The advantage of playing early preseason games on the road is the coaching staff gets an opportunity to see how players look against regular NHL players. In Calgary on Monday the Flames had 13 regulars in their lineup, including their starting goalie, top-four defencemen and seven of their top-nine forwards. The Oilers had six regulars and backup goalie Laurent Brossoit played half the game.
Tonight in Winnipeg the Jets will dress their top-two lines, Steve Mason, their new starting goalie, and five of their top defencemen.
Todd McLellan will get a front row seat to see how his team reacts to the Jets aggressive forecheck and their top-end skill.
Unlike previous seasons, there isn’t a lot of intrigue surrounding the Oilers roster. There aren’t many spots open for newcomers.
If Anton Slepyshev was healthy, there would be a good battle for a top-nine spot, and when he does return McLellan will have some decisions on who plays where, but until then there isn’t much suspense.
For the Oilers organization this must be a welcome change. They won’t enter the season hopeful some young players can suddenly carry them to respectability.
However, that doesn’t mean there aren’t story lines.
Kailer Yamamoto will play with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jussi Jokinen. Yamamoto had a good game in Calgary and they will be the Oilers top line tonight. He has shown very well and next year I expect he will take a serious run at the Oilers top-six.
Jesse Puljujarvi took a crosscheck on Monday and is a little sore. Nothing remotely concerning, but there is no need to play him banged up at this juncture of the preseason. He didn’t have the best performance versus Calgary. He gave the puck away too often in the offensive zone, and when he got himself in good position to shoot he didn’t get off a dangerous shot. He is still very young, and keep in mind recent first round selections of the Oilers like Leon Draisaitl, Darnell Nurse, Jordan Eberle weren’t regulars in the NHL at 19. Draisaitl started the season with the Oilers, but was returned to junior, while Eberle and Nurse played the entire season in junior and played for Canada at the World Juniors.
If Puljujarvi ends up in Bakersfield at some point this season it wouldn’t surprise me. And I wouldn’t see it as a disappointment. When Slepshev returns the Oilers would have ten forwards to fill nine spots. Assuming of course Jujhar Khaira, Mark Letestu and Zack Kassian make up the other line. Puljujarvi will battle for icetime when Slepyshev is healthy and healthy competition is a good thing.
**The Oilers are bringing an extra forward, and with no line rushes I’m not sure who won’t dress.***
- Jujhar Khaira is having the best training camp of his career. He scored in both scrimmages on the weekend, scored a goal in Calgary and had another great chance on a breakaway. He looks quicker than in previous years, but more importantly for me he looks much more assertive and confident with the puck. He isn’t just chipping and chasing. He has made plays. He has never been a huge point producer, with 22 goals and 57 points in 133 AHL games, and 16-27-43 in his lone WHL season. Could he be similar to Tyler Pitlick? Pitlick scored 85 points in 196 AHL games (.43 points per game), while Khaira had 57 in 133 (.42 PPG). Khaira skates very well, is physical and has more of a grind out game than flashy skill. Confidence is a huge for any player and right now Khaira’s offensive confidence is as high as it’s ever been in an NHL setting. He is garnering the attention of the coaches and so far he has been much more noticeable than Iiro Pakarinen, whom he is battling for the LW spot on the fourth line.
- My pick for breakout Oilers player this year is Drake Caggiula. He seems to be the least talked about of the Oilers wingers. I don’t understand why. He skates well, has a good, quick shot, was playing on the PK in the playoffs and as a rookie he earned the trust of his coach to play centre, despite not playing that position in his three previous seasons in the NCAA. Caggiula had a productive NCAA career, and with 43 goals in 81 games during his final two seasons he’s shown he can score. His speed and tenacity –he plays with an edge– and hockey sense shows me he’ll be able to play with elite players like Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. You need to think the game to produce with those players, and I expect we’ll see him become a productive forward. He scored twice in Calgary and was used on the PK and PP. His versatility will make him an important piece this season.
- It was only one game, but I wonder if Monday was a hint of how we might see the Oilers use Klefbom and Larsson this season. They played 27 and 26 minutes respectively. Granted, the other four D-men won’t be in the opening lineup on October 4th, but with Andrej Sekera out for at least a few months, I believe Klefbom will see an increase in his minutes. He averaged 22:22 last season and I won’t be surprised to see him around 24 minutes/game this season. Nineteen defenders averaged over 24 minutes/game last year and at 24 years old Klefbom should be able to handle a heavier workload.
- Ryan Stanton makes his preseason debut tonight. He is battling Yohann Auvitu for the #7 spot. Right now Auvitu is ahead, but at this time last year Matt Benning wasn’t with the “first” group either, but played his way onto the team. Tonight will be a good test for both Auvitu and Stanton to show they can handle an aggressive forecheck and the speed of the Jets.
- There were preseason games on Monday and we saw a total 49 slashing calls and nine face off violations. In eight games last night, there were 32 slashing calls and five faceoff violations. That is a pretty substantial drop in one day. I’ll be monitoring it nightly to see how the players adapt.
GAME DAY PREDICTION: The Oilers likely will be chasing the puck a bit tonight. Jets win 5-3.
OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: Laine scores a PP goal.
NOT-SO-OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: Khaira scores again. He continues to roll early in preseason.
Recently by Jason Gregor: