The Oilers 35th training camp opens today with an overwhelming vibe of positivity. Oilers fans have not been this excited about a season in a long, long time. A new team president, general manager, head coach and the best prospect in the last decade have given Oilers fans optimism that their team will once again be competitive.
The Oilers begin their on-ice sessions with 59 players, and you should expect that number to drop rather quickly.
Todd Mclellan will cut down fast. I could see a few cuts before the preseason begins on Monday, and then I’d expect a large set of cuts next Sunday after the Oilers play back-to-back games on Friday Sept 25th and Saturday, September 26th.
Here is a quick look at who is in camp, and some interesting notes.
Jordan Eberle is the longest serving Edmonton Oiler. This will be his eighth training camp after being drafted 22nd overall in 2008. He is their best right winger, and their best pure finisher.
Taylor Hall is the second longest serving Oiler. He and Eberle debuted together in 2010/2011, but Eberle had played some AHL games in the previous two seasons. Hall has been a top-ten scorer twice, and with the likelihood he plays a lot with Connor McDavid, he should be a top-ten point producer again.
Tyler Pitlick is also in his 6th training camp, but unlike Hall, he hasn’t been able to establish himself as a regular NHL player. The 31st pick in 2010 has battled injuries every season. He played 62 AHL games in 2011/2012, but he only played 44 in 2013, 49 combined games between AHL and NHL in 2014, and last season he got into 31 games, split between the AHL and NHL. He needs to stay healthy, and even if he does, he’s in tough to make the 23-man roster.
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is in his fifth season with the Oilers. “Baby Nuge” has had back-to-back 54-point seasons and has really worked on his defensive play. He averaged 20:38 TOI/game last year, which was second only to John Tavares’ 20:40/game last season. He is looking to surpass 60 points for the first time in his career.
Anton Lander enters his fifth training camp as well. The 40th pick in 2009 was rushed into the NHL at 20 years young in 2011, and it took him a few seasons to find his game. He was very solid in the second half of last season, and he and Mark Letestu will battle for the third line centre slot.
Nail Yakupov enters his fourth season with the Oilers, and he is hoping to pick up where he left off last year. He had 20 points in his final 28 games. If he can improve his play away from the puck, he will be a regular in their top-six.
Luke Gazdic was claimed on waivers on September 29th, 2013, so this is technically his third preseason/training camp with the Oilers. Gazdic has played 67 and 40 games in each of the past two seasons. He shed some weight in the summer to try and get quicker. He will need to make smart decisions with the puck at both bluelines if he wants to play more than five minutes a night.
Ryan Hamilton will attend his third Oilers training camp, but he destined for the AHL. He is a solid AHL player, and a good veteran for the young kids in the AHL, but he doesn’t skate well enough to stick in the NHL.
Matt Hendricks was acquired for Devan Dubnyk in January of 2014. This is second camp with the Oilers and he is a lock to make the team. He will be on their top penalty killers, will likely get a lot of defensive zone starts a checking line with Letestu.
Benoit Pouliot had a career-high 19 goals, in only 58 games, in his first campaign with the Oilers. He fit in well with RNH and Eberle and I could see him starting with them this season. Pouliot added a much needed dimension of grit and tenacity to the Oilers top-six.
Teddy Purcell enters his second camp with the Oilers. Purcell proved in Tampa Bay he can produce with skilled players. He and Yakupov will compete for the second line RW position. I will be very surprised if he is back in Edmonton next year.
Leon Draisaitl enters his second camp after an unusual rookie season. He made the team, because the Oilers unwisely had no centre competition, and he looked overwhelmed. They kept him for 40 games before sending him back to junior. He had an excellent season with Kelowna, leading them to the Memorial Cup and being named the tournament MVP, even though the Rockets lost. Draisailt will start camp as a “forward” according to Todd Mclellan and he will start alongside Lander.
Rob Klinkhammer played 40 games for the Oilers after being acquired from Pittsburgh in the David Perron trade. He will battle Gazdic and Pitlick for a roster spot. He doesn’t kill penalties, and he isn’t as tough as Gazdic, so he will have to do something to stand out. I don’t have him in my top 12 forwards.
Mark Letestu signed a three-year deal in the summer. The pride of Elk Point, Alberta enters his sixth NHL season — he is good in faceoffs, can kill penalties and has more offensive ability than Boyd Gordon.
Lauri Korpikoski was acquired in the summer for Gordon. After 19 and 17 goals seasons in 2011 and 2012, he’s only scored six, nine and six goals the past three seasons. He skates well, but I see him playing with Letestu and Hendricks. They will be the veteran, defensive, shut down line.
Connor McDavid enters camp with well-deserved hype. He dominated the Ontario Hockey League last season, scoring 120 points in 47 games last season in Erie. I expect him to be paired with Hall to start the season.
