Glen Gulutzan ran the Oilers powerplay last season and he will be in charge of it again this year. Edmonton was ninth on the PP at 21.3%, scoring 47 goals on 222 opportunities. They were 25th in PP chances last season and over the past three years only Columbus has had fewer chances. The Oilers powerplay should be good with Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl running it, but if the team can find a way to draw more penalties the PP could become a much bigger weapon for the Oilers.
If they have the puck more at 5×5, and force teams to defend more, in theory they should eventually draw more penalties. Regardless of how many powerplays they have the Oilers PP must remain a consistent threat if the Oilers hope to be in the playoff hunt on March first.
Glen Gulutzan joined me on my radio show on TSN 1260 and much of our conversation focused on the powerplay. You can listen to all of it here.
Today I wanted to focus on our powerplay conversations.
Gregor: Being a former head coach yourself and when you welcome in a new assistants coaching, how did you approach that? How has it been with Dave and how many meetings has the staff had with Tippett this summer?
Gulutzan: I do go back with Tipp to the Dallas days. We never worked together or anything like that. I was coming in and we overlapped for about a month when he went out. So we knew each other.
The common thread there for me is Jim Playfair, who if you go way back in the Calgary organization, I was their affiliate in their East Coast League and Jimmy was the head coach of the Flames, so we had a relationship over a long period of time.
So it’s going to be a pretty easy transition just knowing those guys. But the one thing I’m learning about Tipp right away is that he is a real good communicator. We’ve talked on the phone three or four times about different things, especially the power play and different thoughts like that. So everything that’s kind of going on, Tipp always keeps you abreast on.
Gregor: Dave’s told me you’re going to be running the power play again. The power play finished ninth last season. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say McDavid, Draisaitl and Nugent-Hopkins are going to remain on your power play. [Darnel] Nurse and [Oscar] Klefbom both played there last year, so do you give both of them an equal opportunity this year or is there one that you’re leaning to?
Gulutzan: You know what, no. There isn’t at this point and if you look at everything we have now (stats and video) — what we did last year, as far as who generates more, how do we generate, do we score more with who on the ice, more than just the eye test — all of these analytics, they break down everything, how many chances we’re getting and all of that kind of stuff.
It’s really close to call, so the beauty of that is it is a little bit of a carrot in the fact that if one guy is really going or playing well you can give him more and he’s feeling it.
And the other guy, if he isn’t, you can interchange the two because they’re both great guys and they don’t have egos in that matter. So you don’t have to deal with that. We didn’t have to last year and we’re not going to have to deal with it this year. But they both would like to play, like anybody it’s a privilege to play on it. But it’s so close that you can get guys at their best when you do get on it, you just have to watch it. Because they’re that close in calibre.
So they’ll both get a chance, but we’re also looking at some of these young players who are coming in too. We have the young Swedish kid [Joel] Persson that everybody is excited to see and we’ve heard tremendous things, not just our organization, but other organizations on this was a young man that a lot of people wanted to have on their hockey team. So it’s going to be interesting to see how the transition for him goes.
(Klefbom and Nurse have different skill sets on the powerplay. Nurse will start the season paired with Adam Larsson and be a shut down pair and on the PK. I wonder if that will limit his PP time, while Klefbom is going to be paired with one of Matt Benning, Joel Persson, Caleb Jones or Ethan Bear most likely, and play less difficult opposition.)
Gregor: What do you like about Persson specifically as a power play guy, what does he do well?
Gulutzan: He’s got a bomb, he’s a right shot and he’s a ten point passer. He really passes the puck efficiently. We need that in Edmonton, but like any player coming from Europe there is a transition phase. It’s a little more pinball here rather than the big ice and everything happens a little bit quicker. So there will probably be an adjustment period. Maybe there won’t be, but we’re expecting there might be, and from all indications especially in the European game, his hockey IQ is very high.
Gregor: What about the net front spot on the PP. Last year Alex Chiasson took that position away from Milan Lucic and turned it into a career year. But now you also have James Neal. Can he play the net front and how different is it from the middle position and shooter position he played elsewhere?
Gulutzan: Yeah, no, he certainly can and he’s a big body. I’m a little bit familiar with James because of my Dallas days. I didn’t coach James in Dallas, but I was there when he played. So I’ve got to work with them both on and off of the ice a little bit.
There is going to be definitely a spot for Nealer there. We’re in the business of trying to put together the five guys who work the best so that we can have the best chance on the power play. Special teams win games now when everything is so tight. So we need this to click like it did last year. He’s going to get an opportunity and it will be net front. He’s a shooter, but he’s also really good around the net. He’s got a long reach, he’s a big body, he’s hard to move and you know, a lot of our stuff that we scored last year was down low with low plays and stuff and Nealer is good around the net, jamming pucks in and finding things. He definitely is going to get a chance there.
