Yesterday, friend of the Nation, Reid Wilkins, posted the audio of Todd McLellan speaking to the media after the Mark Spector Golf Classic had wrapped for another year, and it was a much different chat than we saw at the same time last year. In the interview, McLellan talked about what it was like to bring in a new coaching staff, what they expect from the players, and also gave us a few hints about how they’ll be approaching the upcoming season, including the European trip that starts the year.
Before we get started on the hockey details that came up in this presser, I wanted to touch on Todd McLellan’s approach to charity and why events like the Spector Golf Classic that support Sport Central are important.
“For me to give back my time and whatever else I can do to help kids that are maybe (in a tough situation) have the opportunity participate in a sport, it doesn’t have to be hockey, but any sport and I think that’s really important.”
Good call, Todd. One of the best things the Edmonton Oilers can ever do is use their platform to get involved in the community and I like hearing Todd talk about its importance. Well done, sir.
“We have to continue to be part of the fabric here in Edmonton.”
On the new coaching staff
Obviously, one of the biggest news items from the summer came with the Oilers changing up most of their coaching staff. When asked about it, Todd McLellan talked about the experience that was added to the bench and giving those guys the opportunity to form their own conclusions about the team and players.
“We start with the coaching staff. Obviously, there isn’t a single individual that’s happy with how last year went.”
Understatement. Sorry, that was rude. I interrupted you. Go on. Is there something that you think went wrong?
“We probably overcoached at times.”
Hmmm… I’d love to know what Todd meant by that, and I wish someone would have asked. I wonder what kind of overcoaching went on. Too much feedback? Too many systems changes? Now that the coaching staff has changed, up I wonder how the new guys and players are going to respond.
“I haven’t shared my thoughts on a lot of players to the new coaching staff. I want them to formulate opinions. They’re all experienced, they’re all tremendous individuals and they’ll create their own sets of relationships with the players.”
I really dig this approach by Todd. He admitted that he would answer any questions the new guys have, but he would also let the newbs draw their own conclusions. That’s a smart call IMO. For guys like Gulutzan and Yawney, they’ve coached against the Oilers for years and it would be really interesting to hear their thoughts on what works and doesn’t from an opponent’s perspective.
“I thought it was very interesting to hear the opinions of rival coaches – Calgary and Anaheim – on what they thought our team did well and didn’t do well.”
I bet. There was probably a hefty dose of real talk in those conversations that was likely disheartening or tough to listen to, but I think that’s probably the best possible result they could have hoped for. You can’t fix what you don’t know is broken.
On roster competition
Looking at the depth chart and possible line combinations the Oilers will be running with for next season, it’s obvious that there is a wide open space on the right wing for someone to grab the reigns and land a spot with either Connor McDavid or Leon Draisaitl. When asked about it, Todd mentioned how the opportunity to play with such players should be extra motivation for the guys that are trying to get noticed.
“Healthy competition. Any time those spots are up in the air, if I’m a young player or an old player, to me it doesn’t matter if you shoot right or left, I want to play on that wing. I want to find a way to work my way up to that line.”
Frankly, I feel confident in saying that I could score a goal or two playing with Connor McDavid because he’s that good. I’m smart enough to keep my stick on the ice and plant myself in front of the net in the hopes that he would bounce one in off of me, so you’d have to think that’s going through the minds of other players as well.
“We don’t have a lot of time to experiment with us going to Europe this year. The young players that come in are going to have to perform and perform quickly. The old players going to have to find and reestablish their game.”
Basically, what I think Todd is saying here is that the Oilers are praying to Gord that they can find someone that sticks and quickly because they don’t have a lot of room for error here. Am I right about that, Todd?
“We can see what happens to your year when you don’t have (a good start).”
*sigh* Maybe the Europe trip will help?
On the schedule and getting a good start
With the Oilers starting their season in German and Sweden, they have to get the roster sorted quicker than normal and you could tell that Todd McLellan has been thinking about it.
“Little bit different this year because of the backend of (training camp). Then certainly leading into an 18-day road trip with Europe and the eastern coast of the US.”
I mean, that’s probably not an ideal start for a team that desperately needs a good one, but those are the cards the Oilers have been dealt and they’re going to need some luck to go along with some good hockey if they’re going to make that happen.
“That throws a bit of a wrinkle into everything. It will be taxing on the players, but there is enough rest time between games where we think we can adjust.”
Here’s hoping you won’t have to make any adjustments, and that the days and weeks leading up to that trip go smoothly.
On the Europe trip being a bonding experience
As we all know, the Oilers start the season over in Europe for the first time and while it’s a cool opportunity, being away for a couple of weeks to start the season can have plenty of pros and cons. One of the biggest pros, from where I blog, would be getting the guys together for a couple of weeks of team bonding.
“I think it’s a time to get away and create some unity amongst the team. We’re going to need each other. You have to do that as a team, you can’t do that as individuals.”
Togetherness, harmony, friendship, and all that crap is good stuff. I’m hoping this trip gets everyone on the same page.
“The best team building you can do is winning a few games at the beginning of the season. For as much as we do team-wise away from the rink, which we will, it’s what we do on the ice that’s really going to matter.”
Amen, Todd. Eyes on the prize and all of that.
