DO PRE-SEASON PERFORMANCES MATTER?

scrivens11

As the Oilers gather this morning in Leduc, we’re all watching each player (well, our favorites and a few others) and how they perform during the next two weeks. Does it matter? Yes and no.

WAY TO GO OUT ON A LIMB!

Hey, I wish there was an answer (it would make this story hum a little better) but NHL teams head into training camps with most of the jobs already decided. In fact, one of the big early stories for Edmonton this camp is Leon Draisaitl, who has a chance to win a job—that’s one of very few openings. Fortunately for Oilers fans there are more than the usual number of jobs open this year:

  • Backup goalie (a race between Ben Scrivens, who should win it, and Anders Nilsson. The club didn’t bring in Nilsson to whistle, so he’ll get a real look).
  • 5-6-7D (after Sekera-Fayne and Klefbom-Schultz, it looks like a fairly even race between Nikita Nikitin, Andrew Ference, Eric Gryba and Griffin Reinhart. Darnell Nurse and Brandon Davidson are also in photo).
  • 3L (Leon has the first chance with checkers like Lauri Korpikoski available to jump in as needed).
  • 14F (There are about 500 candidates, including the possibility of running 8D—or even 3G—to start the year).

It’s probably reasonable to assume the following jobs are secure:

  • G Cam Talbot
  • D Andrej Sekera, Mark Fayne, Oscar Klefbom, Justin Schultz, Andrew Ference
  • C Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Connor McDavid, Anton Lander, Mark Letestu
  • L Taylor Hall, Benoit Pouliot, Matt Hendricks, Luke Gazdic
  • R Jordan Eberle, Teddy Purcell, Nail Yakupov, Lauri Korpikoski

That’s 18 of 23, or 78%. If you add Nikitin and Gryba to the blue (most likely) we’re pretty much done (Scrivens, Leon, final F or D). There’s less certainty though, I think Todd McLellan is going to take the best 23 men to war with him.

LAST YEAR

There are all kinds of examples from last year of great performances that went unrewarded and poor performances that were overlooked. Example: The goaltenders:

  • Viktor Fasth in TC: 3GP, 1.52 .944
  • Ben Scrivens in TC: 3GP, 2.26 .898

Small sample and all, but Ben Scrivens was in fact struggling leaving the station one year ago. Dallas Eakins chose Scrivens October 9 (5GA, loss), October 14 (3GA in a relief role), October 15 (6GA, loss), October 17 (1GA, loss). Fasth started October 11 (4G, shootout loss), October 14 against the Los Angeles game (he was injured in that game). Starting Fasth out of the box may have been the better way, and pre-season numbers did indicate that might be a plan. Still, hockey men are hockey men and we have to admit that’s a small sample size.

OTHERS…..

  • Vladimir Tkachev went 3GP, 0-3-3 and continued to wow everyone. He also took playing time from Oilers prospects, as management incorrectly identified Tkachev as a prospect they could sign.
  • Bogdan Yakimov went 5GP, 1-1-2 and impressed with size and mobility. It did earn him a callup and it’s reasonable to believe at least part of that came from pre-season impressions.
  • Leon Draisaitl went 6GP, 0-2-2 and played well enough to earn an NHL job.
  • Darnell Nurse went 6GP, 0-2-2 and played well enough to earn an NHL job.
  • The two men above earning NHL jobs last year says as much about the depth and balance of the Oilers as it does about their performance.

Pre-season numbers 2014-15 are here.

BOTTOM LINE

Brad Hunt was in the opening night lineup for Edmonton last fall, Martin Marincin was in the minors and the Oilers were taking their time sussing out the defense—Darnell Nurse didn’t play his games until October 14 and 15.

Todd McLellan may value pre-season performance in a different manner, but over the years observing this stuff it doesn’t seem to have much rhyme nor reason. I remain convinced Tony Hand is the most famous pre-season Oilers All-Star of all time, although that kid Tkachev came pretty damn close last fall.

  • bradleypi

    Couldn’t agree more with your players you have locked on the roster. I’d love to see Leon make the club as I’m from prince albert but in the same breath it wouldn’t be horrible if he spent some time in the minors. There’s more than enough capable vets to fill up the bottom 2 lines on this squad

  • Real Hockey Fan

    Teddy Purcell on the top line?? Give me a break!! The guy could be covered in sandpaper and he’d still be as soft as Teddy Ruxpin!!! Need some grit on the top line am I write?? @real_hockey_guy

  • wiseguy

    Having new coaches with new schemes and ideas, preseason is likely just a warm-up for the start of the year. It will be used to get guys to familiarize themselves with new players and linemates, new power play and penalty killing philosophy and to get into game shape.

    Preseason should definitely not be used to evaluate your depth or to reward your young players. That’s what the AHL is for. If you were paying attention to their performance the last year in the minors, you should have a good idea where they’re at as opposed to their performance in meaningless games over a 2 week period. This is unfortunately what a minor league coach like Eakins would think because an AHL coach always thinks their top players can all play in the NHL if only given a chance.

    Preseason should only be used to evaluate players on PTO contracts as they should be proven NHL guys who may have a fit (like Glencross, Setoguchi, Booth, etc.) to fill in holes in your team.

