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Photo Credit: Reid Wilkins

Training Camp Thoughts…

A week into training camp, here are some thoughts on what has stood out to me.

The Good…

Connor McDavid is better. He has filled out, will be even stronger on the puck and, according to his teammates, he is quicker — a frightening thought for the opposition.

Ryan McLeod has been a big surprise. He has NHL speed already, and has made some really smart plays with the puck. He reads the ice well, but his speed has been very noticeable. I will be watching him a bit closer in the OHL this season. If he has a great start to his OHL season he might get a look for the WJC team.

The Oilers have a new aggressive forecheck. It will take time for all the players to get in sync, but having players be more aggressive will create more turnovers.

Trent Yawney is preaching more up ice passes and fewer D to D. I am interested to see how Oscar Klefbom and Adam Larsson adapt. Both can pass, but last year I felt they went to the safety outlet (partner) too often rather than move it up. Kris Russell was also guilty of this. Russell is very quick, and Yawney has been encouraging him to use his speed to get in position to make passes up the ice. In theory, this should also eliminate the large gaps between the D-men and forwards that we saw far too often last season. The two groups were frequently on the wrong page. Too often the extra pass would cause a forward who was circling back and heading up ice to be too far ahead of the play, and the D would have no outlet. They would force it and it would lead to a turnover, or they would just dump it out and lose possession.

The forwards will be looked upon close that gap, read the play better and give better outlet options for the defenders. Also, the D-men have been encouraged to step up in the neutral zone or at the blueline, and the only way this works is if the back pressure for the forwards is there in case the attacking team makes a play. Far too often the Oilers weren’t in unison as a group, especially in the neutral zone.

Leon Draisaitl, albeit only in scrimmages and practices, is quicker. Admittedly, I’m a big fan of his skill. I don’t think he was nearly as bad as some suggested last year. He is very excited about playing in Germany on October 3rd, and that enthusiasm will likely get him off to a good start. Easiest bet of the year is that Draisaitl won’t go pointless on the PP in the first 20 games.

EARLY SIGNS…

Ty Rattie recalled from the AHL Bakersfield Condors

It is very early, but the right wingers are producing as they battle for a spot on the roster. Ty Rattie scoring twice is great for his confidence, but he knows when he plays with McDavid he won’t have the puck a lot. He needs to go get it, and last night he was more aggressive and assertive on the forecheck. He did so last night. The goals are of course important, especially away from McDavid, but Rattie must be willing to do the dirty work on that line, and he worked on that this summer. He spent way more time on the ice and he was working on getting pucks out of corners, stripping pucks and trying to knock down pucks.

Rattie will need to produce to stay on the top line, no question, but Patrick Maroon had 42 points playing with McDavid in 2017. If Rattie can do well in the greasy areas, get to loose pucks and create some turnovers for McDavid and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, his value on the line will be significant.

Yamamoto is producing, which he needs to do. His test will come in the final few preseason games to see how he handles the size, strength and speed of NHL defenders. I fully expect the Oilers to be patient and cautious with Yamamoto. Giving him time to gain strength and adapt to playing against men will be the key.

I thought Ryan Strome looked very good last night. He looked quicker. He also tweaked his stick, so he can make more plays on his backhand. He seems more comfortable in his role, and that is massive for any player. He also understands the pressure of being a top pick (he was fifth overall) and can relate to Jesse Puljujarvi. Strome said this about Puljujarvi: “You can tell he is much more comfortable. I think people don’t realize how difficult it is to move to a new country, where you don’t speak the language very well, and play in the best league in the world. He is stronger now and he is quicker. He is handling the puck with confidence. It will be fun playing with him and developing some chemistry.”

Puljujarvi’s decision and reaction when he tried the wrap around last night illustrated to me how much more confident he is, but more so how much better he is handling the puck now that his new stick. I still believe we won’t see Puljujarvi at his best for another year or two, which is fine, because he is so young. But as he fills out and gains the strength to handle his large frame, he is going to be a load to play against. Playing him with Strome and Khaira is the right move in my eyes. He won’t have the pressure of always looking for McDavid, and he will play against “easier” competition. I think we will see him start to do more. I also loved that he got his stick up on Sautner last night. With his size and strength he can bully guys around (not fighting), and manhandle them. When he gives a guy a shot or a cross check they will feel it more than they would in the past. You create more room for yourself when you show the opposition you aren’t backing down.

