Oilers Young Stars Game Two: Battle of Alberta

Young Stars_OilersPK13_Flames

    Oilers PK flattens to 1-3 formation. Craig (90, right) to close lane if he gets middle lane containment from forward. Weak-side forward is loose, but Flames line change leaves him without a job at the moment. 

The Nations Network sent this Jets Nation writer to the Young Stars Tournament in Penticton, BC. I’m judging your team and bringing you the view from the Press Box. 

The rivalry feeling started before puck drop with the heathens from the south (people from Calgary can’t view this site, right?) yelling “Oilers Suck!” during the anthem and making the singer laugh. But when Travis Ewanyk tried to take BIll Arnold’s head off early in the first, things became heated. 

The rest of the game was the story of split squads – each team having outrageous skill at the top of their lineup, and a thirst for violence at the bottom. 

Inside are notes on the evolving team play followed by my scouting reports on each player’s game. 

Team Play

The Oilers took a step forward in their structure this game, as we expected. It was most noticeable on special teams, where the Oilers used two looks – a 3-2 powerplay formation called a box+1 like the NHL club uses, with lanes behind the net as well as around the outside of the PK and a man parked in front, and the standard set centre post umbrella we’ve seen each team use. The latter was more effective, as we saw on the Platzer goal (and the Ludwig goal to a lesser extent). Inconsistently, the Oilers attempted a set breakout on the PP that has F3 at the far blue line on the weak side, moving across the rink to remain weak side support as the other two forwards swing into the lane F3 starts in. 

On the PK, the Oilers started to flatten their defence in transition into a 1-3 to manage the Flames also leaving a forward at the offensive blue line to threaten a quick-up.

At even strength, we saw the Oilers commit to the centre-low overload zone, with the centre below the goal line with one defender to break up the Flames’ cycle attack that gave Winnipeg so much trouble on Friday. It was a double press, but single pin for most of the contest. Most of the team’s troubles actually came after the cycle exited the corner, as a few of the Flames’ skill players were able to isolate Oiler defenders in high-low situations and exploit their relatively slow feet. That’s a winger adjustment in this system, as the centre is already committed to a triangle from each corner to the low slot. 

Defence

#38 Ty Rimmer: A very impressive game for Rimmer. Quick feet, extremely compact and leaves few holes in lateral movement. Gaudreau burned him on a rebound by pulling it back and around the pad, but otherwise the Flames forwards had a very hard time getting anything through low despite a myriad of chances. A ’92 birthday with some pro experience, he wasn’t a show stopper in this contest, but showed well. 

#75 Ben Betker: Last year, Gernat and Marincin had to play both corners while with Betker. This year, Betker is challenging his own corners and was adequate moving net to boards and back. His foot speed has really improved, particularly his first step (which no longer requires an actual step) and he’s still keeping the play in front of him. His reach is impressive, but he struggles to mange the space inside his triangle because of limited power in melee situations. In the third, he and Musil got hemmed in their own zone thanks to the Platzer line and we got to see a very good series that included a strong box out, a demonstrated awareness of the passing lanes around him, and an active stick. The next shift, Betker over-committed to Musil’s side when Musil got split high-low by Gaudreau, leaving Bennett uncontested for his goal. One shift later he did it again, leaving the obvious and eventual shooter alone. He was twice caught unaware by contact on that shift and lost the puck and another two times made a poor play with the puck on his stick. Lots more to see from this player, but ideally I’m looking to see Betker in the good end of the rink more often.

#79 Dillon Simpson: Hard to not be impressed with this player through two games. Early in the 1st, he made two great pinches to keep the play alive on one shift and was still the guy back to collect in the NZ. He has strong vision in transition, using his peripherals to avoid the telegraph. Very calm in beginning the break out, moves to find quiet time and is decisive with the puck. His skating remains a bit of an unknown in that he’s too smart to get exposed, and we’re not sure what his top speed is or how he manages being turned. It’s kind of a compliment that we haven’t had a chance to see it, but it also creates a mystery. Bad giveaway in the second when his eyes got focused on the pressure and not the outlet.

#82 Jordan Osterle: Another good showing. Good passing support on the powerplay and a well placed shot as well. He doesn’t talk as much as he should on the ice (he has a very high pitched voice, so unfortunately you can always tell when it’s him). Calm, clean passes on the tape. Fluid pivots give an impression of smooth. His ceiling is limited by not having any plus or elite level skills. Will definitely contribute in Oklahoma. 

