Peter Chiarelli took on the job of fixing the Edmonton Oilers a few short months ago. He identified issues, made some moves and now we’re seeing the first blush of what Chiarelli’s Oilers will look like. How is it going?
Chiarelli: “Even when I was in Boston it wasn’t
about putting fighters in the lineup, it was about your team approach,
your team toughness, your collective mentality. And that can apply to
us, also. Having said that, there are teams in our conference and our
division that play a certain style. You don’t have to fight fire with
fire, but you have to be able to push back.”
The addition of three new defenders (Andrej Sekera, Griffin Reinhart, Eric Gryba) went a long way to the push back. Sekera showed his ability to win battles in Vancouver, boxing Henrik Sedin and then taking the puck away—the bonus being he had the skill to play a significant role in the GWG. Reinhart and Gryba are both physical players and can impact the game by leaning on forwards, breaking up cycles and clearing the front of the net. Todd McLellan has been playing Gryba more and more early in the year.
Chiarelli: “I see a lot of promise at certain
levels and certain areas. I see a lack of heaviness and am trying to
think of ways to make that better.”
The idea of being heavier on the puck also shows in the new regime’s approach up front. When Jordan Eberle went down with injury, Todd McLellan auditioned Anton Slepyshev (big forward), Matt Hendricks (gritty forward) and Rob Klinkhammer (fast and furious) in the role. I don’t think those three men were at the top of many lists when Oilers fans discussed options for replacing Eberle.
Peter Chiarelli: “I can tell you I expect
(Sekera) to be in our top four, Klefbom will be in our top four, Justin
Schultz will be, I would hope he would be in our top four. Nikita
Nikitin, who had a disappointing season last year, who was brought in to
play in the top four. We’ve got some guys we acquired, Griffin Reinhart,
who I believe is a terrific player. I think he needs a little time to
get up and running before I can anoint him in the top four. We have Eric
Gryba who I think is a real strong shutdown D, we can probably shuttle
him up at certain points. We’ve got three legitimate, we don’t have a
workhorse right now.”
So far, the top four D are Klefbom—Schultz and Sekera—Fayne, although Fayne’s TOI ranks behind the third pairing of Reinhart—Gryba. How can that be? Fayne is playing the tough minutes along with Sekera, so for me that means he’s part of the de facto top four defensemen—your mileage may vary.
Peter Chiarelli on Justin Schultz: “He’s a
player that I don’t have really strong knowledge of. Saw him in college.
Saw him in the lockout in the American League. Saw him in bits and
pieces with Edmonton, maybe a little more this past year, whether it’s
video or otherwise. He’s got a lot of assets, like puck skills, passing,
skating. He’s been labelled sometimes as a rover and that’s more
negative than positive in my mind, but the fact that he’s up the ice
with the forwards is a good thing. That’s something that we would preach
here. It’s about defending, about being the proper position and if
you’re not strong enough to defend, let’s talk about positional
defending, stick defending. He has to get better at that.”
Schultz has in fact improved his defensive play. The offense isn’t coming but the improved play away from the puck is regarded as universally encouraging in Oilers Nation, and rightly so.
WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN?
We’re not close to the roster Peter Chiarelli will want to have by next fall, but he is trying out some players and working others into the everyday roster. I suspect we’re seeing the final games for the UFA’s and at least a few RFA’s, but men like Justin Schultz, Eric Gryba and Anders Nilsson are may be making a case for staying (based on usage).
A long way to go, but the picture is coming into view. Some of the bets made by Peter Chiarelli may be changed out quickly — he certainly did that in Boston. Expect the unexpected? Not quite. How about “expect the rational and explainable”? Seems a better fit.