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Who's Ready to Kill Some Penalties?

A look into what the Oilers options are for the penalty kill in 2016/2017.

Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

An area that the Oilers have struggled with in pre-season has been the penalty kill. And that was on full display in their recent game against Winnipeg, who scored four powerplay goals on their way to a 5-1 win over Edmonton. Yes it's only pre-season, but if we look at what options the Oilers have for their penalty kill once they start playing meaningful games, it's not looking pretty.

Last seaosn, the Oilers finished 18th in the league when it came to killing penalties, with an 81.1% success rate (Source: Sporting Charts). And when it came to limiting unblocked shot attempts against (i.e., Fenwick), which is a good predictor of future success on special teams, the Oilers ranked 23rd in the league with 74.5 (Source: Hockey Analysis).

When it comes to the personnel to be deployed to kill penalties, all of the Oilers defencemen are likely to get ice time, with some getting more than others. Forwards on the other hand, are more plentiful compared to defencemen, so team's typically rely on a set group, usually made up of a mix of depth forwards with some skilled players. The problem for the Oilers is that their options are limited and it's becoming more and more likely that Connor McDavid will see extensive time on the penalty kill. This is not ideal.

Below is a sortable table of all of the Oiler forwards who played at least 25 minutes on the penality kill in 2015/16. Included in the table is each players ice time, rate of shots against per 60 when they were on the ice and their rate of goals against per 60.

Player GP TOI FA/60 FA/60 RelTM GA/60 GA/60 RelTM
McDavid 45 34:26 48.79 -19.63 5.23 -1.86
RNH 55 51:56 65.85 -9.46 9.24 2.51
Pakarinen 63 73:24 67.85 -6.94 5.72 -1.06
Hendricks 68 148:58 74.11 -4.31 4.43 -2.35
Cracknell 52 32:52 69.37 -0.53 12.78 6.14
Letestu 82 195:46 78.46 3.50 5.82 -0.46
Lander 61 115:27 81.59 7.95 6.76 0.13
Korpikoski 71 138:04 82.57 10.85 7.82 1.94

Here we see that in their limited minutes, both McDavid and RNH had a positive impact on their teams ability to limit the rate of shots against. Just behind them are Pakarinen and Hendricks, the latter of which was trusted heavily by the coaching staff in this situation. And on the right of the graph, we see Letestu, Lander and Korpikoski, all of which appear to have the tools to kill penalties, and were given plenty of opportunities, but struggled to limit unblocked shots against.

There are a number of issues facing the Oilers when it comes to selecting their go-to penalty killers. Hendricks played well last season, but he's also getting up there in age and may see his ice time be taken away by a younger, emerging player in the bottom six. Pakarinen could be an option, but he's likely out with a leg injury, and really provided nothing else to the team at even-strength in a bottom six role. As for Letestu and Lander, I do believe both players, who spent a considerable amount of time with Korpikoski on the penalty kill, could potentially bounce back for the club. We know from extensive analysis that Korpikoski was a significant drag on his teammates, both in Edmonton and historically, when it came to shots for and against. With the Oilers having bought Korpikoski out, both Letestu and Lander may see their numbers on the penalty kill bounce back.

A quick run through the rest of the roster, and it's somewhat troubling to see what could be an issue for the Oilers. Versteeg, who has shown well in training camp, only played a few minutes on the penalty kill last season. Prior to that, he did see some time in Chicago, but the team often allowed more shots against when he was on the ice. Lucic, the big free agent signing this off-season, only played a few minutes on the penalty kill for Los Angeles. Same goes for Maroon and Kassian, both of which will have a role on the team next season, but do not appear to have any history of killing penalties. That leaves the Oilers with potentially having to play McDavid and RNH on the penalty kill, which takes away from their even-strength ice time and would increase their chances of injury.

With three games left in pre-season, it's my hope that the coaching staff sorts out their issues on special teams. And for someone, anyone, to make a push to be one of the top penalty killers. It's fine to have a skilled player on the penalty kill, Getzlaf in Anaheim is a prime example, but the Oilers should not be in a situation where their two best centers are having to spend their time and energy killing penalties.