Todd McLellan didn’t waste any time putting some Oilers players on notice. This preseason will be competitive and whether you are a veteran or a high-end draft pick, you will have to earn your roster spot.
The Oilers can’t afford a slow start, and after listening to McLellan last night it seems clear he will not automatically be giving his veteran players the benefit of the doubt. He wants to see them sharp and making an impact right away.
He was asked about Tyler Pitlick’s play last night and if that can put him in the conversation to make the team.
“If we can create the type of competition where we create depth and put some of the veterans on notice…there are some veterans through three days of practice who haven’t had a big impact yet, hopefully in Calgary they did, and played better, but some of them have to get going.”
If you take a quick look at the Calgary roster, it is obvious that it was all guys in the bottom six or the 13th and 14th forward spot. The veteran forwards in Calgary were Maroon, Lander, Yakupov, Hendricks, Letestu and Kassian.
Most of us assume the last three will be the fourth line, but what if Pitlick keeps playing great and one of Kassian or Hendricks struggles? What if Yakupov doesn’t get going? Or if Maroon has a slow start like last year in Anaheim?
It might be as simple as the coach trying to get players attention, but at least the Oilers are starting to have some depth players who can actually push the veterans for a spot on the roster, not to mention ice time.
PATIENCE FOR PULJUJARVI
I’ve said for a few months people need to be patient with Jesse Puljujarvi. The fourth overall pick this past June will be a solid NHL player, but it likely won’t happen this October. Transitioning to the NHL and the smaller ice surface is very difficult for most European players, and it is even more difficult when you are only 18 years old. Puljujarvi did not generate much last night against a watered-down Calgary Flames lineup.
McLellan said this about his young forward.
“He has some work to do. Let’s cut to the chase and be honest, we’d like to think he can pull through and play on our team, but he has some work to do based on tonight’s game. He has a lot of talent, he has to learn timing and space at the NHL level, how to use his body and how to stay in plays. There were a couple times he had the puck and looked dangerous, but he needs to have it a lot more and the people around him have to help him,” McLellan said.
I don’t believe this means he is an automatic to start the season in the AHL, nor am I surprised he didn’t dominate. The NHL is hard, and even though most of the players on the Flames roster won’t be in the NHL this season, the AHL is also a tough league. The other main factor is very few 18 year olds can play well every night. Even if he makes the Oilers he will have games where he doesn’t accomplish much. It is the reality of having 18 year olds in the lineup, except for the rarities like Connor McDavid, Aaron Ekblad and a few others.
I still believe the best place for Puljujarvi to start the season is in Bakersfield. Let him get comfortable to the smaller ice and different style of play, and once he dominates in the AHL, which I don’t think will take long, he can be recalled to Edmonton with a head full of confidence.
Mikko Rantanen is a perfect example. He is Finnish. He was drafted 10th in the 2015 draft by Colorado. He started the season in Colorado, but struggled in his first seven games producing no points. He was sent to the AHL, where he flourished. He played 52 games and scored 24 goals and 60 points. He led San Antonio in scoring by 15 points, despite playing 8-10 games fewer than the rest of his teammates. He had a great year of development, and I’m curious to see how he looks with the Avalanche this year.
Being patient with Puljujarvi is the right plan, and I see him starting in the AHL as a huge positive for him and the organization moving forward.
- The Oilers split into two groups at practice today. The early on-ice group consisted of players most believe are destined to the AHL, and Pitlick was in that group. Despite being the Oilers best player on the ice last night, Pitlick still faces an uphill battle. He was invisible in preseason last year. He said it when I spoke to him in June. I could see them putting him in with this group just to see how he’d react. I’m sure it will motivate and if he plays well in Vancouver tomorrow, I expect he’ll be in the lineup, and keeps playing well then he’ll force them to promote him. He has no other choice. His past struggles have him in this spot, and he controls his destiny. Play well in the preseason, and even if the Oilers don’t keep him, some other team might take notice.
- The other interesting note about the new groups was Drake Caggiula was slotted in as the thirrd line centre between Nail Yakupov and Patrick Maroon. Anton Lander played there last night, but he was on a “5th line” with Kris Versteeg and Iiro Pakarinen. Lander did not leave a positive lasting impression with McLellan and his staff last year. Lander needs to show something in preseason or I could understand why McLellan will look elsewhere for his 13th forward.
- For now, the top lines and pairings in practice were:
Leon Draisaitl and Andrej Sekera are playing for Team Europe tonight and won’t be back in camp for at least a week.
Recently by Jason Gregor:
- GDB -8.0 and -7.0: Alberta Double Dip
- Trouba trade: Can it work for Oilers?
- Training Camp: Day One
- Lucic: A new attitude is needed
- Questions on defence: Part three
- Questions on defence: Part two
- Hendricks: “We need to be a confident group”
- Questions on defence: Part one