Four Oilers players who have stepped up so far from 2022-23, and one who needs to improve
The Edmonton Oilers are not off to a perfect start by any means, but there have been numerous bright spots for the team so far in 2022-23.
In these first nine games, Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl are producing at elite levels, as usual. McDavid currently leads the league with nine goals and has a very legitimate shot at reaching the 50-goal mark, and potentially even winning the Rocket Richard. Meanwhile, Draisaitl leads the league in assists, with 12A in 9 GPs.
Of course, it certainly hasn’t been a two-man show, as several players beyond his two superstars have performed well. Here’s a look at four Edmonton players who have seen considerable improvement in the early stages of the 2022-23 campaign, along with one player who needs to perform better.
*All stats via EvolvingHockey and Natural Stat Trick unless otherwise noted
Last season, Skinner played 13 games for the Oilers, posting a 91.4% save percentage and saving about a goal higher than expected. Overall, he was above average at the net, and after posting a shutout against San Jose, he spent the rest of his season in Bakersfield.
This year, he was projected as the backup goalkeeper behind newly signed Jack Campbell, but in the games they have played so far, Skinner has been Edmonton’s best goalkeeper. Campbell has struggled, with a save rate of 88.8%, and has allowed 2.8 goals more than expected.
On the other hand, Skinner has an excellent save percentage of 95.5%, with 128 saves on 134 shots. Skinner has saved a total of 7.7 goals above expectations, which is a very impressive mark to achieve in just four games.
“I thought Stuart Skinner was exactly what I expected; confident,” coach Jay Woodcroft said after the team’s win against Calgary on Saturday night. “I felt good about his ability to come in and help us win the game tonight. He made numerous big stops.”
Of course, he won’t maintain 95.5% SV for the entire season, but so far he’s undeniably made a step forward. He’s certainly challenging Campbell for the starting position, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if he becomes Edmonton’s full-time starter come playoff time.
“It’s given us a sense of calm,” McDavid said of Skinner. “He’s just stable there, and solid, making the stops that he should.”
In 2021-22, Nugent-Hopkins was deadly on the power play as she always has been, but she wasn’t exceptional at 5v5.
So far, RNH is tied with McDavid for the team lead in 5v5 goals, and has seen improvement in both goals. Y expected goal differential in 5v5 compared to last season. In total, RNH has five goals and twelve points in nine games, and so far has been one of the team’s top producers.
It’s certainly been a good start to the season for him and hopefully he continues to get better at 5v5 as the season goes on. He’s definitely in a position to do that, as he’s been featured as the team’s best left wing alongside McDavid and Hyman the past two games.
Over the past decade, the Oilers haven’t had much success when it comes to drafting NHL players in the second round. One player seems to be bucking that trend, and it’s none other than Ryan McLeod.
McLeod played 71 games for the Oilers last season, posting solid underlying defensive results and excellent transition results, but he wasn’t exceptional when it came to offensive production.
So far, McLeod ranks second among the entire team on expected goal difference. McLeod is also gradually beginning to produce more offensively, with 3 goals in 9 games. Also, McLeod is starting to gain quite a bit of trust from the coaching staff. Despite playing in the last six, McLeod logged more than 18 minutes in their 6-5 win against Chicago on Thursday.
McLeod’s ceiling doesn’t seem excessively high, but he’s quickly becoming a valuable and versatile two-way forward. It’s a shame the team couldn’t sign him to a longer contract.
He has formed an excellent back row alongside Warren Foegele and Jesse Puljujarvi. The trio have outpaced the opposition at a rate of 40 – 24 and outperformed them at a rate of 21 – 7. Without a doubt, it is one of the most effective third lines that the team has had in a length weather. The strong performance of that line allows Nugent-Hopkins to play LW, which opens up numerous possibilities for possible combinations of the top six lines.
Evan Bouchard’s first full NHL season was in 2021-22, where he showed a ton of offensive potential. Bouchard’s isolated impact on scoring chances (RAPM xGF/60) classified 4th among all defenders; In other words, the team consequently he generated quality shots and chances every time Bouchard stepped onto the ice.
I’m not the biggest fan of using point totals for defenders, but it’s certainly worth mentioning that Bouchard was ranked 11th among all defenders with a total of 31 5v5 points. Since 2007, only four other defenders under 22 have produced more than 31L in 5v5.
However, the biggest question for Bouchard heading into this season was whether he could improve his defensive game. Although the team generated a very high number of chances by with Bouchard, they also allowed many chances in the opposite direction; Bouchard’s impact on suppressing scoring chances (RAPMxGA) only ranked higher than 6% of the league’s defenders.
This season, Bouchard has not been Perfect By any means, but overall, it has seen considerable improvement. I don’t like to use goal differential on such limited samples, but Bouchard ranks first among Oilers defensemen in expected goals allowed per hour. He also classifies first among all players in expected goal and shot attempt differential, with a 61 xFG% Y 59 CF%; In simpler terms, the Oilers are consequently tilting the ice with Bouchard at both ends.
Once again, Bouchard hasn’t been flawless, and he still makes notable mistakes in the DZ from time to time. However, the simple fact is that the team is performing much better defensively under Bouchard. on ice as opposed to without, and it’s an encouraging trend to note.
From my point of view, he seems much more active on the defensive end, denying tackles and breaking up passes at a higher and more consistent rate. His main area of improvement is overall DZ coverage and making fewer mistakes, but he has made strides this season in regards to his two-way performance.
Tyson Barrie is having quite a bit of trouble defensively, and this is certainly nothing new for him.
On Saturday night against Calgary, Barrie was on the ice to 30 shot attempts and 12 scoring chances against in just 16 minutes in 5v5; note that this does not include the two understaffed getaways that were what’s more on ice for No Oilers defenseman has had more scoring opportunities than Barrie this season.
The biggest problem with Edmonton’s defensive core is finding a partner for Barrie. He formed a reliable third pairing with Brett Kulak last season, but given Edmonton’s current defensive depth, Kulak has to be the 2LD. This either forces Barrie to play a top-four role, something he clearly can’t handle without hampering the team’s defense, or leads him to play third-par with one of Murray or Niemelainen.
In the time they’ve played together, Barrie and Niemelainen have been underperforming, and Murray is also pretty bad at defending the run, meaning Murray and Barrie would probably be a poor style pairing. Consequently, Barrie just doesn’t fit on this list.
At this point in his career, he is a superfluous PP specialist. A team with McDavid, Draisaitl and RNH will always have a dangerous power play; they had the best PP in the league the season before signing Barrie. With a player like Bouchard on the team, he’s just redundant, and doesn’t provide enough value for his expensive $4.5 million salary cap. The most obvious player to move to create cap space in my mind is Barrie, not Puljujarvi or Foegele.
At 31, it’s essentially impossible for Barrie to improve defensively, but the expectation for him should be at least play something decent on third pair.
The Oilers are on an encouraging four-game winning streak thanks to their offense and Skinner’s goalkeeping, but defense remains the main area of improvement as the Oilers rank 26 in the league on xGA/60. Bottom line, Barrie needs to up his game and handle a third matchup role, or Edmonton needs to find an upgrade if he wants to improve defensively.
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