Training Camp: Day One

Many Edmonton Oilers stepped on the ice at Rogers Place for the first time this morning, and every fan is hoping a new arena and some new players will end the Decade of Darkness. They will have three days of practice mixed in with some brief scrimmage time before beginning the preseason on Monday versus Calgary.

The Oilers top three centres weren’t on the ice today. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Connor McDavid are travelling back from the World Cup of Hockey and will join the team on Tuesday while Leon Draisaitl is preparing to play Sweden on Sunday in the semifinals. 

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Without those three on the ice, we will have to wait a day or two to see which line combinations Todd McLellan will experiment with early on. McLellan was on the ice this morning and GM Peter Chiarelli was in the stands. Which is a good sign, because the Oilers don’t have the luxury of taking any days off..

We will have to wait a day or two to see what line combinations McLellan has planned, and what we see on day one of camp will change before the start of the season, but I’m sure you are curious about winger pairings.

They were split up in Group A and B.

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The forwards lines were:

Lucic – Caggiula – Eberle
Pouliot – Letestu – Puljujarvi
Maroon – Lander – Yakupov
Benik – Hendricks – Kassian
Pitlick – Vesce – Versteeg
Beck – Khaira – Pakarinen
Christoffer – Sallinen – Slepyshev
Hamilton/Moroz – Platzer – Russell

Versteeg is on a PTO and he will have to earn his spot. McLellan put Yakupov and Puljujarvi with Maroon and Pouliot, and I see that as him saying you can win the job. It is up to you.

The most interesting player for me will be Drake Caggiula. If he plays very well, he might give the Oilers an unexpected option for the third line centre spot, especially if McLellan wants to use Draisaitl on the wing. I don’t think he will, but it will give them another option and Caggiula will push Anton Lander for an extra forward spot.



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The big questions for me are on the blueline.

Andrej Sekera is with Draisaitl preparing for Sweden, so the defence picture will still be fuzzy for a few more days, but the early pairings in camp will give us some insight into who McLellan and defence coach Jim Johnson think could be good pairs.

Klefbom – Larsson
Nurse – Davidson
Simpson – Fayne
Reinhart – Gryba
Oesterle – Benning
Laleggia – Musil
Fraser – Bear
Jones – Niemalainen – Becker

When Sekera returns I’d guess he slides in alongside Mark Fayne. Preseason will determine who plays with who in the season, but the Oilers desperately need to find one pair, and maybe two, who Johnson and McLellan can rely on every night as a duo.

Eric Gryba is here on a PTO (more on that below).

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Gryba had some good insight into the importance of continuity among defence partners. He and Brandon Davidson had a lot of success playing together last season, but due to injuries and losing the D pairs were switched regularly. Gryba explained why.

“We trusted each other. I could look over and he was always going to be in position. We were just very comfortable playing with each other and communicating. Developing those relationships with a D partner is critical for chemistry. I ran into some problems last season playing with so many different D partners at the start of the year. It is difficult. It is a necessity sometimes, but it is more difficult when you don’t have a comfort level with your partner. Little things like the sound of his voice on the ice change things,” said Gryba.

If the defence can stay healthy the chances of gaining continuity will increase.

Last season Adam Larsson played 1467 minutes at EV. He played 1226 with Andy Greene. I don’t think it is a coincidence his best season came when he played 84% of the time with the same partner. Sure, Greene is very good, but continuity matters.

Andrej Sekera played the most minutes of any Oiler defender last season. He played 1365 minutes at EV, but his most common partner was Mark Fayne at 656 minutes (48%). He played 28% (392 min) of the time with Darnell Nurse and split the remaining 24% of his time with Justin Schultz (99 min) Brandon Davidson (76 min), Eric Gryba (49 min) and then small stints with some others.

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No Oilers defender came close to playing 80% of the time with the same partner.

Fayne played the most with one player at 65% of his 1008 minutes with Sekera.
Nurse played 1118 at EV and Sekera was with him most often at 33% (392 min). A rookie D-man never having a regular partner is far from ideal.
In Gryba’s 810 minutes, Davidson was his most regular partner at 35% (283 min).
Davidson skated for 778 minutes and Gryba was with him the most at 36% (283 min).
Klefbom played 493 EV minutes. Fayne was his most regular partner at 35% (172 min).

