Tonight will be the first opportunity for Oilers players to make a first impression on their new coaches. Head coach Todd McLellan hasn’t shared his opinions of players with Glen Gulutzan, Trent Yawney or Manny Viveiros. He wants the coaches to form their own opinion before sharing how he views the strengths and weaknesses of players. “I could be wrong about a player,” said McLellan this past weekend when discussing his strategy.
Many players have a fresh slate, and tonight they can influence the new coaches into seeing the best aspects of their play. The goal of every player is to make the NHL team, but in reality that isn’t possible. For most of the players in tonight’s lineup, their performance will impact more the Bakersfield Condors coaching staff, Jay Woodcroft, Dave Manson and Jean-Francois Houle.
The truth is there are only 27 or so players with a realistic chance to make the opening night roster, and even some of them could find themselves in the AHL later this season.
While there are only a few spots open this season, many of the young players will be looking to make a strong impression on the organization. There are six new forwards turning pro this season: Kailer Yamamoto, Tyler Benson, Cooper Marody, Cameron Hebig, Tyler Vesel and Nolan Vesey. Yamamoto has the best chance to make the Oilers roster, but right now I sense their plan is to have him start in the AHL. If he lights it up in the preseason he could earn a spot with the Oilers, but unlike last season, the Oilers can start him in the AHL, which they did with Darnell Nurse and Leon Draisaitl once they were eligible. I expect the same with Yamamoto.
In early preseason games, usually the home team dresses a more NHL-ready lineup, but that won’t be the case tonight as the Calgary Flames’ main group is in China. With the Flames overseas, the NHL has decided to waive the “eight veteran” rule for tonight’s game. Neither team will be required to dress eight veterans, and because of this you will mostly see AHL and junior players tonight. (I explain who is considered a vet in Quick Hits.)
Koskinen will start and could play the entire game. It is smart to get him in action early. I could see him starting three games in the preseason. He needs to get reacquainted with the smaller ice surface and the pace of the game.
1. The Winnipeg Jets and Josh Morrissey agreed to a two-year deal with a $3.15 million AAV yesterday. This should speed up the Darnell Nurse negotiations. Last year Morrissey and Nurse each produced 26 points. Nurse had 26 at EV while Morrissey had 25. Nurse played 168 more minutes than Morrissey, but their numbers are very close, and I guarantee you Peter Chiarelli and the Oilers will be using Morrissey as a comparison. For the Oilers and Nurse, who both benefit the quicker he signs, Morrissey’s signing should lead to a resolution. There are other factors of course, and both parties will look at possession numbers and other things, but they are all very close.
At 5×5 last season Nurse’s GF-GA was 68-57. Morrissey was 64-56. Nurse’s CF% was 51.01%, while Morrissey’s was 51.34%. In 5×5 points Nurse had 20 and Morrissey had 19. Both had 12 primary points. Their P/60 had Morrissey at 0.84 and Nurse at 0.78. **All stats via Corsica.**
*Update: Nurse signed for $3.2 million, so the Morrissey deal clearly helped.
1A. It was very unlikely Nurse was going to play tomorrow in Vancouver even if he was here to start camp, so he won’t miss any preseason games that he was scheduled to play in. That is an added bonus for him and Oilers by getting deal done today. He missed a few a days of camp, but the four day holdout won’t hinder him very much at all.
2. Something to remember with Kailer Yamamoto: He was 19 when training camp opened, thus he is in the rare spot where if he plays in the AHL this season, and plays fewer than ten NHL games, his contract will slide. He could play four years of pro hockey on his ELC.
3. I wouldn’t worry that this would cause friction between the player and organization. Mikko Rantanen, 9th pick in 2015, is going through this right now. He played nine NHL games in 2015/2016 and 52 in the AHL. Then he scored 20 goals and 38 points in 75 games in 2017. Last season he produced 29 goals and 84 points. Now he enters the final year of his ELC, but in his fourth year of pro hockey. I believe Yamamoto needs time in the AHL regardless of his contract, but with the possibility he could develop for a year in the AHL, and then play three NHL seasons on his ELC is a major bonus for an Oilers team which will need some value contracts up front over the next four seasons.
4. Here is what is considered a “veteran” for preseason games.
— A forward or D-man who played in 30 or more NHL games the previous season.
— A goalie who dressed in 50 games or played in 30 or more NHL games the previous season.
— Any player who has played in 100+ NHL games in their career.
— A first round pick from the previous draft. Evan Bouchard would be one this year.
5. Scottie Upshall passed his physical and skated this morning. Look for him to play a preseason game later in the week. He had a slight irritation and has continued skating every day, and he passed the test with no issues this morning. I think he has a very good chance to earn a contract. He had a strong year with Kyle Brodziak in St.Louis last season at 5×5 and on the PK. The other aspect he brings is his personality. He is an upbeat presence in the dressing room. He has been in the league for 12 years and it helps that he has skated with Connor McDavid the past three summers at the BioSteel camp. McDavid knows him and is very comfortable with him. McDavid is still a very young captain, and in 2017 he would lean on Matt Hendricks for advice in certain situations. Upshall could help out there. Obviously, he has to show he can contribute on the ice first and foremost, but the positives with his personality and ability to make young players feel comfortable will be a big asset.
6. Ryan McLeod was very good in the rookie games, and he played quite well in the two scrimmages and that earned him a spot in the morning practice with all the NHL veterans. McLeod will be going back to junior, but he has made a great first impression throughout the Oilers organization.
7. The Oilers’ 10 AM practice gave us a first look at who they are planning to run out on the first PP unit. No surprise to me it is an all-left unit with McDavid, Draisaitl, RNH, Lucic and Klefbom. Lucic is the net-front presence, but there was a lot more rotation among the other three forwards than we’ve seen in the past. The Oilers won’t be stuck to just being in one spot. It works for Alex Ovechkin, but he’s a rare breed, and while the PP will run through McDavid, and he likely will be on the right hash marks often, when they set up on the left side, he was playing in the high slot/low left D spot. The PP will look much different than last season.
8. The second unit was Strome, Puljujarvi, Rieder, Caggiula and Benning. Then they had Khaira, Aberg, Rattie, Bouchard and Bear on the third unit. Some of those three forwards could be pushed up to the second unit.
9. Manny Viveiros ran his first on-ice PP session with his players today and Benning was impressed. “For the defencemen it is really exciting. He ran the powerplay his whole career (as a player) and he is a very smart guy. Today we didn’t work on it a whole lot, but he gave me a few little inputs that really made sense. I’ve been playing this game for 20 years and those little things he picked up in the first practice really helped,” said Benning.
10. I asked Benning to elaborate and it had to do with walking the blueline. Just taking a straighter line to an area, and then stopping so he is in a better position to shoot, and not crowd the puck carrier on the side boards. Benning outlined the play on the bench at his stall with his finger, and while it might seem small in writing, when seeing the difference it was noticeable how many better options Benning had from his new position than from the one he had taken previously. Small, subtle tweaks can make a big difference between getting a shot through from a dangerous area.
GAME DAY PREDICTION: The Oilers have owned the Flames the past few seasons, including in the preseason. That trend continues with a 3-2 victory.
OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: Some fans will be upset by the lack of NHL players in each lineup.
NOT-SO-OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: McLeod scores a goal in his first preseason game. And Even Polei has a spirited scrap.