For all the rookies, today is a great day. It is their first day of main camp, shaking hands with veterans and trying not to look too excited as they attend their first day of training camp. Realistically, the only rookie with a chance to crack the lineup is Oscar Klefbom, but that won’t dampen the enthusiasm of the next few days for all the young players.
The rookies aren’t the only ones excited though. The veterans are just as giddy about the possibilities that await the 2013/2014 Edmonton Oilers.
For the third straight season they have a new coach, but unlike the previous two head coaches, Dallas Eakins wasn’t part of the previous regime and he brings a completely new focus and attitude.
Eakins will be more demanding, and he’s going to use the first few days of training camp to gauge the conditioning level and dedication of his players.
The former Toronto Marlies head coach has made it clear he expects his team to be one of the best conditioned teams in the league, and the first few days of on-ice sessions will be fast-paced.
Twenty-five years ago medical day had some interesting story lines, but nowadays all the players are in good to great shape, and now that Theo Peckham is gone, it is unlikely we will hear about any "he’s not in great shape" stories today.
Eakins still hasn’t had a chance to address his team, but he plans on introducing himself to many of his players today as they move from one testing station to the next.
The players get their eyes checked, they see the dentist, and they get to enjoy a VO2 test, the windgate, agility tests, speed tests and some other pleasurable challenges.
They’ve all been through it before, and I’ve noticed that the players aren’t intimidated or worried about the tests. Most of the players look at the tests as a challenge. They want to see how they compare to their peers, and see if all the hard work they did in the summer paid off.
Tomorrow all the players will endure an on-ice conditioning test. It is a three minute test. They start at the goal line and go down the ice and back as fast as they can. They do this at every :30 and :00 until three minutes has elapsed. Eakins will monitor the difference between their first skate and their last. The goal is to maintain the same pace throughout.
- We all know the Oilers want to make the playoffs. It’s the goal of every team, and of course the Oilers want to make it, but it was refreshing to hear Eakins’ views when he was asked about playoffs."I don’t like going big picture. I think if we have our expectations in line and we are able to deliver on a nightly basis…and if you start winning on a nightly basis the big picture takes care of itself.," said Eakins
- If you don’t take care of the small steps, it is hard to compete a task and it was nice hearing a coach address the issues. The Oilers need to learn how to be competitive every night before they can talk or think about making the playoffs.
- Ben Eager has shed some bulk. He’s still likely 225 pounds, but he looked much trimmer. Eager played very well for OKC in the playoffs last year, and it will be interesting to see how Eakins uses him. I doubt we will see Eager and Mike Brown in the lineup at the same time, and if the Oilers keep 8 D-men, you can’t have one of them as your 13th forward, so it seems like those two could be battling for one spot.
- Eager’s size and speed would be very useful, but the question is if can play smart enough in his own zone? If Eager plays hard, and Eakins shows some confidence in him, he might return to the NHL. I don’t see many spots up for grabs, but he could push Brown.
- Jesse Joensuu is a legit 6’4". He has decent skill, but if he shows a willingness to use his size down low and in the corners he might get a long look in the top six. Eakins hinted he wants guys with different dimensions and skills among his top-six or top-nine, and Joensuu has what no other skilled forward has; a big frame. I’m curious to see who Eakins plays him with in the preseason.
- I don’t care if Joensuu isn’t a great skater. Not every player needs to be lighting fast. If his game is good on the boards and in front of the net, how fast does he need to be. The Oilers need to diversify their lineup.
- Eakins hasn’t made up his mind, but right now he has Andrew Ference pencilled in to play with Justin Schultz. He admitted he needs to see guys play together, and there is no guarantee pairs will stay together all season, but like most of us expected Ference will get a look with J.Schultz.
- Eakins also wants to find chemistry amongst forward duos, rather than a trio. It is rare to keep a line together all season, and even though Hall, Nugent-Hopkins, Eberle have had great success for short stints, we likely won’t see line combinations stay consistent all season.
- Don’t expect the Oilers to go out and get a heavyweight goon. Eakins doesn’t like guys who can’t play. If they could find a tough, physical guy who could play, then he’d consider it, but I don’t expect the Oilers to find the next Steve MacIntryre.
- Eakins is a very serious guy. It oozes out when he talks to the media and his players. There will be much more accountability this season. You should expect the Oilers to be much more competitive on a nightly basis this year. Time will tell if that equates to more victories, but I’d be surprised if Eakins allows this team to coast through stretches of games, which has happened too often the past three or four years.