January 15 2013 12:44PM
The first thing you notice with Ralph Krueger as head coach is how little time is wasted during practice. The Oilers first session lasted 30 minutes, but without any long breaks. Krueger has preached "pace" since being named head coach, and through two days of training camp his players have gotten a taste of what he'll expect.
There is nothing worse than wasting time during practice standing around. Krueger outlines all his drills prior to going on the ice, he expects his player to remember them, and when practice starts it is non-stop action.
Through two days it is easily the most up-tempo practices I have watched in a long time.
Many great coaches and players have stated that how you practice defines how you play. If you practice hard, you will play hard, and Krueger is a staunch believer in this philosophy. You can expect the Oilers to be a much more aggressive team this season, not necessarily in a devastating physical fashion, but they will pressure the puck in all three zones and Krueger will demand all of this players attack the puck.
Krueger will put his stamp on this team later this week when he unveils some new alternate captains.
I tweeted yesterday that Jordan Eberle will get a letter this year, and Aaron Ward tweeted that Nick Schultz will be getting one as well. I'm not sure if the Oilers will go with four alternates, two for home games and two for road games, and keep Ryan Whitney and Ales Hemsky wearing a letter, or if he might have four new alternate captains. If he goes with four, I suspect Taylor Hall and Ladislav Smid will be the other candidates.
Ryan Smyth could get a letter, but his game won't change whether he wears one or not, and I think Krueger wants to see some of the young guys take more of a leadership role.
UPDATED*** Eberle will wear an A full-time this season, while Nick Schultz and Hall will rotate wearing the other A. Krueger announced this after practice. Whitney and Hemsky will no longer wear a letter.
I like the acquisition of Mark Fistric, mainly because the Oilers don't have much depth on the blueline. With Andy Sutton done for the season, the Oilers only had 7 NHL-ready D-men prior to the Fistric trade. The Oilers also don't have many defenders who can play physical, which is Fistric's forte.
Fistric had 235 hits in 60 games last year, after seasons of 173 and 171 in the previous two seasons. He is a 3rd pairing defender, who can play both sides, kill penalties and he will has little to no offence. He has three career goals in 257 games, but Steve Tambellini didn't acquire him to help the offence.
I was a bit perplexed by Tambellini's response when he was asked where Fistric will fit in.
"I think our right side is pretty set with Jeff (Petry), Justin (Schultz) and Corey (Potter). I'm looking forward to Corey taking a step and being a regular guy this year. He has the ability to do it," said Tambellini.
I'm not sure why Tambellini feels Potter is a lock to play ahead of Fistric. I don't see Potter getting as much PP time with the addition of J.Schultz and the return of a healthy Whitney. Potter isn't a top PK guy either. Last year he was 7th in PK time amongst the Oilers D-men.
The other factor is I can't see the Oilers being competitive with only one physical defensemen, Smid. The Oilers need a 3rd pairing defender who can kill penalties and play tough. I'd much rather have Fistric or Theo Peckham as my #6 D-man instead of Potter.
The Oilers first two PP units during practice were as follows:
Unit ONE: J.Schultz, Eberle, Horcoff, Hall and Nugent-Hopkins.
Unit TWO: Whitney, Gagner, Yakupov, Hemsky and Smyth
If Potter isn't on either unit there is not point having him dressed ahead of Fistric.
- There were 1500-2000 fans at practice again today. I'm not surprised fans are back and loving hockey, and it is also why I don't expect the Oilers to do any major rebates during games. The fans have shown they will come back.
- It will be interesting to see what the Oilers do with Magnus Paajarvi. He was skating on the 5th line with Darcy Hordichuk and Chris Vande Velde. Will they keep him as a 14th forward, or send him to OKC and let him play first line minutes. The latter would be the smart decision.
- Gagner, Yakupov and Hemsky had pretty good chemistry on the ice today. Krueger has stated he won't get caught up in line matching too much, but if he can get them out against 3rd pairing defenders, they could be very productive.
- Lines were the same as yesterday 4/93/14, 64/89/83, 94/10/56, 55/20/37 and 91/54/16. The D pairings had Petry/Smid, Schultz/Schultz, Whitney/Potter and Fistric/Fedun with Tuebert rotating in.
- Whitney was very forthcoming for an article I wrote for the Edmonton Journal yesterday. Whitney talked openly about a discussion he had with Krueger at the end of last season, and how that conversation made him do a lot of soul-searching. You can read it here.