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
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
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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