Injuries played a factor of course, but before Klefbom and Davidson were injured they faced a constant rotation of partners.

I know many focus on the the forward lines and getting some chemistry between them, but I will argue it is much more important for the Oilers to find some consistent regular pairs. At least one, and possibly two.

Nashville and San Jose have very good defence, but it sure helps when their defenders can play together regularly.
In Nashville Shea Weber played 1319 (93%)of his 1418 EV minutes with Roman Josi. Their second pair was mainly Ryan Ellis and Mattias Ekholm. Ellis played with Ekholm in 69% of his EV minutes.

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In San Jose Paul Martin played 82% of his EV minutes with Brent Burns. Burns played 180 more EV minutes than Martin so his % with Martin was lower, but continuity is a huge bonus for any D-man and his coach. Marc-Edouard Vlasic played 79% of his time with Justin Braun.

Of course you need good quality defenders to keep them together so much, but they also need to be healthy.

I will argue that consistency among the defenders will be more important than staying healthy. Klefbom played very well in his first 30 games, despite a constant revolving door on his right side. He would benefit from a regular partner, and so would his coaches.

I hope the Oilers stick with their pairings right away. It is great to see Klef/Larsson together, which was easy to predict, but they will need another pair to emerge as a duo McLellan can rely on to play together every night.



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  • “It is disappointing nothing has gotten done so far, but the ball is in my court and this the hand I’ve been dealt and I’m confident I will earn a contract,” Eric Gryba on coming to camp on a PTO.
  • “I felt I gained more confidence and knowledge of the game last year. Working on consistency is the huge part of being a solid NHL defender and I felt I made strides in that aspect last year.” Gryba.
  • Gryba is asked to block a lot of shots. We didn’t see much shot blocking in the World Cup, and I don’t think anyone complained that their level of excitement was diminished because of it. I asked him if the new strategy of “going down on one knee to block shots” could be eliminated from the game?

    “From an offensive standpoint it would be great for the game. A lot more pucks would get through and we’d see more chances. It wouldn’t be good for guys like me though (laughs), It is a big part of my job description. As a fan of the game, 100% it would be better for the game. It would bring a lot more offence and excitement to the game. Blocking shots and tight defence can be very stifling and hard to watch, but it is a fabric of the game at this point. Maybe one day it does get addressed and they find a way to tweak it in order to have more offensive flair throughout the game.”

  • We will never eliminate shot blocking, but there has to be a way to limit how you block shots. I think the down on one knee approach is asinine. Too many players are getting hurt, often with broken hands and wrists. I don’t need to see RNH blocking shots like that and breaking his hand. I don’t see how that is good for the game. I don’t think it would be much to ask the league to look at banning that approach. You can’t ask them to stop blocking shots, and with more coaches encouraging players not to leave their feet, and lie down to block shots, banning the down on one knee approach might be something to look at.

Recently by Jason Gregor:    

    • Curry is Messy Eh?


      Maroon was supposedly out of shape last season. Todd M. said he would play with McDavid (pre-Lucic). What do you think the likelihood of him coming in shape to the best opportunity of his career?

      What is his upside and who suits him best?

      I think Maroon, Kassian, and Cagiulla are going to vital to the healthy/heart of this season.


      • Jason Gregor

        I saw him today. He is noticeably leaner than last year. He is 25 pounds lighter and said he feels quicker.

        I don’t see him scoring 14 points in every 16 games like last year, but Maroon has a lot of skill. He was the leading scorer or two top at every level other than NHL.

        I think he could become a 35-40 point guy. He has very good hands. He’s strong as an ox, and he can fight anyone in the NHL if needed.

        I like him with Draisaitl. Two big guys with good hands. Maroon has proven he can think game well enough to play with skilled players.

        • Moe Sizzlack


          I think 50+ pts ..