#87 David Musil: A bit of a different game from Musil. He was the first player to get a body on Gaudreau while he had the puck (that was the third period, by the way). His penalty came when he forcefully repelled Kulak (who was charging Rimmer) and added some violence on the end boards. He also wanted to press offensively and did so often. Started the game with Ludwig, who repeatedly ignored Musil’s play calls until they were split up. Ludwig’s game improved after that, Musil’s did not as he and Betker spent a lot of time defending. Still, hearing Musil call for the puck, watching him drill shots, and even rush deep in the zone with possession was intriguing. His skating improved, it seems Musil wants to be more involved in every facet of the game. At the same time, his second period rush down the right boards left him with options high in the middle lane, but his head was down and he skated right to the corner. He’s not a Renaissance man just yet. 

#89 CJ Ludwig: After listening to Musil call the play and watching Ludwig ignore it twice with poor results, I wrote that he seemed like a lone wolf. One of those was on the Gaudreau goal, where Musil called for the quick up and instead Craig held until pressured and then pinned Musil in a pressure lane with his choice of pass. After those two were split up, it seemed Ludwig just didn’t like to be told what to do. Great pass to Kellen Jones circling high into a non-traditional puck support area between the two defencemen. Twice (and only twice) called for the puck himself in the second period after being split from Musil and made a great play both times (including his PP goal). Had a tendency to roam a little and came off the offensive blue line too early a number of times. Not an explosive skater, and may have been trying to keep the game in front of him.The oldest player in the tournament.

#90 Graeme Craig: Meet Ben Betker #2, Graeme Craig. Craig is actually 8 months other than Betker, despite being newer to Oiler fans. It was our first look at him in an Oilers uniform after signing in March and getting one game in for the Barons. Really quite raw despite being 21. Foot work in transition is slow and under-powered. Clumsy physical engagements meant he was typically leaning to make contact. We expected a mean streak, but Craig didn’t show it. Two penalties, both for poor skating. Spent much less time in his own zone than Betker, but I suspect it was because Musil/Betker were out against the toughs. Craig didn’t have a major impact on the game, so we’ll need more viewings. Looks like an ECHL hire from here.

Forwards

#37 Josh Winquist: Our first chance to see this new hire as well. He couldn’t have been happy about Ewanyk’s huge hit on Arnold as he was the first Oiler to really pay the price. Winquist turned back into his own zone on the break out and while moving against the flow of play, Austin Carroll drilled him for a chest-compressor along the half wall. Winquist finished the shift and after a couple tentative plays in the first, returned to normal in the second. His normal was impressive in static play, and less so in motion. Finds soft spots and likes to sit down in them rather than continue to move. His first touch on the puck is excellent. Good feet and stick along the boards. He has good range on his shot, though it’s not particularly heavy. We saw his standing passing on the Yakimov goal – very impressive. He communicates well on defence, and we saw him pointing to his check a few times and to Osterle’s check while calling a very bright switch in the third. He’s not slow, but does lack punch in his first step and isn’t elusive. Would like to see him move the puck and hit space, as he currently can manage just the first part. Was the third wheel on a very good Oilers line. 

#39 Bogdan Yakimov: Playing with Tkachev and Winquist. Really built on his game one. It was the same skills we saw in game one, only to more dramatic effect. Terrific in traffic, comfortable handling the puck in his skates, extremely hard to knock off the disc. His move to split the defence in the second almost resulted in a 5-hole slider, but was edge-of-your seat stuff anyway. Good awareness of his teammates, and we saw him try a no-look spin pass to Tkachev after splitting the defence the second time in period two and another drop pass to Tkachev shortly after.

#42 Marco Roy: Played the game with Moroz and Chase in what was an underwhelming line despite a host of scoring chances. Roy did ring one off the cross bar and set up Ludwig’s PP goal in transition. He also fed a number of passes into the low slot for a charging Moroz, but Moroz lost every attempt in his skates or through his triangle. It was a bit of a scrambled affair for that trio. Second game in a row where Roy looked extremely dynamic with the Jones brothers. Short, quick passes allowed Roy to stay in motion around the zone where he looks so dangerous. Quick feet, very fast, excellent body control and so determined. Very hard to control when he’s in motion. A pleasure to watch. 

#49 Kale Kessy: Opened the game with the Jones twins, where he ended last game. He’s a scattered player, plays reactionary hockey. His skating is average for this level in both straight ahead speed and footwork. Physical. Had a perfectly emblematic shift with 6 minutes left in the 3rd: gets a pass in an open lane at the top of the circles on the PP, has a dangerous look with back-side support (could pass across crease, could try to create rebound for teammate), shoots high and wide from 15 ft. Moments later, takes a pass on right wing just inside own blue line as Calgary’s Hunter Smith steps out of the box 30 feet in front of Kessy. Kessy doesn’t notice despite tons of time to adjust (the space was so large no one even yelled at Kessy to get his head up) and gets levelled without Smith moving. Smith goads him and he fights. Also fought Ferland and tangled with Ramage in what was a mostly side-show performance.

