For months, years, even, goaltending has been a major storyline for the Oilers.
Mike Smith is not expected to return until December due to injury. Mikko Koskinen has faced the brunt of the starts in his absence, but Stuart Skinner has emerged as perhaps the team's best option. The rookie netminder has kept the Oilers in tight games, highlighted by a 46-save effort in a 2-1 win on Thursday against Winnipeg.
In four appearances this season, Skinner has made 109 saves on 116 shots for a .940 save percentage and a goals-against-average mark of 2.10. It hasn't taken long for Skinner to become a beloved member of the dressing room. Zach Hyman sang his praises earlier this month, showing just how important the team's 23-year-old netminder is playing.
"It was massive, I think it started in Winnipeg, he gave us a chance to win that game, he was solid in the third and it carried over into tonight," Hyman said on Nov. 5. "A ton of confidence in him, we should have confidence in him. He's a great goalie and he played great tonight and he gave us a chance to win the whole way through".
For Oilers coach Dave Tippett, Skinner has done exactly what he's looked for when called upon. That's all you can ask for from a top prospect.
"When he plays that well, he's earning more starts. He's a young player trying to establish himself in the league, Smitty is going to be out for a little while it's a great opportunity for him".
Tippett has yet to reveal his starter for Saturday's game, but Skinner has a great chance to not only be an option to not only give Koskinen a rest when needed but to showcase himself as the future franchise goaltender.
The Oilers have Ilya Konovalov and Olivier Rodrique in the system. They'll continue to get work in Bakersfield while Skinner stays in the NHL. The Oilers might have a good one in Skinner, a goalie they've developed from the get-go. That's something that has been a huge issue for the team over the past decade, using many veterans to fill roles throughout the years with minimal success. Smith has been solid when healthy the past few years, but he's in his 40s. The Oilers have been in goalie trade rumors for quite a bit, but Skinner, while still young, gives the team some hope and might prevent the club from overspending to bring in someone more expensive.
Skinner has a fantastic opportunity right now. Koskinen can be very shaky, and with Smith out, the Oilers could lean to Skinner to do a bunch of the heavy lifting. Right now, the ball is in his court, and it's up to Skinner to make the most of it while things are looking good and the team is playing great.