Ramsay, Hall and pre camp notes

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The Oilers rookies wrap up their rookie tournament in Penticton this afternoon before flying back to Edmonton to prepare for Wednesday’s tilt vs. the U of A Golden Bears at Clare Drake Arena.The veterans partake in medicals on Thursday, step on the ice Friday and Saturday before the first preseason games on Sunday vs. the Flames.

The Oilers and Flames will play two games this coming Sunday, one in each city, but before the games begin here are some notes prior to the start of the Oilers 35th NHL season.

What did we learn from rookie camp?

I’ve always believed you learn more about who can’t play, rather than who can. For example I expected players like Darnell Nurse, Leon Draisaitl, Bogdan Yakimov, Mitch Moroz and Greg Chase to excel. I look forward to seeing how they fare against NHL players. Yakimov has garnered a lot of attention because of his size and skill, something the Oilers desperately need down the middle, but you need to have realistic expectations.

Enjoy the possibilities of a big, strong centre, but remember he’s never played the North American style and it will take him some time to adapt. Suggesting he will suddenly challenge for a roster spot, based on two rookie games is a classic case of jumping the gun. It also re-affirms the lack of proven NHL talent at the centre position. I hope the Oilers are patient with Yakimov and other young players, because rushing more young players to the NHL is not the way to build a winner.

However, it sure is refreshing to see the Oilers have three big and skilled centre prospects in Yakimov, Draisaitl and Jujhar Khaira. If two of them pan out the Oilers would be extremely happy.

Is going with youth the best option?

I’d rather see it in the AHL than the NHL, and this year it sounds like the Oilers will give their young prospects more opportunities to succeed in the minors. Tyler Pitlick and Curtis Hamilton went to the AHL one year after being drafted — both had late birthdays and were AHL eligible — but neither played very much in their rookie seasons. They’d have been better off playing heavy minutes in the WHL than limited minutes in the AHL.

Don’t expect that to happen this year.

Moroz, Khaira and Yakimov will play in the top-nine on most nights. They will have to earn their icetime, but Craig MacTavish has made it clear he wants his young players to play.

The blueline will be filled with youth. One of Klefbom or Marincin will most likely start there and the remainder of the backend will feature Brandon Davidson (97 AHL games), David Musil (61 AHL games), Martin Gernat (57 AHL games), Jordan Oesterle (4 AHL games) and rookie Dillon Simpson.

Their inexperience will lead to a few tough nights, but they will also grow as players and it will allow the Oilers more opportunity to evaluate their progress.

Richard Bachman and Laurent Brossoit will be the goalies, although Ty Rimmer will push them. Unless Brossoit really struggles, you can expect to see him split duties with Bachman. Bachman will never be the goalie of the future, so it makes sense to give Brossoit more opportunity, as long as he isn’t overwhelmed.

Why change a good thing?

Many of us are interested to see what defence pairings Dallas Eakins and Craig Ramsay will use to start the season. Mark Fayne, Jeff Petry and Justin Schultz are locks on the right side. The left side will employ three of Nikita Nikitin, Andrew Ference, Keith Aulie, Martin Marincin, Oscar Klefbom or Darnell Nurse.

What I don’t understand is why some are suggesting that Petry or Schultz play with Fayne? Fayne excelled in New Jersey playing the right side, why would you move him to the left? Petry and Schultz have yet to master the art of defence, but now some believe it best to add more of a learning curve by shifting them to the left side. Don’t out think yourself.

The two defenders who can play the opposite side are Nikitin and Ference. Nikitin played quite well on the right side in Columbus, while Ference played both sides in Boston. Nikitin would be the best option to move to the right side, but that only becomes a necessity if the Oilers and Petry can’t reach an extension prior to the trade deadline.

When the season starts, it seems likely you will see players play their natural side according to Ramsay.

“Overall I think that’s a good system, it’s a good
way to play. And for most players I think that they’re more comfortable doing
that. I’ve always had some defence who like the other side but overall it’s
hard, I don’t know why, but it’s hard to get certain players to move over and even harder to find guys
who are really comfortable playing that opposite side,” said Ramsay.

Ramsay did point out how Ference handled it well in Boston, but unless an injury happens to one of the three righties, I don’t see why the Oilers would move anyone to their opposite side to start the season.

Nikitin played top-four minutes in Columbus for two years, so he and Fayne could be the pair to face the hardest minutes early in the year. Petry could play with whichever young guy, Marincin, Klefbom or Nurse, wins a job, while Ference and Schultz are your third pair. That would be my best guess.

GO IN WITHOUT BIAS

Craig Ramsay

I had a lengthy conversation with Ramsay (will post it tomorrow) about many things, but this is what he said about defenceman heading into camp:

I never like to get preconceived notions on players when we are talking
about our team and where we are going to be at training camp. We
haven’t spent a lot of time breaking down individual players, because
sometimes you go in and you’ve got an idea in your head that’s probably
not quite correct. I want to give the players every opportunity to show
me what they’ve got and to listen and see where they can get to. I don’t
want to have any bad thoughts in my head when I start.

