As long as the off-seasons have been around here the last seven years and first impressions carrying the weight they tend to do, it’s easy to understand how Saturday’s split squad games against the Calgary Flames have fans of the Edmonton Oilers talking today.
So it goes after half of Edmonton’s training camp roster coughed up a 5-2 lead to the Flames on the way to a 6-5 shootout loss at Rexall Place, while the other half edged the Flames 3-2 down the road in Calgary as the Oilers kicked off their pre-season schedule against NHL competition, sort of.
How did Taylor Hall look at centre? Pretty good, actually, especially on the dot. Might Finn Jesse Joensuu be the big forward the Oilers are looking add to the mix? He looked like it Saturday. How much of an upgrade will David Perron be over Magnus Paajarvi in the top nine? What about Darnell Nurse and Andrew Ference on the back end and Linus Omark and . . .
We got a peek at all of them against the Flames, as did head coach Dallas Eakins and GM Craig MacTavish, but while the impressions made have been duly noted, it’s best, as always, not to make the leap to anything resembling conclusions. Small sample size, as the stats guy like to say.
That should be obvious enough, but even after having seen 25 or so NHL pre-seasons with a notepad in hand, I still find myself prematurely making that leap from time to time. “Hey, that Joensuu kid is exactly what the Oilers need on the wing . . .” or “Wow, if I was Eakins I’d play Hall and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins one-two at centre all season . . .”
As you scratch out your line-ups today, use pencil.
BY MY EYES
Like you, I came way from Saturday’s games with my own impressions. I wonder how they stack up against yours, and those of Eakins and MacTavish, who watched the game at Rexall Place from the press box.
. . . Hall was front and centre, if you’ll pardon the play on words, at pivot against the Flames. Most notable, he went 11-6 (65 per cent) in the face-off circles, which isn’t insignificant given how bad the Oilers have been on the dot in recent seasons. Credited with a goal that never went in. The challenge for Hall as he fills in for Nugent-Hopkins will be throttling back his urge to lead the rush and use his wingers.
. . . Joensuu, who had a goal and an assist and five shots against the Flames, looks like he can be a handful around the net, a forward capable of leaning on opposing defensemen. Might he be eventually be an upgrade on Ryan Jones?
. . . Speaking of Jones, he looked pretty good in Cowtown on a line with Boyd Gordon and Perron. Jones, coming off a season in which he struggled mightily after eye surgery, scored on a deflection. He’s got to re-establish himself in the top-nine. A good first step. Perron also had a goal, a short-side softie.
. . . Nurse looked at home alongside Ference after feeling his way through shifts at times during the rookie tournament. Nurse moves very well for a gangly kid and it’s probably no coincidence he looked more settled with the steady Ference riding shotgun.
. . . Omark remains dangerous at both ends of the ice. Nobody questions his creativity on the attack and doggedness on the puck for a smaller player, but he was a culprit on two Calgary goals.
Again, use pencil. Next up, Winnipeg.
WHILE I’M AT IT . . .
Looked like the same old Denis Grebeshkov to me, and while I’ve said we shouldn’t read too much into one game, his performance against Calgary has me hoping somebody will step up and contest a spot in the third pairing.
It would help if Oscar Klefbom wasn’t out with a mild concussion and if Anton Belov can get his visa paperwork issues sorted out. Still no definitive word when Klefbom will be ready to go and Belov will arrive. Soon, I hope.
Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TEAM 1260.