Nilsson making most of opportunity

Peter Chiarelli acquired Anders Nilsson from the Chicago Blackhawks for prospect Liam Coughlin on July 6th. He promptly signed the big Swede to a one-year, $1 million deal. At the time most looked at it as a good depth move, and possibly a move to help the team in the future, but I don’t recall anyone who felt the Oilers were acquiring their starting goalie for a former fifth round pick.

Sports are great because they are so unpredictable. After the deal Chiarelli said, “This gives us more depth in goal. I believe Anders can come in and push for a job.”

He has done more than push for a job. He beat out Ben Scrivens in training camp, he’s wrestled the starting job away from Cam Talbot, and he has no plans of giving it back.

Nilsson has been a pleasant, and the biggest, surprise for the Oilers.

He is giving the Oilers a chance to win.

He is stealing games — last Friday versus Dallas was the best example — and his play has bolstered the confidence of the entire team.

He will need to maintain his solid play for longer than 15 starts before we deem him a proven starter, but his play since November 20th suggests he is ready.

Why is Nilsson more effective with the Oilers than he was with the Islanders in 2014?

“I feel the biggest thing is I have a lot
more experience,” Nilsson said after Sunday’s victory.

“When I first played in the NHL I was 21 and I didn’t have much
experience. It was a big adjustment coming over here, not only the rink size
and the hockey style, but also lifestyle. It was a big change outside the rink
and I had to adapt.

“Last year in the KHL I grew as a person. I
got older, got more experience and I got to play consistently and that helped
me mentally. I learned what I had to do mentally to prepare myself every day to
give myself the best chance to perform at a high level in games every few days,” he explained.

The KHL helped him grow as a person, but was there an adjustment going from the bigger rink back to the NHL surface?

“When I came back this year I felt it wasn’t
an adjustment at all. It was a much bigger adjustment when I came over the first
time with the Islanders. This year it only took me a few practises and then I didn’t think about it.”

Nilsson explained to me how playing in the KHL helped him in a way we might not expect.

“I gained an advantage playing on the big ice last year. You
have to move more, you have to skate more and the style of play is different. As a goalie you need to be more patient and read the play more, and not bite
too hard on the shooters or they will just pass it around you. I improved my
skating a lot last year and the style of play in the KHL forced me to be more patient. I’m a better goalie because of going to the KHL,” Nilsson said.

Nilsson wanted to be in the best league in the world, and when he spoke to the Blackhawks last spring (they acquired his rights in October of 2014 as part of the Nick Leddy trade), they were very honest with him. They told him they didn’t have a spot for him on the NHL roster, and he’d have to start in the AHL, so they could only offer him a two-way contract.

His agent and the Oilers spoke and Chiarelli was willing to offer him a one-way deal, so a trade was made.

Being financially secure was one hurdle, but Nilsson knew getting regular icetime would be his biggest challenge. He worked hard in the summer and came to camp confident he could earn a job if given the chance.

“The Oilers told me I would be given a fair opportunity to make the team and they were truthful. I knew I had to impress the coaches in practice and in the preseason if I was going to stay in Edmonton. All a player can ask for is an opportunity,” said Nilsson with a smile.

Fast forward two months and Nilsson is now the Oilers starting goalie, and in his last eight starts he is 5-3 with a .945sv% and 1.75 GAA.

Why the massive improvement?

“I feel more comfortable,” he said bluntly. ” I think I speak
for every goalie who play a lot of games consistently, you just go out and play
your game and you don’t overthink things or try to do too much. As a goalie if
you try too hard and want to do it too much you usually end up out of position
and allow more goals. You need to be relaxed, but aggressive at the same time
(laughs), which is difficult. It helps when you play a lot to get in that
groove.”

He is definitely in a groove, and in addition to playing regularly he is facing a lot of shots. He’s faced 257 shots the past eight games, 32.1/game, and he doesn’t mind the heavy workload.

“I like to feel the puck and I think in most games we haven’t given up too many great chances, so getting a lot of shots from the outside keeps me in the game.”

I think he is being a tad generous. The Stars and Bruins had a lot of great chances, and he was outstanding, not only in regulation but also in the shootout.

Nilsson, unlike many goalies, loves the shootout. He is 6-0 in his career and he’s allowed only three goals on 16 attempts. His a perfect 5-for-5 with the Oilers two games this year.

“I like shootouts, I think they are fun. We
have some good shooters, and it is good to go against them in practice, but in
the games they are good and that takes some stress off my shoulders and allows
me to relax. I try to be as patient as I can, let the player make the first
move, and then follow him,” explained Nilsson calmly.

Nilsson was very calm throughout our conversation. We ended up discussing the KHL, NHL shooters and adjusting to life in North America. He enjoys Edmonton, and said he feels more comfortable here than he did in New York. The city is smaller and reminds him of Sweden.

