Group A stepped on the ice at 10 a.m, and groups B and C came on at 12:45 p.m. You can see the Group A lineup here, and I suspect that group will play the Monday home game vs. Calgary, while Group B will be in Calgary Monday night.
After Connor McDavid made his first training camp appearance in the morning, fans got to see some other new Oilers; Mark Letestu, Cam Talbot, Lauri Korpikoski, Eric Gryba and Griffin Reinhart.
- Group C had a shorter practice than the first two groups. Group C consisted of players from the rookie camp, excluding Martin Gernat, who had ACL surgery in the summer. Gernat is still recovering, but even when he is healthy he will be hard-pressed to get any playing time in Bakersfield. The Oilers blueline depth is much better than previous years, and Gernat has been bypassed.
- Players in group C seem destined for junior or to the AHL. It will be interesting to see if any of them play even one exhibition game. Laleggia would be the best bet to get in a game.
- McLellan wasted no time giving us a glimpse of what the opening night forwards could look like. RNH and McDavid will centre the top two lines, Letestu has the checking line, while Draisailt centres a skilled line, who McLellan will likely try and get easier minutes.
- The defence, however, is still very unpredictable. McLellan admitted as much yesterday, and the top-nine could look much different on October 8th than they did today. Today’s pairings have them ranked like this:
Nurse will have to earn his spot, which is fine. I think the top-four are likely going to stay together, but the battle for #5-#7 will be decided over the next few weeks, and will probably continue into the season. I can see a scenario where Nurse starts in the minors, but ends the season playing ahead of some of the other defenders. I could also see him outplaying the other four and winning a spot in the opening night roster. For me, the blueline battle is easily the most intriguing story line of training camp.
- Tyler Pitlick needs to make a statement in preseason. He has play with an edge. He needs to be strong on the boards and step out of his comfort zone.
- It might not be much, but today at the end of Group A practice they had a conditioning skate and one player stood out for all the wrong reasons. Players started at centre, skated down the boards into the north end of the rink, curled around pylons just inside the blueline and then had to skate hard down the middle of the ice to the other end, then curl either right or left and skate down the wall and then curl back into the middle and skate hard again. They did this for about 3 1/2 minutes. Half way through it, Nikita Nikitin was breathing really hard. It is only one day, but based on what MacTavish said last year, this caught my attention. He looked more fatigued than anyone else.
- I had a good chat with Anton Lander. He told me he and Draisaitl spoke before camp and they will rotate centre responsibilities based on who is the first one back into the zone. Faceoffs will switch based on who is feeling it. Lander spoke like a player who feels much more confident about his abilities. It probably helps that when he showed up at camp, he wasn’t listed behind Wil Acton on the depth chart.
- I had Brad Winchester on my show today discussing his retirement. He told a great story about his first playoff game, which was game two in Detroit in 2006. “Prior to the game MacT decided I should scoop up the octopus after the anthem. I had a latex glove on my hand, and after the anthem I waited until the guy threw it on the ice. I skated over and scooped it up before the Wings’ guy who usually picked it up and twirled it around could. I picked it up and carried it to our bench. Our guys loved it. It was a nice way to relax the team,” he said.
Winchester also scored what he called “the biggest goal of his career” that afternoon in Detroit. It was his first NHL goal, and it is rare a player can say his first goal was their biggest. Thanks for the stories Brad, and I hope you enjoy retirement as much as Steve Staios enjoyed you picking up the octopus.
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