The Future Between the Pipes
Photo credit:Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports
9 months ago
Yesterday, the news broke that the Edmonton Oilers had terminated Ilya Konovalov’s contract.
Speculation about a possible move back to Russia began about a week ago when the general manager of Dynamo Moscow, Alexi Sopin, told championat.com that his team had come to an agreement with Konovalov to join them next season.
The Oilers signed the Russian netminder last summer to a two-year deal in the hope that he could be a future starter for them. He had an okay first season in Bakersfield, finishing with a 5-7-5 record, a 2.73 GAA, and a .893 save percentage.
With Konovalov now out of the picture, Ken Holland will be seeking to add more depth to the organization between the pipes. A position that was limited before Konovalov departed.
Should The Oilers Have Draft Day Regrets?
Heading into the 2021 NHL Draft, almost every draft expert had the Oilers in the running for a goaltender. Sebastian Cossa and Jesper Wallstedt were the two that most fans had circled on their draft board. Cossa is a local Alberta product from Fort McMurray that many people had already seen between the pipes at Rogers Place for the Edmonton Oil Kings. Wallstedt was the highest-ranked European netminder.
By the time the 20th pick came around, Cossa’s name was scratched off the list after he was taken 15th overall by the Detroit Red Wings. Between that pick and the Oilers at 20, the teams had future goaltenders already in their franchises.
Igor Shesterkin had just taken over the crease in New York; St Louis had recently signed Jordan Binnington to a six-year deal, Winnipeg wasn’t budging from Connor Hellybuck, and Nashville took Yaroslav Askarov in the 2020 draft.
The opportunity was there for Edmonton to pick their next franchise goaltender. Something they had in a long time. However, Holland didn’t see it that way.
The 20th pick was traded to the Minnesota Wild in exchange for the 22nd and the 90th overall picks.
The Wild took Wallstedt, and the Oilers took Xavier Bourgault from the Shawinigan Cataractes, adding to their already deep prospect pool of forwards.
At the time, everybody was critical of the Oilers. Not because Bourgault was a lousy player, but because the team didn’t have a future goaltender. The organization put their belief in what they already had.
Another factor in the selection too would have the now. On draft day, the Oilers had just signed Konovalov (22) from Russia and Stuart Skinner (22), who was coming off a career year in the AHL. When would Wallstedt have helped this team win?
Granted, Konovalov has left the team, but looking at the future, it seems like the risk paid off. Stuart Skinner performed exceptionally well when called up. In 13 games, Skinner had a 2.62 goals-against average, a 0.913 save percentage and a shutout. A small sample size but one that had Oilers fans begging for the organization to recall him.
Moving into the 2023 season, Edmonton still has an issue in goal. However, Wallstedt still wouldn’t have been the guy to fix the problem. We’ll see how well Skinner does in his first full season in the NHL, but the sample size from 2022 makes him look promising.
Additionally, Edmonton will need cheaper contracts as they look to build a stronger roster around Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. Having Bourgault play on a three-year rookie contract and potentially scoring 15 to 25 goals is going to be massive.
As for the 90th overall pick, the Oilers took Luca Muzenberger from Germany. He spent last season in the NCAA with the University of Vermont. Admittedly, it was difficult to watch him play at Vermont. However, at the World Juniors with Team Germany, he showed lots of promise with the puck and really pushed the offence. Now heading into his sophomore year in Vermont, we’ll see if he gets more of an offensive role.
The Crease In Bakersfield
Skinner is likely to stay with the Oilers full-time in 2023, which would’ve given the crease in Bakersfield to Konovalov. Now, of course, that isn’t happening. The Oilers have two goaltending prospects in the pipeline still available.
Olivier Rodrigue has AHL experience and would be the frontrunner to take the crease. He’s played 24 games over two seasons in Bakersfield and has a 3.05 GAA, and a 0.889 save percentage. He served as Skinner’s backup in 2021, but after the Oilers signed Konovalov, he spent most of his time in the ECHL. Rodrigue is still only 21 years old, so he has plenty of time to showcase his talents.
The other challenger between the pipes is Ryan Fanti. Fanti was signed midseason after his season with the University of Minnesota-Duluth concluded. He wrapped up his college career as the NCHC Goaltender of the year and an NCHC champion. He only appeared in one game for the Condors last season, which didn’t go exactly to plan. Fanti allowed five goals on 41 shots but still managed to come away with the victory; at the end of the day, that matters most. His stats in college show plenty of promise. Depending on what the Oilers do in free agency, it’s safe to assume he’ll fight for a spot in Bakersfield and maybe even spend some time in the ECHL, similarly to what Rodrigue has done the last two years.
The organization needs more depth in the goaltending department and it needs to happen now. With only two goaltenders in the system, you’d have to imagine Holland finally takes a goaltender in the draft. He’s only taken one goaltender in the draft since he became the general manager, which ironically was Konovalov.
Holland only has four draft picks to play with in Montreal. He has a first rounder and then five through to seven. Holland and his staff did an excellent job selecting in the later rounds, with Tyler Tullio and Matvey Petrov coming after the fourth round. Now, it’s time to put that magic to work and find another goaltender.
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