The Oilers skated on the ice at 10 a.m. this morning. They have eight preseason game and 19 days to prepare for their home opener against the Calgary Flames on October 4th.
Connor McDavid led Group A on the ice and was flanked by Patrick Maroon and Ryan Strome.
Group A skated from 10-10:55 on the main ice, and then will move to the community rink for some PP/PK work from 11:15-12:05.
Group B will practice at 12:45-1:40 p.m on the main ice and then move to the community rink for PP/PK practice from 2:00 to 2:50 p.m.
Group C practiced on the community rink from 12:45 to 1:30 p.m.
Outside of McDavid’s line the other lines in Group A were:
The practice consisted of a variety of drills, with most of them focused on offence.
McLellan stopped practice at one point during three on nothing line rushes and said, “Everyone is crossing the blueline and coasting. We haven’t scored one goal yet. Let’s get going.”
They worked on down low plays to D off the cycle in the offensive zone, and then had many battle drills in front of the net and along the boards. It was interesting seeing four one-on-one battles in unison at various parts in the offensive zone.
They left the ice at 10:48 a.m., headed for a short off-ice meeting, and will move to the practice rink for some PP/PK time.
- Maroon is trimmer, and looked a tad quicker. Speed isn’t his game, and he proved last year you don’t need to be a speedster to produce, but adding a bit of speed won’t hurt him.
- Benning and Pakarinen had a really good battle, which ended with Benning eating an inadvertent elbow. It was nothing dirty or serious, but showed two players who didn’t want to give up an inch. Coaches want that type of intensity and other players notice it as well. It elevates everyone to work harder in drills.
- The big advantage McLellan and his coaching staff has this training camp, is they don’t have to spend much time on basic system work. The players know it. Guys like Strome and Jussi Jokinen will have to pick it up, but being able to start the first on-ice practice on rung five or six of the ladder instead of at the bottom is a massive advantage for any team and a main reason why we see top teams stay at the top for extended periods in any sport.
SPECIAL TEAMS WORK…
This portion of the practice focused on special teams work. Their PP was excellent last season at 22.9%. The PK was 17th at 80.7%.
McLellan starts with a PK retrieval drill. Working on a basic get back, get the puck, win battle on boards and where he wants the wingers and other defender to be as an outlet if they control the puck. He also worked on situational positioning in the neutral zone and in the D zone, and how he wants it related to how much pressure they have in different situations. When their PK struggled last season, it often occurred when the group was out of sync and when one guy pressured the puck carrier, the others weren’t in their position to back him up and it led to easier movement for the opposing powerplay.
McLellan reinforced the lanes and alleys he wants his PK wingers and D-men to be in when the PP sets up on the half boards.
I really enjoyed watching this in the practice rink because from my seat I could hear McLellan calmly explaining how to react to every situation. Even the best players in the world need a reminder on day one of camp. The players picked it up quickly, but it is obvious why McLellan is spending so much time on this in training camp. During the regular season they rarely have enough practice time where the coach can spend 20 minutes refreshing the fundamentals of system. Of course during the year, he wouldn’t be starting from scratch so he might only need five minutes to get the point across, but so much of a successful penalty kill is instinct. Knowing when to go, when to sit back, and which areas to skate to when the puck moves up, down or across the ice.
After his explanation, they split into two groups and worked on PK position against the PP at both ends. He worked on the PP attacking from each half wall. He would stop the sequence at any point if he noticed someone out of position. I’m talking inches in many cases. Often the difference between a clear shot and being in the shooting lane in today’s NHL is two or three inches.
He had every player rotate in on both the PP and the PK. There were not set pairs or trios, just having everyone understand the concepts and positioning.
On one play, Auvitu, as a penalty killer, slid behind the net and fired the puck up the boards, it was head high and zipped by McLellan. The coach smiled, pointed to Auvitu, suggesting “don’t worry you made the right play.” I can’t say for certain how close it was to McLellan, but it was close enough to get a thankful “it didn’t hit me” smile from the coach.
Then they focused on the basic PP breakout and entry into the zone. They just rotated through all four lines, in case anyone is asking about PP units. Usually, we don’t see units emerge until late in preseason, because in the early preseason games it is rare to have the top three lines and top four D-men play in the same game.
They finished with a skating drill.
It was my first day in the rink in four months, but I found the community rink was freezing. In a month I probably won’t notice, but I always find the first day in any community rink feels cold. It’s a great sign hockey is back. I’m sure many hockey parents will agree as their sons and daughters return to rinks across Alberta. I felt better about my “softness” when I spoke to Patrick Maroon because he opened with, “Man, that rink was freezing.”
***Will update more after doing some interviews and when Group B and C hit the ice around 12:45.
GROUPS B AND C
**I had to leave before line rushes, so the bottom two might not be exact.**
Benson was skating, but he isn’t ready to play. He is still recovering from hernia surgeries, but it is a good sign for the young man to just be on the ice.
Group B had the same practice structure as Group A with two on-ice sessions, while Group C had one skate, but were not on for a PP/PK session.
It is interesting to note Mantha was the only of the four young Oilers D-men in Group A or Group B.