MONDAY MUSINGS: TALE OF TWO SAMS

So, Sam Bennett of the Kingston Frontenacs didn’t manage to do a single pull-up at the 2014 NHL combine in Toronto. Not even one.

That’s somewhat alarming because there’s probably a half-dozen media guys who cover the Edmonton Oilers who could manage at least one, especially if you suspended a doughnut or side of poutine over the bar. None of them are getting any closer to the NHL than they are now sitting up in the press box. Let’s face it, managing one lousy pull-up is setting the bar low.

After all, it’s not like Bennett didn’t know what the fitness testing regimen at the combine would be. It’s not like he was rushed into testing still fatigued by a long run in the playoffs, as members of the Edmonton Oil Kings were. And, being one of the lighter players tested at 178 pounds, you’d think he’d have managed to hoist himself over the bar at least once, no?

“I was definitely disappointed with myself,” Bennett said. “I was wanting to do the best I can in every test. But, I guess, ultimately games aren’t won or lost if you can do a pull-up in the gym.”

ONE PIECE OF THE PUZZLE

Bennett is right, of course. Upper body strength, which he is clearly lacking at this point in his physical development, is just one piece of the puzzle. In all, invitees were tested in 13 areas. Nothing we saw in testing will do much to separate – positively or negatively – Bennett from Aaron Ekblad, Sam Reinhart or Leon Draisaitl, all candidates to become Oilers.

That said, there’s no way not being able to do at least one pull-up is a positive in Bennett’s favor. What it indicates more than anything is it’s clear Bennett needs to get in the gym and get stronger and bigger. Not so he can win pull-up contests, but so that he can better compete in the NHL and hold up to the rigors of an 82-game schedule.

None of the testing done in Toronto measures hockey IQ, competitiveness and skill, qualities Bennett has in spades. Most hockey fans in Edmonton, every NHL city for that matter, will take those attributes over being the combine pull-up champ – that honor, by the way, went to Josh Ho-sang, a forward with the Windsor Spitfires, who managed 13.

Bottom line, Bennett could have put to rest some of the concerns about his lack of size by acing the testing, but I don’t see his admittedly feeble pull-up total affecting his ranking. As an aside, many of the top-ranked prospects for the 2014 draft were conspicuous by their absence in the top-10 results of each category at the combine. You can find those results here.

SAY IT AIN’T SO

89-Gagner-8

R.J Umberger wants out of Columbus and a large segment of Oiler fans want Sam Gagner gone, but that doesn’t make for a match in terms of a trade between the Blue Jackets and Edmonton from where I sit.

While I agree that Gagner doesn’t fit as a No. 2 centre behind Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, given that both are on the smallish side, it makes no sense to me to send Gagner away when his value is at an all-time low. I’d much rather wait to see if he can bounce back from a horrid season that started with broken jaw and went downhill from there.

That holds especially true if we’re talking about moving him for Umberger, who wants out of Ohio, according to connected Columbus Dispatch beat man Aaron Portzline. Umberger has a no-trade clause until June 15, which he could waive if he really wants out badly enough. After that date, he can submit a list of 10 teams he won’t accept a trade to.

Umberger, 32, fits Edmonton needs in that he’s a big centre at six-foot-two and 220 pounds. He’s reached the 50-point mark three times in his NHL career. In terms of money, Umberger has three years left at $4.6 million, so he’s essentially a wash with Gagner. Those are the hooks.

NO MORE RETREADS

The problem is Umberger is a player in decline, as his offensive totals from his career-high of 57 points in 2010-11 indicate. Gagner doesn’t turn 25 until August. The Oilers would be trading away a player whose best years might still be ahead of him for a player whose best years are behind him.

My guess is Edmonton would be at or near the top of the list of the 10 teams on Umberger’s list after June 15, so the buzz created by the original Portzline item will likely end right there – unless he’s absolutely desperate to get out of Columbus and away from coach Todd Richards.

While I’m fine with moving Gagner along given the mix of the top six forwards here, doing so right now for a worn-out Umberger makes no sense to me.

Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TEAM 1260.

  • northof51

    Some of the folks around here may not put that much emphasis on strength of an 18 year old, but you can bet that the Oilers will.

    Bennett is no Gretzky, and not even a Patrick Kane. We need to get better, but adding size is important for a team with such a small forward core. Pass.

  • Zarny

    I hope this allows Bennett to drop to us. If this kid is as competitive to win and fire-ball as they say, this isn’t likely a lack of motivation towards training issue. Plus, if he can shoot, skate and play at that level with little to no strength; what will he do when he adds some muscle.

  • northof51

    Not doing a pull up may be no big deal except last year Nuchiskin quit on the vo2 test and dropped possibly 7 spots in the draft.. I am def concerned about Bennett’s size for our division as we already have the Nuge. I have to say that Draistill guy looks quite big. He will play at 220 lbs in two years. If he lives up to his offensive potential he will be a great pick. I will be surprised if the oilers pass on him if Ekblad is off the table…

  • paul wodehouse

    …Gretz did OK in what is now called the combine…I never saw him do a pull up cuz I don’t remember that being one of the things anyone had to do back then…there was a flexibility test where he sat flat on his butt and stretched forward seeing how far he could bring his fingers past his toes…they’d rig him up to a mouth piece for a rudimentary pulmonary function test and he’d ride a bike til he was red in the face and that was about it…height 6 foot-ish, weight one seventy… some measurements and off to Mickey Ds for his favorite treat…Big mac and fries…

    … man he WAS the Greatest!

