Ralph Krueger and his coaching staff want the Oilers to be a pre-gapping team. This is their new system and while some players have excelled at it, some have struggled.
Ryan Whitney hasn’t adjusted as quickly as they would have liked, but they are still confident he will not only grasp the system, but excel at it.
Assistant coach Steve Smith joined me on the TEAM 1260 earlier today and we discussed many strategies and philosophies on coaching. My final two questions revolved around Whitney.
I asked Smith what he likes about Whitney’s game and also the areas that he has struggled with so far.
"Well, we have a system in place now where we are a pre-gapping team so we’re always gapping towards our man; we’re always gapping towards an area – whether it be in the defensive zone, in the neutral zone or in the offensive zone. What we want to have is puck pressure all the time. So you have a responsibility and within that responsibility you have to be tight to that responsibility," explained Smith.
"That is the part of the game that he’s very cautious about and he’s had a difficult time with for the most part. He has yet to adapt to gapping up quickly, so there’s big space between him and the forward as they get pucks consequently coming over the blue line and his gaps haven’t been good. That’s something that he knows and he understands and has been shown (on video) that he needs to improve on.
"What I like about him is that he’s a competitor, he is a good puck mover, and he’s got some offensive instincts that are really difficult to teach because he really has a natural ability with the puck. And when he’s on his game he’s difficult to play against. So we anticipate that after having a couple games off that he’ll be better, and he’s going to play on Saturday night and we look forward to a better game from him."
Very insightful stuff from Smith. It will be interesting to see if Whitney can get a grasp of the new pre-gapping system.
Smith also explained how the coaching staff has been working with the players to give them the best opportunity to succeed and understand their new system.
"We do work a lot with video. I think it’s important that the players see their mistakes and we use them as teaching points. I think part of it is confidence for a lot of the guys, well at least a part of it is maybe…I think in the last couple years in Ryan’s instance, he had an ankle injury and I think that hurt him at times last year, and I think just having the confidence to know that his ankle is okay again now certainly will help.
"These are things we work on a daily bases in practice. It’s not like they’re thrown into a game and are told that this is what you need to do. This is a daily routine that we have where we play 1-on-1’s, where we play these block drills where there’s 5-on-5 blocks on the ice, where we’re constantly gapping, where we’re constantly going through the routine and blowing whistles and stopping guys and letting them know when they’re in position and when they’re not in position.
Many teams are learning a new system, and I’m curious to see how the entire team progresses as they become more comfortable with Krueger’s attacking system.