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Oilers’ six best roster decisions by Kris Knoblauch in the 2024 playoff run

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Photo credit:© Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports
Sean Panganiban
17 days ago
With the dust settled on the Edmonton Oilers’ playoff journey, some in Oil Country are starting to be at peace with the result. Although the sting of not achieving the ultimate goal may remain, there are many positives to cherish from the remarkable postseason run.
One positive takeaway is the strategic moves made by head coach Kris Knoblauch during the playoffs, which gives optimism for even greater success next season. He made critical decisions throughout the postseason run, and for the most part, many paid off.
With that in mind, here are six of Knoblauch’s top roster decisions from the Oilers’ 2024 playoff run.

Knoblauch Gave Dylan Holloway an Opportunity

Before the playoffs started, Dylan Holloway was recalled to the Oilers from the AHL to play the last six regular-season games and recorded five points in that span. As the playoffs approached, it was still being determined if the 22-year-old would play, given the number of veteran players the Oilers had at their disposal.
Yet, Knoblauch inserted Holloway into the lineup to start the playoffs. He gave him a shot that other coaches might not have considered, as they might have opted for safer, more defensive-minded players instead of the youngster.
All in all, Holloway impressed throughout the postseason. He played most of his minutes on the second line with Leon Draisaitl (131:46) and tallied five goals and two assists, which included a two-goal game against the Los Angeles Kings in the opening round. He also scored the opening goal in Game 6 against the Vancouver Canucks when facing elimination and contributed another two-goal effort in the Oilers’ big 8-1 win over the Florida Panthers in Game 4.
Additionally, Holloway was impressive away from the puck, leading the team in hits (86) and all forwards in blocked shots (21). Overall, throughout the playoffs, there were spurts when Holloway appeared very confident, a trait that could be attributed to Knoblauch showing faith in the youngster, which should ultimately carry forward to next season.

The Skinner and Pickard Swap by Knoblauch Was a Success

One of Knoblauch’s most daring decisions came in the second-round series against the Vancouver Canucks after Stuart Skinner allowed 12 goals in the first three games. He benched the 25-year-old and started his 32-year-old backup, Calvin Pickard, in Game 4. If the decision had failed, he would have faced heavy criticism, but the goalie swap proved successful as Pickard went on to make 19 saves on 21 shots, leading to a 3-2 win.
Knoblauch went with Pickard again in Game 5, and he was solid, giving them a puncher’s chance in the 3-2 defeat. In the lead-up to Game 6, some in Oil Country felt Pickard should get another start. However, Knoblauch’s decision to return to his number one netminder, Skinner, for Games 6 and 7, proved successful. Skinner rebounded, as he had done before, posting a combined 1.50 GAA in both games as the Oilers eliminated the Canucks in Game 7.
Overall, hats off to Knoblauch for making the gutsy goalie moves that worked very well for Edmonton. He realized that Skinner needed a reset, so he sat him for two games, and after that, he was steady, all things considered, for the rest of the postseason.

McLeod and Perry Re-Inserted Back Into Oilers’ Lineup vs Stars Was a Bold Move

After the Oilers lost Game 3 to the Dallas Stars in the Western Conference Final, Knoblauch made one of his boldest moves of the postseason— inserting two players who had gone pointless up until that point, Ryan McLeod and Corey Perry, back into the lineup.
Moreover, Knoblauch wasn’t merely placing them on the fourth line; he was putting them in a scoring role on the second line with Leon Draisaitl, which seemed like a desperate move at the time. If the Oilers had lost, they would’ve been down 3-1 in the series, and that decision would’ve been highly scrutinized.
But, of course, like many of Knoblauch’s bold decisions, it paid off. The Oilers were down 2-0 in the first period, but with just over six minutes remaining in the frame, Darnell Nurse skated the puck into the Stars’ zone and dropped it to Perry, who then shot it through traffic.
McLeod, who had faced criticism for not going hard enough to the blue paint, drove toward the net, picked up the rebound, and roofed it over Jake Oettinger, getting the Oilers on the board. Edmonton won Game 4 by a score of 5-2, and Knoblauch’s bold move to bring McLeod and Perry back into the lineup and onto the second line, no less, paid off as they ignited their team’s comeback.

