The Edmonton Oilers and Carolina Hurricanes will both dress rosters compiled mainly of NHL players tonight. Their rematch on Wednesday in Saskatoon will have less of an NHL flavour, but tonight fans going to the rink will watch the most NHL-ready lineups of the pre-season.
The pace will be quicker, players will be stronger on the puck and, with Oilers veterans knowing tonight and Saturday’s tilt in Vancouver will be the final two preseason games with NHL rosters, their focus and attention to detail will increase.
Todd McLellan will give Jesse Puljujarvi a boost by playing him with Connor McDavid and Patrick Maroon.
It is amazing to read people’s evaluations, both positive and negative, of a player after a preseason game and how much it can sway from being good to struggling. Before Saturday’s game, Puljujarvi had only played one preseason game, and he didn’t stand out. He didn’t dominate, but he didn’t embarrass himself either. It was just an uneventful game for him.
Prior to Saturday’s third period outburst, Puljujarvi hadn’t produced much offence, but a deft touch-pass to send McDavid in alone gave him some confidence. Then he found himself in the right spot at the right time — a smart play — and scored twice. He is extremely young, and you could see his confidence explode after scoring. He desperately wants to succeed and like many other young players likely puts too much pressure on himself at times. His biggest challenge will be playing with more structure in his play. His ability and desire are there, but playing within a structure is difficult for many young players.
The interesting factor is McLellan didn’t move Puljujarvi up to the top line to get him going, he removed Ryan Strome from McDavid’s wing to try and get him going. The moved seemed to help both players. Strome looked more comfortable with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jussi Jokinen and I won’t be surprised if we see different line combos throughout the regular season.
We rarely see trios in today’s NHL. Usually coaches stick with duos. Some trios can last for 30-40 games, but line juggling occurs often because coaches are looking to ignite offence, or to try and remove a player from a funk.
Tonight, Puljujarvi will look to build on his confidence and increase the competition on the right wing.
Unsure of the third pairing, but we know for sure Fayne is in. Todd McLellan wants to see Ryan Stanton, but he still isn’t ready after blocking a shot in Winnipeg last week.
- “Bill must have been bored because he phoned me real early in August and he was planning his lineup,” joked McLellan this morning. “That shows his work ethic. He’s a great coach and a good friend but he talked about maybe a little bit of a stronger (team) here and then some of the younger kids in Saskatoon. So, we built our lineup around that shared conversation. We look forward to that, we need some good competition to push and perhaps this will be as good as we’ve seen,” said McLellan.
- Thing I didn’t know: Jesse Puljujarvi moved away from home at 13 and he lived in his own apartment while he went to school and played hockey. “It was good. About 15 of us lived in the building. We had parents come every few days and make meals.” Puljujarvi grew up in a small Finnish town and he had to move to play more competitive hockey. Imagine being a parent and having your 13-year-old move away from home and live on his own — that’s just as tough as being the teenager on his own. The difference is most of us as teenagers thought we were mature enough to handle it. Puljujarvi really enjoyed it “I had many good friends. It was a lot of fun.”
- I like the Oilers plan and thinking with Kailer Yamamoto. He has played well. He’s been more than they could have expected, but it doesn’t change their developmental plan. He will be going back to the WHL and that is best for the player. He is very skilled, excellent at getting his stick on loose pucks and has a noticeably high on-ice acumen. He just isn’t physically ready for the NHL. One final note on comparisons to Johnny Gaudreau: Gaudreau never entered the NHL until he was 21 and he had three seasons of college where he had ample time in the gym to get stronger. Strength is much more important than weight, and as Yamamoto gains more strength he’ll benefit even more.
- Thankfully the term “Stick to Sports” likely won’t be uttered anytime soon. Sports is a great example of how people can be united where race isn’t a factor. Just look at a crowd at an Oilers game and see numerous races, all cheering for the same outcome and often high-fiving and cheering one another regardless of skin colour. Hopefully one day we see it in our society at large, but it won’t be easy, and we will never completely eliminate it. But having conversations about it can only make people more aware. I will say I was most amazed at the lack of awareness by the Pittsburgh Penguins. Why did they feel the need to announce yesterday they were going to the White House? A white organization, proudly stating they will go visit a white President who has made numerous racist remarks — not a great look.
- I sense for some it seems sports, the flag, the anthem and patriotism have become united. I believe there are many forms of patriotism, and being in the military, while incredibly admirable, is not the only one. They don’t play the anthem before movies, not even great war movies which focus mainly on the massive sacrifice of those depicted in the film. No one says don’t start the movie until the anthem plays. It is great to play the anthem at sports, but I think we have to recognize there are many other patriotic acts, symbols and people outside of the anthem, flag and the military. This is no disrespect to people of the military, far from it, I just don’t believe the flag or anthem is primarily about the military. Many non-military people have been equally patriotic.
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GAME DAY PREDICTION: It will be the fastest game of the preseason. It will be quicker and we’ll see more battles. Oilers win a close game 4-2.
OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: There will be no shortage of discussions and opinions on the rotation of the right wingers.
NOT-SO-OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: Lucic scores a goal. He didn’t want to be the only top-nine forward without a preseason goal and hear the concern about him starting the season in a slump. Preseason prognostications can escalate quickly I’ve noticed. We haven’t had hockey in three months so everyone is amped up to evaluate every play.
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