  • Arius Mumin

    I think this also speaks to Andy O’Brien a world class trainer who is Sidney Crosby’s trainer and other NHL stars. Wonder if anyone reached out to him to ask the question.

    Bennett may have had an injury or his arms were jello at the time, or he tanked it deliberately. and last he is a wimp.

  • northof51

    Hope they dont trade gagner. he’s just coming into his prime. you’d play a poor year too if you were trying to eat through a straw from having your face bashed to bits by kassin. bet if we keep him he has a bumper year this year. maybe sign a bigger center and push him to wing. he’s got the skills for it.

        • Thanks, tips.

          Of course subpar goaltending and a lousy defensive group has an impact. So, why did Sam fare worse than the other top six forwards? And you skipped past the face-off part. Dubnyk and LaBarbara to blame for that?

          Sam was lousy this season. Period.

          • nuge2drai

            Oiler Domination To Follow

            It is possible breaking his face and eating out of a straw for half the year had something to do with it.

            Gagner was a -1 over the past two seasons before this one.

            Hall was +2, Hopkins was +1, and Eberle was even during the same period.

            Perron was a -16 this year.

            Recent history shows Gagner is capable of being a plus player on this team and very easily can be one next year. We should not trade him for anything less than an nhl player in return. His cap hit is not an issue imo.

          • Sorensenator

            Oiler domination to not follow

            You are missing the point

            Even with a healthy Gagner, the Oilers still have too many of the same small skilled player. They need to change the mix of their top six forwards and add some bigger grittier players that can provide some offence.

            Until that happens, the Oilers will continue to struggle sustaining pressure in the offensive zone.

            His cap hit is major issue, don’t kid yourself

          • nuge2drai

            Oiler Domination To Follow

            You are missing the point.

            Trading away proven nhl players for picks and prospects is why the infinibuild never ends.

            Is Gagners cap hit going to prevent us from signing Statsny or Markhov?

            We have 28+ million in cap space this off season, would having 32+ really make a difference…

            Trading away Gagners cap hit for magic beans when cap is not an issue is not the way to build a contender.

            His value is also at an all time low- would be horrible asset management to trade him now.

          • Sorensenator

            I never said trade Gagner for picks and prospects.

            No Gagner’s cap hit doesn’t prevent us from signing Statsny, but if we did we wouldn’t need Gagner!

            Your 28 million in cap space is skewed, the Oilers have to sign Petry and Schultz first. Not to mention some more NHL calibre defensemen and 3rd line players that can produce.

            You are not going to get as much for Gagner as you would of a year ago we all know this, however it is even worse asset management to keep holding on to him hoping his value will increase.

            Get what you can for him – maybe a packaged deal with a decent prospect can get you a decent third line player(s) or a top four D man.

        • 2004Z06

          So it is the goalies/coaches fault that he can’t win a faceoff? The goalies fault that he get easily pushed off the puck? Let me guess, the goalies fault that he doesn’t back check, or is that Kevin Lowes fault? 5 coaches, same Gagner…..Next!

          I like the guy too, but he is awful as a 2nd line center on this team.

  • Bennett won’t be able to take shifts because he’s too weak to pull his butt off the bench. Seriously though, not a huge issue.. But the Oilers need battlers… Guys that are strong at getting the puck and tough to separate from the puck. I’d avoid him just for that reason. It sucks because it will likely look bad if he goes on to have a stellar career elsewhere (I’m sure he will) but you gotta consider the best fit for the team, even in the long term. If he hadn’t dedicated time to the gym yet there’s no guarantee he ever will or that he’ll ever get bigger. Some guys just don’t. So Ya while I think he’ll have a great career, I’d avoid him at the draft podium and leave him to a team that has no problems with size.

    • Do what Weight did?

      I disagree Racki. I think at the draft you gotta get the best player. Wether he fits on your team or not is irrelevant. The best player will have the highest value. Then I think you move on from there with trades and signings. Just get as much value they the draft as possible

      • I think this was true for a while, but it’s now getting to the point where the Oil have specific needs to fill. It’s not just “well, we need 3 of everything”. There are a couple of major holes, in my opinion: 2-way minute eating d-man, and strong, talented centre. If there was a big separation in talent, I’d completely agree with you, but most people in the know are saying there isn’t. So to me, you go with the need here. They aren’t going off the board at all when drafting by need.

      • J.R.

        Oilers sure have had a bunch of criticism over taking the BPA in Yakupov.

        So yeah I’d take the best player too….until now. Trade up, down or trade the pick at the draft sure but make sure you end up with the right piece this time.