Ramsay also discussed trying to avoid having a bias towards a player as well as what powerplay formations he’d like to employ. You can read those responses here.

FACE OF THE FRANCHISE

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There is no debating that Taylor Hall is the Oilers best player, and even the NHL marketing team feels the same. Hall was in New York last week, with 30 other players for the NHL’s annual PMT (player marketing tour).

The NHL gathers 30 of the top players in the game, usually one per team, although Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews were both there, and in two days they cram in a lot of marketing videos, photoshoots and interviews.

They film things like commercials or pre-game intros, like still or action shots and videos of the players doing stuff on the ice. 

Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin, John Tavares and other top NHL stars were there. Hall deserves to be mingling with the best in the NHL, and the good news for Oilers fans is that he still has room to improve his overall game.

Hall’s 130 points over the past two seasons are the 6th most the NHL, trailing only Crosby (160), Ryan Getzlaf (136), Ovechkin (135), Claude Giroux (134) and Phil Kessel (132).

Hall is 5th in points-per-game at 1.08/game, behind Crosby (1.38), Evgeni Malkin (1.15), Steven Stamkos (1.14) and Getzlaf (1.12). He has become one of the elite offensive scorers in the league.

I expect Hall to have another strong season and be better defensively, which will help his offensive totals. Hall scored 80 points last season, and he still has a lot of room to improve, which is why I believe 90 points is realistic.

He will enter camp this year as a winger. He won’t have to spend the preseason and early part of the season trying to figure out how to play centre. While Hall produced points early, I believe the move to centre hindered his overall game more than it helped him.

I’ll be very surprised if Hall doesn’t have a career year, and I expect we will see a big improvement in different aspects of his overall game.

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  • Danny Lawson

    Ramsey can’t watch video on the defencemen he’s going to coach, without forming a bias? It’s kinda curious he doesn’t think he can obtain important information about their games and tendencies without forming some sort of perceived negative bias. Certainly doesn’t sound like a positive thing to me.

    • Jason Gregor

      He said he won’t watch TOO much of it, he did watch some. He will have ample time to watch video after he sees them first hand.

      I thought he explained quite well how we all have bias. It is true. We all see what we want to see, and in some cases just wait until it happens, and then we focus too much on it.

      I will trust a coach with 21 years coaching experience and a reputation of being a great teacher and communicator.

    • OILmoney

      A good teacher tries to get to know their students through their own eyes and then tailor their teaching to best fit the student. Yes, there are the comments from previous teachers you will review but in the end they are your students and you will teach them to the best of your ability.

      Ramsey’s view is very in line with a master teacher. There will be plenty of time to go over video. Also with how horrible last year was for the D, the last thing I am sure they want to be forced to review is how bad they were. Let the video from this year be one of the teaching tools.

      I highly suspect Eakins reviewed his d-corp with Ramsey and that wasting time going over every little bit of video would be foolish. Also, we have to hope the players have been training to improve from last year, which the coaches can’t determine until they see them later in the week.

      I have no fear in the coaching staff this year. It will not be coaching that sinks the team this year. Oilers brass have put in place a very strong group of coaches.

  • J.R.

    i’m hoping nurse plays another year of junior, he looked like he’s trying to much in the rookie tourney, imo. it’s not necessary to rush him as we have 2 young d-men in marincin and klefbom ready to compete. i was more bullish on klefbom, i think he’s a stud back there, but it’s making me nervous that marincin is sometimes spoken about like it’s, oh yeah, and marty’s in the mix too….remember chara being let go because wade redden was the man. not saying marincin is chara, but let’s get him some food and see what happens before pulling the pin in a hasty attempt to get a new 2nd line C.

  • Dan the Man

    Having an improved defense that actually has a chance of getting the puck out of their zone will help Hall as well. Maybe this is the year he gets the respect he deserves and people like Cassie Campbell will stop crapping on him for the odd turn over.
    For the first part of the year Hall was also dumping the puck in a lot more rather than carrying it in which I think hurt his offensive production a bit as well. That changed in the second half of the year so I think we will see him continuing to carry it in to start the season.

  • Dan the Man

    The Ference-Schultz pairing was pretty bad last year. Together they had a CF together of 42.1

    Marincin-Schultz were 49.6, albeit in limited minutes together. I know that’s a lot of inexperience, but I’d be curious to see how they do together again.

    Ference and Petry together were 45.4 which is an improvment to Ference-Schultz.

    When Nikitin played with Tyutin, who plays that defensive game (perhaps similar to Fayne) he was 54% CF. So I do like the Nikitin-Fayne pairing.

    Nikitin – Fayne – hard minutes

    Ference – Petry – 2nd toughest minutes

    Marininc – Schultz – easy minutes

    THoughts on that?

  • Hall deserves a better team than he has had so far. With what the Oilers have done in the off-season, I feel that he should probably go into the year with the best overall group since he has started in the NHL.

    Obviously the hope is that the Oilers can at least not be a laughing stock so that Hall can get more respect from fans around the league who currently underrate him simply due to the team he plays for.

