Opportunity Knocks

When Anton Slepyshev was drafted I thought it was a good
gamble by then GM Craig MacTavish. Today it looks like a great one. It might even
go down as one of the best moves MacTavish made during his short and ill-fated
tenure as general manager.

Yes, it’s a little too early to proclaim Slepyshev an NHL
player and a true success story, but he’s certainly tracking well up to this
point. Even before the injury to Jordan Eberle it looked like Slepyshev was
making his own opportunities with the club. This training camp he has turned
heads for all the right reasons.

First, he showed up to camp big. He is still listed at 6’2”
and 194 pounds on the Oilers site, but he came into Edmonton weighing more than
215 pounds. Edmonton is a team littered with forwards in the 190-200 pound
range. What they distinctly lack are bigger men. While I don’t think all
players need to be 215+ pounds to be effective, showing up to Oiler camp with
those dimensions makes you stand out.

The new GM said he wanted big players and Slepyshev
delivered. Step one.

The next thing he needed to do was prove he had enough skill
to challenge for an NHL job.

Anton Slepyshev, from my perspective, has done more than
enough in camp to prove that he’s at least in the running for an NHL job down
the line. My honest assessment of the Russian winger is that his skill level is
there but his comfort level isn’t. Maybe that’s just my expectations painting
what I saw early on, but it looked like the North American ice was a pretty big
adjustment for him.

There have been aspects of his game, taken as separate units,
that are NHL quality. For example he happens to have a really good shot. This
is something that’s been known about him for quite a while. The scouting
reports on him from his original draft day (in which he was passed over) note
that he’s been a shooter for some time. Lowetide always seems to find good
quotes on young players, check him out here for Slepyshev.

In any event, what we’ve seen in camp is that this player
does not need the puck on his stick for a long period of time in order to
generate a decent shot. He has a really good one-timer that comes off of his
blade with authority. He’s also been involved in some of the prettiest
preseason Oiler goals. The pass to the slot he made in the last game which resulted in a Lander
goal was a thing of beauty.

Another excellent quality we’ve seen so far is that he isn’t
afraid to get into the corners and be difficult to move off the puck. He is
generally impressive on the forecheck and with his combination of size and
hands that makes him a dangerous player. I like what I’ve seen.

With Jordan Eberle hurting his shoulder to the tune of four to six weeks out, there is a massive hole in the lineup. Nobody wants to see someone
get hurt, but Anton Slepyshev was earning one of the first recalls this fall
and this might be the opportunity he was hoping for.

The lines in practice were:

Hall McDavid Draisaitl

Pouliot RNH Purcell

Korpikoski Lander Yak

Hendricks Letestu Klinkhammer

Slepyshev was rotating in and out of the Lander/Yakupov
line. So it appears as though at the moment he’s still on the outside looking
in. However, there’s no denying that he adds a different dynamic to the club.

A third line of Korpikoski Lander Yak
should in theory be more defensively sound than Yak Lander Slepyshev, but if
the Oilers want a third attacking line then a unit that includes Slepyshev
might be more desirable. The club will need to offset the loss of Eberle and
the kid might be able to spot in.

The young Russian has plenty of obstacles to overcome,
including the contracts of veteran players, but he has acquitted himself well
in camp. With four points in five games and plenty of ice time with skilled players
where he didn’t look too out of place, I’m not sure what more he could be doing
thus far.

That gamble MacTavish made — taking an overage Russian who had
been passed over in the draft the year before — looks pretty fantastic today.
From where I sit, it’s hard not to imagine Slepyshev as Teddy Purcell’s
permanent replacement in the future. If he does end up in the AHL to start the
year then it’s perfectly fine. I have no problem letting him become more
comfortable with the North American ice and game in Bakersfield. I’m just not quite ready to say he’s definitely starting the year in the AHL.

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  • 24% body fat

    Dont care if purcel is a veteran or not, he does not contribute to this team.

    If slep is better keep him up. He is bigger, heavier and harder to play against.

    • Rob...

      FTFY: “If Slepy was a proven NHL’r people would have him in there over Purcell, guaranteed.”