On Evan Bouchard
One of the many things we’ve talked a lot about this summer is whether or not Evan Bouchard will be able to make the team out of training camp. When asked about Bouchard, McLellan took a smart approach by not trying to add more pressure to the situation than there already is.
“This is the first time for him to expose himself to the staff. We want to look at his confidence level, his skill level. Does he feel good in the play? Does he feel good in the locker room? Basically, it comes down to him getting what he needs to develop and we’ll give him an opportunity just like any other player.”
But he’s not like every other player is he, coach? This is the potential puck mover that we’ve been waiting a long time to get.
“We don’t want to put any undue pressure on him and we’ll see where it ends up on October 1st.”
Yeah, that’s probably for the best. I mean, I’m excited about the kid and desperately hope he works out, but bringing him along slowly is definitely the best approach. What’s next?
On the same team coming back
With the Oilers not having a whole lot of cap space available to play with, it was a pretty safe bet to assume that the team would look mostly the same coming back for next year. When asked about it, coach Todd said that it’s up to the coaching staff and the players that are returning to improve and make something happen.
“The offseason is not necessarily about acquiring a whole bunch of different players, it’s about getting more out of what we have.”
I wonder what McLellan would say about the same team coming back if you really got an honest answer about it. Like, I want to know what he would say if you’re having a beer with him at the Pint and he really let loose, ya know? Obviously, he can’t say anything other than what he said, and maybe he really believes that this group can get the job done, but there aren’t a whole lot of other options either. The cards have been dealt and all they can do is play the hand they have.
“Most importantly for me, it’s individuals. From your top player all the way down, finding a way to play more consistently and play more of a winning brand of hockey.”
I wrote a little while ago that the players that are trying out for this year’s team have a huge opportunity to make an impact, and they’ll need to if this team has any chance of moving forward. Coach Todd echoed that same sentiment.
“Each individual has to element their level of play, their commitment in certain areas of the game. Sometimes they’re not a lot of fun area, whether it’s physicality, sacrificing, shots blocks, goaltending, d-men and all that type of stuff. We all have to find a way to produce at a higher level. If that happens then we have an opportunity for success.”
Agreed, sir. But what happens if they don’t commit and execute at the level we need them to?
“If it doesn’t happen, we’ll struggle again.”
On Milan Lucic’s return
Has anyone mentioned Milan Lucic this summer? Probably not, right? Okay, I didn’t think so. Jokes aside, Todd McLellan was asked about his veteran winger and what the expectations will be for him moving into next season.
“We expect a big recovery year from him. He’s had a pause now. When the season ends you have the opportunity to reset. There’s no reason why he shouldn’t show up as a very confident player, one that believes that he can do what he’s done in the past, on a yearly basis.”
Obviously, the Oilers need Lucic to bounce back and have a productive season if they have any hopes of getting into the playoffs, but I want to know what the team can do to try and support that. It’s one thing to say, “Milan needs to be better” but it’s another thing entirely to have him execute on the idea.
“We’ll support him in that role. We’ll push him in that role. But he is a big piece for us to succeed. He has to find a way to be productive.”
Has ? to ? find ? a ? way. You said it, Todd.
On Puljujarvi having a tough finish to the season
For as much as we’ve talked about Lucic this summer, we’ve talked about Jesse Puljujarvi almost as much. To me, it’s strange to see how quickly some people have given up on Puljujarvi, or the idea that the organization may have him on a short leash, but that’s the kind of pressure that comes with playing in this market.
“That he did. It’s still a sign of a young player. We want to hurry him. We’ve wanted to hurry him from the beginning. We thought he was ready and at times last year where he showed that he was. Then there were other times where he fell off.”
Deserved or not, Puljujarvi is expected to produce and do it consistently, so the fact that he hasn’t been able to do that yet has caused some folks to panic a little bit. Fortunately, Todd Mclellan reminded us all that he’s still just a kid, living in a country where he doesn’t speak the language all that well yet. That’s no small feat, my friends.
“It’s hard to imagine he’s still a very, very young player. He’s such a big man, he’s a mature player off the ice, and he’s a maturing player on the ice.”
Frankly, I wish the Oilers would have been able to leave him in the AHL for a couple of years, like the Leafs did with Nylander, but that’s not how things played out based on their depth chart. That said, there is still plenty of time left for Jesse to turn into the player we need and McLellan said as much himself.
“I think we still have a diamond in the rough. I think that the belief system in him is still at a very high level. He’ll have to learn to produce on a more consistent basis, but he’ll do that over time.”
I’ve already gone on record as saying that Puljujarvi will get 20 goals this year and I stand by it. The kid has juice left and I’m feeling positive about it. Don’t @ me.
I can’t tell you guys how refreshing this presser was compared to the one that happened at the same time last year. Last summer, we spent the summer reading about Stanley Cup expectations whether they were deserved or not and it was refreshing to not have those same conversations this time year. Frankly, I’d rather the Oilers underpromise and overdeliver rather than doing the complete opposite, and I’m hoping that the decreased expectations will help with a better mental state heading into October. Obviously, there is still a lot of hoping that players will get themselves back on track and that the new coaching staff will be able to right the special teams ship, but I would much rather see the Oilers heading into the season with a little humility rather than the alleged thought that winning is easy.
What did you guys think?