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Photo Credit: Tom Kostiuk

Monday Mailbag – First impressions

Welcome, Nation, to another edition of the award-winning Monday Mailbag! The pre-season is already a week old, the roster is being whittled down, and we’re starting to see slivers of the new season peaking out of its wrapper. Once again, the mailbag is here to help you kill off a few minutes of company time and try to answer all of the things that you’ve always been wondering about. How’s that for an early week gift? As always, this feature depends on you so please send me your questions by email or Twitter for next week and I’ll try to sneak you in. Until then, I hope you all have a wonderful week and please enjoy the free learning opportunity.

1) Chandler asks – Who has stood out to you (positively or negatively) through this first week of the preseason?

Jason Gregor:

Patrick Russell has been better than I expected. We’ll see what he does in the second week of preseason when the quality of opposition increases. What has stood out the most of me is how different Tippett has them playing. He wants more puck possession through the neutral zone and into the offensive zone. They aren’t dumping it in when no one is chasing. Also engaging the defence. He and D coach Jim Playfair have them joining the rush more often, and if the defender is the late man coming in they want him to go to the top of the circles before pivoting and skating backwards to the blueline. I think being more aggressive will help them. It will likely lead to a few errors early in the season as players still adapt.

Robin Brownlee:

Liked Stuart Skinner before he was re-assigned. Same for Samorukov. Jurco looks like a player. Patrick Russell has impressed. It’s obvious Bouchard is coming along very nicely. The question is if he’s ready (and has a spot to play) now. Benson was underwhelming.

Tyler Yaremchuk:

I really think that this team is better with Evan Bouchard in the lineup but at the same time, I don’t think he makes this team. He is really close but I think Holland wants him in the minors for a little bit. Koskinen has been pretty meh, but that’s a problem they can’t really solve. They just have to wait and hope either he or Smith improves. Benning hasn’t looked great, Persson has been better than I was expecting, and Jurco has been surprisingly effective.

Christian Pagnani:

I thought Marody played well, which is sort of surprising to see him sent down so early. James Neal looks solid and at the very least, more useful than Milan Lucic.

Chris the Former Intern:

Sheldon Skinner looked good to me, and I’ve liked how Gagner and Neal looked out there as well. Negatively, Koskinen looked like the Koskinen we don’t want him to be.

Baggedmilk:

I liked the way Tomas Jurco has played so far. I don’t put much stock into preseason results, especially the first week, but I thought Jurco looks good as a bottom-six option so far.

2) Clay asks – What does everyone think about the rate at which the Oilers are releasing their players? To me, I’d rather make more cuts early, I feel there are some players that hang around unnecessarily and I wonder why the coaches don’t just get down closer to what the roster will look like when the season starts.

Jason Gregor:

They played four preseason games in five days. You want them playing vets more in meaningless games? I see no reason to do it. They are down to 30 players with a week to go. And I suspect you will see a few more cuts early next week. Nothing wrong with when they have released players.

Robin Brownlee:

I don’t see anything out of the ordinary. Fine balance to get a look at everybody and pick the team at the same time. Also, remember that Holland and this coaching staff (except Gulutzan) are getting their first looks at these players.

Tyler Yaremchuk:

I think the coaches would rather have the roster cut down quickly as well. The fact that things aren’t moving quickly speaks to how tight some battles are. The Oilers having some key players that aren’t healthy as well, which is keeping some people around. You want to see the final lineup as quickly as possible but I don’t think it’s an issue that the Oilers are taking their time with some of these decisions.

Christian Pagnani:

I think this was asked before the cuts on Friday morning, so the Oilers kind of agreed with you with just 33 players left. Three of those are injured players, too.

Chris the Former Intern:

Yeah, I am surprised by how long they are holding on to a few guys. However, it’s probably a good development-strategy to keep these kids for as long as possible.

Baggedmilk:

I know this was asked before the cuts that happened on Friday but I think that the pre-season is mostly set up to evaluate guys that are on the cusp of making it. Frankly, I wouldn’t want the vets to get hurt in these meaningless games so I don’t mind having guys like Leon only playing in a game or two.