All of our guys are going to get different kind of looks, Perrson will get a look on the back and then we’re going to try to find the best fit for two units.
(Some teams have had very good success with five lefties on the PP, so the Oilers could do that, but I wonder if Neal’s presence might increase Persson’s chances of being on the top unit so the Oilers have at least one right shot.)
Gregor: The second unit didn’t produce much last year, but with McDavid and Draisaitl playing less on the PK is there a chance they will play closer to two minutes on the PP? We’ve seen some elite players on other teams play close to the full two minutes on a power play, is that something that is possible this year?
Gulutzan: It is, we’re not going to, we gave them some freedom last year and we don’t want to over stay it. When you have elite players like that, they’re going to start the PP 95% of the time unless they’re tired or they’re coming off of a shift. But you never want to over stay things and just give them the two minutes because it doesn’t help the team.
Those guys did a really good job of coming off when they were at the end, they didn’t over stay stuff but hey, our second unit is going to have to get very good at entries. Usually they’re going to have to pick up the puck after it’s been iced, they’re going to have to start on the breakout, after the first unit comes off. They’re going to have 30 seconds, so they’ve got to be really good at entering the zone and really good at being direct. And then it’s got to be a shooting power play for those second unit guys because they’re not going to have much time. We want to put together a stronger second unit here, so maybe we can pick up three or four more goals on the power play which could be a big help.
Gregor: Are there guys on that roster, like [Joakim] Nygard’s speed for instance, who might be good on a zone entry. I haven’t watched him very much so I can’t say with accuracy but I’m sure you’ve watched his film. Is he somebody who can help in that regard, and do you have players you feel could help on zone entries for the second unit?
Gulutzan: Yeah, a 100% it’s really going to have to be a direct entry. The NHL is a copycat league and you sees most first units drop the puck back to a guy with speed. Colorado is dropping it to [Nathan] MacKinnon and we’re dropping it to Connor and every team basically does the same thing. Your second unit has to be more direct and Nygard is a player who comes to mind because of his speed and the ability to gain the line, and get in the zone quickly. And whether it’s curl up and having that good net presence where you’re just up and over and you’re just taking that shot right away and trying to create that chaos. It really has to be a five-on-five mentality with a second unit power play. He’s a guy that pops for me just because of that speed and once again we’ve got to see how the adjustment is.
Gregor: How does your team improve on faceoffs? And do you think that the new power play rule (team on PP gets to choose which side the initial faceoff is on) will make that much of an impact on faceoffs?
Gulutzan: I think the power play rule will, it’s certainly an advantage. You don’t have to look further than Boston. If [Patrice] Bergeron is out there and he gets to pick the side every time, I mean it’s a real big advantage.
If you’re looking at it from the penalty kill side, a couple of things have to happen. One is that you’ve got to scrub out some of these losses instead of these direct wins. You’ve got to create a 50/50 because really that’s a pressure trigger for your four guys. One of their power play guys is still standing at the blueline. So you’ve got an opportunity to get it out, even off of a scrum. You’ve got to be highly organized and all four of those guys have to be involved in breaking that puck out or clearing it outside of the ice.
We had a little bit of a disconnect sometimes, because even if we won draws we weren’t getting them out. We can do a better job of that. But certainly the power play is going to have an advantage just because of picking the side.
Gregor: Fair to say with Leon on the ice he is going to take most of the draws and on his backhand side?
Gulutzan: Yeah, I mean that’s where he likes it and that’s what we’re going to do. Obviously we’re going to look at who we’re going against too, but I think that’s just a small piece. We’ve talked about that already. I mean there are a few abnormalities in the league; maybe you’d go away from your strong side if it’s Bergeron’s wrong side. In cases like that, where you haven’t got a history, again we’ve had analytics for everything so we know what Leon’s percentage against, I’m just throwing out Bergy again. We know what his percentage is on the strong side, the weak side, the D zone, the O zone. So maybe if you’re lopsided one way you look at something else. Connor is good at that little forehand draw to the wall so you could see some of that just to alleviate some of the strengths of some opposing players.
I suspect Persson will get a long look in preseason. They know what Klefbom and Nurse can do, so if Persson can’t make the adjustment right away it is easy to slot Klefbom or Nurse back on the top unit. I liked Gulutzan’s breakdown of the second unit. They need quick entries, and likely a quick set up and a shot. Nygard’s speed intrigues me, while Chiasson would be the obvious net front guy. Gagner is very good on the PP, more so down low, and I expect he will be on the second unit. The other spot is wide open.
Tomorrow we will discuss the bottom six and the penalty kill. Two areas that need major improvement.
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