September 09 2013 10:46AM
The Edmonton Oilers main camp opens Wednesday with medicals, and their first on-ice sessions will be Thursday and Friday at Millenium Place in Sherwood Park. Both days will be open to the public and Thursday's session starts at 8:45 a.m.
Tomorrow the Oiler rookies take on the U of A Golden Bears at Clare Drake at 7 p.m, and if this past weekend was any indication the rookies will be in tough to keep it close. The rookies were outscored 17-6 in three games, which means little in the long term growth of the organization, but the rookies will need to be much better to avoid getting embarrassed by the Golden Bears.
As the Oilers enter their 34th season, there are plenty of questions that need to be answered.
Here are some questions that I have entering camp.
1. How will Dallas Eakins ensure his players compete?
Eakins is a very demanding coach, and he repeated his stance on work ethic this past weekend in Penticton.
"You will either compete hard or you will not play. I do not care how old you are, how much money you make, how much term you have left on your contract. You will compete, or, your minutes will be cut until you buy in. That’s the way it’s going to go.”
I don't discount that Eakins means business, and he'll be more demanding and in-your-face than Tom Renney or Ralph Krueger were. I sense his no-nonsense approach will work with the Oilers, because the players are sick of losing. All the players, especially the young, skilled forward, liked Krueger, but I don't think they need to like Eakins; they need to respect him and play hard for him. If Eakins can get the Oilers to play with more emotion, tenacity and determination, they will be infinitely better.
I've said numerous times during the past four seasons, that on too many occasions the Oilers didn't match the work ethic of their opponents. If Eakins can get them to do that, he'll be ahead of the game.
2. Which RW moves to the LW?
The Oilers will not be rushing Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, thankfully. Nugent-Hopkins will not be playing any exhibition games according to Craig MacTavish, and we will likely see Taylor Hall play centre for the next month. Hall prefers wing, but maybe after five preseason games and a month of regular season action he might find he likes playing centre. We'll see.
Regardless of whether how long Hall plays centre, it is possible one of Jordan Eberle, Ales Hemsky or Nail Yakupov will slide over to left side until Nugent-Hopkins returns.
Yakupov seems the most likely, since he shoots left and he played there last year, but is it possible that Dallas Eakins keeps all three of them on the right side, and uses Jesse Joensuu and Ryan Jones on the left side with David Perron?
Eakins has mentioned he likes to have variety on his lines, so maybe he'll mix in guys like Jones and Joensuu, who aren't as skilled as Eberle, Yakupov and Hemsky, but offer other elements, like going to the net (Jones) and size (Joensuu).
Who would you move to the left side?
3. Which Jeff Petry will we see?
From January 15th to April 07th, 2012, Petry played 37 games and produced 18 points. That was the best stretch of his young career. He played almost 24 minutes a game, he moved the puck well, and he even stepped up and delivered some heavy hits. He ended his second NHL season playing very well.
However, last season Petry wasn't able to build on that. He struggled, and the Oilers are hoping it was due to not playing from September to December. Last year, Petry only had 12 points in 48 games, basically half the production he had from January 2012 to April 2012.
The Oilers need better and more consistent play from their top-four D-men, and I feel Petry is key ingredient. Most expect Andrew Ference to be consistent. Ladislav Smid is what he is, and while they'd like him to move the puck better, they usually know that they'll get on a nightly basis. Justin Schultz has loads of potential, and he will more consistent than he was last year, but Petry is the one who could really impact the performance of their top-four.
The Oilers need him to play like he did early in 2012, and if he does, they will have a much better chance of staying in the playoff race.
4. Which forwards will kill penalties?
The Oilers penalty kill was 9th last year, and for the 3rd consecutive season they were top-five in TS (Times shorthanded), so unless they start taking fewer penalties, their PK forwards will play a key role.
Three of their top-four PK minute leaders,Shawn Horcoff, Eric Belanger and Lennart Petrell are gone. Ryan Smyth led the Oilers in PK minutes last year, so I'd assume he'll be one of the top-four.
