No surprises at Rookie Camp

eberle-regina-pats

After spending a weekend ensuring I will need a liver transplant in the future, I spent a few moments at the Oilers rookie camp. There isn’t much to report on from there. Jordan Eberle is the best player at the camp, which is as shocking as Katy Perry telling us that Lady Gaga isn’t a hermaphrodite.

Why my buddy would send me that link I have no idea? But when looking at Lady Gaga it makes me wonder why society is so reserved about nipples. Does covering her nipple up with an X really make it less revealing? Why are nipples so secretive?  I warned you that there wasn’t a lot to report on from rookie camp… my mind is wandering.

I digress.

Eberle looks good against fellow kids, but is he ready for the NHL? I say not this year, but we’ll see. Philippe Cornet (5th rounder in 2008) and Milan Kytnar (5th rounder in 2007) are playing with Eberle and they look good. Cornet might get a call to the WJC camp later this year, but he’ll be a long shot. Kytnar is the most responsible defensively at this time, but he’ll go back to the WHL most likely. I can’t see them putting him in the AHL.

The most pressing questions will be from main camp, which starts with medicals this Saturday and then the first on-ice session will be Sunday.

Here are a few questions leading into the weekend:

Are there going to be any surprises when the pre-season wraps up?

I can’t see how. It won’t be a surprise to me if Gilbert Brule makes the team, just like it won’t shock me if Liam Reddox doesn’t. I can’t see Rob Schremp beating out Dustin Penner or Robert Nilsson or Patrick O’Sullivan or Andrew Cogliano or even Jordan Eberle for a spot. Theo Peckham will be one of the final cuts, but he won’t make the team, unless they make a trade before October 1st.

The only surprise I see is if they make a trade, or if Mike Comrie actually signs here, which wouldn’t make any sense. The big question is who is the 15th forward that gets sent down? Horcoff, Hemsky, Penner, Gagner, Cogliano, O’Sullivan, Moreau, Pisani, Jacques, Stortini and Nilsson are the ten I’d bet will be safe after preseason. That leaves Nilsson, Pouliot, Brule, Reddox and MacIntryre to battle for four spots. Who is your odd man out? Does anyone think Eberle or Schremp will make it?

Will the Oilers’ system be that much different?

“You have to look at your personnel and develop a game plan around that. Everyone wants to play high octane hockey, and up tempo, and be in your face and we are no different. But you have to develop a philosophy of play that is conducive to them. That philosophy might mean all of those things, but it might mean that your shifts are 30 seconds long and we are using a full bench,” said associate coach Tom Renney.

“The bottom line is that you try to blend the two philosophies together. You have to look at your players and understand what might work best for them, but also in this day and age the game is most successful played a certain way (puck possession) and we’ll have to find a happy medium,” continued Renney. Listen to the entire interview at Just A Game.

Renney has spent the last month watching film of the Oilers and many teams in the West, and he feels he has a good grasp on what type of players he and Pat Quinn have to work with, but he admitted he’d still like to see it live.

Don’t expect the Oilers to become a team that punishes the opposition every game, because they don’t have the horses to do that. Nor can they play like the Red Wings, because the Wings’ skilled guys also have size and can protect the puck much better.

The biggest difference you should see this year is that the players will be better at puck retrieval and getting the puck back after they’ve lost possession. Basically they will be harder on the puck, and those who aren’t probably won’t last long under Quinn.

Will Cogliano stay in the middle or move to the wing?

After chatting with Renney yesterday I honestly don’t know. He did suggest that he feels they can work with Cogliano and make him better on the draw, but also hinted Cogliano could be a real outside threat. What did pique my interest was when Renney mentioned, “You’ll probably see all kinds of people running through that centre ice position with different combinations of people, so it is a little early to tell where he might end up.”

Shawn Horcoff, Sam Gagner, Patrick O’Sullivan, Gilbert Brule, Cogliano, Marc Pouliot and even Robert Nilsson might get a look. I know Nilsson seems ridiculous, but he brought it up to me when I spoke to him last week at the Kinsmen arena. He said he played centre in Sweden for a bit, and is not averse to trying it over here. He also mentioned he feels just as comfortable on the right side as he does on the left.

It sounds like the centre position will see many candidates throughout camp and the pre-season.

Which players don’t have to be better?

I took this list, rather than name the guys who need to be better. Sheldon Souray had 23 goals and 53 points. If his numbers are close to that, and most importantly his GP is close to the 81 he had last year, the Oilers will be happy. Dan Barnes pointed out on my show yesterday that the one area Souray could improve is learning how to dial down his game physically so he can play a few more minutes. It makes sense, but only if he can do it and still maintain his edge. His ability to keep the opposition honest when they play against him is invaluable to the Oilers, since they don’t have many guys like that.

Denis Grebeshkov averaged 0.54 PPG last year, and was +12. If he maintains that or continues his incredible progression from his disastrous first 30 games last year, the Oilers backend should be solid. He needs to shoot the puck more, and if he is going to be on the PK this season, he has win a few more battles in front of the net. But he is one of the few Oilers who didn’t underachieve last year.

I’d put Tom Gilbert in the same category, except he has to be more of a presence on the ice. Lean on some guys. Scott Niedermayer and Nick Lidstrom rarely dominate anyone physically, but do they ever shy away or get dominated? Rarely. Gilbert needs to use his size to his advantage more this season, but if he gets 45 points and maintains his 0.55 PPG, while not playing on the #1 PP unit he’ll be fine.

Jason Strudwick was -4, but he also had a career high of nine points. His biggest asset is his character in the room. He might not play as much this year, but he needs to maintain the communication with the young guys. After talking to a few of the young players this off-season, it became clear to me that Strudwick was a mentor and good communicator to many of them. He will need to maintain that moreso than his on-ice play I’d suspect.

Outside of Zack Stortini and his six goals and 25 fights, and Cogliano’s 18 goals on the 3rd line, there aren’t any forwards who can be remotely satisfied with their production last year. Liam Reddox would fit in with 46 and 13, but I can’t see how he makes any sort of impact this season. If Pisani is healthy there is no way Reddox should play on this team.

The good news for Oiler fans is that it should be impossible for eight of the top nine forwards to underachieve again. You’d think that if even three of them can make a significant improvement this team should be right in the mix for the playoffs.

If most of them repeat last year’s offensive stats, then it is obvious that management will need to completely blow up the team.

Labour pains

I tweeted last night that Kitwana Jones got released, and expect more changes in Eskie land if they lose again on Friday. Jones was let go because they like Rob Davis I wonder if they might run some 3-4 schemes with Davis and Maurice Lloyd both on the field.

When Kevin Strasser was brought in back in week five as a “senior offensive consultant”, you knew that Rick Worman was on a short leash. And if the defense continues to give up 30+ points a game you wonder when Jim Daley’s scheme will be questioned?

The Esks are 5-4, but they’ve been blown out three times and have come from behind twice in the final minute to win. They’ve given up the most points in the league, and have the fewest picks and sacks. If the Eskimos don’t get things going I could see them falling of the sports focus again really soon in E-town.

***Update***….Rick Worman has been fired. Richie Hall will address the media after practice. No surprise really, and look for Strasser to be named offensive coordinator. The offence has been consistently inconsistent.