If he continues to play as well as he has, I have a feeling he will like Edmonton even more. He won’t have to buy a drink or a meal anywhere if he keeps the Oilers in the playoff hunt.

He laughed when I suggested that and said he is only focused on playing well and maintaining the trust of his teammates and coaches.

“It helps when you feel you have the support
of your coaches and teammates, it really helps to boost your confidence. When
they stick up for you when you screw up or make a mistake it really helps. I
try to do the same for them and I believe I have to show them I trust in them
and they will trust in me and be confident I can make the big save.”

His teammates trust him, his coaches trust him and I sense the fans are starting to trust him as well.

The Oilers are still a work in progress, and have a few holes to fill, but if Nilsson can continue his strong play he will solve one of the biggest areas of concern.

DAY 6: Month of Giving

Thanks to Todd McLellan for helping out with yesterday’s item, and thanks to Mark for his generous bid of $3,500. I’m sure McLellan will make it a memorable experience for the kids.

Today’s Package

We have an excellent and very generous package donated by The Home Matchmaker Michelle Derk from Remax Elite.

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Recently by Jason Gregor:    

  • DaveChamp

    Boys / Girls

    I never intended to piss anyone off or stray from Oilers Talk. Dogs are just a huge part of my life. Nuff said , dont slam anyone , lets talk hockey. My fault , this is not the forum to pledge help for dogs. I would die for my dogs as they would me, ENOUGH ! BACK TO OILERS AND HOCKEY CHAT.

    Lets leave it alone and go watch Flames- Sharks , Hate the flames but wouldn’t mind them keeping the Tunas closer to us !!

    Dont need a freaking 3 point game.

  • Oilcounty88

    One of these goalies was bound to string it together. Nilsson has been a tower of power for the Oilers this year. He only got rocked in the Washington game but has bounced back nicely. Dallas threw everything at him kitchen sink, table, chairs your grandma. This nice little run has got people to put the pitchforks away for now.

  • hagar

    The shoot out record is crazy awesome for signs of solid play under pressure.

    Anders is keeping us in some tough games, and a goalie that can stay sooo calm during shootouts, is exactly what is needed in the playoffs.

    There have been a few really good goalies that couldn’t perform under the pressure of the playoffs.

  • Anton CP

    When Sharks dumped Nabokov that he went back to Russia to play in KHL and was struggled badly. He then return to NHL later that he still has some decent outings with Islanders. It could just be that KHL have terrible defensive game plan that goalies will be constantly tested by facing firing squads. It may help Nilsson to be more prepared to face shots at high volume.

    Then, Sweden always produce high quality goalies.

  • DaveChamp

    That’s great to see Nilsson is playing well, this team lacked good goal tending for years, with the young team they need confidence to win some games.

    Nilsson has been all over the place trying to get a regular job, his career is on the line, giving the chance he seized it.

    Cam Talbot and Ben Scrivens has the #1 handed to them and they never grabbed it and lead this team. Even Dubnyk too, he had the potentials but he didn’t take it seriously until he was traded. With the Wild he knew it’s his last chance so he played hard.

    We need Talbot to play well again soon.

    MacTavish traded for Brossoit, he’s leading Bakersfield to win games now, he’s also the future of this team.

    Dallas has Klingberg playing well in Defense, he’s 23. Ottawa has Karlsson anchoring the D at 25. We need Schultz and Klefbom to step up to the next level, Nurse also, give them confidence to grow.

    With McDavid and Yakupov back soon, the young core forwards need to step up or some WILL BE TRADED. They need to grow up and play hard, not kids playing VIDEO games any more.

    A few more VETERANS come in to help, I SAY THIS TEAM WILL WIN CUP IN 3 YEARS.

    That’s right WIN CUP in the 2 year of the NEW ARENA.

    IT’s TIME to GROW UP and play like MEN! AMEN..

  • DaveChamp

    Nilsson is the catalyst for the Oilers looking more competitive this season , due to his stellar goalkeeping of late . Also of note is Purcell’s better output in play , due to he is going for a new contract . Pouliot and Yak are still questionable as we have witnessed without McDavid . Schultz does not look like he can produce enough offense to compensate for his defense and lack of physicality , etc.. With just average goaltending our weaknesses are bound to pop up again .

  • Who was it that wrote that this is the year, most likely, that Cam Talbot takes a dip? I seem to recall some stats guys saying that and true to form he has had a dip. I think on Gregor’s show it was said he is switching goalie coaching styles and I bet that is an adjustment too considering his previous style was to stay deep in the net and now it is to be out of your net.

    So far Anders Nilsson has played great and I hope it continues, but I also think it is too early to write of Talbot. During the preseason, I thought Anders wo the starting job with his play.

  • Puck JammeR!

    my brother has a really strong and cool dog. he has set up a sort of mma for dogs where they fight each other with no restrictions on styles. sometimes i call it the “pooFC” because they do their business in the ring lol. his dog is 13-0