Todd McLellan has cut down his roster much quicker this preseason than in previous years. He also has kept his lines pretty much the same since the start of training camp. Both decisions were made with the expectation it will help the Oilers get off to a better start. He has kept an open mind about competition, however, and that’s why Kailer Yamamoto has moved up to the right wing on Leon Draisaitl’s line. Yamamoto has four goals, added two assists and has routinely caught the attention of the coach staff, mainly for his determination to consistently go to the scoring areas around the net.
One of the biggest questions heading into training camp was the Oilers right wingers, but so far, and I know it is only preseason, the young right wingers have been very good.
Ty Rattie has 4-3-7 in two games. Yamamoto has 4-2-6 in three games while Jesse Puljujarvi has 2-0-2 in three games. They are top-three among active Oilers in shots on goal with eight, eight and thirteen respectively. (Cooper Marody had nine in three games). Rattie worked on his conditioning a lot this summer and has come to camp determined to take advantage of a wonderful opportunity alongside Connor McDavid. Puljujarvi looks much more confident with the puck. But he credits all of his success to being faster. “I am quicker. It all starts with skating,” he told me this morning. Meanwhile, Yamamoto has willed his way into the top-six conversation by using his smarts and tenacity to go to the blue paint consistently.
We can’t overvalue preseason scoring, but we also can’t completely dismiss it. Young players can gain confidence. During our conversation yesterday, Puljujarvi said numerous times his confidence is much higher. He has also shed ten pounds, but said he is stronger. It is clear he put in a lot of work this summer. It is rare to see a player of his size sporting a six pack, but he is. (If Baggedmilk gets a picture of him, he will likely post it more often than he does Klefbom’s. God help us.)
The challenge for these players will be to carry their confidence into the regular season. Of course they aren’t going to produce at the rate they are right now, but if they can all chip in the Oilers right wing won’t be nearly the concern it was when training camp began. It is very early, but so far the signs from the right side have been very positive from their younger, and mainly unproven wingers.
Chiasson was scheduled to play in Winnipeg, but he came down with the flu and didn’t play. So he will slide in on the 4th line tonight. Jerabek needs a better performance. He has struggled.
**The Canucks lineup could change.** I’m excited to watch Pettersson in person. He can dangle. Fellow Swede Adam Larsson was really impressed by him last spring. “I went home and watched the League Final (SEL). I’ve never seen a player dominate that league like he did. He is very skilled, and he has a very good shot. The NHL will be a big challenge for him, but he is extremely skilled,” said Larsson.
1. I spoke with Kevin Woodley of In Goal Magazine about Mikko Koskinen. First I asked about the reports that Koskinen plays with his hands too low. Is it accurate and if so how long would it take for him to adjust?
“It’s not a flip the switch and go. in terms of stance there’s a comfort level there, and most times it takes time to make an adjustment. And with Koskinen, I’m not sure I’d agree with the reports about his hands. Looking at the tape, he’s not keeping it excessively low. He’s 6’7, I mean there are goalies who keep their glove up high. The prototype is Henrik Lundqvist, he holds the glove almost at his shoulder. You talk to him and that adjustment for him was very much about taking away that visual. They look and see the glove, and won’t shoot high glove, but Lundqvist is barely six feet tall and plays on his goal line. If Koskinen holds his glove shoulder height, it’s not even in the net. I’m not sure this is an adjustment Mikko needs to make based on the goals he’s given up. His hands appear active; sometimes he leaves them behind a little bit but certainly not all the time, and I think that will improve as his tracking improves. The goals he’s given up have mostly been low, just over the pads which is where shooter’s shoot to score in this league. “
2. I asked him if he would play Koskinen or Montoya on Thursday?
“I would think you’d give it to Koskinen and give him a chance to continue to improve, because you know what you have in Montoya. And the thing with Koskinen is, there was already improvement there. You talked about two goals in the first game, the Dube goal hit something on the way in, he’s not perfectly square to it, I don’t like the way he doesn’t stay square as he tracks across the middle, but a guy cutting through the slot is a tough play and it hit something on the way in. The one that stunk was the one off the goal line, and that was a stick positioning issue and if you watched him last night, he corrected it. This is something that is going to be a big adjustment, and it appears he’s making it already. They’re not chucking junk at the net from below the goal line in Russia, it’s just not how they play. Everything is east/west with lots of passing and then shoot. He made the mistake in Calgary, but Sunday night his stick was in front of him to seal that play and break up passes. He’s already making adjustments, there’s a growth and I’d give him another chance to grow because you know what you have in Montoya.”
