, and those players, we’ve trusted quite a bit throughout the year with the penalty kill. With a one-goal lead, I trust them out in those situations.”
McDavid, too, spoke of the Oilers’ depth after the Game 5 win.
“We got lots of depth,” he said. “Even the guys that didn’t play in the series are more than capable of stepping up and stepping into big roles, and important assignments. We got lots of depth. It’s a good sign.”
The Oilers might have to tweak their lines a little bit the deeper they go into the playoffs to better match some of the speedier and stronger teams, but for now, I have a hard time imagining Kris Knoblauch and co. splitting up the groupings we saw in Game 5 at the start of Round 2.
No matter what they do, it’s hard to argue that this isn’t the deepest Oilers team we’ve seen in nearly two decades.

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 zach@thenationnetwork.com.

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