      I’m optimistic that Slepyshev can displace Purcell, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Pre-season is not regular season, and he wasn’t rolling over people in the KHL. Despite that, Ray Ferraro is really high on the kid. That may be because his maturation, skill-set and size may translate to more success in our league.

    • Randaman

      He would also be familiar with North American ice and would probably be able to speak English. I like the player, but if I’m the coach I might want to leave the tutoring to the minor league guys.

    • AJ88

      I’m sick of “trying” new things out. Next week training camp is over. McLennan better make the right choice in replacing Eberle. Pressure is on, I can’t stand another season like last year even wth the top offensive guy out to start the year.

      • mcjesus take the wheel

        Well better get used to it because McLellan is famous for juggling lines all through the year. And he even said the other day they were looking at different D pairings hence Sekera with Shultz.

  • NJ

    Purse…cell!!! And other fantastically bad contracts will haunt us for another year I think.

    Too hard to get some great talent and future stars in the line up with the likes of Nikki numb nuts, purse sell, scribner, far from NHL nuckle, etc.

    Next year……..

  • THRNHJE

    I know that the vision for RNH’s line going into the season was for it to be a power-vs-power kind of line, but man, I do not really like the idea of Pouliot and Purcell on his wings. Seems like you’re asking RNH to do a lot if you’re expecting two way play and offense from that line.

    I’d be tempted to line up Yak and Slepyshev with RNH instead and put Pouliot with Lander and Korpikoski and ask them to take on tough assignments. Or at least to have Korpikoski on RNH’s right with Pouliot on the left, at least that way he’s playing with speed, if not scoring ability.

      • AJ88

        I suppose that this is true.

        There has to be a happy medium somewhere. Maybe we’re wrong about Purcell, maybe with Pouliot forechecking and knocking pucks loose and Purcell’s own puck retrieval abilities and occasional going to the net, RNH will really step up as an offensive force and start lighting it up.

        Seems unlikely, though.

  • NJ

    This kid deserves a spot on the opening night now that Ebs is out. Hes done everything hes been asked to do in the pre season. Oilers need a big boby in their top 9 and i think playing with skill players he’ll do just fine. Remember nation hes been playing with men for 4 years already and hes only 21 if i remember correctly. ONE MORE WEEK AAAHHHHH

  • AJ88

    With the loss of Eberle on the RNH line, McLellen must now rethink the top two lines.

    The RNH line will no longer be dominant enough to rank as the #1 line ahead of McDavid, Hall and Draisaitl. As a result, the McD line will probably face first pairing D. Without Eberle on the RNH line they may not be able to feast off of secondary coverage.

    Replacing Eberle for the next 6 weeks is not a case of simply slotting someone into that hole. Whoever is chosen must have the right skill set if the Oilers expect to live of their offense.

    • Randaman

      RNH’s line was never going to be ranked above Hall’s line. Hall is basically a ppg player and McD as a rookie or not is a phenom…they are going to face the toughest D no matter who makes up the next line. The key is having a second line with RNH that can take advantage of it.

  • pynetime

    Slepyshev looks to me like he’s everything we wish Purcell would be. They both have size and skill but Slepyshev does some things that Purcell can’t or won’t i.e. skate, forecheck, go to the net. Purcell never had the competitiveness to be effective in his own zone and he lacks the foot speed to be effective with the rest of the Oilers top offensive forwards. I’d like to see him moved for half a pail of pucks as soon as Eberle is back from his shoulder injury and in the meantime reward Slepyshev for his strong camp and give him a bit of a push with the big club to start the season!

  • pynetime

    It’s crazy to me McLellan won’t even try Yak on the Nuge line. I’m not super worried about it cause I don’t think Purcell will last a week before he’s injured again, but still. ON TSN this morning all the talk was how there is no one in house that can possibly replace Eberle. Hmmmm, what about first over all Russian sniper and forechecking machine Nial Yakupov?

    Nope. Apparently not.

    Whatever, Shlep or no Shlep this means Draisaitl is where he should be. That Hall McDavid Drai line could be our top line for the next decade.

    • vetinari

      Love Yak but I think the idea is to give him sheltered minutes on the third line until he is a bit more responsible in his own zone. He is also likely to see softer competition on the third line and hopefully can contribute 20-25 goals from there.

      • Rob...

