Thanksgiving In More Ways Than One

The Edmonton Oilers are thankful for several things at the quarter-mark of the 2021-22 season

The American Thanksgiving holiday is usually the first benchmark of an NHL season, and things are looking pretty darn good for the Edmonton Oilers.

With the team sitting in first place in the Pacific Division with a record of 15-5-0, there is not much to be complaining about if you are a fan of the team. From the Dynamic Duo sitting atop of the the league in offensive production, to the eye-opening play of the young prospects called up from Bakersfield in wake of all the injuries on the back end…this team finally looks like a deep perennial contender. Keyword: finally.

The Deutschland Dangler is the best in the league…again?

Wait….what?

Yep, it’s hard to believe at this juncture that Leon Draisaitl is outperforming last year’s reigning MVP and teammate, Connor McDavid, in the NHL. So far, the young German has 20 goals and 20 assists in twenty games, while owning a plus/minus rating of +14. Coach Dave Tippett has utilized both players together on the same line some games, and others having Draisaitl driving his own line alongside Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Kailer Yamamoto.

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The Mikko Koskinen Revenge Tour plus Stuey equals much needed stability in the net

Last season is nothing short of forgettable for the Finnish netminder…and deja-vu like this season with a crippling injury to his teammate, Mike Smith. It’s night and day comparisons, though. Koskinen has answered the bell with an 11-2-0 record with a .912 save percentage and a 2.89 goals against average. The major reason on his turn-around? Having stability both on and off the ice. He accredits having his family living in Edmonton this year as a calming factor for his mental side of the game, a much needed ‘return to normality’, as he put it in one of his press conferences. And it is showing, along with young Oilers goalie call-up Stuart Skinner subbing in for him, and providing much needed relief as well, with a 2-3-0 record, .928 save percentage and a GAA of 2.44.

The depth of having a genuine prospect pipeline finally being established

Injuries have not been kind to the Oil either. All started with veteran backstop Mike Smith going down with an apparent groin/hamstring ailment (Lower Body Injury) in the second week of the season, hence Stuart Skinner being recalled to fill the empty void…and no word yet on when Smith will be making his return. There has been some scuttlebutt that he may possibly need surgery, but that’s just pure speculation at this point.

And then, veteran forwards Devin Shore and Derek Ryan went down with injuries (LBI and whiplash) – enter young winger Tyler Benson and center/winger Ryan McLeod. McLeod was called up after being optioned following training camp, and has been nothing short of brilliant since being back with the big club. Benson has also provided some much needed grit on the fourth line, but is still looking for his first NHL tally. Shore is slated to be back next month, Ryan in-and-out of the lineup within the last week, however, is back to a clean slate of health.

Jeff Vinnick/Getty Images North America

Finally, when Murphy’s Law kicks into overdrive, more damage was done on the defence too. Losing Darnell Nurse (broken finger) and Slater Koekkoek (LBI) in one game was damming. Then just last week, veteran and newer defenseman Duncan Keith suffered an upper-body injury…enter AHL journeyman William Lagesson and 2019 first-round NHL draft pick, Philip Broberg. Both young defensemen have been solid and steady in their recalls, too. Nurse is projected to be back 10-to-14 days, and Keith is currently listed as day-to-day.

Special teams are…special

You cannot discount the work on the power play by Glen Gulutzan, the team’s Assistant Coach. The past two seasons, the Oilers have been on top, no stranger to the work of McDavid and Draisaitl once again. The power play has been slipping as of late, but at 37.7 percent, the Edmonton is still a major offensive threat to punish the opposition.

On the other side of the coin, the penalty kill has also be stellar too – ranked fifth in the league this year at 87.1 percent. Defence and Associate Coach Jim Playfair commends the penalty kill units for keeping it simple while under duress.

Plenty of road left to go

Make no bones about it, the Edmonton Oilers still have a ways to go to even talk about the postseason, but if they continue on the path that they’re on, it’ll certainly be a wild ride come the month of May. Draisaitl with 160 plus points? McDavid winning another Hart? Skinner taking over the starter’s reign in goal?

Only time will tell.

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