Justin Schultz is the longest serving Oilers blue liner. He enters his fourth training camp, and he needs to find some consistency in this game. He signed another one-year deal, which shows me the organization needs to see more of him before they make a long-term commitment. His biggest challenge will be proving he can play with a consistent competitive edge.
This is Andrew Ference‘s third training camp. He has the most NHL experience, 901 regular season games, but he will be pushed for ice time. I don’t see him averaging 19 minutes/game this year.
Oscar Klefbom is also in this third camp. He’s only played 77 NHL games, but he seems poised for a breakout season. He will start the season in their top-four, and could be a top-two defender by the end of the season.
Darnell Nurse enters his third Oilers training camp, but he will not be going back to junior this time. Nurse has incredible potential and raw skill, but he will only make the team if he can show the coaches his game is calmer than previous years. Peter Chiarelli has mentioned the need for Nurse to hold back at times, as well as the need to make the right decision on when and where to funnel pucks.
Mark Fayne is in his second season with the Oilers and will be looked upon to be a solid, reliable defender. He is not flashy, but he needs to be a calming influence night in and night out.
Nikita Nikitin had a dreadful first season in Edmonton. The good news is it virtually impossible for him to be worse this year. No defender has more to prove than him. Craig MacTavish said he wasn’t in great shape last year — Nikitin disagreed — but there is no doubt he has to have a good camp if he wants to avoid starting the season in the press box or possibly the AHL.
Andrej Sekera signed a $33 million contract this summer. He was brought in to be a top-pairing defender. He has a lot of experience, skates well, moves the puck well and when given the opportunity he showed he can succeed on the PP. His presence should allow the Oilers to not force feed Schultz, Klefbom and other young D-men heavy minutes before they are ready to handle them.
Eric Gryba is a big, heavy stay-at-home defenceman. He is a third pairing guy who can kill penalties, block shots and plays hard in front of the net. If he plays with smart aggression he could find himself in the lineup more than in the press box.
Griffin Reinhart was acquired at the draft for the #16 and #33 picks. He was selected fouth overall in 2012, and Bob Green loves him. Reinhart has excellent cardio, but has to work on this leg strength. He needs to be strong enough so he can play fast for longer stretches, especially when he battles for loose pucks. If he doesn’t make the team out of camp, I don’t think the trade is bad. I believe the Oilers made this trade looking more to next year than now. If he is ready now, and earns a spot, great, but if not they want him ready next year. The two picks weren’t going to help the team for at least three years, and likely longer.
Ben Scrivens was acquired in early 2014 and played well in is 21 appearances, including a 59-save shut out. He won the starting job last year, but struggled all season with a .890 Sv% and 3.16 GAA. I think he starts camp as #2 and will need to push Talbot for starting time, and fight off Nilsson for the backup job.
Cam Talbot was acquired at the draft. He’s never been a #1 for an entire season, but when Henrik Lundqvist was injured Talbot spent two months as the Rangers’ starter and played exceptionally well. This is his first training camp where he comes in with a legitimate chance to be the starter.
Anders Nilsson was the 62nd pick in the 2009. He played 23 games for the Islanders between 2011-2013, but he left for the KHL last year. He had a sparking 1.71 GAA and .936 sv% in Russia, and returns to NHL with a one-way contract. The KHL is a much more defensive league, but he had great numbers and considering most goalies don’t develop until 25, he is just beginning his prime years. I’m intrigued to see how he handles NHL shooters.
Iiro Pakarinen: 24 year old made his NHL debut last year. He scored 1-2-3 in 17 games. He could be one of the first recalls when the injury bug hits the Oilers.
Brandon Davidson played 12 NHL games last year. He is a strong, defensive defender, but with all the off-season additions he has been pushed down the depth chart. He needs to improve his puck moving skills, and should get a lot of icetime to work on that in Bakersfield.
Brad Hunt: Dressed in 11 games, but I’d be shocked if we see him in Edmonton this season. He is an exceptional AHL player, but he showed last season his skating is not NHL caliber. It is tough to play defence in the NHL when you are small, and it is virtually impossible to play it effectively if you are undersized and not an exceptional skater.
Andrew Miller: In is third Oilers training camp, the college free agent is coming off a solid campaign. He scored 27-33-60 in 63 AHL games and 1-5-6 in nine NHL games. He has NHL speed, but the Oilers have enough skilled forwards. He should be their offensive leader in Bakersfield.
Jordan Oesterle played six games for the Oilers, but like Davidson finds himself moving down the depth chart instead of up. He will be pushed by Joey Laleggia to get icetime in the AHL.
David Musil is a big body who needs to improve his footspeed. Barring a rash of injuries I don’t see him making an appearance in Edmonton this season.
