Oilers: Woodcroft discusses powerplay success

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Jay Woodcroft turned 39 this past August and he’s already entering his 11th season in the NHL as an assistant coach. He started as a video coach in Detroit, and when Todd McLellan got the head coaching job in San Jose had asked Woodcroft to come with him. After seven seasons in San Jose, Woodcroft and McLellan left and landed in Edmonton.

They have a strong working relationship and McLellan has put Woodcroft in charge or the powerplay for many years. That will continue in Edmonton.

Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle raved about Woodcroft’s PP set up and video work when they returned from the World Championships. “He has a great offensive mind,” Eberle told me last May.

I sat down with Woodcroft to discuss the powerplay and what you should expect to see from the Oilers now that the regular season is upon us.

When I asked Woodcroft about running the PP he was quick to point out he was not the only one with input.

“I get to start the powerplay meetings, but we all have input. Our coaching staff is responsible for the power play and
the penalty kill and six on five and four on four, so I just wanted to clear
that up right away,” he said smiling.

Based on conversations with Justin Schultz, Hall and others I think Woodcroft is a bit humble. All the players have talked openly about how he conducts the PP meetings and how creative he is.

We had a quick Q and A about the PP.

Gregor: Why do you think that you’ve been 20% six of the last seven years?

Woodcroft: It’s our coaching staff that
does it. We have starting points that we go to in the morning. So for us it’s a
collaborative effort. Our coaching staff is responsible for the power play and
the penalty kill and six on five and four on four, so I just wanted to clear
that up right away.

In terms of some past success for our staff
the first thing is that we have some elite players that could execute the plans
that we put in place, similar type players to what we have in Edmonton,
offensively gifted personnel that has the ability to do certain things.
Certainly our time in San Jose and before that in Detroit we had those types of
players.

Gregor:
One thing I’ve noticed now that you’ve put spent a lot of time in practice
focusing on attention to detail, especially the breakouts. You have seven or
eight ways to break out. Those are set plays. Do you have any base or set plays
in the offensive zone as well, or is it more ad-lib and let players use their
skill once you’ve set up?

Woodcroft: Well I’ll start with the first
part first, our breakouts. Everything for us coming up the ice is based off of
some sort of structure, speed and timing. And as a coaching staff, our job is
to give players tools that they need to be successful. The thing about the NHL
is that there are twenty nine other coaching staffs working hard to stop
you. 

We pride ourselves on giving our players
multiple plans to come up the ice with their speed and their timing, so some
structure. In the offensive zone, I wouldn’t consider us to be a set play power
play by any means. As a staff we talk a lot about shooting the puck which
mirrors our team game philosophy as well. We believe that the shot breaks down
defences whether that’s five on five or teams’ penalty kills.

Everything for us comes off of the shot so we want to encourage our team to
shoot the puck and we have clear retrieval points of how to get the puck back
once the shot is taken. Teams in the NHL are very good on the kill, they bring
a lot of pressure and so it’s very important that everyone is on the same page,
but again, no set plays. We have principle and structure rather than set plays.

PUCK RETRIEVAL

Gregor: You talked puck retrieval. That’s
been a problem in Edmonton for the past few years. When they get it
they’re great, but when they lose it they weren’t able to get it back. What are
some of the strategies you’ve given your team to help them become a strong puck
retrieval team?

Woodcroft: Well, I can’t speak for anything
that’s happened here in the past, but one of our themes here in training camp
from day one has been puck possession and the ability to have a plan to get it
back. For us, we don’t have a power play unless you possess the puck. We take
pride in having a clear plan of how we want to establish that type of
possession, we have tactics and what not.

In terms of retrieval off of the shot, when
we’re humming the way we should hum on the power play, we have clearly defined
avenues or areas for certain people to retrieve pucks. Through the pre-season
we haven’t been perfect, but there’s been some progress made and the best part
is that we’ve had a lot of players that are open to these ideas and when they
have some success that only builds their belief system.

Gregor: How much will your power play
evolve when you get more comfortable in knowing things the best guys can do?
Possbily Taylor Hall in a certain position or Connor McDavid. How much time
does that take or do you already know what position is best for the players
based on film?

Woodcroft: Well, certainly right now our
power play is still in its infancy stage. So there is a getting to know you
phase. We did do a lot of work, film wise, in understanding a player’s
tendencies, strength, and weaknesses, specifically on the power play, and tried
to find certain spots that will work best for each player.