It is only a preseason game, but Cam Talbot’s save last night should get him in a good frame of mind. The fact it happened in Vancouver, the same rink he was pulled in the second game of the season, and where things started to unravel for the entire team, could be an extra bonus. The Oilers need a good start, and Talbot will need to be one of their best players early.

WAITING…

I want to see the first unit PP in a game. I’ve seen them working on it practice, and the differences are noticeable. McDavid will operate off the left side much more than he has in the past. He will still be on the right side as well, but expect to see him more set up on the left side. And when Draisaitl or RNH have it on the right wall, look for McDavid to be circling near the left point or top of the left circle. There has been much more motion and movement compared to last season. The PP was very predictable and stationary in their set up last year, but it hasn’t been that way in practice.

Can Evan Bouchard and Ethan Bear play their way into the 23-man roster? Or will Kevin Gravel hold onto a spot? I think we will see Bouchard and Bear go to Winnipeg on Saturday and get a good test against some of the Jets’ best forwards. That is a tough trip. The players fly two and a half hours, usually have a 45-minute bus ride to the rink and then play in a loud building against an NHL-heavy roster. It will a great test for those two and Caleb Jones, who could go as well.

Will Mcdavid or RNH take more faceoffs? In his first 445 faceoffs last season, McDavid was only 40.4%. In the final 39 games, he took 464 draws and was 42.2%. McDavid dominates without dominating faceoffs, but you wonder what he might do if the team has possession more often after draws. He was 41.4% last year while RNH was 48.8%. McDavid is stronger this year, and he’s competitive as hell. He wants to improve and I’m curious to see how they do on faceoffs, and what could happen if his line is winning even 5% more draws. It should lead to more possessions, and the more McDavid has the puck, the more good things happen.

Recently by Jason Gregor:

  • IRONman

    Talbot just awesome. Need him like that. I believe the Oilers will surprise a lot of people. 77,6,25 and 83 are all hitting their prime years. 25 yo for d. 97 and Nuge will do damage. McDavid was almost scoring at will in 2018. Can’t wait to smash flamers

    • RobertO

      They’ll be a force this year. He’s gonna go superhuman. Maybe this is the 100 goal season. Talbot is a top 10 NHL goalie, or can be. Kosky had a rough start but I think he’s gonna turn a lot of heads. Flip Montoya for a pick and a prospect, save some precious cap space.

      • AlexTheOilersFanSince2006

        Then be convinced by this.

        In the back half of the 15-16 season, Talbot was the Number 1 goalie in the league. In 16-17, he tied for first in wins, tied for 3rd in shutouts, and broke an Oilers goalie record. Talbot has had 2/3 good seasons with Edmonton, and has played 217 games of hockey since coming here. It’s not just two periods, it’s 3 years, one of which was bad

        • Ted

          You cannot live in the past! … They are not gonna give you a Cup cuz you had potential …. The future is the key! Proven only by the hardware on the mantle! Not by team records! TEAM RECORDS, THEY MEAN NOTHING! Sixteen wins in the playoffs …. EVERYTHING!!!

  • Derian Hatcher

    Good points Gregor. I watched last nights game intently. It is obvious the new coaches have had an impact. The fore check is hungrier, and once the forwards are all comfortable with reads and who is jumping to the puck, it should create turnovers. I came up with only one negative after watching last night – and I will wait to pass judgment on this veteran player as it is only one game. I’m SO excited for the season – Go Oil.

  • Vanoil

    I was at the game last night, and saw a different game than you did. The rookie line of Benson-McLeod-Yamamoto was WAY better than anything Khaira-Strome-Puljujarvi offered. The Cannuck fans beside had a valid observation — Puljujarvi should be playing with someone like McLeod who can get him the puck and play at his speed. Too much separation between Puljujarvi and his line mates (similar comment applied to Cagguila). Strome may have looked Ok in the D-zone, but the line as a whole just didn’t work on the same level like the rookie line did, as a result they ended up chasing the game a lot. Would be nice to seePuljujarvi get a complimentary centre like McLeod even if its just for one game.