          After this season his name will be mentioned more often then Pouliot’s for the rest of there careers

          Let’s see if Pouliot and Yak can get us Vatanen again, PLEASE!

          Throw in a 3rd rd pick if need be

        • @Hallsy4

          I agree with everything you said except the 35-40 point guy ceiling range. I think Maroon has it in him to surpass this. I will be very disapointed if his Oilers career ends without him surpassing 50 points in a season. I guess I’d be ok if his 40 points include 20 goals, however.

          • Shredder

            40 point guys are nothing to sneeze at in today’s NHL – and 50 point guys are top point producers. Let’s add some ‘reasonable’ to your Oiler fan-dom…

    • VvV

      Did I read that right, McDavid and Nugent Hopkins won’t join the team until Tuesday… That seems a little long, they last played Wednesday afternoon. Is the team not skating this weekend? Does this mean they won’t be in the games vs Calgary Monday?

      • TKB2677

        The first couple of games are usually loaded with AHLers and the odd junior guy that makes it past the weekend. There is absolutely no point in Nuge or McDavid playing in those games. They have already had a mini training camp and have played 5 way, way, way more competitive games than any preseason game. I don’t see the point Nuge, McDavid or Draisailt even playing until maybe the last 2 games of preseason. It’s not like they won’t be in peak physical condition or they need to knock the rust off.

      • Jason Gregor

        Yes. They were at WC camp and have already played six games. Why not let them rest. No need to be on the ice this weekend or Monday. Why do they?

        None of their teammates have played one game. They are six games and a few practices ahead. This is the smart decision.

        • wiseguy

          I agree that they should be in game shape already. I just hope we don’t end up with the problems of the MacT – Tambi years where they keep so many guys up and play them in preseason that the “vets” didn’t get any until the last 2 games. We start our season with guys who haven’t worked the power play together or played on a line together much. Within 2 regular season games, the lines are juggled to look for “chemistry”. While other teams come out of the gate running, the Oilers were basically running training camp for the first 10 games trying to find guys who play well together 5v5 and power play, thus falling behind the 8 ball early.

          • Jason Gregor

            They will be on ice with team on Tuesday. They have six preseason games left.

            They will have ample time to practice and their skills are already sharper than rest of team.

            They won’t be working on PP this weekend anyways. They will be with the team for over two weeks and have ample time to work on things.

            You could only wish Oilers teams had as much success as MacT’s least those teams were freaking competitive every year. Not bottom three every year. 🙂

            • wiseguy

              I was referring to the MacT (and Tambi) as GM teams… those ones weren’t quite as successful, usually faceplanting within the first 15 games.

              It’s good that they have 6 games, I just hope they play more than 2-3 of them.

    • Finnish Oiler fan in Edmonton89

      Stars like RNH aren’t there to block shots (unless you’re on tortorella’s team)

      and making it a rule a player can’t go down on one knee to block a shot is one of the stupidest things I’ve ever heard

      Sounds like you’re just salty over Sekera not being able to get any shots through from the point.

      • Jason Gregor

        Why is it stupid? Has it made the game better? Was the game missing it before it happened?

        How does it benefit the game or hinder team?

        Instead of just saying something is stupid, how about have some actual points as to why it is.

        I’ll patiently wait for you to tell me why the NHL can not survive without something that as only become the norm in the last few seasons.

        Players can still block shots standing up or even laying down, so why is a position that is recently new and leads to broken hands much more than standing upright or lying down, tell me why it is needed?

        • Finnish Oiler fan in Edmonton89

          You are over exaggerating the risk of injury that comes with blocking shots on one knee.

          Just because one of your favorite players got hurt doing it, it doesn’t mean that it’s more dangerous than any other hockey play.

          When you suggest things like this it becomes a slippery slope

          next up no blocking shots lying down

          then no blocking shots at all

          then no hitting at all

          then let’s make the puck all nerf so no one get’s injured.

          This is the silliest thing I’ve read in weeks.

        • I am Batman

          For starters because it would stop the game with a whistle and we don’t need another excuse to go to commercial!!!

          Keep everything that makes the game fast and uninterrupted.