        While that is sound logic, I feel like he excels given bigger minutes. Last year playing on the second line he put up impressive numbers in a short time. As for his defensive game, sure not the best on the team but then neither is Eberle’s

        I guess it’s a question of what are we actually losing with Eberle that we don’t think Yak can replace. Because from where I sit, Yak actually brings more to the spot then Eberle with his forechecking.

        I do think Eberle is a better finisher, and certainly has better chemistry with Pouliot and Nuge, but if we’re worried about the defensive break downs, well I don’t think they can do any worse than Eberle.

        Regardless, it’s a crap situation, I’m just a bit mystified a guy with Yak’s skill and passion doesn’t at least get a chance to show he can get it done.

    • Randaman

      Maybe, just maybe, Management and coaches are not as high on Yak as the commenters on Oilers Nation??

      Wouldn’t surprise me if he is traded this year. Chirelli didn’t draft him. He really hasn’t proven anything besides his rookie year and a few games at the end of last year. You never know. -35 doesn’t endear you to the coach.

      Just sayin

      • Randaman

        Right, I realize I sound like a bit of a homer, it’s just hard to make heads or tails of how they’ve used Yak, and then gone on to justify why or why not he needs to be sheltered on the third line.

        When Yak is on his game, he is easily one of the most dangerous guys on the team. He’s had lots of nights where he looked the best, most engaged player out there. And yet, he “needs to learn to play away from the puck”.

        I’m even fine with that criticism, but show me Eberle demonstrating he knows how to play away from the puck.

          • Randaman

            I’m saying given the chance, yes they could be equal, but Yak never gets the chance. While Eberle never ever has been held accountable for his mistakes. Okay, in 192 games, Yak has 42 goals. In 356 games, Eberle has 120. Yes, Eberle does have more goals per game, but given he gets double the ice time with better line mates and zone starts, that should be expected.

        • Randaman

          Two completely different players from different draft years.

          Was Ebs -35 last year? No!

          I think if Eberle was in Yaks draft class, he would have been #1.

          It was a really weak draft. Not all number ones are number ones if that makes sense.

          I’m sorry but he doesn’t impress me at all.

          Dispensable in my view

          Trash away

          • camdog

            No trashes needed, you make good points. Not sure why we started comparing draft pedigree or how that is an indicator of value but I’ll bite.

            If you want to use hindsight and put Eberle in Yak’s draft year, sure he likely goes number one. But if you’re only using the two player’s junior numbers, not a chance.

            Yes the minus 35 does stick out. But Eberle was gifted choice minutes on a line with A: one of the best emerging two way centers in the NHL, and B: a guy who pushes play only in one direction.

            Yak had to spend the first half of the year on a line with Draisaitl who was a rookie center just breaking into the league, and then a roving troop of Pouliot or Purcell or whoever. I also remember Eakins determined to make Yak play on the Left side.

            Finally, I don’t think I’m damning Eberle so much as I’m extolling Yak. Sure, he was bad defensively, but 26 points in 28 games when he was used in a way that complimented his play style is also an impressive stat.

            I guess my point is that given the same opportunity, I think Yak could be as productive or better than Eberle has been, and also add that element of forechecking and irritation.

          • Randaman

            He has to take the opportunity. He has to show by his play that he deserves that opportunity.

            He hasn’t! Plain and simple.

            People can come to his defense all they want but the onus is on him and no one else.

            He has no clue positionally. This isn’t junior anymore, where you can do what you want because you score goals.

            He really needs to learn to skate in one direction rather than trying four directions at once.

    • Randaman

      Agreed. Yak should get first crack at filling Eberle’s spot with Slepy taking Yak’s on the third line. If Yak looks like 2013 Yak, missing assignments and turning the puck over, it isn’t difficult to slide him down and Slepy up.

      If Yak happens to look like 2012 Yak and is sniping goals, maybe he will finally be able to realize some of his full potential. Its worth an at bat and #10 deserves a swing.

  • HardBoiledOil 1.0

    i think that Anton has indeed made the team regardless of whether Ebs has been injured. i’m excited to see what he’s going to produce with more playing time on one of the top 3 lines.

