Edmonton Oil Kings – 42-18-8 – Eastern Conference Final loss to the Raiders
After winning only 22 games in 2017-18, expectations weren’t very high for the Edmonton Oil Kings last season. At most, it was believed they could push for the second wildcard spot in the Eastern Conference if all went to plan. Well, with 42 wins and an appearance in the Eastern Conference final, it’s safe to say Brad Lauer’s Oil Kings blew those expectations out of the water.
Trey Fix-Wolansky captained Edmonton and led by example in every game, producing 102 points (37 goals, 65 assists) which put him second all-time on the franchise’s “most points in one season” list. The acquisition of Dylan Myskiw from the Brandon Wheat Kings gave them some security in goal along with having a consistent number one goalie. Several other players, including Connor McDonald, Vince Loschiavo, and Matthew Robertson, were all huge contributors in the turnaround of the Edmonton Oil Kings.
The list of departures is significant for the Oil Kings, but the talent coming in from previous drafts and trades throughout the offseason gives them a promising outlook heading into the 2020 season.
- Quinn Benjafield – 1998 – RW – committed to the University of British Columbia
- Andrei Pavlenko – 2000 – RW – signed with Dinamo Minsk (Russia)
- Vince Loschiavo – 1998 – RW – signed with Asiago (Italy)
- Will Warm – 1999 – RD- traded to the Victoria Royals
- Trey Fix-Wolansky – 1999 – RW – Cleveland Monsters
- Andrew Fyten – 1998 – C – Aged Out
- Jesse Seppala – 2002 – LW – signed from Tappara U18 (52nd overall pick in the 2019 CHL Import Draft)
- Riley Sawchuk – 1999 – C – acquired from the Tri-City Americans
- Matt Smith – 2003 – LD – signed from the Fort Saskatchewan Rangers MAAA (45th overall pick in 2018)
- Kolby Hay – 2004 – G – signed from Yale Hockey Academy (62nd overall pick in 2019)
- Ross Stanley – 2004 – LD – signed from OHA Edmonton (40th overall pick in 2019)
- Colby Knight – 2003 – G – signed from Red Deer Northstar Chiefs (92nd overall pick in 2018)
- Brendan Kuny – 2002 – RW – signed from Sherwood Park Kings (136th overall pick in 2017)
Life without Fix-Wolansky
Nobody is going to come in and necessarily “replace” Fix-Wolansky in the Oil Kings lineup. It’s always difficult replacing your best player under any circumstances. In this case, having to fill the void of a player that scored 102 points last season becomes even more of a challenge. That’s a tall order to ask someone to do, considering only Sawchuk and McDonald — a defenceman — have scored 50 or more points in one WHL season. However, even without the former Oil Kings captain, Edmonton still has enough depth on the roster to fill the hole. Youngsters like Dylan Guenther and Jake Neighbours have looked impressive so far this preseason. It’s also likely that Vladimir Alistrov takes another step in his development after scoring 38 points last season. The talent is definitely around the organization which should make fans and staff optimistic about what the offense could bring in 2020.
Next Step for Jake Neighbours
The 2019 season gave the Oil Kings faithful glimpses of what is to come from Jake Neighbours. The former fourth overall pick played as a middle-six forward, scoring 24 points (11 goals, 13 assists), but appeared in only 47 games due to injuries along with a four-game suspension. He also brings a physical factor to the ice, which puts him ahead of other players with his experience level and makes him a clear fan favourite in Edmonton.
Neighbours took his game to the next level in the postseason. He became the x-factor for the Oil Kings with 12 points (4 goals, 8 assists) while en route to the Eastern Conference Finals. One moment that sticks out more than most came against the Calgary Hitmen in Game One of the second round. With 13 seconds left, the Oil Kings rookie found the net to force overtime, and then did the same again three minutes into the extra frame, giving his team a 1-0 series lead. It’s a moment that will stick with Edmonton fans forever.
Now, as we head into the 2020 season, Neighbours will be looking to continue the momentum he gained from the postseason run and become a top player in Edmonton. He has all the potential in the world to make that happen. Currently ranked as a first-round pick in the upcoming NHL draft, the hope will be that he can stay on the ice for a full schedule. The physicality is already there for him; the next goal should be to become a point-per-game player and stay at the top of the Oil Kings lineup. The next step for Neighbours will create more lasting memories, like the one that came against the Hitmen, for the franchise.
General manager Kirt Hill and head coach Brad Lauer have a tough roster decision when it comes down to cutting their overagers down to three from four. Oil Kings fans have already seen defenceman Will Warm head west to Victoria, Zach Russell head back to Junior A to play in the BCHL, and former captain and fan favorite Fix-Wolansky turn pro with the Columbus Blue Jackets organization. Now, the choice comes down to a pair of defenceman in Parker Gavlas and McDonald, number one goaltender Myskiw, and the recently-acquired Sawchuk. One of the four needs to depart the team before the deadline, which gives the Oil Kings staff limited time to make a decision.
Having Myskiw between the pipes in 2020 seems like a necessity with limited experience on the Oil Kings depth chart between Todd Scott and Sebastian Cossa. Scott served as the number two in Edmonton behind Myskiw last season and has 50 games under his belt as he heads into his third year of junior hockey. 2019 was his best when he posted a save percentage of 0.906% along with a 2.79 GAA. On the other hand, Cossa is a youngster coming up from Midget AAA (Fort Saskatchewan Rangers) and has zero regular-season experience in junior hockey.
Sawchuk was brought in this offseason from the Tri-City Americans for a third-round pick in the 2021 WHL Bantam Draft. He’s had an impressive preseason so far and played exceptionally well between Guenther and Neighbours against the Hitmen on home ice. The offensive skill level he brings to the lineup also brings the most out of other players around him, which could benefit his linemates from the Calgary game. The veteran is the only 1999-born forward on the roster too.
The battle could come down to the blueliners, Gavlas and McDonald. Gavlas was an early-season acquisition from the Regina Pats in 2019 and put up 10 points (1 goal, 9 assists) in 42 games. He’s looked sharp in the first few games of the preseason as he looks to stay with the organization. McDonald has been away at the Ottawa Senators training camp after he scored 50 points (19 goals, 31 assists) from the blue line last season. There is a chance, of course, that the Senators sign McDonald to a contract, which would turn him pro and also solve a headache for Hill.