        • BlazingSaitls

          Just because our current management doesn’t know how to assemble a team doesn’t mean you should take less value from the draft. Is a slightly above averaged sized 18 year old the answer to the oilers lack of compete, physicality and puck possession problems?

      • Zarny

        The problem with that philosophy is no one can actually tell you who the best player is.

        Three different players are considered “the best” by all the scouts and the skill gap between the top 4 is considered to be non-existent.

        If there is a clear cut “best player” available I agree you take them. That isn’t the case this year though and with all things being equal it makes sense to pick the player who fits your needs the most.

        • Do what Weight did?

          I agree. 3 diffrent players are considered “the best” player. We’re picking 3rd so we should get one of those 3! Bennet, Ekblad, Rheinhardt

          • Zarny

            I see it a bit differently.

            From Stu MacGregor to Kyle Woodlief scouts have consistently said there is no skill gap between Bennett, Ekblad, Reinhart and Draisaitl. Woodlief said they could be drafted in any order based on team needs.

            Someone has to be #1 though. Gotta make a list right? ISS gives it to Reinhart because of his “hockey IQ”. Central scouting tags Bennett because of his “heart”. Bob Mckenzie goes with Ekblad because of his physical maturity.

            Translation…they didn’t want to say they flipped a coin so we get that bunk. No one this year is clearly better than everyone else; they are just different.

            Of the top 4, Reinhart is the worst fit for the Oilers. Scouts raved about Nuge’s “hockey IQ” too. No thanks, too much of the same. The Oilers top 6 F are already plagued with this and drafting Reinhart would simply compound the problem.

            Unless we’re talking about a separation like Crosby, Tavares, Stamkos/Doughty, Hall/Seguin from everyone else I’ll take the player that fits team need the best. At C this year, that is Bennett or Draisaitl. They all have the same skill level so I’ll take p*ss & vinegar or size & strength over hockey IQ.

          • Sorensenator

            Just to add to this good post, Draisaitl and Bennett are also raved about having high hockey IQ. Just not quite as high as Reinhart who has separated himself there.

  • Arius Mumin

    I must be missing all the times in the game where the players have to grab the cross bar and lift their head above it. Do you get extra points for that or somthing?

    • Do what Weight did?

      What about the times when scrawny little Oiler forwards blew out shoulders because they don’t have the upper-body strength to tak a hit from a man?

  • Do what Weight did?

    Based on this, and the article you linked to, I have some concerns about Bennett. If we do select him, then I hope at least one more year in the minors (I assume, sadly, that OKC is not an option) to learn some gym-rat habits before being tossed into the NHL seems like a must. We din’t need another shoulder surgery.

    A broader question though, is would a team be better off taking someone who already has good weight-room habits or someone whose pumping iron potential is still untapped? All other things being equal, I’d lean heavily towards the players who have already shown that they’ll put in the time off the ice to be successful on it. There were a couple if names that kept popping up in the top-10 combine results lists. Maybe not a top-3 pick, but it might be worth investing a later-round pick in the guys that are already doing the work that is expected of professionals.

  • Arius Mumin

    Is this hockey or a strong man competition? I like hockey players on my team, not weight lifters. How many chin ups could Wayne Gretzky do?

    Take the best player. Then make trades to get the right mix for your team.

    • Zarny

      Who said it’s a strong man competition? The item says quite the opposite. Seems like you’re reaching just to be contrary.

      As for the best player, there’s no consensus choice among the forwards, only that Ekblad is clearly the best defenseman. So, if the forwards are deemed too close to call in the top three, are you suggesting not being able to do even one pull-up is a positive?

      One other thing, using Gretzky to try to make a point the testing means nothing is probably a bad idea, not to mention a reach of epic proportions.

      On the positive side, you didn’t once mention firing Lowe in either of your comments.

      • 2004Z06

        I’ll get it out of the way. Fire Lowe

        I think there is a consensus in the top 3. I haven’t watched these kids much but from every list and scouting report I’ve read The so called experts all seem to think there’s a drop off after that. We all agree we need a big 2nd line centre which makes Draisitl appealing, but if there’s a better player available as the experts suggest there will be, I think you gotta take him simply because he’ll be a more valuable asset.

        It’s up to the G.M to use those assets properly to assemble a winning team. But I don’t think you pass up a looney for 3 quarters just because you got plug the parking meter.

        • Wax Man Riley

          I’ll agree that taking BPA is usually the best way to go, if it gives you something that oh already have 4 times over, then you aren’t getting value out of it. How is a player supposed to develop if there are 3 more of them in the same position?

          How is that first overall working for Yakupov? Think he can get you a 1st overall pick now? I doubt it, so he how much value does he have? The Oilers don’t have the 1st overall this year, and have drafted BPA he last 4 horrible years. Maybe a draft for need is the right decision this year. They might actually try building a team or filling holes.

  • Zarny

    To be fair to Bennett, chin-ups at the combine are very particular.

    You stand on the floor with your arms upwards and completely straight. You have to pull yourself up from a completely neutral position.

    There is no jumping or hopping to get your a** off the floor first. The most any prospect could do was 13.

    So to be honest, I seriously doubt any of the media guys in Edmonton could do 1 pull-up either.