It is amazing how some things change, yet they remain very much the same.
Sam Gagner is once again a member of the Edmonton Oilers. He will play his first home game tonight in Blue and Orange since April 12th, 2014. That was also Ryan Smyth’s final game of his career. It was an emotional night, and only Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Oscar Klefbom remain. The rest of the roster has been overhauled, but the Oilers are in the exact spot today as they were on April 12th, 2014.
Third last in the NHL.
Edmonton finished 28th that year, retained their spot in the draft lottery and selected Leon Draisaitl. Draisaitl is the second best player on their team right now, and a year later they added their best player in Connor McDavid. But despite adding some elite talent the Oilers remain near the bottom of the NHL.
It is crazy to think that essentially the entire roster has changed, yet this organization can’t figure out how to become consistently competitive. For the sake of your sanity, and mine, I hope Oilersnation isn’t talking about the same thing five years from now.
Gagner is extremely excited to be back in Edmonton and in the NHL. How much does he have left? We’ll see, but he’s infinitely more competitive than Ryan Spooner and he should be able to help out the second unit powerplay.
“There is a chance to climb the standings,” said Gagner. “There are years when I was here in the past where I would have loved this opportunity to be within striking distance of the playoffs. Tonight is a big game.”
I asked Gagner about where he feels his overall game is at right now, and what he hopes to add to the team.
“I feel good. I think I can complement other offensive players and if I can build chemistry with certain guys I feel I can help. I also think I can help out in the room,” Gagner said. He has five more years of experience now than when he left in 2014, and he’s endured some humbling times clearing waivers twice and playing 52 games in the AHL.
Gagner isn’t the only Oilers player making a return tonight. Andrej Sekera will play his first game of the season after a five-game conditioning stint in the AHL. Sekera averaged over 20 minutes/game in Bakersfield, had two assists, was +6 and fired seven shot on goal.
“I’m really excited. It has been a long time. Those five games definitely helped me. I played a lot and I feel much better coming back into the lineup now than I did last year after my knee injury,” said Sekera. His biggest impact might come from being in the dressing room. He is the calm voice of reason and the young players respect his opinion.
We will also see Josh Currie make his NHL debut. The pride of Charlottetown, PEI is tied for fourth in the AHL with 24 goals in 49 games. This is Currie’s sixth pro season. After scoring 104 points as a 20-year-old in the QMJHL he signed in the ECHL. He spent two seasons in the ECHL, and then played another 13 games in his third year before being recalled to Bakersfield in the AHL. He played three years in the AHL on AHL-only contracts, but this past summer he signed his first NHL contract with the Oilers. It was a two-year, two-way deal.
Currie has been grinding it out for six years in the minors, and tonight he will realize his NHL dream.
“I am super thrilled to be here. It has been a long road, but I’m thankful for that. I think it (his path) has been good for me. Not too many people got the path I do, and I’m proud of what I’ve done to get here,” said a smiling Currie this morning. He discussed what has allowed him to get into his first NHL game tonight after six years in the minors.
“Maturity is a big thing. My mental game has become a lot stronger due to the road I’ve taken. Of course I had to work on my on-ice play, but believing in yourself is a must if you want to achieve your goals,” said Currie.
While Currie, Sekera and Gagner are equally excited, for different reasons, about their opportunity to play tonight, Jesse Puljujarvi and Jujhar Khaira have been placed on IR. I’m hearing Khaira might have a hairline fracture, likely in his foot from blocking a shot.
Puljujarvi has a vague upper body injury. The concerning aspect of Puljujarvi is that he and his agent aren’t enamoured with going to the AHL. I don’t understand their thinking.
We can all agree the Oilers did not manage his development properly over the past two and half years. I’ve argued for two years he shouldn’t be here. He wasn’t ready, which is fine, because most 18 and 19 year old players aren’t ready. But if the Oilers finally are seeing the error of their ways, then Puljujarvi’s agent should give him good advice and be honest. He isn’t ready to be an offensive player in the league. His long-term development will benefit from a lengthy stay in the AH. He will regain his confidence, and likely he will rediscover the joy of the game because Bakersfield is winning a lot, and he has the ability to be a big contributor at the AHL level.
It would be foolish of him to not report to the AHL. It wouldn’t help his development. He has a right to be frustrated with the organization somewhat, but don’t let that anger blind him from seeing the big picture. He needs to play, and regain his confidence. Bakersfield is the best place to do that.
I’m perplexed why Rieder is playing with RNH. He has zero goals. He has points in six of 44 games this season. Ken Hitchcock explained his reasoning.
“Our thought was we wanted two quick guys to play with Sam (Gagner),” said Hitchcock. “I think Tobias can do a better job in controlling the game in the offensive zone. We have challenged him on that the past couple of days.”
WHAT THEY’RE SAYING…
Last time the Coyotes and the Oilers met the Oilers were two points out of a playoff spot. Tonight Edmonton sits seven points out of a playoff spot and is 29th in the league. If things keep going the way that they are going Edmonton could have good odds of getting the first overall draft pick for the fifth time in the last ten drafts.
The Edmonton Oilers have won just one game this month, a 4-1 win against the Minnesota Wild. Unsurprisingly, since the they last played the Coyotes they have made a lot of moves. Having already relieved coach Todd McLellan in November, Edmonton has since moved on from Peter Chiarelli and Keith Gretzky is acting as interim GM. They also reacquired former Coyote Sam Gagner in exchange for Ryan Spooner and traded Cam Talbot to the Philadelphia Flyers.
Its strange to say that the Edmonton Oilers are struggling to score. They have 160 goals on the season, eight more then the Arizona Coyotes for 27th in the league. They also have one of the worst defenses in the league, allowing 195 goals, tied for 27th in goals against. They do have a top ten power play, converting 22.1 percent of the time and a bottom three penalty kill. If Arizona can contain the Oilers offense they may be able to find an advantage on special teams.
GAME DAY PREDICTION: The Oilers have to win at some point… don’t they? They have one win in their past 11 games. They double their win total by skating away with a 3-1 victory tonight.
OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: This will not be an exciting game. The Coyotes will try to pounce on Edmonton turnovers. Oilers do manage a PP goal.
NOT-SO-OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: Gagner scores his first goal as an Oilers since April 4th, 2014 when he scored against the Coyotes.
Find out why so many people are using Dominion Lending Centres #1 broker in Canada.
We are paid by the banks on the size of the mortgage, not the interest rate, so we try to get you as low as rate as we can. Whether it is a purchase, renewal or refinance, contact us to see what we can do to help!
Recently by Jason Gregor:
- Brodziak’s Unexpected Path to 900 NHL Games
- GDB 56.0: A Storm is Brewing
- Woodcroft outlines game plan
- GDB 56.0: Just Win
- Oilers and Penguins: Many Highs and Lows
- Monday Musings: Chiasson, Sekera, Development and More
Source: NHL, Official Game Page, 2/19/2019 – 1:00 pm MT