Winning streaks are no longer a surprise for the Edmonton Oil Kings. At this time last season, we were talking about a streaky team that was trying to establish themselves in the upper echelon of the WHL. They eventually did that during the second half of the season, winning their division and marching to the Eastern Conference Final.
This season, they are picking up right where they left off. The team has won five in a row and has grabbed at least a point in each of their last ten games. This run has put them on top of the WHL in terms of points and winning percentage.
The interesting thing is that there isn’t that feeling of shock or really even that much excitement around this current winning streak. It just feels like this level of success is much more expected than it was last year and this team has their minds set on more than just winning a bunch of regular-season games.
Honestly, I think it’s a great sign. Last season they would win five in a row and then drop four straight. They would grab points in seven straight games and then go ten days without a victory. This group feels much more even-keeled this season. I don’t get the sense that they can slip into a long losing skid at any point.
“We definitely have a championship attitude. Every day we come to the rink and we expect success,” said goaltender Todd Scott after the team’s recent win over the Medicine Hat Tigers.
“Last year we learned how to win and have confidence. We have a pretty good chance to do something special,” concluded Scott.
— The WHL (@TheWHL) October 27, 2019
A big reason for that is the culture around the team. They know how to win and Brad Lauer has a group of players that are 100% bought into the style of play that their Head Coach wants them to play.
Another big reason is depth. They have four lines that can contribute offensively, and that’s been evident during this recent hot streak. On the blueline, they have four players who were regulars last season and another player in Logan Dowhaniuk who would have been a regular if it wasn’t for an injury. Keegan Slaney and Aidan Lawson have been more-or-less rotating in and out of the lineup and have both had some good moments.
On any given night, it feels like this team has 18 players dressed who the coaching staff can really trust. That’s a big reason for their long run of success to start the season.
Another big positive has been the goaltending. When this team let go of Dylan Myskiw and opted to go with the duo of Todd Scott and Sebastien Cossa, I was a little nervous. I thought that using that final 20-year-old spot on Myskiw would have been wise considering how well he played last season. But I also said that fans should trust GM Kirt Hill because he really hasn’t made a bad move since taking over this team.
Once again, Hill looks like the resident genius as both Scott and Cossa have been tremendous as of late. So far on the season, Scott has a 0.903 save percentage and a 2.84 GAA. One thing I’ve noticed with Scott is the busier he gets, the better he is. He’s had 3 starts this season where he’s faced more than 35 shots on goal and his save percentage in those games is 0.942.
“I think a lot of goalies would agree that when you get lots of rubber you get into a groove,” said Scott.
Cossa has also been tremendous lately. On the year, he has a 0.948 save percentage to go along with a 1.58 GAA and he’s started three games during this current winning streak and only allowed just four goals against. The Oil Kings used a second-round pick on the 6’6 Fort Saskatchewan product and most expected him to be an elite WHL goaltender one day, I just don’t think very many people expected him to look this good at the Major Junior level before he turned 17-years-old.
Speaking of taking steps forward, Josh Williams continues to produce for this team and I’m not sure if he’s going to slow down. He has a very impressive stat line of 3-5-8 in his last five games and has also racked up 18 shots on goal in that span. He’s generating a ton of chances and has buried on a good percentage of them as well.
“It’s always nice to produce but more importantly the team is winning,” said Williams who also acknowledged that it’s good to be healthy after he was nagged by an upper-body injury throughout the end of last season.
Williams has been a great story. As has first-year Oil King Riley Sawchuk, who currently leads the team in scoring with 18 points and has really benefited from the chemistry he has with Jake Neighbours. While there was worry about who would replace the offence that the Oil Kings lost over the summer, Sawchuk has come in and quickly quieted those concerns.
Here are some numbers from the teams’ last five games.
|Shots For||191 (avg – 38.2)|
|Shots Against||151 (avg – 30.2)|
|Penalty Kill||21/23 (91%)|
The team winning is fantastic and there are plenty of positive storylines around the club but perhaps none were better than the one that unfolded Saturday night as rookie forward, and former first overall pick, Dylan Guenther netted his first career WHL hat-trick.
From the outside, it appeared that Guenther was off to a slow start to his junior career. He was playing on the fourth line and had just two goals in his first ten games. But that really wasn’t the case at all. He was generating chances with 19 shots on goal in his first ten games and while he maybe wasn’t getting the even-strength minutes that you’d expect from a first overall pick, he was being brought along slowly and I think that’s the right approach.
While he was in the bottom six, the Oil Kings are so deep that he was still surrounded by skilled players and the coaching staff was giving him regular minutes on the powerplay.
On Saturday against Seattle, Guenther exploded for two goals and an assist. Originally, they had given the team’s fourth goal to Liam Keeler but it was quickly changed to Guenther during the game. That goal has now apparently been changed back to Keeler, so while Guenther won’t get credit for his first career hat-trick, he still had a hell of a night.
His offensive creativity was on full display. With the puck, he’s elusive and shifty and it seems like he never gets a bad shot off. Every time he has an opportunity, it’s a dangerous one.
“I think I’ve felt better as the year has gone on and I’m starting to get more comfortable,” said Guenther.
As the year goes on, Guenther will only get better which of course, will only make this Oil Kings forward group deeper and more lethal than it already is.
Next up for Guenther is a trip to the u17’s where he will be reunited with Matt Savoie. That duo combined for 129 points in 31 games during Guenther’s final season with the NAX Prep Program.
Next up for the Oil Kings is actually some time off. They won’t be back in action until Friday night when they host the Saskatoon Blades.