EDMONTON — Soup and Stu.
It’s the strangest tandem, when you think about it.
Consider that nobody has both the soup and the stew, right? You have one, or you have the other.
Well, the Edmonton Oilers have both as their goaltending tandem this year: starter Jack (Soupy) Campbell, and backup Stuart (Stu) Skinner.
And when we say “backup,” we’re talking about a 23-year-old rookie with just 14 NHL games under his belt. This fall he embarks on a season where he’ll be asked to start as many as 30 games.
Fans may look at it that way.
“It’ll be great. I’m really looking forward to it,” he said from underneath a world-class mustache — the kind that would make Wendel Clark and Paul MacLean proud. “Obviously, I got a little taste of it last year and I’m pretty well just going to do what I did last year.”
You’ve heard Skinner’s story: the youngest of nine kids, all their names start with an ‘S’. He grew up in the Edmonton neighborhood of Riverbend, went to high school at Louis St. Laurent, just south of the Whitemud Freeway.
Some guys thrive at playing in their hometown. Others — with all the family and friends in their orbit — struggle with the ticket requests, the dinners, the invitations…
In a market where even the fourth-line winger gets noticed in a restaurant, Skinner has a built-in fan club that sits around his Thanksgiving dinner table.
“You know, I’ve got one job,” he reasons. “That’s to stop the puck, and that’s what I’m gonna do. Then I’m gonna go back home get some good food, and sleep.”
Soup and stew. The latter part of that equation does seem like a real meat and potatoes dude.
Perhaps his best asset?
“His physical size,” said Oilers goalies coach Dustin Schwartz. “You can’t teach that. He’s six-foot-four and thick — he takes up a lot of space in there.”
Growing up, Skinner’s hero was Dwayne Roloson. Skinner would have been in Grade 2 when Roloson was hauling the Oilers to that 2006 Stanley Cup Final versus Carolina.
“I remember growing up, by Grade 5 I was trying to tell the teachers that I wanted the same pads as him. He was by far the coolest guy in my mind, growing up.”
Roloson did not play in Edmonton for a long time — just three-plus seasons of a 14-year career — and arrived later in life. Skinner enters the chat as a drafted and developed Oiler, a third-round pick who might turn into an actual long-term NHL goalie.
But you know what they say about goalies…
You don’t know if they are NHL goalies until you play them in the NHL. Then you find out.
“I mean, I would like to say that I know,” Skinner said. “But I think that nobody really knows how anything is going to be in the future. That said, I’m going to do everything I can to see what I’m capable of in this league, and to see how far I can go .
“I’m gonna work as hard as I possibly can to be the best goalie, the best teammate and the best person I can be throughout these years.”
How’s that for a place to start? Alongside career good guy Campbell, the Oilers may have the nicest tandem in the NHL to go out to dinner with. Then add on the fact that Skinner has been properly seasoned — five Western Hockey League seasons, another in the ECHL and three more with AHL Bakersfield — and you’ve got a guy who absolutely deserves to be where he is today.
Head coach Jay Woodcroft said that he plans to give Campbell “50-55” starts. That leaves somewhere in the 27-32 range for Skinner.
“At the end of the day, he’s got to answer a few things, just as far as the volume that he’s able to carry,” allowed Schwartz. “I think he’s proven that over the 14 starts that he’s got that he’s got the skills and the ability to play here.
“He’s had some ups and downs in the starts that he’s had at the NHL level. I think that experience is invaluable. Now he’s just got to go out there and do it.”
Can he be Thatcher Demko?
Will he be Laurent Broissoit?
Nobody can tell you they know what Stuart Skinner’s ceiling is right now.
So let’s sit back and find out.