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Photo Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

“Earning It”

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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  • Dex Dexter

    Not bad. Not bad. Common sense and thoughtful ideas… Everyone can have an opinion obs but when you immerse in the game and it’s future old rules sound old.

  • ed from edmonton

    I’m not aware of an example of a player that the Oil “ruined” if that’s the right term by not playing him high enough in the food chain. Last year a 19 year old was given the opportunity to play 9 games with McD, because he was the best RW in training camp. Doesn’t sound like they are not going to let players earn a spot. Had JP shown better he would have been there. I am quite sure that if a young players shows his worth he will get the chance he has earned. .

    • AlexTheOilersFanSince2006

      Agree 100%. People around here think that Kailer was “gifted” a slot on opening night. I’m willing to wager that none of them actually saw his work ethic at any stage, whether it be rookie showcase, training camp, and preseason. He wasn’t gifted a spot, he earned a spot

      • ed from edmonton

        If I get Yaremchuk’s point, I think he is actually saying the Oil should take a chance on some players even if they haven’t shown all that much, i.e. gifting is okay. As long as one of his favorite players are the recipient.

  • getsome

    Excellent points. Unfortunately, what you seem to miss is that the Oilers are counting on (praying for) these recent draft picks to blossom into NHL’ers because they have drafted so poorly over the years that their cupboard is damn near empty. If you find fans not being overly optimistic about players like Yamamoto, Puljujarvi or Bouchard it is simply because they ARE being rushed. Look at good teams in the league and they have key elements that the Oilers are missing: a depth of talent in their minor league systems because of good drafting and the ability to patiently develop those players over time. The Oilers on the other hand draft a player and expect him to lead our power play? Don’t be upset because many of us are not too optimistic about the upcoming season. Oiler management has not done enough to earn our trust and while it is often the players who we take our pain and suffering out on, THAT is the nature of professional sports. Does it seem unfair at times, perhaps but many of us have become jaded so cut us some slack and point the finger at the Oilers management team where it so squarely belongs! That is my rant!

    • Oilerz4life

      @getsome, exactly. Exactly! The Oilers’ fans have been extremely loyal year after year, ponying up and paying big dollars to see a failed product over and over. You cannot blame fans for wanting to see it done right.
      This article is lacking any real substance to back up it’s argument (rant).

      Puljujarvi found some traction on the 3rd line with Strome last year, so that is probably where we see him continue at the start of the season.
      At this point in camp Yamamoto is showing that he wants to start the season in Bakersfield. He might start to show more, but so far hasn’t really stood out. Bouchard has shown remarkable poise and vision moving the puck up ice, but needs more development defensively in his own end. Cooper Marody is showing well but isn’t going to be the one we see carrying this team to the next level. Drake Caggiula? Ethan Bear and Caleb Jones are excellent prospects, but honestly if these players were already on the NHL roster, where is the depth on D? If those are the players needing to “step up” this year and carry an NHL roster to the next level, this team has a serious problem with development. Tyler Benson is showing that he may leap frog and steal a spot! We can keep our fingers crossed he remains healthy.

      Some of these players deserve a look yes, but seeing the Edmonton roster at this point compared to other teams, even in our division, is sobering. Management has not completely done it’s part to solidify this roster. It is going to take more than just a prospect stepping up to give this team an honest chance. Looking at a team like San Jose makes that pretty obvious. Chiarelli gave the Oilers D the old band aid fix last year. We have heard this story time and again in Edmonton. There is a reason fans in Edmonton have become jaded.

  • It comes down to chemistry. We’ve seen guys (even veterans) try to fit in and just never feel quite “right.” Sorry, pal…better luck with your next team. If a kid clicks, if an undersized player can bury the puck, if rookie defender with zero games of NHL experience is better in camp than five other D-men, you have to play them. Bottom line. Whoever looks right, feels right, and just “fits” should be on the opening night roster, don’t much care if they’re a first-round pick or here on a PTO.

  • FlamesFan27

    I agree with the theory in the article. The problem is the Oilers lack of depth, which means some players will need to be playing when they would be better off in the AHL for at least part of the year. The other option is that they fill out the NHL roster with a bunch of cast off veterans, which may be the best way to go if you look beyond this year. I don’t see an easy solution.

  • After all these years (decades now), the Oilers finally have a better pool of prospect depth, don’t need to feed the young fish to the sharks (or is that literally Sharks?), and can develop and have them swimming full speed when they’re adjusted–particularly big-ice European players. Look at the Jets–lots of committed drafted players in their lineup.

  • BlueHairedApe

    To me there’s different ways a player can ‘earn it’ that doesn’t always show up on the score sheet. Is he a hard worker? Does he show gradual improvement? Does he execute what the coaches tell him to do and where he’s supposed to be? Did he he work on the things they told him to in the off season? Is he a good teammate and will he sacrifice himself for the good of the team? A spot in the top 6 shouldn’t be automatically granted to a player just because of his draft pedigree. But if he shows the commitment it takes and puts in the hard work then by all means give him a longer look there.