    The best day in the world will be watching Hallsy lift the cup in an Oilers jersey with the “C” stitched on over the heart. Nothing would make me happier.

  • vetinari

    I like Ramsay and see why they went after him. He’s got experience, he’s likely to be a calming influence on the bench and he knows special teams and the defensive side of the game. Next to the UFA signings, he was likely the next best signing by the Oilers in the offseason.

    As for the bias comment, I like that it’s good that he’s open to a player showing him different sides of their game. I think a player gets boxed into a certain role or type by about the 200-300 game mark. On the one hand, you get a pretty decent sense of the player by that point, but on the other, players sometimes get pushed into roles based on team needs and never get out of the box that coaches put them into. For example, Lander seems to be on the verge of this as he struggles to find his form in the NHL.

  • Dan 1919

    Maybe a 2C will still emerge as we’re still early, but right now all we can say is there definitely was not an NHL ready 2C on the ice for the Oilers. And as the competition goes from junior to NHL players, I’m not getting my hopes up.

    Best bet right now is hopefully Yakimov goes on a tear and steals the spot… other than that it’s not looking good.

    The offseason Oiler fan in me is just hoping that the improvements on D and the wings will be enough alone to improve the team drastically into being competitive… because it’s looking like we are staying weak down the middle this year.

  • Leef O'Golin

    I read that article more as Yakimov pushing Draisaitl to earn his roster spot, rather than two guys with close to equal chances for the same spot. Yak2 is probably better served going to OKC and learning the North American game on the smaller ice, which he seems keen to do (much as LD has been doing in Prince Albert). Competition is good and sorely needed down the middle. Yak2 getting a little hype ain’t a bad thing.

    Oh, and I believe the Ramsay signing was the best “free agent” acquisition over the summer. Trash away!

    • Leef O'Golin

      Getting hype in this town isn’t smart, and Staples is the worst fan boy of any writer. Every young Oiler will be great in his eyes. Nice to see Gregor tell him and others to relax. Don’t expect miracles, and please don’t rush anymore young kids.

  • Spoils

    Looking at the Rookies has me dreaming up future 2018 line combinations:

    Hall-RNH-Eberle
    Perron-Draisaitl-Yakupov
    Moroz-Yakimov-(2015 1st rounder)
    Pouliot-Khaira-Chase

    Nurse-Schultz
    Klefbom-Petry
    Marincin-Oesterle

    Scrivens
    Brossoit

    ps- obv. I’d like to keep Petry

    • 2018? Only 4 years away…I’d be interested to see what your prediction was in 2010. I’m sure it had a lot of HOPE…which is why I stopped posting line combos a long time ago. I’m optimistic about the future, but trades and players not living up to hype (ie: Omark) can change a lot. Let’s focus on this season.

      • Also, not to be pessimistic, but with 2 of the HOPE quartet gone, and Hall having played 8 years in Edmonton by that point…that’s the timing of a cup? Ouch. It might be more realistic than expecting one in the next couple years but won’t Hall and Eberle’s contracts be up around then?

    • J.R.

      Interesting. I would be surprised if Perron gets re-upped. Right now he is on a crazy value contract, and if he keeps playing this way will be in line for a huge Free Agency pay day. Not sure the Oilers will have cap room, or if he’ll want to stick here by then. As such, I think he gets traded in the off season of next year, or at the 2016 deadline. And that will be an impressive return.

      By the way it’s looking right now, Yakimov could end up being the second line C. That kid is the real deal, and if he can develop the North American style game, look out. Not to mention, I am betting him and Yak are going to have some crazy chemistry. Watching him play with Tkachev has been so fun. Although, I think Tkachev has a more complete, if not as high end, skill set than Yakupov. But the offense should be impressive.

      I would also put Chase higher by that point. Who knows, his style of game could replace Perron.

      At this point I just don’t think Khaira is going to make it. He hasn’t shown a full set of skills to play in the NHL, nor excelled at a specific role like Gordon currently does.

      I also hope they keep Petry, but I just don’t think they’ll keep both Petry and Schultz. It feels like right now those two are auditioning for the role of right side puck moving top four D man.

      I have been impressed with Simpson. His leadership and calming presence, so maybe he fits in somewhere.

      But all in all, some of these kids are going to make it for sure. Exciting times.

  • Zarny

    Sage advice Mr. Gregor. Yakimov having a good tournament against teenagers means absolutely nothing. He’s a 3rd round draft pick who likely won’t be NHL ready for another 2-3 years. If he beats that timeline great, but it should not be the expectation.

    Playing Fayne on the left side would be dumb…end of discussion.

    Taylor Hall – kid is an absolute stud. During the 2010 draft combine several scouts described him as THE physical freak in a room full of freaks. He’s 22, just becoming a man, and is going to tear the NHL a new one for the next decade. Should be fun to watch.

    • I like this.

      Let’s also remind ourselves that Yakimov played in the second best league in the world last year despite only playing an average of 10 TOI, he really should be excelling against JR & AHL players, this didn’t show us much but still good arrows.

      I’m just waiting for DSF to come explain how Seguin is still superior to Hall.