    • PJP

      I only saw it on TV but my $0.02:
      The BenMcYam line did show the most ‘fire’/’hustle’ and seemed to have the most opportunities (and, I believe, points). I really like the KhaStroPul kinda just on principle since the three seem to have complimentary playing styles.
      I wanna be a fan(atic) too and Gregor’s reported comments by Strome on Puljujarvi are likely the most optimistic thing I have heard so far – maybe Pulj is struggling still/more than we can see/hope/expect him to be.
      Finally—it is hard to assess any of them with much reliability – Vancouver’s lineup was thiiiiiiiiin! (And I am not just talking about Petterssen’s 161 lbs stretched over 6’2″)

    • bcoil

      Next time you watch a line make sure you take into account who they are playing against .Strome, Khaira,Puljujarvi where against the top lines of the Canucks while the Kid line was against lesser lights ..The test will be against the Jets or during the last two preseason games

      • Vanoil

        Actually you are incorrect. The Rookie line saw a healthy dose of Pettersson & Goldobin while the Strome line & Marody line saw a lot of Gagner and Baertschi, though the kids also saw Gagner and Baertschi often enough. But regardless there were no “top lines” from the Canucks last night, just a mix of experienced NHLers and flash players trying to make a name for themselves. Bottom line the Kids stood out while the OIL’s third-line Vets didn’t. You would think that third-line could handle any opposition from the Cannucks last night, b/c even their “top line” was barely AHL worthy.

    • Jason Gregor

      to VanOil…If too much separation is it possible Puljujarvi is too far ahead? McDavid is fastest player in the league. When he played with Maroon, clearly a slower skater, was their a noticeable gap all the time and were you saying Maroon was too slow? Puck support requires players to play close together. I don’t think Puljujarvi is significantly faster than Khaira or Strome. I didn’t see the gap you mention, but if it was there I’m not sure it is due to players being too slow. I didn’t see the rookie line do very much. Strome line cycled quite well, which led to Jones goal. We see different things, but suggesting Puljujarvi would be better off playing with McLeod, who is a junior player, over Strome at this point is something I will politely disagree with.

      • Vanoil

        Yes my point exactly. The comments from the Cannucks fans beside us was more of astonishment at how fast PJ was, and that the lien looked disjointed, where as the Kids were always attacking (and defending) as a cohesive group. Granted there were a lot of PK minutes had by Strome and Khaira, but they weren’t playing as a “unit” as much as the other line. That said they noted the same with Cagguila — often caught up on his own.

        • Jason Gregor

          JP looked quicker no question. I expect him to keep developing. I think his line to start the year is perfect spot for him. Could be a real advantage for the Oilers if he can produce there, and they could outscore the other team’s third line. McDavid will score regardless of who he plays with, so if KSP can produce that becomes a major bonus for the team.

  • Abagofpucks

    Good points gregor, jesse looks more grown up this year and more focused to me. I think him starting on the 3rd line is the right place for him, let him gain some more confidence playing lesser talent and hopefully progress to the point Tmac has to move him up.

  • Abagofpucks

    I’m excited for this year I’ve been saying all along this team will compete and be hard to play against.
    All the player’s from last year that had a bad season will prove the non believer’s wrong.

  • Oiler Al

    Talbot played solid….. the rest of the team made up of 3rd., and 4 th liners, along with some AHL’ers and Juniors, had their moments as expected.I guess that’s why the game lacked quickness and an agresssive forecheck.Russell the only decent D-man …Jones and Lowe out of sorts badly.Up front Pool party .Rattie and Kahair were pretty solid. Not ready for primetime yet, but thisMcLeod kid looks like and NHL’er. Expected more from Yamo!

  • Drinking my Oilers problems away...

    Strome looked bad getting dangled around by that new kid the ‘nucks have, didn’t look good when he fell over either and if I remember correctly he didn’t make the greatest of plays at the blue/red line carrying it out when the goalie was pulled in the last minute or so of the game. I dunno, he needs a good year. Until he can string together smart plays consistently , let alone points, I’m keeping expectations low for him.

  • daryl

    Wow what game were you watching man Strome was out of position hardly got his wingers to shine I know he will be better but he was butt ugly out there. It was his first game so will give him a pass but did you see him embarrassed by the rookie Pattison? You really need to actually watch the game.

    • Jason Gregor

      A dynamic player makes a great play and that make Strome terrible? Not how I evaluate games. I have seen McDavid embarrass Norris Trophy winners. It doesn’t make them bad defenders. Some times you tip your hat to a great play. The biggest mistake I find people make when watching a game is they see a bad play or wrong decision and remember that and if the same player makes nine solid, smart plays they don’t notice them as much. There are many decisions a player has to make in games, and when they make a wrong decision, it is expected. The game is about mistakes. Great players make mistakes too. I expect Strome to make a mistake, or in this case get beat by a crafty, skilled player in a preseason game.

