Oilers’ Future in Net Clearer With Konovalov Signing KHL Contract

Just two months after the Edmonton Oilers signed goaltender Ryan Fanti out of college to bolster their prospect pipeline, it seems they will lose another prospect in the process. It is all but official that they will terminate the contract of their 2019 third-round draft pick, Ilya Konovalov, when the season is over.

Alexi Sopin, general manager of the KHL’s (Kontinental Hockey League) Dynamo Moscow, spoke about signing Edmonton’s goaltending prospect, saying, “But we have a preliminary agreement on all issues. And I will say that if we were not sure of his arrival, we simply would not make an exchange with Lokomotiv” (translated to English). Konovalov isn’t eligible to sign yet because the Oilers are still in the playoffs and unable to terminate his contract. But as soon as the season is over, expect this announcement.

Ilya Konovalov, Bakersfield Condors (Jenae Anderson / The Hockey Writers)

Konovalov signed a two-year entry-level contract with the Oilers in May 2021, and he is set to become a restricted free agent after next season, which is why his contract will be terminated if he is headed back overseas. He spent parts of four seasons with Yaroslav Lokomotiv of the KHL (from 2017-18 to 2020-21) before joining the Bakersfield Condors of the American Hockey League (AHL) this season, where he had a 5-7-3 record and posted a 2.73 goals-against average (GAA) and a .898 save percentage (SV%). He spent some time on the taxi squad but never saw any NHL action.

Konovalov was ranked in the top-10 among Oilers’ prospects heading into this season by many sources. Unfortunately, he wasn’t able to transfer his success over to North America upon his arrival.

Condors’ Goaltending Picture is Clearer

The Condors had five goaltenders play a game for them in 2021-22:

  • Stuart Skinner: (22-7-5), 2.21 GAA, .920 SV%, 5 shutouts.
  • Ilya Konovalov: (5-7-3), 2.73 GAA, .893 SV%.
  • Oliver Rodrigue: (6-5-2), 3.09 GAA, .889 SV%.
  • Alex Stalock: (3-2-0), 3.81 GAA, .862 SV%.
  • Ryan Fanti: (1-0-0), 5.00 GAA, .878 SV%.

Stalock was traded to the San Jose Sharks when they ran into goaltending trouble with injuries, and he had once played for them. With Konovalov expected to be heading to Russia, that leaves just three goaltenders in the rotation for the Condors next season.

Skinner, the best of the group, will most likely be playing for the Oilers full-time next season. He is 23 years old, has spent four seasons playing pro hockey, whether in the ECHL, AHL, or NHL, and has 14 games under his belt for Edmonton. During his time in the NHL, he played well despite the tough situation he was thrown into.

Stuart Skinner Edmonton Oilers
Stuart Skinner, Edmonton Oilers (Photo by Curtis Comeau/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Skinner started 12 games with a 6-6-0 record while coming in as relief in one more game. He posted a 2.62 GAA and .913 SV% with a shutout, which was far better than Mike Smith and Mikko Koskinen. Skinner’s shutout came in his final game with the team since Smith and Koskinen remained healthy for the remainder of the season.

Koskinen supposedly has a deal to play for HC Lugano of the National League (NL) in Switzerland next season, so a goaltending spot should become available on the Oilers if they don’t go out and sign one in free agency. With the tight cap and Skinner worth only $750,000 against the cap next season, he should have earned his place on the club next season, especially considering he won’t be waiver exempt anymore.

Related: Oilers’ Season on Life Support Due to Mike Smith’s Weak Goals Against

That leaves Fanti, who is signed for two seasons, and Rodrigue who is under contract for one more. Fanti would have given Konovalov a run for his money as the starter in Bakersfield next season, but I believe he has the upper hand on Rodrigue despite needing to adjust to the North American game.

Fanti had exceptional numbers in his second and final season at the University of Minnesota-Duluth where he posted a 1.83 GAA and .929 SV% before joining the Condors for one game. In that game, he didn’t play badly, but he was lit up with shots. Rodrigue, on the other hand, has progressed slower than Konovalov and spent half of last season in the ECHL, where his numbers weren’t great. Konovalov would’ve been able to earn more playing time than Rodrigue, but instead has decided to return home to play where he has had the most success in his career.

It’s disappointing for the Oilers to lose their third-round pick for nothing after hardly giving North America a chance, but the team will be fine and have solid goaltending depth at this point.

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