Random Thoughts: What have we learned about the Oilers during the NHL pre-season?

Photo credit:Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports
6 months ago
After what felt like an eternity, the Edmonton Oilers have finally wrapped up their eight-game pre-season, and now all that’s left to do is wait for Wednesday’s season opener. But with four more sleeps until showtime, I still have a handful of questions about where this team is and how that matches up with what we expect from them.


When the pre-season first started, the word on Mattias Ekholm was that he had a hip flexor issue that would keep him out of game action until the back end of the eight-game set, but that it wasn’t serious enough to keep him off the ice long term. Well, last night marked game number eight, and our beloved Viking was nowhere to be found. Eight games, no Big Swedish Daddy. And even though the pre-season really doesn’t matter much in terms of the results, you do like to see the everyday players take a few twirls to try and get themselves back to game shape. Considering how important Ekholm is to this blue line and the team as a whole, knowing that he’s not at 100% before the season even starts makes me nervous, even though nothing has even happened.


Yesterday, I jumped on Oilersnation Everyday with Tyler Yaremchuk to do a roundtable with Jason Gregor, and he mentioned that Brett Kulak was a little bit banged up, maybe even missing a little bit of time to start the year. Now, I don’t know about you but the idea of missing two key pieces on the left side of the defence is not exactly what I had envisioned for the start of the 2023-24 NHL season. To make matters worse, we don’t really know what’s going on with him. Before I sat down to write this post, I scoured Twitter to see if I could a few clues about what’s happening but there is absolutely no information available apart from the obvious fact that he wasn’t on the ice. At this stage, we have to hope that Kulak is only banged up a little bit and that keeping him off the ice is a precautionary measure, but I have to admit that nothing nothing about the situation isn’t exactly helpful for my pre-season anxiety. It’s supposed to be Kool-Aid season, ya know?


What can you say about the pre-season performance put in by Jack Campbell? Every time Woodcroft put him in net, Soup stood tall and gave the Oilers the kind of performance that helped the team win all three games he played. Now, before you get on me in the comment section that getting the job done in the pre-season is nothing like performing when games matter for real, I already know that’s true but I also think it’s fair to acknowledge that the guy was totally dialled in any time he was called upon. By my count, Jack Campbell stopped 101 of 104 shots he faced, which is good for a .971 save% and a 0.99 GAA. And even though we know that won’t be the case as the season rolls along, it’s hard to look at what he’s done so far and not feel hopeful that he’ll be able to rebound in year two of that five-year contract. To be specific, if Campbell can bring himself back to his career average for save percentage then we’ll be in line for a much better year by a country mile.


At the time of this writing, we don’t know where the Oilers are leaning in terms of the last job up front and who is the frontrunner for grabbing it. For many fans, Raphael Lavoie is the guy we think will land the final forward gig, but what we think doesn’t matter until Jay Woodcroft finalizes his lineup. Maybe Woody has a completely different idea for that 12th forward spot and Lavoie doesn’t fit in the plans? Either way, we have a handful of players in Raphael Lavoie, Adam Erne, and Lane Pederson that are all vying for the gig, and with all three of those dudes bringing different skill sets, it’s going to be fascinating to see who get the first look in that spot.


Every year, I like to give out the Ty Rattie Award for the Oilers’ best pre-season performer. This year, it was extremely tough to pick a winner because it wasn’t like someone rolled into the pre-season and shot the lights out. If you remember last year’s Ty Rattie Award, Dylan Holloway took the honours after lighting the league en masse but this year that wasn’t the case. It wasn’t like there was a guy that was pumping goals home this year, so that made picking a Ty Rattie Award winner much more difficult. This year, I decided to change gears this year and give the Ty Rattie Award to the person that made the biggest jump on the depth chart. That’s why I think this year’s winner can only be one person. This year, the Ty Rattie Award winner is… Ben Gleason.
Before the pre-season even started, none of us would have expected Ben Gleason to be the guy that caught everyone’s attention with his steady play and strong first pass. Even though Gleason won’t be starting with the Oilers when the season kicks off, I would absolutely bet that he’s put himself in a position to be the first call-up. So when I think about the Ty Rattie Award winner, how could I ignore the effort put down by a guy that practically came out of nowhere and cemented himself as a solid depth option on the left side.


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