Kia CHL Top-10 Spotlight: Edmonton Oil Kings

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The Edmonton Oil Kings have been a constant presence in the Kia CHL Top-10 Rankings.

Making the cut each week this season, the Oil Kings slot second in the seventh edition following back-to-back victories over Medicine Hat and Seattle that pushed the club’s win streak to five, and eight in their past nine outings, good for a 10-1-3-0 showing and 23 points to sit atop the Western Hockey League.

Leading the way for Edmonton is 20-year-old centre Riley Sawchuk, who has posted 18 points on the season counting nine goals and nine assists to rank fourth in scoring league-wide. After spending the past three campaigns with Tri-City, Sawchuk joined Edmonton this offseason, bringing him into a new opportunity with a chance to skate in a scoring role, particularly following the departure of captain and Columbus Blue Jackets prospect Trey Fix-Wolansky who led the Oil Kings’ offensive ranks last season.

Across 14 appearances in 2019-20, Sawchuk has come away with seven multi-point showings, including his current three-game streak in which he has tallied two points in each contest. In all, the native of Prince Albert, Sask., has been held off the scoresheet just three times this season.

Joining the Oil Kings’ offensive engine is a pair of intriguing talents, beginning with right-wing Josh Williams, who sits second in team scoring with 17 points counting six goals and 11 assists. Acquired from Medicine Hat last season, Williams made an early impression with his new club, putting up 12 points in 25 games to close out 2018-19. This week, the 18-year-old played the spoiler role against his former team in notching three assists in Friday’s 4-2 win over the Tigers that earned him first-star recognition. After going unselected in last year’s NHL Draft, the skilled forward remains determined to draw the attention of talent evaluators.

“He put in the time in the summer, he really worked on his skating and got stronger, and I think you’re really seeing the benefits of that right now at the start of the season and the type of year he’s having,” Oil Kings second-year head coach Brad Lauer told Derek Van Diest of the Edmonton Journal. “He seems to be a lot more relaxed on the ice and more confident with the puck and things are working out for him.”

While Williams hopes to hear his name called in the coming NHL Draft, so too does 2020 eligible left-wing Jake Neighbours, a projected second or third-round selection courtesy of NHL Central Scouting. After finishing 2018-19 with a modest 24 points across 47 appearances, the budding playmaker has already collected two goals and 13 helpers this season.

Meanwhile, a key addition to the Oil Kings’ forward ranks has been rookie right-wing Dylan Guenther, the first-overall selection from the 2018 WHL Bantam Draft who is earmarked for NHL selection in 2021. Earning an eight-game trial with the Oil Kings last season in which he finished with four points, the opportunity allowed Guenther to better familiarize himself with the WHL and to make a quick transition this year. That much was evident Saturday as he tallied a single-game high of three points to power Edmonton to a 6-2 victory over Seattle and earn first-star honours.

On the back end, the Oil Kings continue to enjoy the success of overage defender Conner McDonald, who has recorded seven points on the season, including the eventual game-winning tally against the Thunderbirds that saw him tie the franchise high-water mark for goals by a defenceman.

“It’s cool, my family was in the crowd tonight so it was nice they could see that, too,” McDonald told Van Diest following the accomplishment. “I’m just happy I can contribute. Any time you can match a record, you have to give back to your teammates. They’ve been everything for me and they help me strive for better every day.”

While there has been no shortage of offense from the Oil Kings this season – Edmonton ranks first in the WHL with 56 goals – the club has also been stingy defensively in allowing just 34 markers thanks to outstanding play between the pipes from starter Todd Scott as well as freshman netminder Sebastian Cossa. Selected 36th overall in the 2017 WHL Bantam Draft, Cossa remains undefeated across five appearances, coming away with a miniscule 1.58 goals-against average plus an incredible .948 save percentage that rank first among goaltenders who have seen as much ice time.

Bringing plenty of offensive punch coupled with a steady presence in the blue paint, the surging Oil Kings will look to continue their win streak in the coming week that counts home dates against Saskatoon and Prince Albert in addition to a road trip to Calgary to take on the rival Hitmen.

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