The Oilers first day of training camp started with the RHIET (Repeated High Intensity Endurance Test) and finished with a solid focus on defensive zone coverage. The RHIET six lengths of the ice, back and forth, had pretty much every player skating straight-legged for the final two sets.
After the players finished their RHIET they had some time to recuperate, before heading to the adjacent sheet of ice for the rest of practice, where much of the practice revolved around D-zone coverage. The Oilers have been a train wreck in their own zone the past few years, and none of them seemed surprised that day one had a strong focus on the defensive zone.
They also mixed in some line rushes and other drills, but the practice wasn’t that long as Eakins didn’t want to push them too hard after starting the day with the RHIET.
Yesterday afternoon I had many fans wondering how David Perron or Ryan Smyth or others "looked." No players looked out of shape, but due to the type of practice, and it being only one day, it is virtually impossible to get a read on any player. However, I did observe a few things.
WHAT I NOTICED….
- Justin Schultz changed his stride slightly. He is lower to the ice and that allows him to generate more power. He wasn’t instructed to change his stride. He mentioned that during the summer he remembered back to some of his skating camps and how all the instructors focused on being low to the ice, so he put a bit more emphasis on it, and he liked it. He said he feels much stronger, and he also looks thicker now than he did last January.
- You likely noticed Sam Gagner tweeted a picture on Tuesday that his roommates, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and J. Schultz, bought guitars and are learning to play. The first song Schultz wants to learn will be Carolina by Eric Church. Schultz is huge fan of country music.
- Nugent-Hopkins is the most effortless skater on the Oilers. During the RHIET, his stride looked perfect. He never moves his head, and his shoulders barely move. Even when he fatigued during the final two sets, his posture and positioning was excellent. He doesn’t waste any energy in his stride and that helps him in games, because he’ll be more rested.
- RNH is doing "controlled" contact with the trainers, but only off the ice. They don’t want him taking contact on the ice, or be in a position where he isn’t expecting a blow. The Oilers are being cautious, and smart, about not rushing his return date, so don’t expect him back until late October or early November.
- Oscar Klefbom didn’t skate. He took a shot from Golden Bear Levko Koper on Tuesday and is day-to-day.
- Anton Belov still hasn’t arrived due to Visa issues. The Oilers are hoping he arrives on the weekend or early next week.
- Mike Brown’s stache looks pretty sweet. He waxes the tips to make it look even tighter. Nice.
- Andrew Ference had the best VO2 max, 67.3, the highest score Dallas Eakins had ever seen. Anton Lander and Nugent-Hopkins were the only other players in the 60s. Ference hadn’t done a VO2 test in years; he said Boston and Pittsburgh don’t do it.
- I don’t put much stock into line combinations on the first day of training camp, because rarely do they stay intact when the regular season starts. Yesterdays combos had people talking, and you can tell hockey is back because before the Oilers have had their first scrimmage some fans were already ripping Eakins for his combos.
On Wednesday I asked Eakins about line combinations and he, like most NHL coaches, prefers to find duos. He’d love to have solid trios, but due to injuries, slumps and matchups, don’t expect to see lines stay together for extended periods of time.
- He had Hall between Ales Hemsky and Ryan Smyth. Eakins mentioned he wanted veterans beside Hall for the first few preseason games. If I’m looking at combos, I think Hall/Hemsky makes sense.
- Free agent signee, Ryan Hamilton was elated to be skating beside Sam Gagner and Jordan Eberle. Hamilton did snip a few nice goals during line rushes. Eakins is high on Hamilton, so he’ll get at least one game with 89 and 14, but I think it is fair to say that if we are looking at a duo on that line it will be the former first rounders. Hamilton could be the wildcard of camp. He has size and he’s averaged 27 goals the past two years in the AHL.
- Boyd Gordon was in the middle of David Perron and Nail Yakupov. Yakupov and Perron are the fiestiest of the skilled Oilers, so maybe they will work well as a combination.
- Jesse Joensuu, Will Acton and Mike Brown skated together. If Acton and Brown are on the opening night roster it will be on the fourth line.
- Anton Lander skated with Ryan Jones and Greg Chase, while Ben Eager skated with Matt Ford and Derek Nesbitt. I didn’t watch Linus Omark’s group practice, but I think he was with Marc Arcobello.
- Some might be furious that Hemsky and Smyth are with Hall and not Perron and Yakupov, but it is day one of camp, so save your fury until the regular season.
- I’ve said for months I don’t expect Eakins to use Hall, Eberle, Gagner, Perron, Yakupov and Nugent-Hopkins (when he’s ready) as the top-six regularly. I think he’ll mix them into three lines, and I like that idea. Whoever plays with Hall is likely going to face the opposing #1 D pairing, which is fine since Hall played against them, and produced nicely last season, but Eakins wants balanced scoring and if Hall can succeed vs. the #1 pair, that means that two of the other skilled forwards will face the 3rd pairing. Whoever gets that matchup has to take advantage of it.
The Oilers will be on the ice longer today, no RHIET, and they will have some scrimmage time before their preseason openers against the Flames tomorrow in Calgary (7 p.m.) and in Edmonton (8 p.m.).
Eakins hasn’t released the lineups for those two games yet, but I suspect you’ll see them mixed up fairly evenly, although the team playing in Edmonton will have a more veteran team. In the preseason, teams usually give their home fans a more attractive lineup.
The first practice starts at 9 a.m. at Millenium Place in Sherwood Park and it is open to the public.