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The Day After (-8.0): Opening roster decision looms as Oilers finish pre-season

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Photo credit:© Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports
Cam Lewis
6 months ago
Eight pre-season games down, none to go. We’re here.
The Edmonton Oilers hosted the Seattle Kraken for the final tune-up game of the fall and won by a score of 3-1. Connor McDavid, Zach Hyman, and Evander Kane scored goals and Jack Campbell put forward another excellent performance by stopping 35 of the 36 shots that he faced.
The question now is which players will be on Edmonton’s roster when they travel to Vancouver on Wednesday to open up the 2023-24 season.

THE DAY AFTER IS PRESENTED BY BETWAY


The top three forward lines appear to be set, with Connor McDavid playing with Connor Brown and Evander Kane on his wings and Leon Draisaitl as the centre with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Zach Hyman. Though Ryan McLeod hasn’t played in the pre-season because of an injury, he figures to centre the Oilers’ third line with Dylan Holloway and Warren Foegele.
 
That leaves three spots for four forwards. Veterans Derek Ryan and Mattias Janmark have the inside track while off-season addition Lane Pederson and top prospect Raphael Lavoie are fighting for the other spot. The plan was originally for Edmonton’s 12th forward to be a centre but using Janmark as a pivot gives the Oilers some different options. Lavoie scored 25 goals in the AHL last season and it’ll be very difficult to get him through waivers.
“If we’re liking and what we’re seeing with Mattias in the middle, then that that opens up other types of options,” said head coach Jay Woodcroft. “It’s something that’s in his bag. When he was a younger player, that’s how he came up.”
The seven defenders who played in the playoffs last spring were expected to be the seven defenders who broke camp with the Oilers in the fall but Mattias Ekholm might not be ready for the start of the season. If that’s the case, Ben Gleason would surely be the defenceman who they bring along in his absence. He finished off an impressive pre-season on Friday with another quality performance alongside Cody Ceci, as the duo had a 20-to-9 shot attempt differential over 14:49 at even strength.
Finally, we have the goaltending duo of Jack Campbell and Stuart Skinner. Campbell inked a five-year, $25 million deal with the Oilers in free agency last summer but struggled mightily during his first season in Edmonton and Skinner wound up taking the net and finishing as the runner-up for the league’s Rookie of the Year.
During the pre-season, Campbell looked much more like the goalie they signed to a long-term deal than the one they saw last year. The 31-year-old suited up for three games and posted a .971 save percentage and a 0.99 goals-against average. He said that some adjustments he made over the off-season have resulted in him feeling more comfortable between the pipes.
“[I feel] significantly more comfortable,” Campbell said after Friday’s game. “I think I made a lot of great changes this summer.  I’ve been kind of in need of change over the years, and it was just time and I’m just feeling really good and really happy to be back here taking the ice with the guys.
“The big thing I’d say is I’m making the [saves] I should make. When I’m just out there playing and having fun, my track record is to not give up the ones I should have and then make some of the ones I shouldn’t, the no chance type plays, but I just feel really grounded out there and I’m just trying to control the game and control the rebounds.
“The guys in front of me are doing a great job, and obviously, it’s a skilled game out there. Sometimes, you’ve got to go outside the box and just compete, so I’m fortunate to make a couple of those, too.”
Campbell’s play in the pre-season has earned him the season-opening start against the Canucks and then Skinner can make his 2023-24 debut at home on Saturday. It’s difficult to say right now which goaltender will wind up as Edmonton’s go-to guy down the stretch and into the playoffs but having both Campbell and Skinner rolling this season will take a lot of pressure off.

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