  • camdog

    You almost slipped this one by us, Arch: “A third line of Korpikoski Lander Yak should in theory be more defensively sound than Yak Lander Slepyshev”. While technically correct, it hinges on the requirement that Korpikoski is more likely to cover for Yakupov, he of the consecutive -33 and -35, than Slepyshev, who’s defensive capabilities are a relative unknown.

    What needs to be said is that no line with Yakupov on it is going to be defensively sound. Despite his aggressive forechecking play, he is hopelessly miscast for a defensive role. Almost anyone in the league would be better suited for the task (roughly speaking, 882 others by last year’s count). Slepyshev probably foots the bill there, but as Lander’s RW (and there’s chemistry there!), not as a replacement for Korpikoski.

    Yakupov needs to be able to slot up into a more offensive role. If he lacks the defensive acumen to be RNH’s wing, the same can be said with emphasis on Lander’s line. That leaves soft-minute OZ starts, i.e. Hall and McDavid’s line, in a role that Draisaitl seems penned in for. Either he can handle the defensive duties (in which case, slot him up with RNH), or there are serious questions about where he fits on this team. Perhaps Drai can better handle the first line responsibilities than Yakupov or Purcell can, at least in Eberle’s absence, but Yakupov’s role on the third line was already a glaring flaw in the starting lineup, and Eberle’s injury just leaves him even more badly exposed.

  • The 4 C’s are set. So, simply put, I would take the best 3 players for the last 3 F spots. If mgt feels that includes Slepyshev, then great.

    However, I suspect Chia will be leery of putting Slepy in during reg season without having “seen” him play several games on NA ice first.

    Similar to Yakimov last year who had a fairly good camp, and stood out because he is a beast, but then upon playing several games in the AHL on NA ice, it was obvious that he needed to make adjustments.

    The NHL is not the place to be making adjustments to NA ice. I would put Slepyshev in the AHL for now. Although, Chia’s hand may be forced (not an overly bad thing) if Purcell starts the year on the IR.

  • HardBoiledOil 1.0

    I’m not against keeping the young gun over Purcell, it’s just too early to tell, and to say Purcell contributes nothing to the team is crazy. He’s been injured basically from day one and hasn’t really played. That’d be like saying Eberle will be our least productive forward for the next 4 weeks, what an overpaid bum. Give the vet a chance to see what he’s got in the next couple of exhibition games and then make a call. But Purcells camp is just starting due to injury in my opinion. That said, he better bring it because the kids are coming up strong, fast and big.

    • Reg Dunlop

      How do you reconcile the fact that Purcell has been injured often and hasn’t really played with your contention that it’s crazy to say he contributes nothing? Not really playing is the definition of contributing nothing. When we acquired Purcell for Gagner it was a swap of buy-out candidates. Nothing more. Saddling Nuge with him for an extended period limits the offensive potential of that line and increases the burden on rookie Conner to carry the team. Not ideal.

  • CaptainLander

    Slep has shown some recent chemistry with Lander and Yak seems like a logical line-mate due to Slep’s current language barrier. I also like Korp with Nuge and Pou because you at least have a line can can skate with and play defensively with other teams top lines. For home games this is more effective of course.

    Hall McD Drai
    Pou Nuge Korp
    Slep Lander Yak
    Hendy Letestu Klink
    Purcell (heal up that injury for another week or so. Allow Slep to play himself off the team.

    • I agree about the chemistry. I don’t see Gazdic in your list, so I assume you think Gazdic goes to the AHL. (unless they keep 14 F)

      Listening to McLellan speak I think it will be Gazdic that has to play his way off the team, despite how good Slepyshev has been this pre-season. Whether it’s right approach or not, i think Gazdic will get a “veteran courtesy”, but I guess we’ll see. Of course, none of us armchair coaches and GMs truly know what will happen.

  • Randaman

    Slepyshev is the best news since Draisaitl & McDavid. That is a lot of talent to add to the forwards. He may start in the AHL but big Yak should be able to help him out a lot.

  • Randaman

    Like the Yak, but not a big fan of his game, but with Eberle going down, is it not a good time [ early in the season ] to really see what this guy can do ? This guy is into his 4 th season… its sink or swim time I think.

