In 2022-23, the Edmonton Oilers’ two-headed monster turned into three.
Obviously it all starts with captain Connor McDavid, who somehow, someway, keeps getting better. His runaway MVP campaign started out hot and didn’t slow down for a second, as No. 97 posted career highs in all major offensive categories including goals (64), assists (89) and points (153!!) – leading the league in all three categories by a healthy margin.
Having one superstar firing on all cylinders at historic rates like McDavid is heading into the postseason should terrify their first-round opponent, but the Kings will also have to neutralize arguably the second-best player on Earth in Leon Draisaitl – who had himself a sneaky career season, too, posting an absurd 128 points while leading the league with a whopping 32 power-play goals as the centerpiece of a historically good Oilers unit.
Another first-overall pick not named McDavid ascended into superstar status for the Oilers this season as well, with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins obliterating his career-highs with 37 goals, 67 assists and 104 points as the Oilers became the first team in almost 30 years to boast three 100-point scorers.
Unlike past years, the Oilers have the depth to match their top-heavy build, with acquisitions like Nick Bjugstad, Evander Kane and Zach Hyman among others proving to be fruitful pickups for Ken Holland’s squad. The defense, led by Mattias Ekholm and Darnell Nurse, has been much improved as well, while Stuart “don’t-call-me-Seymour” Skinner has been a revelation between the pipes after $5-million man Jack Campbell stumbled mightily for most of the year.
The Kings, meanwhile, don’t boast anywhere near the top-end talent the Oilers do, but they’ve proven to be a formidable, cohesive unit with a few studs of their own.
Up front, Adrian Kempe might have had the quietest 41-goal season in recent NHL history, while 35-year-old Kopitar has turned back the clock with his most productive season in six years, potting 28 goals and leading the Kings with 74 points. Kevin Fiala was right there as well, adding 23 goals and 49 assists for 72 points.
Gabriel Vilardi and Viktor Arvidsson also hit the 20-goal plateau for the Kings, while Doughty and Sean Durzi provided the offense from the backend with 52 and 38 points, respectively. Deadline acquisition Vladislav Gavrikov has also been productive from the blue line since coming over from Columbus with nine points in 20 games.
The other key asset acquired in that trade, Joonas Korpisalo, has solidified the Kings’ goaltending after the team parted ways with big-money netminders Calvin Petersen and Jonathan Quick, who each posted a sub-.880 save percentage over a combined 36 starts for LA earlier this season. Korpisalo holds the Key to any potential Kings upset over the Oilers in Round 1.
What have you done for me lately
The Oilers enter the postseason in second spot in a tough Pacific Division, which they just narrowly missed out on winning, while possessing the second-best goal differential in the Western Conference.
FiveThirtyEight gives Edmonton a 10% chance of winning the Cup heading into these playoffs — the third-best probability of winning it all behind the Boston Bruins (39 percent) and Colorado Avalanche (16 percent). The Oilers have also won their last eight games by a combined score of 34-12 while posting a ridiculous 14-0-1 record over their last 15 and finishing the season on a nine-game heater. Edmonton and Boston are the two hottest teams entering the 2023 postseason.
The Kings, meanwhile, have been pretty "meh" over the past couple months. Winning two straight games here, losing three in a row there, Los Angeles struggled to find any real consistency. The team went 9-5-2 down the stretch after posting a five-game win streak in early March.
Head-to-head in 2023, the Oilers and Kings split the four-game season series, each winning two games apiece. Edmonton and LA played a memorable, fiery seven-game first-round set just last spring, with Connor McDavid overpowering the Kings in Game 7 to lift the Oilers to a 4-3 series win.
The Oilers will win if…
They avoid any injuries to their big three and goaltending – whether it be Skinner or Campbell – doesn’t lose them games. This is the Oilers’ series to lose and, if they do, it’ll likely be because they faltered, not because the Kings excelled.
The Kings will win if…
They can somehow find a way to neutralize Edmonton’s electrifying power play, and Korpisalo can steal multiple wins in net. They’ll need balanced scoring and production from up and down the lineup, too.
McDavid or Draisaitl. Pick your poison.
The Fernando Pisani Trophy (Unsung hero)
With all eyes on the big boys for Edmonton, a big, tough, playoff-built player with a nose for the net like Kane could be primed for a big series, and it wouldn’t be surprising at all to see him lead the Oilers into the next round.
Oilers in five.