Philip Broberg In and Vincent Desharnais Out Against the Stars

It seemed unlikely that Philip Broberg would be inserted into the playoff lineup unless an injury occurred. However, after losing 5-3 in Game 3 to the Stars, Knoblauch replaced blueliner Vincent Desharnais—who had been a shot-blocking leader on the penalty kill—with the young Swede for Game 4, marking Broberg’s first appearance in the postseason.
The 22-year-old held steady in Game 4, logging 14:21 minutes on the third pairing with Cody Ceci and made good passes, playing mostly low-event hockey. However, it was in Game 5 where Broberg had the most significant moment of his young NHL career, scoring his first career playoff goal with a slap shot from the point.
After that, Broberg’s confidence increased. He wasn’t error-free, but he played well in the remaining games, showcasing his smooth skating and ability to skate the puck out of danger. Credit goes to Knoblauch for giving him that opportunity. In ten playoff games, he averaged 15:47 of ice time, spending most of his minutes (77:30) with Darnell Nurse on the second pair and finishing with two goals, one assist, and a plus/minus of +8.

Knoblauch’s Handling of Warren Foegele in the Stanley Cup Final Was on Point

Warren Foegele sat out the last three games of the series against the Stars in the second round but was re-inserted into the lineup for the Stanley Cup Final. In Game 2, he was ejected after receiving a questionable five-minute major for kneeing Eetu Luostarinen. Until then, he had only scored a single goal—an empty-netter—in 18 playoff games, and his postseason seemed destined for disappointment.
However, he was sprung on a breakaway in Game 3 and beat Sergei Bobrovsky with a glove-side wrister. Knoblauch decided to ride with Foegele’s hot hand, promoting him to the first line in Game 4 with Connor McDavid and Zach Hyman, and he ended the night with a plus/minus of +3 in the Oilers’ 8-1 win.
 
Also, the 28-year-old remained on the first line and set up McDavid for a goal in the Game 5 win. However, one might naturally think the ‘if it ain’t broke, why fix it?’ method would carry over into Game 6, but Knoblauch made a minor tweak. Instead of keeping him with the Oilers’ captain, he dropped Foegele down to the second line to play with Draisaitl.
The move paid off halfway through the first period. Draisaitl danced through the Panthers’ zone and feathered a pass to Foegele, who one-timed it to make it 1-0 for the home team. Knoblauch’s instinct to ride Foegele’s hot hand and put him in positions to excel in the last few games against the Panthers turned out well, all things considered, as he tallied four points in the final five games.

The Formation of the Janmark, Henrique and Brown Line in Finals

Knoblauch put together the trio of Mattias Janmark, Adam Henrique, and Connor Brown in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final, and they played just over 50 minutes together at 5v5 and emerged as one of the Oilers’ best and most consistent lines, generating 3GF and 1GA.
On the brink of elimination in Game 4, Henrique buried a pass from Janmark to make it 2-0, and although the Oilers won the game convincingly by a score of 8-1, Henrique’s goal stood as the game-winner and they also combined for a goal in Game 6.
Additionally, the line was one of the best, if not the best, in Game 7, with Janmark scoring the only marker on a breakaway. Overall, the trio forechecked hard, played solid defensive hockey, and earned Knoblauch’s trust, often starting games or taking the first shift of periods to set the tone. All three players are pending unrestricted free agents, and it remains to be seen if they can re-sign them. However, it would be a huge win to have these guys back next season, given how they stepped up with their rock-solid play in the Finals.
All things considered, Knoblauch’s roster and lineup selections were mostly spot-on throughout the playoffs and when needed, he made good adjustments. With that in mind, what decisions did you enjoy most in the playoffs from the head coach?

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