3. Is Koskinen taking advantage of his height when in the butterfly?
“To me, as long as he keeps those hands active then he is okay. He’s not the widest guy, and the equipment restrictions are different in the KHL. I’m not saying he was wearing the biggest of the biggest, but here it’s sized to fit. He’s not broad shouldered, he’s going to need to keep his hands active when he’s down to cut off vertical pucks. To me, its more about sitting down in your stance and making yourself small that way. Forward tilt will cut off puck trajectory as long as you don’t sit down underneath it and lower yourself too much. A lot of people think straight back is making yourself big, but from a trajectory standpoint, you’re really not. A lot of times when you pull your shoulders straight back you’re actually pulling yourself away from the puck, and opening net over your shoulder versus a bit of a lean and tracking into that puck. It also has a tendency to pull your hands back and open some of those seams under your arms. And as a big goalie, the holes in those seams are a lot bigger. If goalies really understand puck trajectory and modern tracking philosophy, that’s not what we want in a goaltender. I wouldn’t want people to think he needs to be straight back and straight upwards because that’s actually the opposite of the way things are going.”
4. I love speaking with Woodley because he explains the goaltending position very well. When you watch Koskinen next game watch how he plays the “junk” shots from bad angles, and if he is leaning forward instead of backwards. The aggressive goalies, like Jonathon Quick, are always leaning forward.
5. Yesterday Leon Draisaitl announced a $150,000 donation to support WE in Alberta and Hockey Helps Kids. It is an eight-year pledge for Draisaitl to donate $150,000 annually to local charities. Good for him to give back to kids in Edmonton. **WE is a group of organizations that supports more than 7,000 local and global causes. The aim is to bring people together to give them the tools they need to change the world.**
6. “This game is so much about confidence and telling yourself you deserve to be here and you can play with NHL players on a daily basis,” said Ty Rattie. “Points are nice, but I feel like I’m contributing and that is the biggest thing. I feel I’ve finally learned how to contribute without getting on the scoresheet,” continued Rattie.
7. The Oilers are being cautious with Ryan Strome. He skated today and said his groin felt fine after the skate. He tweaked it in Winnipeg and didn’t skate yesterday. He doesn’t feel it is serious. “I really want to play and keep gaining chemistry and momentum with our line. I feel we have gotten better every game,” said Strome. He hopes to play in one of the next two home games before flying to Germany.
8. An interesting quirk to start the NHL season. The Oilers do not play a Pacific Division opponent in the month of October (11 games), while the rest of the division will face each other. Anaheim has five games against Pacific Division foes, Vancouver has four, Arizona and San Jose three, Calgary has two while LA and Vegas each have one. In fact the Oilers don’t play a PD opponent until their 19th game, in Calgary on November 17th.
9. Over the past two seasons the Oilers are 36-17-5 against the Pacific. They are 12-17-3 v. the Metro, 15-15-2 v. the Atlantic and 20-17-5 v. the Central. In their first 18 games this season they play Metro teams five times, Atlantic six times and Central opponents seven games. Ten are on the road and eight are at home. They only play one set of back-to-back games and they have four days between games once, three days once and two days three times. Despite traveling to Germany and Sweden to start, the Oilers do get a fair amount of rest during their first 18 games.
10. If I’m reading the tea leaves correctly I think Mikko Koskinen will be the backup to start the season. Montoya has played only 20 minutes over the first five preseason games.
GAME DAY PREDICTION: Oilers win at home 5-2.
OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: McDavid’s line combines for 7+ points.
NOT-SO-OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: Milan Lucic scores in his second consecutive preseason game, which leads to comment section being excited about his production, but also filled with detractors saying “It is only preseason.”
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