    • Randaman

      The fact that Chirelli & McLellan weren’t here last year to observe these players kind of blows your thinking out of the water, don’t you think?

      Starting as close to square one as possible I think. I certainly don’t want them listening to the opinions of MacT and Howsen.

      • wiseguy

        Actually, I would hope that McLellan has done his homework to watch lots of video of what each player has to offer. He should have a pretty good idea of who he wants on his team.

        Even Team Canada only invites certain players who were chosen by watching video of their season or past play so that you don’t start with too many players, making it impossible to hit the ground running when the real games start.

        The more Tkachevs, Hunts and Khairas that play, the less ready you will be for the season. Make the cuts early! If a player really is that good and you missed it because you didn’t give him a chance in preseason, it will show soon enough in the AHL and you can bring him up. The only ones you don’t want to miss out on is someone on a PTO who you let go and realize you made a mistake when he plays great for another NHL squad (like we did with Ray Whitney when he was claimed off waivers).

      • For Pete's Sake!

        Not considering the opinions of Howson or MacT seems a tad rash. How will Chiarelli or McLellan know the best times to hit the food court at Kingsway or which places have the best deals? Or if there’s an office coupon book that anyone and everyone can share from?

        Their input in these matters could be immense.

  • Admiral Ackbar

    If Draisaitl continues to outshine or match McDavid (which he did in the Bears game and the young stars game McDavid played in) I don’t know how they can keep him off the roster.

    Reinhart makes the team, I’m calling it now.

  • MacT's Neglected Helmet

    Doesn’t matter.

    Remember when Mike Comrie (!) and Patrick “POS” O’Sullivan ripped up preseason? Yea…

    Don’t get me wrong, the preseason still matters. It gives the coach and GM an opportunity to evaluate the roster and start enforcing culture. Let’s hope this coach and GM actually do their jobs well this time…

    • For Pete's Sake!

      The pre-season definitely matters, but I think it’s more about finding your line combinations and preparing your team for the regular season than evaluating players. I think the “player evaluations” started long before and will continue throughout the season. As the old saying goes, “a player is only as good as his last game.”

  • MacT's Neglected Helmet

    I would like to see Draisaitl, Yakimov and Pitlick each make the team this year. I think Korpikowski is going to fit in really well and i think he is a power forward and a winner.

  • AJ88

    Trying to figure the Oilers’ bottom pairing is a bit of a headache at this point, but it is straight forward as well. The young guys shouldn’t make it unless they significantly outperform the vets, which could well happen. If it’s reasonably close, however,then the veteran player takes the spot, and that’s a given. Reinhart and/or Nurse get some more seasoning in the AHL, playing significant minutes, which never hurts a developing player.

    I think the defense will be made over as the season progresses. I can see a trade to move out a couple of vet defenseman taking place early in the season. Guys like Nurse and Reinhart are closing quickly. Reinhart will be in the NHL by November at the very latest in my opinion. The young defenseman are key to this team’s success. I really do think that Reinhart is vastly underrated by a lot of the Edmonton media, who opposed the trade. I absolutely loved the deal.

    The Oilers need a bit of Gryba’s surly play to rub off on Reinhart, so I like that pairing of Gryba-Reinhart from the get go. Should be interesting to watch in pre-season, when Gryba will want to make his presence known. Nurse already has the aggressive part of his game reasonably well figured out, and Reinhart is becoming more of that type of aggressive player.

    Gryba is absolutely the type of hard to play against attitude that the Oilers’ defense needs more throughout the blueline, not just on the bottom pairing. The Oilers’ defense has been too soft for too long. Gryba, Nurse, Reinhart, should go a long way to repairing that. It’s going to be interesting to watch how the defense unfolds this season. I’m also expecting Nikitin to have a significant rebound year. I really can’t see him falling flat in the same manner as last season. If he doesn’t rebound, I’d be surprised. Mind you, I was expecting a much different player than he was last season. Still, he was hampered by injury most of the season, so I find it easier to cut him some slack. Still, he’s a bubble player for the roster in my mind. Lots of bubbles. Interesting stuff.

  • MacT's Neglected Helmet

    How can you possibly assert that Schultz’s job is secure?
    He can’t play defense.
    A problem for a defenseman.
    If he plays, the season is a bust.
    Can Chiarelli and MacLelland not see this?

  • AJ88

    Everyone is commenting on the Oilers poor defense but you have to remember what it looked like the past few preseasons . The fact that we don’t have Ference in a top 4 role anymore and Niki might be pushed down to 7/8 is a good thing. Don’t get me wrong that I think it’s great because it’s not. Sekera will make Fayne better than he was playing with Niki. Schultz will benefit from the coaching more than any player on the team, if he listens, and Klefbom is another year older and from all evidence is very coach able ‘. Gryba is miles ahead of Aulie, Hunt and Belov (remember that beauty) The top 4 could easily add an upgrade or two , therefore pushing some of the current top 4 down the depth chart.
    Coaching is going to make a huge difference , just look at the fLames. That team was picked to finish near the bottom and got into the playoffs. Yes they have a decent defense but the rest of what they have is not a playoff team without Hartley. Coaching is huge and we got a pretty decent group now