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
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.
We have an excellent and very generous package donated by The Home Matchmaker Michelle Derk from Remax Elite.
- Up for grabs is the seller’s commission for your house. (In a
regular sale half the commission goes to the seller realtor and half to
the buyer. So this is $3.5% on the first $100,000 and $1.5% on the
On a $400,000 house that is a value of $8,000.00.
On a $500,000 house that is value of $9,500.00.
Thanks in advance. All proceeds will help out Santa’s Anonymous.
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