#53 Mitch Moroz: As hinted above, I didn’t think he showed well in this game. He attacked the net with abandon, including on the PP where the Oilers used him regularly. That’s a positive, but he has to be more aware of the puck or it’s moot. He has constant effort, including in recovery. His skating is good in straight lines and he closes to contact with force. Roy and Chase managed his defensive assignments well, but Moroz was the reason the line was scrambled as he again struggled to consider his teammates in his pursuits. Doesn’t manage space well in defending. I think misunderstands the core concept or is being coached to ignore it. 

#64 Vladimir Tkachev: Another stunning game from the diminutive Russian. My first note on him comes after the Gaudreau goal, when he and the Jones twins created a slick entry with two short passes and proceeded to maintain possession for an entire (dangerous) shift. His movement into space after a pass comes up again and again in my notes. His next shift without the Jones’s, he individually reset a breakout that was doomed for a turnover, something he did again in the third on the Yakimov goal shift. His reads are advanced for this tournament, and it’s hard to remember that he’s both 18 and undrafted. Shifty as always, terrific passer, has a variety of ranges and angles from which he’s comfortable shooting. 

#65 Alex Krushelnyski: Tough game to get a read on this player. His first shift, he applied a force on a Calgary defender, making obvious where his linemates (Ewanyk and Platzer) should fill but both men ignored him. It was a clean entry for the Flames and Krush was the last man back for reasons not at all related to his decision making. He’s very quick on his edges, but wants to play read-and-react hockey for the most part and is opportunistic about when to use his speed. Has a weird habit of twirling his stick when he feels the play is flowing his way. I bet he’s had a conversation with every one of his coaches since PeeWee about that. Has trouble organizing his body and making decisions at speed. Early in the second, couldn’t headman the puck to Kellen Jones for lack of body organization and blew the carry-in entry upon arrival at the blue line. No way to tell what this player has in the way of puck skills from this game. 

#66 Connor Jones: There are only five players with 1990 birthdays in the tournament and the Oilers have four of them (the Jones brothers, Ludwig, and Alex Krushelnyski. The other is Josh Jooris). Jones has 70 months (almost 6 years) of experience and development on Sam Bennett, for example. It makes a huge difference. At the same time, Andrew Miller was a college prepared player in this tournament last year, and there are a sizable group of players fresh out of college playing in Penticton every September. Connor and Kellen Jones are head and shoulders past Andrew Miller, and are in the top-10 best skaters in a tournament featuring 9 (healthy) former 1st round selections. Their use of space is their best quality. They move the puck quickly and then find open ice every time on offence. Connor is very physical, though not necessarily very strong. He couldn’t move Elson in the corners during the last minute. Connor pushes the pace very well and does all the small things well as a centre – right side of his check, communicates, manages the middle of the ice in transition, and more. His offence is noticeable, but it’s not his only asset. Wasn’t credited with a shot, but was part of a few scoring chances.

#71 Kyle Platzer: Began the game with Ewanyk and Krushelnyski before Ewanyk and Kessy got into trouble with the law. Elevated to play with Tkachev and Yakimov for a spell. His goal on the powerplay came with a few decisive steps off the half boards and a rifle top corner. But be warned – he got the puck in the same place on the same powerplay moments before, didn’t take any steps and ripped an off-balane wrister high and wide despite having time to do more. Not the first shot scorer that highlight might imply. Limited awareness of team support concepts. Below average skating in this tournament, both in speed and control.

#76 Travis Ewanyk: By now it’s clear that I don’t favour the bruising types. In the case of Ewanyk, I have mostly positive notes with the caveat of extremely low expectations. He was a non-hockey player at last year’s tournament, running around with Kessy and Ty Bilke as Official Board Testers. He showed a lot more in this game, controlling the middle of the ice better, using his stick in the defensive zone (no kidding, that’s an actual step up), and not chasing the puck. He’s a high-tempo guy with good closing speed. Below average control in his skating elsewhere. A very opportunistic hitter, bordering on dirty (as with the Bill Arnold hit in the first). He’s very active around the ice and definitely a force. That said, his hockey skills remain limited and while he’s doing more defensively, he’s still not a cerebral defender. He can get in a passing lane now, but he can’t choose the other team’s options and try to make a force.

#81 Kellen Jones: This is the second game in a row where we saw Kellen supporting the puck in non traditional areas of the ice. He circles between his own defenders at the blue line to give them an option down one level but also to keep the opposing wingers honest and prevent them from jumping the pass across the blue line. That’s in addition to his puck support around the rest of the rink. Strong reads on the breakout. Excellent passer. Slightly more straight up skating style than Connor, but good use of his inside edge to create some elusiveness.

We didn’t see Nurse or Draisaitl in this game, which was disappointing. They both returned for game three, the report on which will come out soon.