The Oilers hit the ice at 10 a.m in Leduc and Todd McLellan wasted no time setting the tone at practice. Thirty seconds into the first drill, he blew the whistle and reminded the players to move their feet at all times. “Practice with pace,” he said.
The drill was a simple one. Players lined up in all four corners. They would leave in pairs from each end, make one cross-ice pass below the ringette line, skate with speed through the neutral zone, the puck carrier would pass it off at the offensive blueline, then drive the net and the puck carrier would shoot. Very simple, but he wanted them to drive the net. McLellan is adamant about driving the net.
Yesterday, he told us we can read into the line combinations to start training camp, and there wasn’t any major surprises in the top-nine.
The Oilers will be split into two groups, and the first group had the following lines:
Scrivens and Nilsson
I expect this group to play the home game vs. Calgary on Monday, and I bet the second practice group will play the road game on Monday in Calgary.
The D pairs rotated through due to the odd number, but the top-two pairs were together when they started drills.
McLellan stopped another drill to demand more intensity. He moves through drills swiftly and efficiently. He blows a whistle when he sees a mistake, explains what he wants to the group quickly, and starts the drill again.
After some line rushes, McLellan split the ice, and had the forwards work on cycling the puck.
At the north end of the rink, Draisaitl’s line was up first and the coach gave them a brief explanation on exactly what he wanted. The first time, Yakupov moved off the boards. McLellan stopped and explained he wanted him to stay on the boards, to make an easier pass down low. The next time through, Yakupov’s positioning changed and he was in the right spot. McLellan is a stickler for detail.
Later in the drill he blew the whistle again and explained how the supporting forward needs to be at the top of the circle, not sliding down low closer to the hashmarks along the wall.
DRIVE ME CRAZY
“This is going to drive me crazy all year, if you can’t line up your colours,” yells McLellan. The Oilers have three jersey colours. The D-men wear orange, and the forward lines are split into white or blue.
Next, they did a two-on-two drill down low. He wanted two players defending, and two attacking. After the attacking group stops, they defend, and the next group started from each corner as the offence. Forwards and D-men played both sides. “This is called detail. You need to know which guys are going next. Match your colour to the guy across from you. This is your responsibility, not ours,” he says. He also added a few colourful F bombs to drive the point home.
His first day of camp has been more attention to detail than Quinn, Renney, Krueger and Eakins. McLellan is prepared, and the pace at practice is much quicker than any training camp in recent memory.
SHOTS ON NET
Later, on the same two-on-two drill, McLellan encouraged shots from the corner, on the ice at the goalie’s feet. The forward in the corner shot quickly, and McLellan demanded the forward in front of the net be strong on his stick. He also tells the D-men to “knock the guy on his ass.” The Oilers have been too soft in front of the net at both ends of the rink for far too long.
If players don’t buy into his philosophy, they will be weeded out over the next year. McLellan will need to see how they adapt in games, and how they buy into what he is teaching, but much of this year will be about finding out which players will succeed under McLellan.
The first practice session ended after 55 minutes. Group “A” will have a short break and will be back on the ice in twenty minutes.