          In your proposal… Nuge goes down to block a shot destined for goal, breaks a hand, the other team goes on the power play and we get 3 commercials from sport check and they get a PPG .

          How is THAT a good idea?

          • Jason Gregor

            Do you watch games?

            You realize they have three scheduled TV timeouts each period. 15, 10 and 5 min mark. An extra penalty won’t lead to more commercials. And if players knew they couldn’t do it, they wouldn’t and there would be no reason to stop the game.

            • I am Batman

              Just as they do not high-stick, hook, hold the stick , trip or go knee on knee because THOSE are a penalty?

              If we want to stop that from the game (which I agree, it adds no value) what we need is coaches not enforcing it and players not doing it. Why do we have to assign a penalty for everything?

              I would hope that a player (and a coach) find it more daunting to injure themselves than getting a penalty. End of the day penalties are not even that much of a deal, what is the average percentage of penalty kill?

    • Randaman

      I am getting all kinds of file uploads from this site everytime I read an article. My company security software doesn’t like it very much.
      WTF?? First time this has happened.

      Getads.js, getadstatis.js,

      PLEASE FIX!!

    • tkfisher

      Those line combos were a pretty clear message that this is our depth chart. You are where you are, if you don’t like it, climb.

      Nail should probably be worried. JP was “slotted” above him and Versteeg if healthy should be a good fit here.

      I’d love to see JP start in the AHL and dominate there before being on the roster, but Nail better bring it big time.

      Shots fired on the competition front. I love it.

    • oilerjed

      The only way I can see the NHL making a shot blocking rule is if it is giving a penalty if the player leaves his feet to do it, including the knew down approach. I would love to see it put in place but I wonder how much clout the coaching union has? They would be the only ones that I could see having a problem with it.

      Sooner is better IMO

      • @S_2_H

        Coaches Union? Did I miss something?

        Lets say for argument sake there was a coaches union, I doubt they would be able stop the league from implementing rule changes, as I’m pretty that stuff is decided by the NHL board of governors.

        • oilerjed

          ok so it was more of a metaphor for coaches as a whole. And if there was a union I am sure that it would get the same oppourtunity to provide input as the players union does.

          Smart a$$

    • Both Nuge and Conner have made the team, they get a rest, it’s a long season. Meanwhile coach Todd gets to look at some of the other talent, he already knows what he has with those guys. I notice that the coach doesn’t get the time off!

    • OilCan2

      Cool stat about steady partners on D. Make it so Oilers.

      Shot blocking rates right up there with the neutral zone trap. Boring.

      How about cutting the goalie pads, blocker and gloves in half to start. Then get the refs to ACTUALLY CALL obstruction, hooking, holding the stick and cheap shots, especially after the whistle. Have everyone watch TNA video replays for a week. Have fun and skate like the wind,… whodda thought?

      • TKB2677

        I honestly don’t see Yakupov being in the starting line up and I think he’s in the pressbox in game one. The reason I believe this is as follows:

        Eberle – Is a lock to be on the team obviously.

        Puljujarvi – Unless he’s totally overwhelmed, he will get at least the 9 games all highly drafted 18 yr olds seem to get these days.

        Kassian – I think is a lock for the 4th line RW spot to start. I don’t think they resign him to be on the bubble plus playing Yak on the 4th line in a checking role getting 4th line mins makes zero sense and he showed he and Letestu aren’t a good fit.

        Versteeg – Unless he isn’t healthy or can’t play,he’s on the team and to start, he won’t be in the pressbox. The Oilers need a culture change in the room, he’s supposed to be a beauty guy in the room. They need vets that can play. They need guys that have winning experience. They need vets that won’t go “woe is me”. He checks all those boxes.

