These are still early days but Edmonton Oilers netminder Stuart Skinner is on the precipice of doing something many didn’t believe possible. Being satisfied with reaching the NHL was never the end game for the 2017 third round selection and the dream of becoming a no. 1 goalie at this level is now a reality.
Following last night’s stellar performance against a red-hot Vegas Golden Knights side, Skinner appears more than ready to take a real shot at becoming the Oilers main man between the pipes. The signing of Jack Campbell in free agency tells us the organization didn’t see this coming but here we are.
Heading into the season, those who looked at Edmonton’s goaltending situation in a logical manner had Skinner starting north of 30 games. In a best case scenario, the soon-to-be 31-year old guardian was always going to be a 50-55 game guy, with a number in and around the former being the most realistic.
Yes, the Oilers decided to fork over $25 million to bring him in but Campbell was by no means a sure thing. The risk was obvious but it was a decision Ken Holland felt he had to make. Right or wrong, the real head scratcher was to not give Skinner a run of games during the 2021-2022 campaign.
Be it due to illness, injury and/or poor performance, the duo of Mike Smith and Mikko Koskinen gave Edmonton less than ideal goaltending for a good chunk of last season. Albeit in limited duty and against lesser opponents, Skinner was the one guy who showed any kind of consistency in his game.
This despite the organization already knowing it would need to bring in a new goaltender for 2022-23. The window to give the local boy a run of games during the regular season was staring them square in the face but the collective decided to go in a different direction.
In the end, the team found its way and put together a nice playoff run, so the Skinner angle ended up as nothing more than an afterthought. Problem being, the organization still didn’t have an answer as to where the now 24-year old was in his development, which may prove to be a rather costly misstep.
Again, the sample size is tiny but Skinner looks ready to be given a real shot at being the man at this level. The individual numbers are excellent. With a goals against average of 2.52 and a .930 SV%, there is nothing to complain about. However, there is much more to this than just the numbers.
The calmness in Skinner’s game is something Oilers fans haven’t seen in these parts for what feels like an eternity. No matter the situation, he gives off the vibe of being in control at all times and as every goalie will tell you, that is half the battle. The kid is oozing confidence and his teammates have noticed.
In comparison, Campbell is in a massive rut and at the moment, looks as fragile as any goalie in the league. Every netminder goes through it and when it happens, the rest of the players try to do more to help their goalie out. That’s rarely a good thing and has zero chance of working over the long haul.
Not surprisingly, the group looks to be more comfortable playing in front of Skinner and that is a feather in the youngster’s cap. Let’s not forget, we are talking about a guy who was all over the place in his NHL debut back in ’20-’21 and bled rebounds into the slot with regularity in his first handful of starts.
To his credit, those blunders became less of an issue as last season progressed and they have yet to resurface to start the current campaign. The transformation has been impressive and scary thing about it, the calmness we’ve seen from him on the ice looks to have carried over to off the ice as well.
Be it in a setting like last night’s After Hours appearance with Scott Oake, during media scrums or simple interactions with teammates on the ice or bench, nothing seems to phase him. We saw flashes of it last season but this year is different. You get the sense he believes in himself and that he’s here on merit.
For me, Skinner was a guy whose ceiling was “excellent backup” that, at times, would push the starter for more playing time. Though they are different goalies, I put him and Laurent Brossoit in a similar group…guys with the ability to get hot and win some games but not legit starting goalies at this level.
Well, these are early days but it’s starting to look more and more like my original assessment could turn out to be the floor for Skinner. He still has a ton prove and has to play at something close to his current level for an entire season to confirm what we are seeing is real but he might just be this guy.
That doesn’t mean that Jack Campbell won’t find his game and still play a big part in what the Oilers accomplish this season. However, the roles may end up being reversed and while all that matters is team success, I wouldn’t count on Stuart Skinner relinquishing the net anytime soon.