3) Jesse asks – With a week of pre-season in the books, who has the lead for the fourth spot at centre alongside McDavid, RNH, and Sheahan?

Jason Gregor:

It is Haas or Cave. I’d say Cave is ahead, Tippett even said he was, but did admit that was expected as Haas needs some time to adjust. Haas did tell me that he would play in the AHL until November 1st if he needs more time to get used to the smaller ice.

Robin Brownlee:

I think we might see Haas there, but Cave has been very good so far. Coin flip.

Tyler Yaremchuk:

Well, I liked what Cooper Marody brought to the table, but he didn’t make it. I believe it’s down to Cave and Haas and whichever one isn’t the fourth line centre will end up being an extra forward. I will say that it is possible that they just try to run one of Khaira or Gagner as a centre but I think it’s unlikely.

Christian Pagnani:

I’m guessing Haas. I would have gone with Marody but he’s on the way to Bakersfield.

Chris the Former Intern:

I’m pretty torn right now on the 4C spot and can’t really decide who I want to be there. If I had to guess, Markus Granlund.

Baggedmilk:

I’m going to guess Colby Cave because none of the other options have been overly impressive. I think Gaetan Haas will get a long look, but I don’t necessarily know that he’s earned it either.

Apr 6, 2019; Calgary, Alberta, CAN; Edmonton Oilers goaltender Mikko Koskinen (19) guards his net against the Calgary Flames during the third period at Scotiabank Saddledome. Edmonton Oilers won 3-1. Mandatory Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

4) Paul asks – With the Oilers starting their season in just over a week, what’s the biggest question that remains unanswered with this hockey team?

Jason Gregor:

Can they limit goals against? It is a combination of their goaltending and defence being good enough.

Robin Brownlee:

Goaltending. We haven’t seen Mike Smith yet and Koskinen had one bad outing and one that was OK.

Tyler Yaremchuk:

The biggest question is: will their goaltending be good enough? Everyone is crapping on it because of a rough start to the preseason by Koskinen, but I’m waiting until the regular season to give an answer to the question. We also haven’t seen Mike Smith yet. Goaltending will make or break their season so it’s clearly the biggest question mark.

Christian Pagnani:

Can Koskinen give you ~40 games of average goaltending?

Chris the Former Intern:

I’d say our goaltending. Koskinen and Smith are both wildcards right now, and we won’t know how they’re going to turn out until the season actually begins.

Baggedmilk:

Is this goalie tandem good enough?

5) Stephen asks – How much stock do you put into pre-season performances?

Jason Gregor:

The Oilers were 6-2 and 6-1 the past two years. They finished 23rd and 25th in the regular season. I don’t put much stock into it at all.

Robin Brownlee:

Some, but most of that comes later in pre-season when the line-ups are closer to what they’ll be when the season starts. I look more at the instincts and hockey smarts a player shows and where they might fit than results in terms of points etc. Marody, for example, had some points, but didn’t look like he could keep up. We’ve seen players in the past who’ve put up some points against weak line-ups and then fade as the competition gets tougher.

Tyler Yaremchuk:

If I had to put it on a scale of 1-10, I would say I’m at a 5. It matters because it determines which players will start the season with the team but after years and years of watching the Oilers dominate the preseason then fall flat on their faces in the regular season, I don’t read much into the wins and losses. Just focus on a few individuals and don’t worry about much else.

Christian Pagnani:

Not much. Remember Ty Rattie and Kailer Yamamoto lighting it up last season? Or Anton Lander a few years back? Preseason is nice. It’s great to have hockey back but it’s easy to blow things out of proportion from a really small sample size. You can’t completely write it off, but it’s not as important as people make it out to be.

Chris the Former Intern:

Not a ton. The Oilers are always successful in the offseason and look how it works out for us. Also, a ton of guys are pacing themselves during pre season games.

Baggedmilk:

Basically none. We’ve seen our fair share of preseason champs that have had that success not translate in the regular season so I don’t think much about it. I mean, Anton Lander led the preseason in points one year and where’s he at?