But until you see the whites of their eyes, until you see how they perform in
practice it’s virtually impossible to know where certain people will fit. We
have ideas, we have starting points, but I think you will see as our power play
progresses we will make adjustments to try to put players in positions to
succeed.

Gregor: There is going to be healthy
competition between unit one and unit two. Do you like to keep continuity between
the two units or do you want players who can be interactive on both units?

Woodcroft: I think it’s important that both
units have different looks and different tools to succeed, but ultimately we
have a philosophy in general on the power play. So if someone is not performing
we can change him out with another piece. We want to be able to throw different
penalty kills off with different looks. And that can be everything from
faceoffs to breakouts to in zone play so we’re very fortunate here in Edmonton
that there are lots of players with offensive instincts who are power play
oriented type players. We’re excited about the pieces we have to work with, but
as I say we are in the infancy stages but we’re looking forward to working with
them.

Gregor: Jordan Eberle is one of the few
right hand shot offensive players. How does his absence change your make up?
Does it change significantly how you enter the zone, how you attack and would
we ever see five lefties on one unit?

Woodcroft: I don’t know that we’ll ever be
five lefties on a power play. We might be, who knows, but it certainly changes
entry points, it changes the abilities for one timers in certain points and
what not, that’s something that we’ll adjust to. Losing Jordan is a tough break
for our club but it’s also an opportunity for somebody to step into the hole
left there.

Someone has the opportunity to establish themselves in a pretty primary role,
and it is exciting to see who is going to claim that spot whether it be
five-on-five or power play. As I’ve said before, we’re fortunate to have a lot
of guys in our organization who want that opportunity and have the skillet
necessary to succeed.

OFF THE POST…

  • Schultz and Purcell are the two right-handed shots who will be used on the PP. Don’t be surprised if Slepyshev gets some PP time with Eberle on the shelf.
  • Lander and Pouliot are best suited to be the regular net-front presence, but you will see different guys rotate in as the PP moves around. Woodcroft’s belief is PP success is driven by movement. If you force the penalty killers to move, it will open up lanes and scoring chances. 
  • The NHL season begins tonight and it will also be the first time we could see a Coach’s Challenge. Plays subject to a Coach’s Challenge are:

    1. – Goal Scored — Possible Goalkeeper Interference prior to the goal.
    2. – Goal Disallowed — Goalkeeper Interference called on the play (penalty/no penalty)
    3. – Goal Scored — Possible Off-Side play prior to the goal.

    And in the final minute of the third period and/or at any point in overtime (regular season and playoffs) the Hockey Operations Department in the NHL Toronto Video Room will initiate the review of any scenario that would otherwise be subject to a Coach’s Challenge.

    It will be interesting to see how coaches handle the reviews. The camera angle above the net will be the most important.

  • As I mentioned in another post, I had a really honest conversation with Andrew Ference last week about the captaincy. He initiated the
    conversation with Peter Chiarelli, as well as with McLellan and his
    teammates. He believed it was better to be upfront and discuss
    the situation. He wanted them to know it wouldn’t be uncomfortable.

    He won’t change who he is now that he doesn’t have the  “C”, and he was very aware of the challenges he might face if he was the captain but not a regular in the lineup.

    He’s never looked at himself as one of the best players. He is a good self-evaluator and for him to initiate the conversation illustrates to me he knew the pros and cons of the situation. Being honest about yourself is a necessity to being a good leader, and for Ference to address the situation head on speaks volumes about his character in my eyes.

    Removing the “C” from his jersey shouldn’t be considered a negative on who he is as a person. I’m amazed how some people don’t see the difference between him as a person and him as a player.

    This was the right decision for all parties. The Oilers don’t have anyone ready to handle the responsibility of being captain, so instead of naming a captain and hoping he grows into the role, they will go with four alternate captains (Hall, RNH, Ference and Eberle). Matt Hendricks will wear a letter until Eberle returns.

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  • Kr55

    Oops, man did Eakins mess up. He tried to copy McLellan’s PP but all he really cared about was matching SJ’s Corsi’s per minute. He totally missed how much more there was to the PP than just shooting from anywhere as quickly as possible.

  • DaveChamp

    Ference is and has always been a class act (flipping the birds to the Bell Centre might not be classy, but I support it.) I won’t forget going to a game a couple years ago, right after he was named captain, sitting behind the Oilers bench with my 11-year-old brother. He loves Ference and was cheering his name like crazy. Ference came up and gave him a wink, and while it was such a little thing, it showed his character. He recognized how cool it would be for a little boy to be acknowledged by an Oiler, and seemed to always take that aspect of his job seriously. I have nothing but respect for him.