        So this has nothing to do with Yak hate, it has everything to who they have now. As soon as Puljujarvi fell into the Oilers lap, Yak’s fate was sealed. Eberle has one top 6 RW spot and it was just a matter of time before Puljujarvi is the other permanent top 6 guy. Yak isn’t suited for the 4th line. So that leaves one spot left. Ideally, your 3rd RW needs to be a bit of a tweener meaning a real good 3rd liner but can fill in on a second line from time to time. I see Yak as being a guy that absolutely needs to be in the top 6 to have a chance to succeed. I say this based on his skill set and his mental state as I don’t see Yak as a guy that can handle being what he thinks is a “lesser role” which would be playing in the 13-14 mins. Versteeg has been a utility guy his whole career. I think the Oilers have wanted to move Yakupov for a while but the trades Chia can make are almost giving him away. I think they didn’t pull the trigger because of their depth. After Eberle, its an 18 yr old, a bunch of probably AHLers and 4th liners like Pakarinen and Kassian. So they brought in Versteeg, are going to see if he is good enough. If he is, that allows them to trade Yak. It will suck to trade a former #1 for next to nothing but it sure looks like that is what is going to happen.

        • RJ

          Could Puljuujarvi play in his draft+1 year? Sure he could. Will it kill him to spend a season in the AHL? Not remotely.

          Eberle? He’s beloved by Oilers bloggers but he’s been in steady decline since his contract year. He had almost the worst production of his career last season, despite McDavid, Drai and Nuge and getting top usage from his uncle Todd.

          Versteeg has two rings. Great locker room guy. He was also not offered a contract by 30 GMs and is coming on a PTO. This could be the end of the line.
          Kassian has been underwhelming at every stop.

          Yak- drafted #1, consensus pick. Never lived up to the billing. Given no icetime, even when he’s performed. Not long for the team.

          I think Pakarinen is making it.

        • Spydyr

          I was taught to block shots with my shin pads. Sure a couple times a year you take one off the skate.Perhaps teaching kids how to block a shot the proper way is the answer.

            • Cain

              You miss my point. Not all techniques, learned in PeeWee, are practical for use in the NHL.

              Every year, we see many injuries caused from blocked shots.

              To say someone is a weak kneed wimp because he doesn’t block shots with the same aplomb you did in minor hockey is ridiculous.

              The league is debating the safety of it’s goalies as they seek to reduce the size of equipment.

              Meanwhile, armchair GM’s chastise forwards (the weak kneed wimps)for not diving in front of the same dangerous shots, only with far less equipment on.

              How does that make any sense?

    • Gravis82

      I would think continuity with the same partner matters less than being partnered with a v.good partner. Thus, until proven otherwise, it seems likely that Larrsons best season (when he played with Andy Geene 84% of the time) was likely due to A.G, and not continuity. I get the point you are making about continuity, but the level that it matters I suspect is very low compared to how much it matters to have A great D partner.

      Therefore, I am not using Larrsons last season just yet as a barometer for what I expect of him. I am actually expecting less, which is disheartening. #Oilers

    • O.C.

      I’ve been screaming this for years. Fans don’t go to the game to admire shot blocking techniques.

      They certainly don’t want their lineup decimated from shot blocking injuries.

      Change here is overdue. Players have to block because if they don’t, they get cut so the coach can keep his job.

    • madjam

      Taking the top 4 lines for forwards and same for defense shows pretty much whom is probably given best chances of making opening squad . The others look headed for the farm club . The prospects top line of Caguilla, Benik and Puljujarvi given a good look with some veterans . Expect one or possibly two to make club when Draisaitl , Hopkins and McDavid return . Taking 3 players out of top 4 lines might mean Lander and /or Yakupov might be surplus depending on how we use Draisaitl . Versteeg is a darkhorse to make club from what I see . Defensively we look like we are giving Reinhart a decent shot at making club along with Nurse . Simpson also looking like they are giving him a good shot as well .

    • PlayDirty

      This whole shot blocking thing…

      I think most of the injuries are fluke. The vulnerable spots are the feet and hands. (Though Hendricks may beg to differ) I don’t think guys are generally trying to block shots with their feet or hands but in an attempt to fill the shooting lanes, they do end up opening themselves up a bit because the have to stay agile. You’re also pretty vulnerable battling in front of the net when the defenseman shoots. It just comes down to whether or not it gets you in a soft spot – sometimes it will hurt … a lot. I don’t think it’s worth adding rules around it.