There are plenty of reasons why I enjoy my day job at TSN 1260. First off, it allows me to talk about sports and share my opinion with an audience. It also exposes me to hundreds of different opinions every week, sometimes every day, and most of them are about the Oilers. Everyone has a right to their own opinion, but I’ve been hearing things from some fans that bother me.
I’ll start my rant with this: if the team wants to have a hope of making the playoffs this year, they’ll need some young players to take big steps forward. Whether its Jesse Puljujarvi getting a spot in the top six and regular powerplay minutes, Kailer Yamamoto making this team out of camp, or one of their young defensemen making the jump to the NHL on a full-time basis, the Oilers need a few breakout seasons.
Still, whenever the idea of a young player being thrust into a key role is being discussed, I see a large group of fans respond with something along the lines of “well that player hasn’t earned it yet”.
That thinking is in line with an older school hockey mentality in my opinion. The idea that for every prospect to develop properly they need to sit in the AHL until they have proven they can dominate there and when they finally get to the NHL, they need to “earn” a chance at prime ice time.
I’m not a fan of that. When it comes to developing prospects, I’m a firm believer that good organizations treat every player as an individual.
When October rolls around and we’re all discussing who could crack the Oilers opening day roster, I don’t think it does any good to say things like this:
“Kailer Yamamoto is too small! He needs a year in the AHL to develop”
“Jesse Puljujarvi needs to show that he can be a consistent NHLer before he gets time with McDavid or Draisaitl”
“Evan Bouchard was a tenth overall pick! He can’t play in the NHL this year”
“Ethan Bear needs to spend half a year in the AHL before they can even consider bringing him up”
I’ve heard Oilers fans say almost those exact same things, and there’s a big problem with that. I’m of the belief that when training camp ends and it’s time to make roster decisions, the organization should forget certain things and just focus on what a player can bring to the team right now.
Who cares how tall Kailer Yamamoto is, if he comes in and clicks with one of Leon Draisaitl or Connor McDavid, where is the benefit in sending him to the AHL where he won’t be surrounded with the same skill?
I don’t care how the last two seasons have gone for Jesse Puljujarvi either. The reality is that he is a young player with a ton of offensive skill and the potential to be an impact winger. Enough making him earn it in the bottom six, slap him next to a skilled centre and give him a long, honest look. Some powerplay time would only be a positive for him as well.
Evan Bouchard was taken 10th overall and to me, that’s irrelevant now. If he can run a power play and be a competent defender at even strength, then why should he go back to junior? He’s already spent three seasons in the OHL and he dominated the league last year. If he comes into camp and makes a positive impact, keep him up.
Ethan Bear has some serious offensive skill, but when we saw him last year, it was clear he hadn’t figured out the defensive side of the game quite yet. Maybe he’s matured over the summer and figures it out this season. If he has, then the Oilers are stupid for sending him down to the AHL just because he’s young.
I can go on and on with guys like Cooper Marody, Drake Caggiula, and Tyler Benson.
Of course, none of the scenarios I laid out are guarantees. In fact, I’d say that most of them are longshots at best. But the team needs to give these young kids unbiased looks. Forget their age, forget where they were drafted, and just take them at face value. If they’re good enough to play in the NHL, then keep them in the NHL.
Don’t get “good honest look” confused with “forcing a player up the lineup” either. If Yamamoto comes into camp and looks overwhelmed on one of the teams skilled lines then, by all means, send him to Bakersfield.
If Evan Bouchard proves to be a dynamic offensive defenseman, but can’t hold coverage in his own end then back to London he should go. The Oilers just can’t be locking the door on young players before they even have a chance to open it. That’s a weird metaphor but by this point, you should understand what I’m getting at.
I’ll end my rant by saying this:
The Oilers are a cap team and in today’s NHL, for teams like that to thrive, they need to rely on young talent and players on their entry-level contracts. For those players to have success, they need opportunity.
Discounting a player before the season even starts because of their size, age, or where they were drafted isn’t good for anyone and certainly won’t help the Oilers make the playoffs.
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