Season Projection, Part 2: Which Oilers need to be better?

EDMONTON, AB - APRIL 14: Zack Kassian #44 of the Edmonton Oilers throws a hat into the crowd after being named the first star of the game against the San Jose Sharks in Game Two of the Western Conference First Round during the 2017 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Rogers Place on April 14, 2017 in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Codie McLachlan/Getty Images)

After a shortened 2020-21 season, you could tell that some players weren’t exactly “into it”.

Maybe it was the awkward silence of no fans or just the weird timing of the season but there’s a few guys I believe will improve off bad seasons.

In Part 1 I looked at which Oilers were going to have a hard time replicating excellent years. Here in Part 2, I’ll be doing the opposite, by showing the Oilers who I believe will improve and have bounce back years.

#1. Mikko Koskinen

Koskinen has a lot to prove after a very rough start to last year. To be fair, he played 9 straight games to start the season and 12 of 13 games in the span of just 25 days while Mike Smith was injured.

He’s coming off a a terrible season where he had a record of 13-13-0, a 3.17 GAA and a .899 SV%. The previous season he was 18-13-3, with a 2.75 GAA and a .917 SV%, so he has the skills to be a good enough 1B or backup goaltender.

I think his biggest downfall of the 2020-21 season was his start against the Vancouver Canucks on May 6th, where he let in 4 goals on 4 shots. It seems Oilers fans gave up on Koskinen after that, but I believe he is better than what we seen last season.

Goalies are already the most unpredictable players in hockey. Add on a shortened season with no fans and playing the same teams over and over, Oilers fans are putting too much blame on Koskinen.

With all the trade rumours this off-season and some competition for the backup spot with Alex Stalock, I believe he will have a bounce back season.

Mikko is also in the final year of his contract so he has a lot to prove to not only Oilers fans, but also the management of all 32 NHL teams.

#2 Zack Kassian

Coming to Edmonton literally saved Zack Kassian’s career, and he didn’t take it for granted.

When the Oilers made the playoffs in the spring of 2017, Kassian was easily the funnest player to watch. He was all over the ice, running guys over and even chipping in offensively. In 13 games in the playoffs he finished with 3 goals, 2 of them being game winners and 1 was shorthanded.

The biggest thing he brought to the team though, was his energy. Nobody fed off the crowd like he did. That’s the Kassian that Oilers fans want back.

Zack had good years after coming to Edmonton in the 2015-16 season. He stayed right around 30 points, which is very respectful for a 3rd and 4th line player. His best were the 2018-19 and 2019-20 seasons where he put up 15 goals in both of those years.

Then in 2020-21 he only had 2 goals and 3 assists, while playing in only 27 games because of injuries. I don’t think injuries were his biggest problem though, it was the empty buildings. Like I stated before, nobody fed off the crowd like Kassian and that was very obvious last year.

With the news that Edmonton will be opening the season with 100% capacity, this his huge news for Oilers fans and for Kassian as well.

Hopefully he can get back that energy from a few years ago and if he can, expect a much better season from Zack Kassian.

#3 Duncan Keith

I think Keith’s glory days are behind him. The 38 year old has accomplished everything a hockey player dreams of accomplishing. He’s a 3 time Stanley Cup winner. A 2 time Olympic Gold Medalist. A 2 time Norris Trophy winner. A Conn Smythe Trophy winner. A lock for the Hockey Hall of Fame. The list goes on and on.

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Accomplishments like that are great experience, and that’s exactly what Keith brings to the Oilers: experience. The Oilers haven’t had this type of player since they were winning cups themselves in the 80s. Keith can mentor probably every single player on the team, a team that can’t make it past the 2nd or ever 1st round of the playoffs.

With a lesser role then his top-2 minutes in Chicago, I believe Keith will have a solid season. He struggled the last few years with the Blackhawks because they had nobody else to rely on. In Edmonton I can see Keith being anywhere from a 4th to a 6th defenseman, especially with a bigger role for youngster Evan Bouchard this season.

Don’t expect Keith to do anything spectacular this year but don’t be surprised if he’s not a liability either.

I’m excited to watch Keith with the Oilers this season and you should be too.

Next up in Part 3, I’ll be going over the breakout candidates for the Oilers in the 2021-22 season.

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