The Edmonton Oilers have a depth problem. However, it is finally not a lack of depth.
Todd McLellan currently has two veteran forwards with a combined 920 NHL games of experience sitting in the pressbox. Mark Letestu has played well. He leads the Oilers with two shorthanded goals and is tied for ninth in team scoring with six points. Benoit Pouliot just played his 500th career game, and despite going pointless in 11 games, he is still tied for seventh on the Oilers with three goals.
But both have sat out for two games and after Monday’s 5-0 victory over Chicago it might reach three games of eating popcorn in the pressbox.
This is a good problem for McLellan. Every coach wants healthy competition for icetime, but McLellan and his coaching predecessors in Edmonton haven’t had the luxury of capable NHL depth for many years.
Because Pouliot and Letestu are in the pressbox doesn’t mean they are suddenly terrible NHL players. They won’t be watching from above for the remainder of the season. They could easily play a significant role moving forward, but right now they will have to wait for their next opportunity.
Putting them in the pressbox got their attention, but it also resonates around the entire room. Every player sees it and they don’t want to be next.
Sitting Pouliot for two games doesn’t mean the team has abandoned him. He was struggling. Players go through slumps, and it was obvious he was lacking confidence. He wasn’t producing and he wasn’t creating turnovers or chances as often as he has in the past.
I think it was fair to sit him down for a game, and if it extends to three, which I believe it will due to the Oilers 5-0 win last night, it doesn’t mean McLellan has run out of patience with Pouliot or Letestu. It’s more about the message it would send to the team by pulling someone else out.
No forwards were noticeably below average last night. Yes, it is hard to keep veterans out for three games, but it is equally hard to maintain respect from your players if the coach elects to sit down another player just to get these guys back in.
Coaches always preach that “It is about the team,” so to suddenly go against that and put one or two individual egos ahead of the team would be a tough sell.
I also don’t believe Pouliot and Letestu are so fragile they won’t be able to handle sitting out three, four or more games. They will be frustrated, they will be upset, but they should also be fired up.
“In a perfect environment when you sit a guy and the team does well it puts him on notice. It is nice when you have the luxury to sit a guy and the team has success,” explained Hall of Fame player and former NHL coach Adam Oates.
The Oilers have won two games with the vets in the pressbox. It doesn’t mean the Oilers won’t need them this season, it just means the internal competition among Oilers players has increased.
The days of playing poorly for long stretches without any fear of sitting out are gone.
The Oilers have a depth problem, and it’s a good one to have.
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