      • bradleypi

        @gregor. If I could cheer this comment 100 times I would. You should copy and paste this to the 1st comment of every gdb you do this year. Well thought out and well said. Hopefully oilersnation takes notes. And my 2 cents on rattie. I’m not totally sold on him being a top line right winger. I think he got lucky to play with a hot nuge and McDavid at the end of last year. I’d like to see a more seasoned nhler there, but I noticed he was definitely edgier last night and threw a couple nice checks. And him ragging that puck at the end of the game was a thing of beauty. He took some heavy licks from the Canucks defender and stood his ground. If he continues to play that way early on he will win me over for sure.

  • Kneedroptalbot

    The Nuge should be taking all the key D-zone faceoffs, when they are both on the ice. Mick David like all young players will improve in the Dot. Caleb Jones is a special player, he skates so well. He’s earned an opportuntity and should be slotted ahead of Bear/Bouchard.

  • RobertO

    Will be interesting to see how long Kassian is in town. Replaced by the younger, cheaper Khaira. Flip him for a pick and a prospect, and save the precious cap savings.

    • jesse says yep

      If Kassian can keep up the tempo and aggression in his game he will provide valuable depth on the wing. Trading away a seasoned player to save a couple 100K $ doesn’t seem worth it to me. Penalty kills, acts as a deterrent and can pot 10ish goals. Total wildcard, IMO, that is good to have around.

      • TKB2677

        I like Kassian a lot but the problem with Kassian is he is being paid to be a 3rd liner and based on his body of work, he doesn’t look capable to be a 3rd liner. He’s not making 100k too much like you said, he’s probably making 1 mill too much. With the league going more and more towards paying big money to your stars, you can’t be overpaying your bottom 6 guys. Kassian scored 7 goals, 19 pts and killed some penalties in 74 games last year. If the Oilers got rid of Kassian and had Upshall or whoever in his place for most half the price, would they really be missing a lot? Most likely not. Definitely not for 1 mill more. Kassian would need to be killing penalties, running around like he is supposed too and scoring teens in goals to earn his salary. The chances of that happening are pretty slim.

  • ed from edmonton

    “The biggest mistake I find people make when watching a game is they see a bad play or wrong decision and remember that and if the same player makes nine solid, smart plays they don’t notice them as much.” That’s human nature, many phsych experiments haver shown that all people will mostly remember 2 events from any experience, the most intense event and the last event. So people generally remember 2 things about a player, his best/worst play and this is coupled with the last event, i.e. did the team win or lose to form the impression of a player.

    • daryl

      I have watch hockey for 60 years the eye test is still good and Strome didn’t pass the eye test and JP was much quicker than JJ and Strome. Now having said that it was Stromes first game so will cut him some slake my objection was to the author saying Strome looked goo when in fact he didn’t.

    • ed from edmonton

      I don’t see ay way that all three can stay here, whether 1, 2 or 3 go remains to be seen. Having some real competition for roster spots is something that the Oil haven’t had since, ….. well it been a long time.

  • OilCan2

    Nurse said his bridge deal will keep him hungry. I agree and think we have two solid pairings on top. The last D slot may go to Bouchard based on AHL no go status. Same with the goalies. Koskinen no waivers but Montoya has to clear. The new coaches look good and I agree JG lets see a mobile PP next game.

  • Kassian looks fed up, and the Oilers way that people want him out of town when value is at a low. I would like to see him up with Conner and Nuge, just for a game and I think you would see a different player. I have always liked a enforcer type on the same line to protect. He has the wheels to keep up.

    If they trade him please out of conference. As a fan base I just wish we would watch games and judge by effort. I look at the schedule to start the season and I can’t remember a tougher start.

    • BlueHairedApe

      He can be a frustrating player sometimes for sure. Last year there’s no doubt he under performed but so did 75 percent of the rest of the team. Hoping he can bounce back like the others and be the same player as he was 2 years ago. Maybe last night he was just sending a message to the canuckleheads and preseason is a great time to do that. I’m going to wait for regular season to see where he’s at.

      • bradleypi

        @bluehairedape. The only message he was sending on that penalty was that he was mad he got wrestled to the ice in the corner seconds previous. The same retaliatory garbage he was doing last year. I also hope he returns to the player he was 2 years ago but if it doesn’t happen soon, it definitely won’t happen in oiler silks.

