June 7, 2023

When Wayne Gretzky talks, most people around the Edmonton Oilers listen. A legend around Edmonton and an all-time great in the NHL, he was a guest during the second intermission of yesterday’s Sportsnet broadcast of the Oilers vs. the Florida Panthers game and he made some intriguing and astute observations about the current roster. One was quite obvious for Oilers fans. The others might be telling of where this team’s goaltending could be headed.

McDavid Is The Best Player in Hockey And a Character Guy

It doesn’t require someone with the hockey skill set or a former player on the level of Gretzky to point out that Connor McDavid is pretty good at this hockey thing. When asked if even he still marvels at what McDavid is doing, Gretzky responded, “Let’s be honest, he’s the best player in hockey.” The Great One added, “You can name five or six guys that are very special, but he’s an elite athlete. I hope that people in Edmonton, I know they love him, really take it in and enjoy what he does for this team and the city.”

Gretzky then talked about the generations of players who take over for the elite-level stars that came before them. He said that the skill is great but the fact that these are good young men now running the game is the most important thing for Oilers’ fans and the growth of the sport.

It is interesting that someone as skilled as Gretzky would point to the character of these players over their skill level. The NHL wants to showcase its skill and some will argue that the league doesn’t do the best job of protecting the star players. In Edmonton, that’s often been a point of frustration and while McDavid is drawing more calls than ever before, he’s also made it a point to be more of an ambassador for the team and the league. Coincidence?

Skinner Was The Best Player in the AHL

Gretzky commented on the team’s goaltending situation and made two interesting statements. First, he noted that Stuart Skinner was lauded as the best player in the AHL for two seasons, according to Wayne’s brother Keith, who is the GM for the Bakersfield Condors. The Oilers have huge hopes for their rookie goaltender and they see him as a player who can be one of the better netminders in the NHL over the next few seasons.

Stuart Skinner Edmonton Oilers
Stuart Skinner, Edmonton Oilers (Photo by Curtis Comeau/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Wayne talked about the early struggles and the lack of open slots the Oilers had to have Skinner in the lineup last season. He noted that now, and after Skinner has been told he’s staying on this team, he’s more settled, more comfortable, and working on his game with the confidence that a bad game or a poor start doesn’t mean the end of his NHL career. Gretzky said that stability will be a huge factor in Skinner’s success this season.

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So far, Skinner is showing that he’s more than capable of being a backup. One has to wonder how long it will be before he’s the go-to starter.

Just Need to Give Jack Campbell Time

Gretzky also noted that fans need to give Jack Campbell a little time. Saying he’ll be fine and that things will get better, Wayne talked about the adjustment that comes with being on a new team in a new city and being a big-ticket free agent who has some pressure on his shoulders. “You’re stressed, you’re tense, and you want to do well, right?” Gretzky said that Skinner’s play gives the Oilers the luxury of time and that this goaltending duo (and the team) is much better than last season.

Gretzky said this all comes down to the playoffs. That’s where this tandem will need to really show up and if they can do so, the Oilers will be in good shape. He noted that Edmonton doesn’t want Calgary in the first round or that series to go seven games. That was also an interesting observation considering the Flames have really struggled this season.

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