We are in the dog days of the preseason. Tonight’s matchup will have very little resemblance to an NHL game. The Vancouver Canucks veterans are in China playing the Los Angeles Kings, so tonight’s roster for the Canucks/Utica Comets doesn’t even match the criteria for an NHL preseason game. Usually, a team has to dress a minimum of eight veterans, who have played 30 games the previous season or 100 in their career. 2017 first round picks would also be deemed veterans.
The Canucks had three NHL “veterans” in their lineup versus the Flames: Goaltender Richard Bachman and forwards Jayson Megna and Michael Chaput. They have a combined total of 285 NHL games. In 238 games, Chaput and Megna have produced 16 goals and 36 points. Brock Boeser, their leading scorer with four preseason goals, isn’t playing tonight either.
The entire Canucks roster has just over 400 NHL games played and a total of 28 NHL goals.
I understand why the NHL is allowing this, because they asked the Canucks and Kings to disrupt their training camp and go to China, but it will difficult to assess the play of any Oilers player against a lineup void of any top-end NHL talent.
Eight preseason games is too many. Every coach and player agrees. The only reason they play eight is to make more money, at least for Canadian markets and strong ones in the USA. Teams like Carolina, Arizona and others play most of their games on the road. Carolina is the home team versus the Oilers next week in a game in Saskatoon.
The truth is teams don’t need eight games to evaluate players. The veterans want to play four games at the most and if they eliminate two preseason games, then players who are in camp but don’t have a realistic chance of making the team this year or in the future, simply wouldn’t get to play their one game. It might sound harsh, but it’s the truth. Many players in exhibition games will never play a regular season game and some aren’t even regulars in the American Hockey League.
On Monday night after the Oilers were up 3-0 on the Calgary Flames’ mainly AHL roster, the players basically stopped trying. Todd McLellan didn’t use his top PP unit late in the first period and players on the bench knew what that meant. They aren’t oblivious to the situation. The Winnipeg Jets had a veteran laden lineup dressed on Wednesday, but many of them didn’t break a sweat. I’m not sure Dustin Byfuglien did one stop-and-start, opting for the looping turns every time. I don’t expect veterans to go all out in meaningless games. If season ticket holders weren’t forced to pay for preseason games with their season tickets, I guarantee you there would be fewer than 5000 people in the rink for the early preseason games.
The game can still be entertaining and tonight is a game to watch for excitement. If an Oiler lights up the Canucks, it will be good for his confidence, but it is very difficult to see how it connects to NHL competition.
I doubt the eight game preseason changes anytime soon, but based on the Canucks roster it will be difficult to make any accurate “NHL” evaluation of an Oilers player. McLellan will be watching more for how his players are playing within the structure. Are they in the right spot? Can they get to the spot on time?
- Anton Slepyshev skated with “Group A” this morning. After the skate he said he is feeling much better, around 80%, and is hoping to get into one of the final two preseason games, but it depends what the doctor says. He injured his ankle in an off-ice training session, tweaking his ankle when he was doing some jumps. When he his healthy Todd McLellan will have his first difficult decision of camp.
- Ryan Stanton blocked a shot in Winnipeg and won’t play tonight. He and Yohann Auvitu are battling for the #7 spot and the coaches would like to see more of Stanton.
- Tyler Benson skated with the “B Group” this morning. He is looking better every day, but the Oilers are being extremely cautious with him. He is recovering from hernia surgery and after only playing 33 games last season and only 30 the year before, they won’t let him return to the WHL until their doctors give him the green light. He needs to play and until he is 100% I wouldn’t let him leave the watchful eye of their doctor.
- Yamamoto is playing tonight and there is a good chance he’ll play tomorrow as well. McLellan would like to see how he reacts in a back-to-back situation, plus it will be good for the young forward, who turns 19 next Friday, to experience back-to-backs against pro players. He has played back-to-back a lot in the WHL, but everything is more difficult as you climb the ranks.
- I had a great conversation with Drake Caggiula this morning. He grew up in Whitby and played lacrosse until he was 16. He loved it and felt it really helped him in many areas of hockey. He isn’t an overly big guy, but in lacrosse when you cut through the lane with the ball you have five defenders hacking and whacking you. He said it helped him become fearless on the ice. We also discussed Milan Lucic stating he sees comparisons in his style of play to Lucic’s former linemate Brad Marchand. You can hear the interview today at 2:20 on TSN 1260.
- Iiro Pakarinen ripped a shot off Cam Talbot’s collarbone in practice this morning. Talbot wasn’t happy. He hammered his stick over the crossbar right after, but was fine later on. Pakarinen rung one off the crossbar later in practice with Talbot in net. I guess he likes going top shelf. In a drill on Wednesday both nets were moved into the same end and lined up along the boards by the circles. Two coaches lined up with pucks at the top of each circle, and the players were in one corner. The first shooter would exit the left corner and skate towards the opposite net (along the boards) and receive a pass and one-time it on Talbot. The shooter would stop, go back across the ice towards the other net and receive another pass and one-time it on Brossoit. In that drill Pakarinen ripped one high off of Talbot as well. Head coach McLellan saw the shot, looked at Talbot and shook his head. High shots happen during the course of the season, but that many in a few practices from Pakarinen won’t have him in Talbot’s good books this week.
GAME DAY PREDICTION: Oilers win 5-2.
OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: Caggiula scores again and continues his hot start to the preseason.
NOT-SO-OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: During the usual crowd panning on the big screen (which occurs far too often for my liking, instead of replays or things to rev up the crowd), a guy looks up, sees he is on the big screen and lifts up his Jersey to show off one of the new kick ass City of Champions NationGear shirts.
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