    • Bills Bills

      We are talking about a guy that has never been able to live up to expectations. When that consistently happens, maybe the expectations are just too high. He is a bottom six forward that can skate.

    • Big Nuggets

      I would be willing to try Kassian with Nuge and McDavid, maybe only for one period. He can do all the dirty work, crash the net, dig in the corners, intimidate the defensemen. McDavid and Nuge are both good at picking off passes and Kassian on the forecheck might make the defence cough the puck up. In theory I like it but who knows how it would work. At the very least it would get Kassian’s head in the game.

    • bradleypi

      You seriously think that the solution to him taking bad penalties is to promote him to the first line??? Lol. That’s just crazy. I bet if we were in the regular season right now, he wouldn’t even be playing the next game after that idiotic penalty he took the other night. He was playing like a fourth liner last year so thats where he should stay until he proves otherwise.

      • Big Nuggets

        You’re thinking about what he deserves, but if you think of how to get him to pick up his game a quick stint with some skill players might help. It’s an idea, there are many other ideas to try before this one but the season is long.

  • Bills Bills

    I think the power play will be a lot better when they abandon that defensive drop pass. It is one thing when you are dropping it to CMD and he can back off a whole team that attempts to block the neutral zone. But when they drop it back and the rest of the team is standing there waiting for one guy to carry it all the way in, they are coughing it up at the blue line. It seems to be the easiest zone entry ever to defend against.

    • bradleypi

      I disagree. Klefbom executes that play very well. It wasnt even the real team out there lol. Give the new coaches at least one regular season game before we firethemall!!

    • Jason Gregor

      Bills Bills…curious why you think this? The one thing the Oilers PP was great at last year was zone entries. The drop pass did not hinder them at all. Once they were set up it fell apart, but entering the zone was the best part of their PP.

  • I am not saying gift the wing position to Kassian. I am saying I would like to see him tried their. Who would like to see fight in the corners for dumps. I watch a lot of Oilers hockey and can’t remember him getting a shot. Remember it is pre season let’s see?

  • CaptainCanada94

    I agree Gregor, Pulju on Strome’s line is the right place to start the year. I also think it is important for Pulju to get 2nd unit powerplay time as a triggerman.

  • Opi

    Gregor, bud … love your articles but this was over-the-top fluff … I get it, after years & years of negativity you also want something better but throw some realism in to counter balance please … let’s talk after October is completed, shall we …

    DEVILS
    BRUINS
    RANGERS
    JETS
    Bruins
    Preds
    Pens
    Caps
    PREDS
    HAWKS
    Wild

    CAPS denote road games …

  • Jason Gregor

    So your point is to write the Oilers have a supposedly tough schedule. Nothing before then matters. The fact they are trying a new PP formation, a new forecheck system and a different PK means nothing. Only the schedule. Gotcha.

  • TKB2677

    OPI, what hard hitting articles are you expecting to see 1 week into training camp? The majority of what they have done for that week is PRACTICE. So Gregor comments on guys looking faster, in good shape, handling the puck better and you complain because you call it fluff. What the hell is any media guy supposed to write about 1 week into camp? No team has played a single “real” game yet. Having a couple of NHL regulars go up against junior guys or at best AHLers means jack squat.

    Do we all really need to read another article about the questions marks when it comes to the Oilers defense or right wing 1 week into camp? From when the NHL season was over, 5 months of those articles wasn’t enough for you? I have the same questions about the Oilers right wing and defense but after 5 month of the same article, call me crazy but I am OK with at least waiting longer than 1 week into camp and maybe letting them play some actual real games before I start carving them up again.

  • Opi

    OK, obviously can’t talk about the Oilers making any type of significant roster improvements with Chia sitting on his hands adding only Brodziak & Reider so that leaves you with systems to write about. It’s pre-season & we are all waiting impatiently for meaningful hockey again so maybe should have cut you a little more slack but maybe I should have been from Missouri, the show-me don’t tell me state … I honestly believe there is as much a chance of a repeat of last season as anything else this year from those Oilers … is it October yet … ?

  • Oilfan_81

    OPI, Spilly, Macey, whoever you are this week. I’m sure there must be an article over on Flames Nation talking about the goalie situation in Calgary that should probably peak your interest. From what I saw yesterday morning and in the game against the Oilers, it’s not looking too good right now. Go have pre-season discussions about the team you actually cheer for.