The Edmonton Oil Kings won the Central Division over the weekend as the WHL Regular season came to a close. The Oil Kings put together an 11 game winning streak to end the season; this winning streak allowed them to keep the lead in a tightly contested Central Division.
By winning their division the Oil Kings ensured that they play the first wild card team. In this case, that team is Medicine Hat, however it wouldn’t have had to be. Prince Albert, for example, opens their playoff campaign against Red Deer. The Oil Kings have had quite a bit of success against Medicine Hat this season, which bodes well for their chances in their first playoff series in a while.
The Oil Kings have had a bit of a surprising season this year. Not in that they’ve been inconsistent – that was entirely expected as they’re a fairly young team with a new coaching staff and general manager. It’s more that the Oil Kings were expected to be a threat next year and a team to beat the year after as their talented young core of players aged and gained skill and WHL experience. Winning the Central Division does not follow that plan.
Furthermore, the Oil Kings season is comparable to most of the other teams in the WHL, but they did have the weakest season of any division winner. Oil Kings captain Trey Fix-Wolansky recently signed his ELC with the Columbus Blue Jackets and had a season with over 100 points, though he didn’t set a new single season record for points by an Oil Kings player.
The Oil Kings roster would also be bolstered by the return of David Kope. Kope’s last game was on March 10th against Kootenay, and it would be beneficial for the Oil Kings to have second year forward available for the playoffs. The Oil Kings 20 year old players will also be hoping for an impressive post season. Benjafield and Loschiavo both enter the playoffs having picked up points in several of their last games. Hopefully this momentum continues and the Oil Kings can mix veteran leadership with offensive upside for a long playoff run.
The Oil Kings will definitely have their work cut out for them as they tangle with a determined Medicine Hat team who managed a solid second half to their season. The Tigers and the Oil Kings start their series on Saturday Night at Rogers Place.
The Oil Kings will host the first two games (Saturday March 23rd and Sunday March 24th) and then the series moves to Medicine Hat for games on March 26th and March 27th. Games five through seven – to be played if needed – are scheduled for March 29th, March 31st and April 2nd.
If the Oil Kings get past the Tigers their next opponent will be either Lethbridge or Calgary. The WHL’s playoff format means that first round winners play the winner from the other side of their bracket. The Oil Kings hopes for a long playoff run all start on Saturday, and with the state of the Oilers this might be only playoff hockey taking place inside Rogers Arena.