That was the Oilers 2012/2013 depth chart heading into an abbreviated training camp last January. Fast forward nine months, and you’ll notice that 11 of those players won’t be on the ice next Thursday when the Oilers open their 2013/2014 training camp.
There will also be a new head coach running a new system, but unlike last year when Ralph Krueger took over, Dallas Eakins will have the luxury of a complete training camp and preseason schedule to implement his system.
We can debate whether Krueger had a good system or not, however, it was obvious he had a major disadvantage coming in as a new coach with a new system and very little time to teach it .
Eakins and his coaching staff will have 19 days, 12 practice days and 7 game days, to ensure the players understand his system, and most importantly, know how to execute it. Not every player will be 100% comfortable with the system when the puck drops on October 1st, but they should be much more comfortable than they were last season.
Assistant coach, Steve Smith, lives in Chicago during the off-season and he lives six doors down from Joel Quenneville. He begrudgingly had to witness many parties and celebrations this summer, but he has also had a chance to talk hockey with the two-time Cup winning coach.
Smith related a story to me on my radio show this week about systems, and how Quenneville felt the Hawks had a big advantage last season because they’ve played the same system for six straight seasons. He felt his team was very comfortable from the start of the season, while other teams either had numerous new faces or a new coaching staff to deal with.
The Hawks started the season 21-0-3, so Quenneville might be on to something. The Hawks won more games in the first half of the season than the Oilers did all year, 19. I’m sure knowing the system inside and out gave the Hawks an advantage, but they also had a plethora of proven, skilled players.
Conversely, the Oilers had a young team with a new coach and tried to learn a new system. With an abbreviated training camp the Oilers had do to most of their teaching over video, rather than on the ice, and by the end of the season some players still didn’t have a complete grasp of the system.
Some players are quick learners while others need more time to fully capture all the nuances of a system, but this year that shouldn’t be as much of an issue. Some players are visual learners, while others need to repeat it over and over again until they comprehend a system.
During the interview on my radio show, Smith gave a quick overview of the new defensive zone system/coverage.
Defensively, we are going to play more of a swarm system where we are going to have some players helping each other out. We are going to two-on-one guys in the defensive zone more often than not. It will help not only our defencemen, but also our young, skilled, not very strong centremen to have opportunities to play better defensively. It becomes a real team concept more than just about the defencemen.
Quite frankly, I think our defencemen battled hard and worked hard last year, and I think this little extra bit of support in our system will really help them along the way.
Everyone, including the coaching staff, knows the Oilers aren’t blessed with big, strong centres, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be successful. It is up to the coaches to employ a system that can overcome, or at least limit a team’s weaknesses in their own zone.
The Oilers have great team speed, so rather than try to play a zone defence, or man-to-man where you rely on your players to win lots of one-on-one battles, it makes sense that Eakins will unveil his swarm defence system.
The key is ensuring the players understand the system, believe in it and are willing to apply it.
The preseason games will give us a glimpse of how the system works, and most importantly which players excel using it.
- I understand it is only one game, but after watching Andrew Miller last night, I’d take him out of the running for the 4th line centre spot on the Oilers. He’ll need some AHL seasoning before he’s ready to compete for an NHL job. Like most guys coming out of college, the jump to the NHL is a major one, and if he can’t dominate in a rookie game, he isn’t going to be able to compete against NHLers, at least not yet. That doesn’t mean he’s a bad player, he just will need some time to adjust to the pro game, before making a serious run at the NHL.
- I also wouldn’t get too wrapped up in Darnell Nurse’s performance. Regardless of how he plays this weekend, or at main camp he is going back to junior, and I’d argue he’ll be going back to junior next fall as well. The Oilers do not need to rush him. Oscar Klefbom is two years older, and he’s played against men the past few seasons. He is the young D-man who will push to make the big club.
- This could be a huge year for Martin Marincin. He should play top minutes in the AHL, in every situation, and if he has a solid campaign I could see him competing for a 3rd pairing slot next season.
- Until David Musil improves his footspeed, I don’t see him being a legitimate candidate to make the Oilers. He’s strong as an ox, but he needs to get quicker. He’s still very young, but that will be his biggest challenge.
- Greg Chase, 7th round pick in 2013, could have a very solid year with the Calgary Hitmen. He scored 17 goals and 49 points with limited PP time as a 17-year-old last year, but this year he’ll get way more offensive opportunities. He has decent hands, but he also is a great agitator. If he can produce points and annoy the opposition, he could have a future in Edmonton in a few years. They don’t have anyone in the organization with decent skill who can also agitate and play with an edge.