  • Jay has paid his dues.

    His playing career bio is just awesome. Played in, Alabama, Alaska, Corpus Christi Texas, Stuttgart Germany, Flint Michigan, I mean. who doesn’t want a Missouri River Otters jersey…

    In all seriousness, thats a lot of time in a freaking bus. Glad that his reflections on life brought him to coaching… he seems a beauty.

    • ubermiguel

      If the best players make the worst coaches and vice versa, he should be an amazing coach!

      I tease a bit, but it is a totally different skill-set to play and to coach effectively. Very few top coaches were also top players. Lemaire, Robinson, Gainey…hmmm…all Habs. Something to do with Mr. Bowman’s influence perhaps.

    • Jason Gregor

      It isn’t a weapon if he just stands in one spot. If he buys into the movement, which I suspect he will, then yes he will be an asset.

      However, I caution those who think his one timer is a guarantee. He needs to become more consistent in getting it off, regardless of where the pass is. He needs to connect more often.

      • Lofty

        When I think of a one-timer/floater specialist Brett Hull comes to mind. I’m not saying Yak plays the same style as Hull but I do remember him sitting on the far side waiting for the one-timer on the PP.

        Would his style of play still work in today’s NHL?

        • The poster formerly known as Koolaid drinker #33

          Brett Hull was a master at disappearing then suddenly popping out with the puck on his stick for a one timer or a super quick wrister. Yak arguably has a better shot but Hull was one hell of a smart player.

          • Lofty

            Absolutely, I don’t see Yak getting near Hull’s typical 80pts a season but floaters can be successful. Different league, different players.

            Hull however was successful from his first season. Yak has not but he has also dealt with more organization/coaching/depth issues.

          • The poster formerly known as Koolaid drinker #33

            Yeah different times for sure. Yak may still become a good point producer in this league. I’m hopeful anyway.

            The funny thing is I remember people saying how lazy Brett Hull was yet he destroyed the league. A lot of people comment how Yak works hard and forechecks and yet he hasn’t found success yet.

          • The poster formerly known as Koolaid drinker #33

            What’s laughable is that you don’t think anyone would participate in a certain argument yet you are the first one to chime in on the said argument.

          • Jason Gregor

            You made a ridiculous statement and got called out on it. Who would argue that Yakupov has a better shot than Hall?

            I’m guessing outside of an Oiler zealot, no one.

          • The poster formerly known as Koolaid drinker #33

            I’ve heard it all here now. Yakupov arguably has a better shot than Hull.

            Shultz arguably has better vision than Coffey. See.. I guess anything can be arguable if one side is clueless.

            LOL

        • Jason Gregor

          Major difference, Hull knew how to find holes. He was rarely stationary, but the biggest difference was Hull’s ability to connect on one-timer regardless of where pass was.

          Adam Oates explained it perfectly…

          “As long as you put the puck anywhere in front of Brett he would find a way to alter his positioning so he could connect. I’ve never seen another player who could do that. Most can only one time it correctly if you put it right in their sweet spot.”

          Yak is not Hull, which is okay, because Hull was arguably the greatest one-timer in NHL history.

          • Joy S. Lee

            I’d give the one-timer to Kurri, the best pure shooter to Bossy, and found Hull’s to possibly be a combo producing an accurate bullet, and Oates made it clear above how adept he was at turning it into a shot in the first place.

            But Kurri’s snipes while skating at high speed (granted, with Wayne Gretzky feeding him)… he rarely missed, so I’d give him the moving one-timer crown… Bossy’s shooting was precise; a wrister with authority and he could put it in from anywhere.

      • Rob...

        I was disappointed with Yak’s accuracy during pre-season. He definitely needs to dial it in if he’s going to be a great contributor this season.

        Also, if I seem him trailing the opposition while they carry the puck back into our zone ever again it’ll be too soon. Hustle and harass, Yak, hustle and harass.

  • A-Mc

    It sounds like the coaching staff has a legitimate plan, which encourages me. They also seem to be aware of where the players are at and how to get them to where they need to be.

    I really hope things start to smooth out for the Oilers this season. I am most excited about feeling good after games instead of feeling let down.

    #GOilers

  • The poster formerly known as Koolaid drinker #33

    I see Yak as totally unproven and highly overrated at this point in his career. If he is able to improve this year and learns to hit the net with his one timer than maybe he has value. As yet, I am still not convinced he is a bona fide NHL player.