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Rookie Camp Begins and Random Thoughts…

Edmonton Oilers rookie camp begins today with medicals. They will skate tomorrow and on Saturday they will play the Calgary Flames rookies in Red Deer. There are only 23 players at rookie camp with three goalies, seven defencemen and 13 forwards. With only two games against the Flames this year, they don’t need as many skaters.

Some of these players will play a few NHL games this season. Who and how many is the question.

Here is this year’s roster.

It’s the same three goalies as last season, while Evan Bouchard, Logan Day and Dmitri Samorukov return on the blueline and Tyler Benson, Cooper Marody, Kailer Yamamoto, Ryan Mcleod, Kirill Maksimov, Ostap Safin (he was injured and didn’t participate) and Nolan Vesey are back among the forward group.

Last season, Yamamoto (17 games), Caleb Jones (17) and Joseph Gambardella (15) attended rookie camp and played some NHL games with the Oilers.

It is plausible we will see three from this year’s group skate in the NHL.

The leading candidates for me are Benson and Marody. I fully expect Yamamoto to start in Bakersfield, and after he gets in a groove and starts producing he might get a call up later in the season. Bouchard or Samorukov are the only two defenders with a realistic shot of skating in the NHL this year, and with Jones, Ethan Bear and William Lagesson in the system I’d guess it is more likely they spend most of the season learning to be pros in the AHL.

Benson and Marody are the two players to watch, and look for them to play regularly in the preseason. Marody will compete for the wide open third line centre spot, while Benson will get a long look on the left side. Both of them put up really good numbers in the AHL last year, and I wouldn’t be surprised if either one made the opening night 23-man roster.

CAMP QUICK HITS…

1. Two sources told me it is unlikely Brian Boyle will be in Edmonton. Multiple teams have offered him a contract, and if Edmonton wants him they’d likely have to overpay a bit, and they don’t have the cap space to do that. Boyle scored 18 goals last season and is highly regarded in the dressing room from anyone who has played with him. The Oilers could use him, but at this point it seems unlikely he ends up in Edmonton.

2. Riley Sheahan is still a possibility for a PTO. Like most players, he’d prefer an NHL contract before coming to camp, but he might have to settle for a PTO. The fact the 3C spot is wide open makes Edmonton an attractive option for a veteran centre to sign a PTO. Sheahan turns 28 in December. Over the past five seasons he is 50.7% in the faceoff dot. He had produced 13, 14, 2, 11 and 9 goals and 36, 25, 13, 32 and 19 points. He struggled in 2017 with only 2-11-13, but rebounded with 32 points in 2018.

He’s averaged between 13:28 and 15:39 TOI/game in five seasons and in 2016, 2018 and 2019 he averaged 2:09/game on the PK. In 2017 he only played 0:52/game on the PK, as it seems he lost confidence in every facet of his game that season. He does have nine PP goals over the past five years, so he can pinch hit on the second unit if needed, but I’d bring him to camp and let him battle for the 3C spot.

3. I sense the trend of only two 18 year olds from the recent draft class being regulars in the NHL will continue this season. Jack Hughes and Kaapo Kakko will play, but I think the rest will remain in junior, NCAA or Europe, which is fine. Bowen Byram will push for as spot in Colorado, but I suspect the Avs will be patient and give him one more year with Vancouver in the WHL. My bold prediction about rookies is I don’t expect Hughes to be a difference maker. He is highly skilled, but he is very slight at this point. Small players making an impact in the NHL is extremely rare. I expect he will be sheltered nicely in New Jersey playing behind Nico Hischier and Travis Zajac, and I could see him producing 35-40 points. His smarts and skill aren’t the issue, just the strength needed to compete against men. It is a major challenge and every young player over the past decade has told me that is the hardest thing to overcome. Not the speed, but the strength needed to compete.

4. I understand the multitude of RFAs still unsigned. They essentially have one team to deal with as offer sheets are extremely rare, but when was the last time we saw a top-end UFA defenceman unsigned on September 5th? Can you recall one? Jake Gardiner is still unsigned. He isn’t a #1 defender, but he’s a solid #2 or an excellent #3 depending how you view him. Why hasn’t he signed? It seems term is the hold up. He’d like a longer deal and thus far hasn’t found one to his liking. Gardiner is 29 years of age and I’ve long argued that signing players of his age to long-term deals is a losing proposition. It is only one player, but could we finally see a change in attitudes from GMs when it comes to term on UFAs in their late 20s? Kevin Hayes’ contract says no, but I can see why a team is hesitant to go longer than four years for Gardiner. If he only signs a 1-3 year deal that could alter the landscape for future UFA defenders similar to Gardiner.

While much of the talk has focused on the RFAs, I think Gardiner’s case is equally fascinating.

5. The NFL regular season begins tonight. Only two active teams have made the playoffs in four or more consecutive seasons. The New England Patriots have made 10 consecutive appearances while the KC Chiefs have made four. The New Orleans Saints, Los Angeles Rams and Philadelphia Eagles have made two. Will all five make it again this year or do you see a streak coming to an end? If I had to pick one of these five to miss I’d go with the Saints, because their division is very competitive.

6. In the NHL the Pittsburgh Penguins have made 13 consecutive postseason appearances, which is almost three times as many as the next two teams: Washington and Nashville who have been to the dance five years in a row. San Jose sits at four, Boston, Toronto and Columbus at three, and Colorado, Tampa Bay, Winnipeg and Vegas are at two. Columbus is in tough to continue their streak after losing so many of their top players this off-season. Will any of the other ten miss?

7. It is much harder to make the playoffs consistently in the NFL. The Patriots’ ten-year run is the longest in NFL history. The Boston Bruins hold the NHL record with 29 consecutive playoff appearances (1968-1996), followed by Chicago at 28 (1970-1997), St. Louis (1980-2004) and Detroit (1991-2016) at 25 years. The longest NBA streak is 22 years by the Philadelphia Sixers/Syracuse National, while Atlanta holds the MLB record at 14. The Edmonton Eskimos run of 34 consecutive playoffs is the longest in North American major professional sports.

8. On the other end, the Oilers could miss the postseason for the 13th time in 14 seasons. No NHL organization has played 14 consecutive seasons and only made the playoffs once. The Atlanta Thrashers/ Winnipeg Jets did miss the playoffs 13 of 14 seasons, but the 2005 lockout interrupted that streak. Same with the Florida Panthers, who missed the dance 13 of 14 seasons between 2001-2015. If the organization needed any more motivation, avoiding a record for ineptitude could help.

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