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Not many days now for fans, media and the hockey industry—we are definitely seeing signs of hockey season getting ready to fire the ignition. Young Oilers minor leaguers and new hires will once again see plenty of new faces among the coaching staff—and for some, that could be a very good thing.

The San Jose Sharks (really all of the California NHL teams) are very good at finding players seemingly out of nowhere. Adding players out of the ether involves identifying talent and then using that talent in situations where the player can succeed. We saw an example of that last season in San Jose, when Swedish winger Melker Karlsson found enough traction to make the NHL in December and hang around for the rest of the season. What did the Sharks see in him?

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  • Todd McLellan on Melker in February: His goal-scoring streak and that kind of stuff isn’t as prominent
    anymore, if that’s all you do is look on paper to evaluate him.
    When you watch the game and
    you see his puck-hunting ability and his tenacity on pucks and his
    working into position, it hasn’t changed at all. In fact, it may have
    gotten better.”



The same article quotes linemate Joe Pavelski (Karlsson spend significant time with Pavelski and Joe Thornton) about what the young winger was doing to make the line click:

  • Pavelski: “He gets to the spots quick
    enough. He’s always getting there and he’s getting his
    stick in there, which keep plays alive. If you watch really close, I
    think how he’s played — energywise and getting in there — he’s been
    probably even more consistent than me and Jumbo.”

In reading quotes from coaches and players on winning teams, there are words and themes that keep tracking back into the conversation. Puck possession, passing, aggressiveness, keeping the play alive—all of these things matter because they involve things that keep the puck out of danger and inside scoring zones. Karlsson is NOT a No. 1 overall pick and he is not a 30-goal man but he found a way to make himself useful. Value contract, value complementary player.

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The great thing about a player of this type is the price point. Every successful NHL team has value contracts, player who are making less than $2 million and playing in prominent spots in the lineup. Getting these players developed in a timely way is important because Karlsson (as an example) is going to cost more the next time the Sharks sign him (if he continues to progress).

The Oilers, under McLellan, will be looking for value deals now and in the future. Candidates for 2015-16 include names like Andrew Miller, Iiro Pakarinen, Brandon Davidson, Bogdan Yakimov and Anton Slepyshev, among others. What do they have to do in order to get noticed?

  • Darryl Sutter: “The big thing in today’s game
    is you have to be able forecheck and backcheck, and you have to have the
    puck. You can’t give the puck up. We don’t play in our zone, so there’s
    not much defending.  I’ve coached in three decades now and this stuff
    where they said Marian had to play in Jacques’s system is a bunch of
    bull-crap. The game’s changed. They think there’s defending in today’s
    game. Nah, it’s how much you have the puck. Teams that play around in
    their own zone think they’re defending but they’re generally getting
    scored on or taking face-offs and they need a goalie to stand on his
    head if that’s the way they play.”

Is it Tyler Pitlick? Well, he’ll need to stay healthy and cash some goals. Iiro Pakarinen? Health also an issue but offense may be less of a problem. There’s a new coach in town and his list of requirements isn’t all that different from the last one, but Todd McLellan may have a different view of Edmonton’s young players.

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My guess is someone emerges from the group and becomes Edmonton’s first Melker Karlsson. That’s an important step, but the pipeline to more is even more important.