    Why put Purcell ahead of Yak? Oh, because Purcell last year was only -33 and Yak-35 Wow.

    Slepyshev to the AHL. Learn the American game and work on your English.He could be a really good addition , but not today.

  • NJ

    I’m (still) tired of the mention of plus minus in regards to Yak. Have you looked at any others?

    Eberle. -16.
    Shultz. -17.
    Draisaitl. -17 over 37 games. Extrapolated to -37 give or take.
    Purcell is like -34.

    So the two guys ahead of Yak are a bad veteran (+/-) and Draisaitl who is worse and more defensively liable than Yak having played center last year.

    I think Yak’s passion and zest for the game are awesome. He needs defensive work, but at least he plays hard and gives his all. I believe he gets a chance on the one / two lines because, honestly, Purcell is not a first liner.

    Unless it’s the dman scoring, it isn’t on the winger most of the time in the +/- column. Yak has shown bad sometimes with brutal giveaways, but I’ve seen him hustle back and look bad because the D man he covered for wasn’t there.

    Unfortunately, I don’t see Yak fitting here long term and its likely he’s headed for another team by the trade deadline where I have no doubt that he scores 30+ goals in the NHL.

    Bottom line, McClellan will fix the brutal giveaway column and I expect the plus minus of the entire team to improve. Let’s wait 20 regular season games under an excellent head coach with average plus goaltending to start throwing the plus minus stones shall we?

  • Randaman

    Will, NJ, Randaman – all really good points about +/- in comparison to the rest of the team, Yakupov’s stats being submarined by limited opportunity, and yet still somehow failing to impress.

    That all said, Eberle’s injury might be Slepyshev’s opportunity to crack the roster, but it’s Yak’s opportunity to prove what he’s made of. I believe he can do it and should be first in line to get a shot at Eberle’s spot.

    #istandwithyak

  • Randaman

    Before Eberle’s injury Slepyshev was definitely and correctly heading for Bakersfield, despite a wonderful TC and exhibition season. Now it is more complicated. If he stays until Ebs is back some other player has to go down. Obviously a goalie will head down, I think Davidson will also be headed to Bakersfield, and one more player must go unless someone else gets hurt. The possibles are Slepyshev, Reinhart, Klinkhammer and Gadzik, with only the first two not having to clear waivers. I do not think Gadzik is an NHL player, but I think McLellan wants to have him around for special occasions, quite possibly including opening night. I think Reinhart is NHL ready, but he only stays if the coaches are ready to play him every night, and with Nikitin trending up, they may not be ready to. As for Klinkhammer, he has looked better the past few weeks than he did last season, so it’s hard to send him down. So, for me, it’s Slepyshev or Reinhart and very reluctantly I would pick the big Russian to go down and continue polishing his game. There are two more exhibition games to go, of course, and all the relevant players will be playing, so there won’t be a final decision until after Saturday.

  • camdog

    Well, to be fair, Mact had a 37th pick and turned it into 4 picks (or whatever it was) between 70 and 100. He didn’t take Tristan Jarry or Eric Comrie. If he ends up with one player (Slepyshev), then its probably just a wash. He needs to get two player for it to look brilliant.

  • Rdubb

    Why should it matter if a guy does have an NHL deal? I always thought that this was about putting your best team forward and putting the best players possible in the positions needed? Or, perhaps I’ve been mistaken all these years?
    If the big russian shows that he deserves to be on these ahead of other players then he should be on the team, unless of course we are talking about one of the core guys or a guy that has shown in the recent past that he is capable of putting up good numbers and good play, then he has to wait for his turn, but, when it comes un-seeding a guy that puts of mediocre effort at best on most nights, has a hard time putting up 40 points, doesn’t play a overly good defensive game, and hasn’t shown anything other then the above in recent years, then yes, the russian kid should be slotted in ahead of the player, perhaps sending the vet down to the AHL (thus putting on the waiver wire) then perhaps that will light a fire under his pants and let him know that he better get his act together…
    Should the kid play a solid game in the offensive zone, be good in the corners, take the body, get back and help defend in his own zone without being a liability, and his attributes are better then those he’s fighting against, then give him the spot. Let him show you he cannot play against the top level competition because the vet has already shown you that he has a difficult time with it…