With no viable NHL backup, it’s up to Skinner to deliver in net for Oilers

Edmonton Oilers goaltender Stuart Skinner corrals a rebound. (Jason Franson/CP)

BRANDON, Fla. — There is, if you’ll pardon a Principean pun, no backup plan in Edmonton. 

Stuart Skinner is working without a (cough) net. 

A season that began as “Cup or bust” for the Edmonton Oilers has boiled down to “Skinner or bust,” partly because the Edmonton native is this team’s goalie of the future, and partly because… 

Well, what else do they have? 

“Skinner has been playing really well,” observed new head coach Kris Knoblauch. “We’re probably going to continue going on that route for a little bit longer.” 

Skinner walked out of a suburban Tampa practice facility on Friday into the humid Florida air, and stated in his usual calm and thoughtful demeanour: “It is my job, so that’s what I’m here to do.” If the 25-year-old NHL sophomore is freaked out by the fact that the entire Edmonton Oilers season rides on his shoulders, you’d never know it. 

OK, that lacks a bit of context. 

Skinner was talking big picture. About how, if the fates have conspired for him to be in the Oilers net every second day from now until whenever, he has to deliver. He is being paid to deliver. 

“In the playoffs you’ve got to play every second day — and you continue that for quite a good period of time. So, it’s good preparation,” he explained. “It’s up to me how I recover. Make sure that my body is healthy, my mind is healthy, that I’m eating well. All the little things. 

“It is my job, so that’s what I’m here to do.” 

A season ago, when Jack Campbell’s game began to erode, Skinner rode to the rescue. He saved the 2022-23 season and was a Calder Trophy finalist as a result, starting every single Oilers playoff game. 

Can Skinner rescue his team again this season? What evidence would we have to dispute that as a genuine possibility? 

“Last year I was able to take the ball for a good … run, too,” Skinner said. “So just having that experience really helps you go into another year where I’m fortunate enough to be in this position, where I get to play some (consecutive) games. 

“A lot of it has to do with experience, going through it before, which I have. Now I get to roll with it again and know what comes with it. I get to do it again, but even better.” 

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Here, however, is what we like to call a true fact: Skinner is the only bonafide NHL goaltender in this organization. 

If he falters, or gets hurt, Edmonton does not have a single, legit NHL goalie in its employ. 

The backup these days, Calvin Pickard, is what the hockey world would call a perfect No. 3. He can play an NHL game or two in case of injury, and his experience affords him the chance to play without nerves or panic. 

But at 31 years old with 30 NHL appearances peppered over the last eight seasons, Pickard is — and we say this with respect — an American League goaltender. 

And Campbell? What is he these days? 

Sitting with a 4.36 goals against average and an .819 saves percentage after three starts with Bakersfield, Campbell sits, for now, below Pickard on the organizational white board. Today, he is not an NHL option at all — nor is he even the most proficient goaler in Bako. 

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So, with the Oilers sitting in 31st place and eight points back of the wildcard with American Thanksgiving just around the corner, the cape rests on Skinner’s shoulders, like it or not. 

“I’m very grateful for the opportunity that I’m getting,” he said. “I’m very fortunate. 

“I’ve been working a lot of years in the minors, working a lot of years to get to the NHL. I played a lot of games in the NHL last year, played some even the year before. Being able to take this opportunity is massive. 

“I’m very fortunate to be here.” 


Connor Brown looks like he’ll be back in the lineup on Connor McDavid’s right wing Saturday afternoon in Tampa. It’s his 10th game, which triggers a $3.225 million bonus that will, more than likely, come off of next season’s cap. 

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