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Photo Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

The Mix

Teams can win by having more skill than an opponent. Likewise, teams can win by being willing to compete and work harder than the other guys. Those are two boxes that every general manager absolutely has to check off when putting together a team – no matter what the sport. When you combine both elements in the right balance, you’ve really got something.

If willingness to compete was enough on its own over the long run, Steve Staios would have been a better player than Ales Hemsky, who was often accused of lacking work ethic and commitment. I’d have Staios on my team all day long, but as good as Hemsky? No way. If busting ass was enough on its own, Wile E. Coyote – I’m dating myself yet again – would have enjoyed a heaping helping of Road Runner for dinner instead of ending up sucking anvil at the bottom of a cliff week after week.

Yes, willingness to compete and hard work can close the gap against a more talented player or team, but if that gap is too great, or if that more talented team has close to the same work ethic, that combination will prevail almost every time. Try only goes so far, as fans of the Edmonton Oilers saw all-too-often in the late-1990s and early 2000s when the Oilers would throw everything they had at the Dallas Stars, only to end up at the bottom of that cliff more times than not.

Framed in all that, I’m liking what I’m seeing taking shape with the Oilers with GM Peter Chiarelli and coach Todd McLellan at the helm. I think we saw that play out on the road in Wednesday’s 4-1 pre-season win over the Winnipeg Jets. The Oilers have not only assembled some of the best young talent in the league over the last three seasons, they left a big chunk of it at home against the Jets, who iced most of their NHL roster, and still prevailed after being outplayed early. It’s just one game, I know, but I think wins like that bode well for this outfit.

FINDING A WAY

Sep 18, 2017; Calgary, Alberta, CAN; Edmonton Oilers defenseman Yohann Auvitu (81) celebrates his goal with against the Calgary Flames during the first period at Scotiabank Saddledome. Mandatory Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

The Oilers didn’t dress Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, Milan Lucic, Adam Larsson, Oscar Klefbom and Cam Talbot, to name six key players. Winnipeg’s line-up, meanwhile, included most of their top players, as you’d expect for a home game – Blake Wheeler, Patrick Laine, Bryan Little, Dustin Byfuglien, Mark Scheifele and Jacob Trouba.

Up stepped veterans Mark Letestu, Jussi Jokinen, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Kris Russell, plus raw rookie Kailer Yamamoto, in front of some really good goaltending from Laurent Brossoit and Nick Ellis. The Oilers survived early until they shook off a late flight into Winnipeg, then dug in and won it going away thanks to a couple of power-play goals and very good nights from the aforementioned veterans. Jokinen? Looks like a find.

“I liked the overall effort from our group,” said McLellan after the Oilers ran their pre-season record to 3-0. “When you play these types of games there’s some tough circumstances when you fly in an hour before you play. I thought we got off to a slow start, but we responded and I thought we had real good leadership tonight. Jokinen, Letestu, Nuge, (Eric) Gryba.

“Those types of guys stepped up when it would have been easy for them to take the easy route. They played hard and everybody followed, so I was happy with that. We still have some pretty smart players out there (on a power play without McDavid and Draisaitl). Jokinen, Nuge, Test (Letestu), they moved the puck around quite well and they found holes to finish off. I thought our penalty kill, after the first one, did a real good job. For this time of year, to have those types of results, we have to be somewhat pleased, but we still have a long way to go.”

THE WAY I SEE IT

With another roster cut on the way, my takeaways from last night go something like this:

  • Yamamoto, denied a goal that should have counted by a bogus call he kicked the puck in, doesn’t look the least bit overwhelmed. While he needs another year to get stronger and a return to Spokane of the WHL makes all the sense in the world, I want to see more of him.
  • Jokinen, credited with a goal that was scored with a far more distinct kicking motion, is a smart player who finds a way to be in the right place. Aside from any benefit he might provide sophomore countryman Jesse Puljujarvi, he looks like he’s going to be a bargain and provide much-needed secondary scoring.
  • Jujhar Khaira looked bound and determined to grab a roster spot among the bottom six forwards. Clearly a step quicker, Khaira played almost 18 minutes, including more than two minutes (2:02) on the power play with the big guns sitting. He scored Edmonton’s second goal to make it 2-1.

RECENTLY BY ROBIN BROWNLEE  

  • tileguy

    Is there any chance Brossoit can loose his job to Ellis this preseason? I think Ellis may have caught the coaches eye and one bad game might spell disaster for B.

  • bwar

    I’m getting interested to see what the opening night roster is going to look like. I don’t feel like this roster is set in stone especially on the right side. I’m also interested to see what happens with our bottom 3 defensemen come the end of camp.

    • OriginalPouzar

      Maroon/McDavid/Strome
      Lucic/Drai/Caggulia
      Jokinen/Nuge/Puljijarvi
      Khaira/Letestu/Kassian

      Pakarinan/Slep

      Klefbom/Larsson
      Russell/Benning
      Nurse/Gryba

      Auvitu

      Talbot
      Brossoit

      Stanton making noise.

  • Big Cap

    Khaira and Kassian look like they could be a great 4th line duo with size, speed, and toughness.

    Jokinen and Nuge also look like a very solid duo on the 3rd line.

    This pairs combination set-up that Todd has been using and taking about looks very legit for all 4 lines.

  • AustinH1993

    I think Yamamoto is going to get his 9-game stint with the big boys when the regular season begins. The coaches seem to really like his game, and so far he’s looked very capable of holding his own. (Small sample size but still.) Unless he really drops off in his next few games in the preseason, I really can’t see any reason why the team wouldn’t give him a real shot to crack the roster full-time.

