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Photo Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Tippett Outlines Parts of His Plan

Dave Tippett loves golf. Not coaching the past few seasons has allowed him to play a lot more, but he is hoping today will be his last round for a while. The Edmonton Oilers Community Foundation had their golf tournament this afternoon at the Mayfair. The weather wasn’t ideal, but Tippett was still excited to swing the sticks.

Before he left to play his round he spoke to the media and I got a sense of some things Oilers fans should expect in preseason and early in the regular season.

His expectations of James Neal.

“A very motivated player. The players see it in the dressing room and I have been watching the captain’s practice (informal skates at Rogers Place the past week). He has a lot to prove and a lot to give. I think he will be a really good player for us.”

Tippett isn’t sure which side Neal will play. He said it will depend on how others look, but Neal does prefer the right side and I suspect he starts there.

Tippett discussed the bottom six, and specifically the third line centre.

“I had talked about trying JJ (Jujhar Khaira) there a bit, but that might change a bit with the addition of Sheahan. We have a lot of guys competing for that spot, but I don’t look at a number three centre exactly. I see it as we have a top six and a bottom six. Our bottom two lines might be geared a bit differently. One is a maybe a little heavier line, and the other a quicker line with the ability to score. Both full of special teams players, guys who will kill penalties. It always looks good on paper in the summer, and then you figure out the pieces and where they fit though camp.”

Does he see Tyler Benson as someone who can compete for a spot in the top six?

“He is a guy who is going to push. I’ve watched a lot of tape on him from the American League. He is a good young player. He makes plays and he makes them in traffic, and that’s what we need — players who can execute in traffic, and he’s never done it at the NHL level yet. We are going to give him a good shot in camp and some exhibition games and see where he goes.”

Will he want Draisaitl and McDavid to sacrifice offence to be better defensively?

“Our goals against is going to be a real priority, but there will be nothing in there that takes away from a player’s creativity. We are still going to ask Leon and Connor to be creative, and we need scoring throughout our lineup and we will push for offence. But we have to play a stronger defensive game. That will be the focus early in camp. If we don’t get that number down we won’t make the playoffs.”

No surprise here. I’ve written about it often. The goals against must improve. It isn’t a surprise that when they made the playoffs in 2017 they were eighth in goals against. They were 27th in 2018 and 25th last season. Over the past two seasons combined only Chicago (545), Buffalo (546) and Ottawa (585) have allowed more goals than the Oilers 533.

They do need to score more as well, but better defence should lead to more puck possession and offensive zone time, which will lead to more goals.

Does he want Kris Russell to play left side?

“I’d like to get him to the left side. I’ve always been a big left-right guy, but some of that is determined by what we have. The simplicity of moving the puck and feet position dictate a lot things that happen when you play the offside. I’d like to see Russell on his natural side. I think it will help him move the puck better.”

So who plays with Oscar Klefbom?

“Hopefully someone good (smiles). We have some candidates and they will get a chance in preseason.”

Matt Benning, Joel Persson and Ethan Bear are right shots, while Caleb Jones and William Lagesson will also push for spots on the blueline. Jones can play his off-side, and Tippett did say some players can do it, and he mentioned Lubomir Visnovsky as someone he coached in LA who was better playing the right side (as a left shot). So Jones will have a chance, but today I see Benning having a slight edge when camp starts.

Does he have a clear cut starting goaltender?

“No. They know it is a competition and it has already started in the informal skates. I know Smitty (Mike Smith) well, and I have watched a lot of Koskinen on tape. I think they are both ready for the battle. I told them both I hope you both play 41 games really well. If we do that we’ll be fine.”

What is his plan with McDavid in camp and preseason?

“I’ve spoken with him the last couple of days and watched him skate this morning and we will manage him as he goes along. This morning he was out there and did everything. It will be a combination of us with the training staff, the doctors and Ken and I will talk with Connor. Whenever he feels comfortable that is when he will play. We will be very cautious with him, especially in early in camp, and a lot will depend on what the doctors think and how he is feeling. He looked good skating the past few days, but we will not put him in a bad position.”

This makes sense and isn’t a real surprise. I could see McDavid playing two or three preseason games. He played four last year and was fine. There is no reason to rush him and they won’t.

Does watching film on Nygard and Haas give him an insight into what to expect?

“You know their style and their skating. But they will play a lot of exhibition games so we can get a handle of them on the small ice. They are both skilled players. They are mature players, they aren’t 20 or 21. They are 25, 26, 27 year olds and I put Persson in that group as well. There is going to be a little adjustment. They have both been here skating and I like where they are at. You don’t want to plug them into a spot until you see them do it.”

PARTING SHOTS…

There is a lot of competition for spots in the bottom six, two wing spots in the top six, the second and third pair right defence and in goal. Competition is great. I believe it brings out the best in players and the next month will give us a glimpse of who is ready for the challenge.

Tippett’s comment about the bottom six is great for speculating. Does he see Sheahan, Khaira and one of Kassian or Chiasson on that line, while the other line could see Sam Gagner or Josh Archibald on the right side with Haas or Marody in the middle and Nygard or Granlund on the left side?

Granlund is a very smart player. He could moonlight in the top six for a few games on the second line left wing.

The players can’t say there isn’t an opportunity heading into camp. Very few positions are locked up, so whoever plays the best will get an opportunity to show that in the regular season.

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