Oilers Facing 5 Questions Heading Into Stanley Cup Playoffs


The Edmonton Oilers wrapped up their regular season on a high note, tying a franchise record with nine straight wins and reaching the 50-win mark for the first time since 1986-87, a year in which Wayne Gretzky and company captured their third Stanley Cup. They also became only the 12th team in NHL history to lead the league in both power play and shorthanded goals in the regular season.

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Needless to say, the Oilers are on a hot streak and they’ll be eager to carry that momentum into the playoffs when they face their first-round opponent, the Los Angeles Kings for Game 1 on April 17. With that in mind, let’s take a look at five questions the team faces as they head into the postseason.

Can Kailer Yamamoto Step Up in Playoffs After Tough Regular Season?

When talking about the Oilers’ offensive firepower up front, the group is typically referred to as the “big five,” consisting of Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Zach Hyman, and Evander Kane. Yet, the sixth piece that usually complements those players on the top two lines is Kailer Yamamoto, who had somewhat of a disappointing regular season.

Despite achieving his first-ever 20-goal campaign last year, he’s struggled to stay in the lineup this season, missing 24 games in total. When healthy, he’s shown he can contribute at even-strength and he’s a good complementary player to play on either Draisaitl or McDavid’s wing, due to his dogged puck pursuit. However, he only produced 25 points in 58 games in the regular season, which is mediocre considering the Oiler he’s played the most minutes with at 5-on-5 is Draisaitl (346:06).

Kailer Yamamoto
Kailer Yamamoto (Photo by Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images)

The Oilers have been one of, if not the best team down the stretch boasting a 14-0-1 record in their final 15 games. With such an impressive run, it’s hard to find any major flaws in their game. However, if we were to nitpick, a minor concern would be the lack of production from Yamamoto. Despite playing in the top six, he hasn’t scored a goal in 11 games, which is a minor flaw in an otherwise dominant performance by the team.

So, the question remains, will Yamamoto be able to contribute offensively during the postseason? The Oilers have such an explosive offence that they won’t need to rely on his point production, but it would be beneficial in the long run if he could chip in. At the same time, whether or not he returns to the Oilers next year could hinge on his postseason performance.

Will Skinner Maintain His Strong Form in His First NHL Postseason?

Stuart Skinner’s season has been nothing short of remarkable. With the expectation heading into this season to back up Jack Campbell, he took over the starting goaltender role, was voted to play in the NHL All-Star Game, and is also leaving his mark on the Oilers’ record books. With his shutout victory over the Los Angeles Kings on March 30, he set a franchise record for most wins in a month (ten) by a goaltender and he beat Grant Fuhr’s rookie record with most wins (29) in a season on April 13.

However, he hasn’t played a minute of NHL postseason hockey yet in his career, and a major point of discussion is whether he’ll be able to handle the playoff pressure as a starting goaltender. Only time will tell, but a positive factor in his favour is that he’s won at every single level — he’s won a Pacific Division title in the American Hockey League (AHL) with head coach Jay Woodcroft, and he backstopped his team in junior to a Western Hockey League (WHL) championship, to go along with a plethora of wins as a teenager. Though he hasn’t proven himself yet in an NHL postseason, his history of winning should inspire confidence in his team.

Which Oiler Will Emerge as an Unlikely Playoff Hero?

As mentioned before, the Oilers have arguably one of the best top-five forwards heading into the postseason. That said, that group of five is paid to put up points and there’s an expectation for them to contribute offensively. Yet, a team requires contributions from depth players as well in order to achieve Stanley Cup success.

General manager (GM) Ken Holland has constructed a versatile team capable of handling any type of opposition. If their opponents want to trade chances, they have speedsters like McDavid, Nugent-Hopkins, and Ryan McLeod. If they prefer a physical game, players such as Kane, Klim Kostin, and Vincent Desharnais will step up to the plate.

Related: 4 Oilers Who Could Surprise as Next Unlikely Playoff Hero

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Still, the playoffs have a way of bringing out unexpected heroes — one who will rise to the occasion and deliver impressive performances. So, if the Oilers go on a deep run, which player will emerge as an unlikely playoff hero? Edmonton has several candidates, like Nick Bjugstad and his tremendous work on the penalty kill, or Derek Ryan with his ability to score goals at even strength. However, my dark horse pick is Mattias Janmark who I predict will score timely goals throughout the postseason.

Can Nurse Continue His Elevated Play Deep Into the Playoffs?

Darnell Nurse’s season has been a mixed bag, with some highs and lows along the way. In December, I wrote about the blueliner’s increased turnovers that were leading to goals against; however, since then he’s found his groove, recording a career-high 43 points and improving his defensive game.

One contributing factor to Nurse’s more-rounded game is the addition of Mattias Ekholm to the blue line. Since the Swedish blueliner’s arrival, Nurse has recorded 12 points in 21 games with a plus-8 rating in that span. Also, by the eye test, he’s making better decisions with and without the puck. At times throughout the season, he was guilty of trying to do too much; however, Ekholm’s addition allows him to ease up and not carry the burden of the blue line with him every shift.

Darnell Nurse Edmonton Oilers
Darnell Nurse, Edmonton Oilers (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

The crucial question on everyone’s mind is whether he can sustain his elevated level of play into and throughout the postseason. Although he played through a torn hip flexor injury in last season’s playoffs, he’s proven that he’s capable of rising to the occasion when it matters most. For instance, during the 2021 Playoffs, he logged an astonishing 62:07 of ice time in Game 3 against the Winnipeg Jets, demonstrating his ability to step up to the challenge. That said, time will tell if he can continue to deliver under the pressures of the playoffs.

Will McDavid and Draisaitl Surpass Last Year’s Playoff Performance?

McDavid and Draisaitl delivered such an outstanding performance in last season’s playoffs that it will be talked about for years to come, as the dynamic duo finished first and second in postseason scoring, combining for 65 points in just 16 games.

The Oilers gutted out a Game 7 win against the Los Angeles Kings in the first round, despite Draisaitl suffering a high ankle sprain in Game 6. Still, the German centerman persevered and led his club to eliminate the Calgary Flames in the second round with 17 points in the series. McDavid also made history as the first NHL player to record nine multipoint games within the first 10 postseason games, and he was the hero to send their provincial rivals packing in Game 5 with an overtime goal.

However, despite both former Hart Trophy winners reaching new heights, the Colorado Avalanche were simply too much to handle, and the eventual Stanley Cup champs swept the Oilers in four games in the Western Conference Final. That said, heading into this postseason, the two superstars have some unfinished business and with nine straight wins to close the regular season, both players appear intensely focused on the upcoming challenge.

Now, the question is, is it possible for McDavid and Draisaitl to reach a new peak in the playoffs? We’ve seen the Oilers’ captain accomplish some incredible feats this season, becoming only the sixth player in NHL history to reach the 150-point plateau and I wouldn’t be shocked if he, along with Draisaitl, elevated their game even further. They’re just that phenomenal.

The Oilers have been on an incredible run towards the end of the regular season, led by the phenomenal play of their star players, the steady play of Skinner, while being supported by a wealth of depth throughout the lineup. If they can continue to play at this level, there’s no doubt that they have the potential to make a deep playoff run. All the excitement is set to begin April 17 at Rogers Place for Game 1 against the Kings.

Share your thoughts in the comments section below on how far you think the Oilers will go in the playoffs!

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