    In saying that though, I wouldn’t be against another year of development. It’s that line between letting a kid who’s arguably skilled enough to play in the NHL, to develop against men, or dominate against kids in junior. Either way, he will be a very good player for years to come

    • Spydyr

      As the exhibition season goes on the line-ups get tougher more and more NHL players dressed. Although Yamamoto is skilled he is just not physically ready to play in the NHL. It is as easy as that. Another year in Junior competing for a WHL scoring title and playing the the WJC is what would be best for his development.

      • AustinH1993

        True, I won’t argue that the lineups will become tougher, but last night he went up against essentially the Winnipeg Jets NHL lineup, and didn’t look out of place, or physically incapable of playing with the bigger boys. Obviously the grind of a full season could take it’s toll on his five foot eight, 155 pound frame, so it will be interesting to see how the team utilizes him after preseason. I still think he will get a 9-game stint with the club if he can continue to play well like last night.

          • Jaxon

            Fleury didn’t play full time NHL until his draft+4 season, he split his draft+3 season between the NHL and the IHL. He was passed over in his draft season and drafted after his draft+1 season.

            Yamamoto’s offence lies somewhere between Petan and Ennis. Ennis didn’t make it until his draft+3 season. Petan didn’t become a pro until his draft+3 season and still spent some time in the AHL in his draft+4 season. Same with Gallagher; he didn’t turn pro until Draft+3 and didn’t become an NHL regular until his draft+4 season. Johnson spent 3 years in the WHL, and 2 more in the AHL before becoming an NHL regular in his draft+6 season. The evidence is stacked pretty high against a player of Yamamoto’s size (he’s smaller than all these comparables) making it in his draft+1, or even draft+2 season, even with his great production (2nd most on this list). Possible? Yes. Likely? No.

            Most likely scenario based on size, production and draft range is 2 more seasons of WHL, 1 season of AHL/NHL split and then NHL in his draft+4 season.

          • Oilerz4life

            Theo was thick. Plus he played an extra year in juniors. Yammer needs to bulk up a bit. I can see 9 games but I seem to recall the Oil getting bounces around by the Ducks in the 2nd round. Let him man size in the minors for a while. Nurse, JJ, they all had to put in their time, unless you go first overall, not to many McDavid out there. Even Drai had to put in some time on the farm.

  • ScottyPrime

    The interesting thing, to me, is how their respective draft years seem to have coloured peoples opinions on Puljujarvi and Yamamoto.

    When you actually parse the dates, Yamamoto is only 4 months younger than Puljujarvi (considerably closer than the nearly 9 months between Puljujarvi and Auston Matthews). A few weeks younger on Pul’s part and he would have been in this years draft. Yam, conversely, is old for his draft year. So the two aren’t that far apart. Now, Pul is much larger, and that’s a big plus for his chance of making the roster going forward, but Yam has acclimatization to the NA game on his side, and is frankly a more cerebral player, which is clearly helping him out. Pul isn’t really dragging behind so much when you consider just how young he is and how he’s learning a lot of things on the side to go with the NHL game, but really I don’t think holding him up as a year ahead of Yam is the right thing to do, but that’s exactly how a lot of folks and analysts are seeing it, because he was drafted a year earlier.

    I see this more as two players, similar in age, but vastly different in what they bring to the table, competing for the same thing. Except one of them (Pul) can be sent to the AHL and brought up at a whim, the other is either on the roster or gone for the season. Puljujarvi is learning, IMO, but is still having a hard time getting down the finest details of the game, which has seen him miss a lot of really great chances and occasionally (not often) get exposed defensively. Yamamoto, in a small sample size, has made good opportunity of his chances, manufactured a few all by himself, and hasn’t yet been burned for a chance against. His small stature has forced him to learn the fine details at a younger age, and I think that’s giving him a leg up right now. And as for concerns about “preseason hockey”, Yam’s played against 80% of the Flames team (certainly all their best players) and the same for the Jets. Now, those aren’t particularly good teams, but they certainly aren’t AHL caliber either.

    I wouldn’t go ahead and give him a roster spot or anything, but I say keep playing him as long as he’s showing this well, and if that leads into the regular season, so be it. At 8-9 games (or sooner) if he’s getting exposed, that’s fine send him to junior, but by all means making the call right now that he can’t play the NHL game when he clearly is doing just that (right now) seem short-sighted to me.

    • madjam

      An uphill battle for Kailer , as he has to show he is significantly better than the rest of players he is up against . His size dictates it be significant not just slightly better . Strome , Cagguilla , Kassian , Slepychev and Puljujarvi not that easy to rank him far ahead of them . He is showing well so far , but the another small player in V.Tkachev also showed well in exhibition a few years back . Yamamoto more skilled and heady a player than Vlad was/is . Is Kailer’s top projection going to be higher than Strome and Cagguilla ? Early indications are favorable he might be . Maybe Oilers might give him 39 games like Draisaitl before sending him back to junior and burn a year of his ELC . If he still looks good they may even keep him up for the year . Any preseason injuries could catapult Kailer into lineup .

  • OilCan2

    I think Kailer and Caleb will each have a shot at opening the 9 game window. It would be great to see Kailer get the experience in the show. Caleb has the wheels to skate his way up the depth chart but maybe not all the way to the NHL this season. LB will stay in Edmonton for the opener and Ellis will be the clear #1 in CA and first call up which bodes well for our crease. Based on OriginalPouzar’s list (100% agree) the opening roster looks pretty solid.