The 2022/2023 Edmonton Oilers look like a legitimate contender.
They have two of the NHL’s best players.
The most top-nine depth, on paper, the organization has had in years.
A mobile defence core.
A new goaltending duo.
A head coach, and coaching staff, who made an immediate impact last season.
But, this is a new season, and as we’ve seen in many sports, heightened expectations are only good if you reach them.
I picked the Oilers to finish first in the Pacific Division regular season standings. They haven’t ended a regular season atop their division since 1987 — the longest active drought in the NHL. Many others across the Daily Faceoff network also pegged the Oilers to finish first. No one had them lower than second.
Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl give the Oilers a chance to be competitive every night, but great players don’t make great teams. You need depth across the board and the Oilers’ depth is better than we’ve seen in years. It isn’t a finished product — I could see Ken Holland making a few additions prior to the trade deadline to bolster his team’s chances of a long playoff run — but the Oilers have skill up and down their lineup.
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Add in Jay Woodcroft’s coaching approach and it seems like a great mix. Woodcroft wants his team to play fast, and the Oilers have lots of speed. McDavid, Draisaitl, Evander Kane, Dylan Holloway, Ryan McLeod, Darnell Nurse and Brett Kulak are all great skaters. They have other quality skaters as well.
The one area Woodcroft wanted to improve was the defensive play, and in the final 38-games of the regular season, it worked. Edmonton’s goals against dropped to its lowest in years. The team allowed 1.92 5×5 goals against/game, which is where you need to be if you want to be a top-10 defensive team. And the captain discussed the importance of their defensive focus.
“There is lots made about that,” said McDavid. “We don’t hide from that. We are an offensive group, that’s just the way it is, and we have to come together to keep the puck out of our net. I think the goals will come but stopping them from going into our net is more important.”
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They took strides in lowering their goals against in 2022, and there is still room to improve. As McDavid noted, scoring goals won’t be an issue. The Oilers have the two most productive players in the NHL the past five seasons, and there is zero reason to believe that won’t continue this year. Heck, the Athletic’s Down Goes Brown had a bonus question in his prediction article outlining the Oilers offensive advantage. “For 15 bonus points, name one and only one player who will finish this season with at least 100 points, and who is not an Edmonton Oiler.”
The fact people just assume McDavid and Draisaitl will score 100 points illustrates their dominance. It also shouldn’t be taken for granted how difficult it is to score 100 points regularly.
The Oilers’ offence could be dominant, but if they are going to take strides this season it will come in the form of improved defensive play. The quest for a division title begins tonight.
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LINEUPS…

Oilers

Kane – McDavid – Puljujarvi
Holloway – Draisaitl – Hyman
McLeod – RNH – Foegele
Malone – Shore – Ryan
Nurse – Ceci
Kulak – Barrie
Murray – Bouchard
Campbell
Kailer Yamamoto didn’t partake in line rushes and is a game-time decision. It would seem he won’t be ready to play, while Devin Shore was recalled today and will slot in as the centre on the fourth line.
Last season the St. Louis Blues had nine skaters score 20+ goals and 10 who scored 15. Tampa and Florida had nine 15-goal scorers, while Boston and Colorado had eight. Could Edmonton have eight players score 15 goals? They have the potential, but will that become reality?
What about McDavid scoring 50 goals for the first time in his career? Is that a milestone he has looked at?  “It is certainly not a focus,” said McDavid. “Obviously, I’m always trying to grow my game and better my game. Scoring (goals) in this league is the hardest thing to do. I truly believe that. Scoring is not easy. Some guys have a knack for it, and some guys don’t. I have to kind of work for mine.”
He might not be an elite shooter like Alex Ovechkin or Auston Matthews, but McDavid is still a pretty dynamic scorer. His 193 goals over the past five seasons are fourth most in the NHL behind Draisaitl (204), Matthews (219), and Ovechkin (222). I believe McDavid when he says 50 goals isn’t his focus, but it is attainable. He scored 44 goals last season despite having the second lowest SH% at 5×5 of his career. I say he reaches the half-century mark this year.

Canucks…

Pearson – Miller – Boeser
Kuzmenko – Pettersson – Hoglander
Podkolzin – Horvat – Garland
Joshua – Aman – Lazar
Hughes – Schenn
Ekman-Larsson – Poolman
Stillman – Burroughs
Demko
Oliver Ekman-Larsson didn’t take the morning skate as he battles a cold, but he is expected to play. Tyler Myers and Travis Dermott are injured and won’t dress. The Oilers forwards need to pressure Vancouver’s defence.
Thatcher Demko was excellent for Vancouver last season, and he has the ability to be a Vezina trophy finalist. He can steal a game, and Edmonton needs to ensure they get traffic in front and around him.

WHAT THEY’RE SAYING…

We’ve seen Andrey Kuzmenko be alongside Elias Pettersson throughout the preseason and it looks like those two will begin the season as linemates.
This duo will have a lot of finesse in the offensive zone and is likely to beat goaltenders with their shots and quick playmaking to keep netminders off-balance
We are expecting Pettersson to have a breakout season where he asserts himself alongside the top scorers in the league. Something that Pettersson is going to need to put up points is space and puck possession. This is exactly what Vasily Podkolzin can bring to a line.
Podkolzin had a good finish to his rookie season and there are high expectations about what he can bring this year. His playmaking is one of the most underrated parts of his game and his motor is unchallenged on this Canucks team. Podkolzin makes so much sense as a linemate for Pettersson and that’s why our second bold prediction is that Pettersson’s most consistent linemate during the 2022-23 season is going to be Podkolzin.

TONIGHT…

Photoshop: Tom Kostiuk
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GAME DAY PREDICTION: Edmonton wins another season opener, and for the first time in four years scores more than three goals against the Canucks. They win 4-2.
OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: Oilers power play scores a goal.
NOT-SO-OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: Ryan McLeod scores the Oilers’ first goal of 2022/2023.

THE SEASON LAUNCH PARTY

For the first time in three seasons, we’re throwing a Season Launch Party at SOHO and you’re all invited to join us! What’s going on? I’m glad you asked.
  • Date: Saturday, October 15th, 2022
  • When: 5:00pm
  • Location: SOHO YEG (11454 Jasper Ave)
  • What’s Included: Entry to the event, Swag Bag (complete with w-shirt, stickers, GCs), entry to the giveaways, after party with RIFF/RAFF
  • How: GET YOUR TICKETS HERE!
As always, we will also be including a charity component with the event where a portion of all ticket sales will be donated directly to Sport Central to help with their mission of providing equipment and bicycles to children in need.