In just a few days, the puck will drop on the Edmonton Oil Kings season. After a 2018/19 season that saw them march to the WHL’s Eastern Conference Final, the team had a little bit of a reset this offseason and now, they’re heading into a new season led by their new core.
#OilKings fans. We've missed you.
See you Sunday.
Tickets https://t.co/5CIhznDjo1 pic.twitter.com/QOQ6DY0tCn
— Edmonton Oil Kings (@EdmOilKings) September 20, 2019
With names like Matt Robertson, Jake Neighbours, Dylan Guenther, and others seemingly primed to take big steps forward it’s still hard to not look back at the names they lost like Trey Fix-Wolansky, Vince Loschiavo, and Quinn Benjafield and wince just a little bit. They lost three high-end players this summer.
Finding ways to replace their top three scorers, who combined for 198 points last season, will be tough enough but it will also be difficult to replace the leadership those three brought to the team.
Expectations are understandably pretty high around this team, but are they true championship contenders?
My answer to that question is maybe, which I understand is a super lame answer, but it’s really the only one that makes any sense.
To sit here and say that the Oil Kings aren’t good enough to make it back to the Eastern Conference Finals simply isn’t accurate. Towards the end of last season, they morphed from a group that was pulled by Trey Fix-Wolansky on a nightly basis to a complete team who could win games with their goaltending and depth.
That depth isn’t gone and just based on the fact that most of those pieces are now a year older and have another summer of training under their belt, you can realistically expect it to be better. The goaltending is the same. Dylan Myskiw handled the starter’s duties down the stretch last season and as things sit right now, he’ll be back for his 20-year-old season and he should be just as dominant.
During the playoffs, Jake Neighbours showed signs that he is ready to be a star in this league. I think Vlad Alistrov could be a point-per-game player in his second WHL season. After battling through injuries and concussion issues last season, Matt Robertson is seemingly 100% healthy and should be one of the best defensemen in the WHL this season. There are plenty of signs that point to this team being ready to get back to where they were last season but getting through two rounds of playoff hockey isn’t easy.
Also, while I know you won’t get anyone from inside the organization to say it, last season was a little bit unexpected. Just based on where they were in their rebuild, the Oil Kings weren’t supposed to win their division and march to the conference finals.
In junior hockey, you can tell when a team is ‘going for it’ because they’ll usually trade out a high amount of draft picks and future assets to stack up their team. Everyone has seen those massive nine-piece trades throughout the years. The Oil Kings didn’t really do that last season, although the addition of Andrew Fyten was a very astute one, and honestly, I’m not really expecting them to do it this year.
I’m not saying that the team isn’t trying to win or that they aren’t going to make some moves throughout the year. They’ll be a playoff team and when GM Kirt Hill has a chance to make this team better, he will. My point is that I don’t think that this is the season where the organization will ‘go for it’. Don’t expect them to go out and trade four draft picks and a prospect for a high-end 19-year-old scoring forward or anything like that. Not this year.
They’ll be good but I believe that the year they have circled as their year to win it all is actually 2020/21. Jake Neighbours will be a 19-year-old and I believe he could be one of the best players in the league by that point, Sebastien Cossa could be on the cusp of being a legit starting goaltender, and Dylan Guenther will be a year older and ready to be a high-end offensive producer.
The Oil Kings have the pieces necessary to become the best team in the WHL, I just don’t think they’re looking at the 2019/20 season as their opportunity to push all their chips into the middle. But who knows, they surprised me last season and maybe they’ll do it again.