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Photo Credit: Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

Todd McLellan talks new coaching staff, Jesse Puljujarvi, Milan Lucic, and more

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.”

Preach, Todd.

On the new coaching staff

Jan 9, 2018; Saint Paul, MN, USA; Calgary Flames head coach Glen Gulutzan against the Minnesota Wild at Xcel Energy Center. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

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

Oct 24, 2017; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Penguins goalie Matthew Murray (30) makes a save against Edmonton Oilers right wing Kailer Yamamoto (56) during the second period at PPG PAINTS Arena. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

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

Jun 22, 2018; Dallas, TX, USA; Evan Bouchard poses for a photo with team representatives after being selected as the number ten overall pick to the Edmonton Oilers in the first round of the 2018 NHL Draft at American Airlines Center. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

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

Nov 24, 2017; Buffalo, NY, USA; Edmonton Oilers left wing Milan Lucic (27) against the Buffalo Sabres at KeyBank Center. Buffalo beats Edmonton 3 to 1. Mandatory Credit: Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports

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.

THE WRAP…

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?

  • Hemmercules

    I’m sure Todd wishes he had more to work with but those are the cards Chia dealt him. I honestly believe the coaching changes will help the team improve. Maybe not being labled cup contenders before the season even starts will take the edge off a bit too and let them play a little more relaxed. I hope that crazy road trip to start the season doesn’t derail them early. Im maintaining low expectations until we see how Talbot, Lucic, Sekera and Klef perform in the first few weeks.

    • LAKID

      Cannot win without goaltending and as of yet the Oilers do not have a starter. The arguement could be said defence but yet Chia is playing hardball with Nurse because he screwed the pooch on deals and Darnell is the player you should have signed!

    • Oilerfan1000

      With you on that thought. Talbot, or whoever ends up in net has to be good. Last year was a horrid season with respect to goaltending. When you come out of the gate and outplay your opponent, only to get scored on with the first shot on net is demoralizing. The whole game changes and you get tentative. Takes all the fun out of the game and replaces it with anxiety. When that happens bad things happen. We saw that last year. I believe it is a simple as that, as to what went wrong with this team last year. No goaltender is signed up for 2019. Wide up for someone to grab the starting job. You can’t win big without stellar goaltending in this league.

  • OriginalPouzar

    As soon as I saw that McLellan was at the tournament yesterday I had a feeling that we’d finally hear from the coach (we’ve heard from Chiarelli a few times since the season ended but I don’t think we’ve heard from McLellan since the lockers were cleaned out).

    Of course, he didn’t really give us much of substance but it was nice to hear from him.

    Anyone shocked that Stauffer asked one question and it was about Puljujarvi? My goodness that man has been on Jesse non-stop for a month now – daily on Oilers Now, tweets, etc. Jesse was a teenager the last time he played an NHL game and was eligible to play in the world juniors earlier this year.

    I fully expect Jesse to take a nice step forward in to the top 6 this year (on merit) – there is a long history of highly touted European players that establish themselves offensively in the NHL in their draft plus 3 years. Recent examples include Nylander, Pastrnak and Rattanen.

    Here is hoping that McClellan is willing to make changes in his own methods this year and will listen to his coaching staff – they all have unique skill sets that can help this team.

    One thing I really hope McLellan does more this year is line match which does not seem like a material part of his repertoire. McLellan has generally been fine with allowing McDavid to face the tough match-ups the opposing coach wants. I assume the premise is that McDavid will win that match-up regardless and it opens up softer minutes for the other lines. I get that but, at certain points, he needs to take advantage of the other team’s fourth line on the ice and take advantage of icings on the road, etc. Even double shifts a few times a game, etc.

    Anyways, so excited for this up and coming season, as always.

    Go Oilers!

    • DARYL G

      Yes Todd was out coached many time last year. Definitely not swinging Conner enough and I remember an overtime when he put Lucic out wow the other coach was just salivating and yes we lost.

  • “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.”
    That’s something nice to hear, Todd actually listening to somebody. An accountable staff and somebody to pump the brakes when Todd goes off the tracks is a good thing, that’s something Woodcroft and Johnson were never going to do.

  • Moneyball

    I’m optimistic about this coming season, however it will be tough to make the playoffs with a couple of the teams around us improving. Calgary has made some waves and Arizona will be better this year. I hope we are better than Anaheim and we should be above Vancouver. San Jose, Knights and LA could be the top three with the Oil fighting for the last playoff spot which is a significant improvement over last year.

    • DARYL G

      Not sure about either Vegas or LA for different reasons. LA is getting too old and will probably fall out by Dec. Vegas is not going to even be in the hunt, we may have over achieved 2 years ago but nothing like Vegas. Vegas will be in the Lottery Draft.

  • Dallas Eakins Hair

    Soem of the things that bothered me last year was the constant bleding of line combinations, even when lines where on a roll and the guys on that line worked well, TM threw them in a blender, which I never understood as to why they split the line up. The other thing that was an issue was the PK and PP and how the reluctance to change the system they were using when you could clearly see it wasn’t working, and this went on for 3/4 of the season. You’d have to be blind to see the PK and PP systems weren’t working, but yet there was no real effort to change them, not even to go back to the basics! We never heard whose call it was to change them, one would think that TM would have said to the assistants, “hey not working lets work on something different” but yet it didnt seem to happen which makes me wonder did the Assistants really have that much control and say or was it TM who didnt want the system change, who knows.

    There were a ton of examples of teams around the league where the Oil could have adopted some of their tactics, but it seems there was no desire not to stick with the status quo of the PK and PP. If the Oil want to gain any traction they better be able to change the system when it is not working, trying to change it after 3/4 of the season is done is too late.

    What lines will work and what wont, well we will find out soon after opening night how the lines are going to look. The other ting is TM needs to get Koskinen in games, I felt for Brossoit because the guy didnt get in many games and when he did it was usually mop up duty and it ain’t easy to come in after sitting on the bench for a month and half. The Oilers need to lessen Talbots work load.

    There is a lot of hope on Chia”s part that the guys will have breakout season, I am not very hopeful after last years team of hope that we saw didnt work out so well, but the coahing staff needs to be a lot better than last year and change up thing when they are not working, and a lot of players are going to have to step up there game to get the Oil going anywhere aside from McDavid who was carrying the team

  • madjam

    Nicholson and Chia fire the coaching staff except for Todd . Then they hire 3 to replace Todd when they fail to make playoffs again – using Todd as the fall guy . What a joke of an organization . Chia and gang still playing dodgeball from being canned (C.Y.A ) .

  • DARYL G

    Wow he thinks they rushed JP it looks like Todd is living in a dream, he gave him hardly any PP time, little time with McDavid and every time JP made a mistake he benched him. If that’s hurrying him then I am a monkeys uncle.

  • McNugent

    Things that NEED to happen for the Oilers to get back into the playoffs.

    1. Talbot needs to play like Dadbot. We need a Vezina type performance.

    2. McDavid plays 82 games. Wins a third straight Art Ross.

    3. Special teams needs to bounce back. We need the Powerplay to click. Create momentum in games instead of kill it.

    If this happens we will be watching playoff hockey again.

  • camdog

    The good thing about rival assistant coaches in the division is they already have their own opinion.There respective teams scouted the Oilers players strengths and weaknesses, they have been going over Oiler tape for years now.

  • 2centz

    I feel sorry for whoever plays the Oilers in Germany, Leon’s gonna be a handful!! I’m sure Connor will put on a show as well. Draisaitl has been a second half player, hopefully the Germany thing starts his season off with a pop, and he becomes more of a team leader while showing off his country to his boys.