Bogdan Yakimov: He scored 12-16-28 in 57 AHL games before a knee injury ended his season. He needs a strong AHL season to get a long look next year in training camp.
Laurent Brossoit: He played great in his only NHL appearance last season, stopping 49 of 51 shots. He simply needs to keep developing and build on his strong performance last season in OKC.
Mitch Moroz: He injured his hand in Penticton and starts camp banged up. He had a rough rookie pro season last year, and he was diagnosed with mono in early March after struggling for a few months. He needs to play decent minutes in the AHL and gain some offensive confidence.
Greg Chase: He turns pro this year, and he needs to go to the AHL and work hard. His biggest challenge might be the mental part of his game. He needs to stay disciplined, but also realize he will need to work his tail off to earn top-six minutes as a rookie in the AHL.
Jujhar Khaira: He started off slowly in his rookie AHL season last year, suffered a shoulder injury, but returned for the playoffs and was very good. Another big centre, who needs more seasoning before he is NHL ready.
Kale Kessy: A banger and crasher who plays hard, but he only played 17 games last year due to injury. He is role player in AHL.
Joey Laleggia: He looked great at the rookie camp, and the 2012 draft pick has looked good in his first pro camp. He moves the puck quickly and is a good skater. He skates better than Hunt, and he will push Hunt for PP time in Bakersfield.
Dillon Simpson: He had some growing pains in the AHL last year, but they love his hockey sense. He will need some more AHL seasoning before he is ready to challenge for a spot in the NHL.
Eetu Laurikainen: He was solid in the rookie tournament and he will need to play great to get some playing time in the AHL. I could see starting in the ECHL, just to get playing time, especially if Nilsson clears waivers.
Martin Gernat: He has yet to progress since being drafted in 2011. He simply has too many young D-men who have passed him on the depth chart. He will be in tough to play regularly in the AHL.
Ben Betker: He turns pro this year and the big man will need to work on his footspeed. He needs to play, so I could see him starting in the ECHL just so he will play rather than be in and out of the lineup in Bakersfield.
Kyle Platzer: He might be the least talked about prospect in the system, but I like his upside. He can play PK, PP and EV. He will need some AHL seasoning, but if he keeps progressing he will push for an NHL job in two or three years.
Anton Slepyshev: He enters his first NHL camp destined to start in the AHL. He plays with more of an edge than most Russians, and he has a heavy shot. Once he adjusts to the smaller ice surface and style of play, he will be a player to watch out for.
AHL only deals…
Matt Ford: He is a solid AHL veteran and is a good role model for the young kids in Bakersfield.
Braden Christoffer: He was great in the rookie tournament and vs. the Bears. He is tenacious and plays bigger than his size.
Josh Winquist: He scored in every rookie game. He has great touch around the net and a good year in Bakersfield could earn him a two-way deal next year.
Alexis Loiseau: Another skilled junior player, who played well in the rookie tournament. He tallied four points vs. Winnipeg and scored against the Bears. He will push for a spot in Bakersfield.
Phil McRae: The 2nd round pick of the Blues in 2008 is trying to establish himself. He played 15 games for the Blues in 2010/2011, but he hasn’t been back since. He needs to have a great season in the AHL to try and land a two-way deal.
Connor Rankin: He was okay in the rookie tournament and he will be in tough to crack the AHL roster.
Marco Roy: He was drafted in 2013, wasn’t signed, went back in the draft and was signed to an AHL deal this summer. He didn’t dress vs. the Bears, so that tells me he will be starting the season in the ECHL.
Ty Rimmer: He is #6 on the goaltending depth chart. He seems destined for the ECHL.
Caleb Jones: The 4th round pick from 2015 has some promise. He is undersized but sees the ice very well. I suspect he will be back in junior after the weekend.
Ethan Bear: The 2015 draft pick will have a great experience just being at camp for a few days. I don’t expect him to play in any preseason games, but the organization likes his potential.
Loik Leveille: The undrafted D-man impressed the Oilers enough to get an invite to main camp. That is a huge accomplishment and when he goes back to junior his confidence should be very high.
Cole Sanford: The undrafted Medicine Hat Tiger has great skill. He earned an invite to main camp due to an impressive rookie camp. He is a dynamic offensive player who needs to keep improving. He should dominate the WHL this year.
This will be the most competitive camp I can remember, especially on the blueline. If you asked 100 Oilers fans who would be the starting six D-men, you might get 100 different answers, especially if you asked to list them in order. Mclellan admitted yesterday that the coaching staff is still not sure about pairings.
I think the D pairs we see tomorrow could be very different than opening night in St.Louis on October 8th, while the forward groups will most likely be much easier to project. Hall will play with McDavid and RNH and Eberle will be a duo. Hendricks and Letestu will be paired together as well.
This training camp will create some heated debates within Oilersnation, and that is great.
I’m looking forward to it.
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