Friday, June 2 2023
The Edmonton Oilers' depth players have been making an impact through two games against the Kings. (Getty Images)
The Edmonton Oilers‘ depth players have been making an impact through two games against the Kings. (Getty Images)

The discourse surrounding the Edmonton Oilers can often be distilled down to one simple idea.

Sure, this team has the world’s best player in Connor McDavid and another true superstar in Leon Draisaitl, but is the rest of the roster good enough to win a title?

In last year’s playoffs McDavid and Draisaitl were nothing short of spectacular, combining for 65 points in 16 games. Despite that absurd level of production, Edmonton was swept by a far deeper Colorado Avalanche squad in the Western Conference final.

The 2022-23 Oilers look like a better team than last season’s edition, but questions about the bottom half of their roster remain. Those doubts can’t be put to rest in a single game, but the team took a step in that direction Wednesday night.

Down 1-0 in their first-round series with the Los Angeles Kings, Edmonton badly needed a win to avoid a deep hole. The Kings were a 104-point team during the regular season. It would’ve been hard not to like their chances up 2-0 heading back to Los Angeles.

The somewhat dire situation called for a massive McDavid performance, but that’s not what the Oilers got. To be fair to McDavid, it wasn’t as if he played poorly. He had an on-ice xGF of 83.93% at even strength and set up a Draisaitl power-play goal with an excellent cross-ice pass.

That’s a fine night at the office, but by McDavid’s standards it’s hardly a signature outing.

So, in order for the Oilers to secure a much-needed victory, they needed their depth players to step up, which is precisely what happened.

Less than three minutes into the game, Derek Ryan, a 36-year-old fourth-line winger who had scored one goal in his last 15 games, banged home the puck to give Edmonton the lead.

Ryan only skated 7:48 at even strength in Game 2 but his xGF% was 87.19%, leading all Oilers players.

The veteran’s tally helped the Oilers get out ahead, but the team coughed up a 2-0 lead in the second period, putting the game back into the balance. Then, another unlikely hero emerged.

Klim Kostin, a third-liner who scored 11 goals during the regular season, took the puck away in the neutral zone, walked in and found the back of the net for the game winner.

Like Ryan, Kostin’s goal was part of a strong performance all game as his on-ice xGF sat at 78.62% on the evening.

Neither of those goals were works of art that indicate the Oilers’ bottom-six forwards have far more skill than they’ve been given credit for. However, they are examples of Edmonton getting contributions from its depth players when it absolutely had to have them.

That proof of concept is crucial for the Oilers, because we all know a McDavid breakout is coming. The most talented man in hockey has been held to a single assist in this series, and Los Angeles isn’t going to be able to keep the dam from breaking for much longer.

McDavid is a force of nature who can only be contained for so long. If the Oilers are able to find ways to win leaning on production from their depth forwards, they should be in extremely good shape when their generational star enters apex predator mode.

Source: Yahoo Sports


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