Boyd Gordon will replace Horcoff, while Sam Gagner and Jones played 35+ min on the PK last year. Those could be the top-four PK guys, but it will interesting to see if Eakins uses Eberle or Hall on the PK. Hall has averaged 2 seconds a game in his NHL career, while Eberle sits at 23 seconds, so neither has really been used in that role.
I'd rather those two play more on the PP and EV, than on PK, where the minutes are more taxing and the chance to score is infinitely lower.
Whoever wins the 4th line centre job, Anton Lander or Will Acton will likely be another guy Eakins uses on the PK.
5. Is Dubnyk ready to play 65 games?
Dubnyk might be passing Gagner as the most polarizing player on the Oilers. Some feel he's good, his numbers back that up, while others feel he lets in too many "soft" goals, which is also true. Dubnyk like most of the Oilers needs to find consistency in his game. Of course he'll allow a weak goal now and then, all goalies do, but the key is limiting the weak ones.
Dubnyk faced the 2nd most shots in the Western conference last year, 1132 in 38 games, with only Antti Niemi facing more, 1220, albeit it in 43 games. Dubnyk was one of only nine goalies to start 30 games and have a SV% of .920 or better. If the Oilers team defence improves, in theory his job should become a bit easier.
I see Dubnyk as a solid starter, and if he cuts down the soft goals, he could become a very good to great starter.
6. Who will be the 4th line centre?
If Hall stays at centre, then the 4th line battle is between Anton Lander, Will Acton and Marc Arcobello. I don't see Arcobello filling this role, because he's an offensive guy. If Hall doesn't like centre, then Arcobello could slot in on the 2nd line to start.
The Oilers pro scouts really like Acton; however, their track record in recent years hasn't been stellar. Eakins coached Acton the past two seasons in Toronto, so they should have a comfort zone. The scouting report on Acton is that he's good on faceoffs and in his own end.
Lander is in an interesting place. Would he be better off playing first line minutes in OKC, playing EV, PP and PK, or is it best to have him in the NHL? If he is noticeably better than Acton, then he sticks, but if it is close, I'd go with Acton and let Lander develop his overall game in the AHL.
7. Who is Anton Belov?
We don't know much about Belov. When I asked Steve Smith about him, even he admitted he doesn't know much about him. MacTavish watched him play last year and he's very high on Belov. According to MacTavish he skates and moves the puck well and uses his size. Based on that description he's exactly what the Oilers need, but can he adapt to the NHL?
Belov is having Visa issues, and might miss the first few days of camp, but when he shows up he's the player I'm most interested to watch; mainly because he is a true wildcard.
- The Flames and Oilers will play simultaneous split-squad games on Saturday night, 7 p.m. in Calgary and 8 p.m. in Edmonton. When you watch the preseason games, keep in mind the NHL will be trying out the hybrid icing that is essentially a race to the faceoff dot. If the defender reaches the dot (closest to were the puck is) first they will blow the whistle, but if the attacking forward reaches the dot first the race for the puck continues. At the end of the preseason the players will vote on it, and if they like it, then it could be implemented during the regular season.
- Smart move by the Flames to announce Mikka Kiprusoff retirement today. Allows him to say goodbye to fans and the city, but also guarantees there will be no, "Is Kiprusoff coming back" story lines during the preseason. It is going to be interesting to watch the Flames goaltending situation. Currently, Joey MacDonald has the most NHL experience. If Karri Ramo struggles, I wonder how long before Brian Burke "nudges" Jay Feaster to find a goalie?
- It doesn't sound like any NHL veteran will be coming to Edmonton on a PTO. That could change by Wednesday, as players get desperate, but as of today it doesn't sound like one will be coming to training camp.
- A decision that some hockey parents will need to consider now that more girls are playing hockey.
- I'm confident I won't have to wax my legs,thankfully, but since I agreed to this bet I have to honour why word and let you know that if I raise $2,000 by midnight (I'm currently at $1,700), then I will wear a (T.M Pasnak designed) dress during the Walk A Mile In Her Shoes event tomorrow morning to raise awareness for family violence. You can make a donation here. $300 bucks from the Nation shouldn't be that difficult to raise.