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Photo Credit: Tom Kostiuk

Monday Mailbag – Is Tomas Jurco The Answer?

Welcome, friends, to yet another edition of the Monday Mailbag! Whether you’re at work, school, or chilling at home, we both know you’re not doing anything even remotely productive right now and I salute you for your commitment to retired living. With only a few days left until the NHL season starts, who can blame you? As always, the mailbag depends on all of you and I need questions for next week so if you’ve got one you email me at [email protected] or hit me up on Twitter at @jsbmbaggedmilk. Until then, let’s all gather round to enjoy this here mailbag.

Mar 16, 2019; Glendale, AZ, USA; Edmonton Oilers center Connor McDavid (97) shields the puck from Arizona Coyotes center Clayton Keller (9) during the second period at Gila River Arena. Mandatory Credit: Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

1) Clay asks – What are your first impressions of Connor McDavid after seeing him come back earlier than expected?

Jason Gregor:

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He looked fine to me. I actually think he looks stronger.

Robin Brownlee:

I like it that he pushed to get into a second game. Shows how determined he is to be right up to speed for season opener — and that there were no ill effects from his first game back. He’s ready to go.

Tyler Yaremchuk:

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In his first game, it was exactly what I expected from a player making his preseason debut. In his second game, I thought he looked a little bit more comfortable. Honestly, he could have looked awful in both games and I wouldn’t be concerned. As long as he appears to be healthy and moving decently, I’m happy. He’ll do his damage in the regular season and when it comes to players like McDavid, I’ll never read too much into preseason results.

Christian Pagnani:

Thank the lord he looks just as good as before the injury. It’d be a crime if his play was in any way altered because of it. The game of hockey shouldn’t have to deal with that.

Baggedmilk:

Connor McDavid is an elite hockey player and it’s no surprise that his ability to heal himself is also elite. The guy is magic. Full stop.

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2) David asks – Ethan Bear has impressed me all pre-season long and it seems like he has a good chance of sticking with the big club. What improvements do you see in his game that have allowed him to get to this point?

Jason Gregor:

He became a better professional. He came into camp in great shape. He was committed all off-season, more than he has before. On the ice, he looks more poised in his own zone. He’s always been good from the red line into the offensive zone. He will still make some defensive mistakes, as he is still inexperienced at the NHL level, but he looks to have worked on improving how to defend.

Robin Brownlee:

He’s in better shape and he’s moving better. Took the off-season seriously. Looking for every edge he can get.

Tyler Yaremchuk:

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I never thought he was a poor skater, but I was never sure that it was necessarily a strength. It looks a lot better so far in the preseason. I was also impressed with his ability to just handle a large amount of even-strength minutes. He was on the ice for close to 20 ES minutes against Winnipeg and if he’s going to be on a pairing with Oscar Klefbom in the regular season, he’ll need to handle a heavy amount of minutes. So what’s stuck out most to me, is just his ability to be on the ice a lot and not make boneheaded mistakes. If he can keep doing that and just play solid hockey, he’ll be very valuable to the Oilers.

Christian Pagnani:

His skating looks a lot better. That’s surprising because skating always seems like such a difficult thing to improve, or at least noticeably improve.

Baggedmilk:

I think Ethan Bear has played a very steadily throughout the pre-season and he’s done a good job of picking his spots to jump into the play as well. That second goal he scored against the Jets when he walked the line and ripped a slapper home was a thing of beauty. I’m pulling for him.

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

3) Hank in Toronto asks – Simple question: What are your thoughts on the goaltending so far?

Jason Gregor:

It has been okay. Neither has been lights out and neither has been awful. I know every time Koskinen gets beat on his glove hand people will focus on it. Every goalie will give up a goal glove side. Koskinen’s glove isn’t great, no arguing that, but I think the overreaction to a goal glove side is a bit much. If he can play like he did for the first 25 starts last year he will be fine. He had a .910sv% from October to February first in 25 starts. Cam Talbot had a .894sv% in 25 starts. Talbot’s play was much more damaging.

Koskinen faltered when he had to start 26 of the final 32 games. I don’t expect that to occur this year. If Mike Smith can be better than Talbot, and just post a .910sv% then the Oilers should be competitive.

It would be great if one of them posted a .917sv% or better, but I’m not sure that will happen.

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Robin Brownlee:

Not good enough. Still a question mark. We know we have to take pre-season performances — good and bad — with a grain of salt, but with all the questions about Koskinen and Smith I would like to have seen one or both of them shut up the critics with some outstanding stretches of goaltending, but it didn’t happen.

Tyler Yaremchuk:

They have both looked shaky at moments and they’ve both looked solid at points. In short: they’ve looked exactly how I expected they’d look. I don’t expect either one of Koskinen or Smith to have outstanding seasons, but I expect to both go through stretches where they look really good. Neither one is capable of being a number one goalie for 55-60 starts. But they’re both capable of giving you 10 game stretches where they look like a number one goalie. if that makes sense.

Christian Pagnani:

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I’m concerned. Neither goalie inspires confidence. Is anyone sure who starts the season opener?

Baggedmilk:

We need one of these guys to step up and grab the starter’s role by the balls otherwise it’s going to be another long season. Who that will be (if either of them) is anyone’s guess.

4) Neal asks – Dave Tippett seems to want the players carrying the puck into the zone more than dumping and chasing. Have you noticed any other “style” changes so far? What are everyone’s thoughts on Tippett’s game plan so far?

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Jason Gregor:

I like how he and Jim Playfair want the D-men to use the middle of the ice more in breakouts. And it isn’t just the D-men. The forwards have to be committed to being in the right spot and giving the defenders a good outlet. Also, Tippett wants the D-men joining the rush all the way to the top of the circles in the offensive zone. Then they can retreat to the blueline if no pass is there. Also when the forwards have possession and are cycling well in the offensive zone, the D-men are not standing still on the blueline. They are moving around and even cycling into the high slot. This is very hard to defend. I like that he wants this team to be more aggressive in all three zones.

Robin Brownlee:

Tippett wants the Oilers attacking as a unit with less separation between D-man and forwards. He also wants to use the middle of the ice more rather than banging pucks around the the boards. More risk. More reward.

Tyler Yaremchuk:

With the skill that the Oilers have in their top six, I love that Tippett is pushing them to carry the puck in more. Players like McDavid, Draisaitl, and Nugent-Hopkins are most dangerous when they have possession of the puck, so why would they want to throw it into the corner and give up possession? Carrying it in just makes more sense. I really hope that’s a trend we continue to see into the regular season.

Christian Pagnani:

We’ve seen a bit of that already. They’re making better passes and using the boards less. I’d be impressed if things changed significantly just because of the lack of personnel Tippett has.

Baggedmilk:

I love the way Tippett has the guys carrying the puck into the zone rather than dumping and chasing every chance they get. So far, that’s one of the biggest differences I’ve noticed and I hope it sticks.

Sep 26, 2019; Winnipeg, Manitoba, CAN; Edmonton Oilers forward Tomas Jurco (92) celebrates his goal against Winnipeg Jets goalie Connor Hellebuyck (37) during the third period at Bell MTS Place. Mandatory Credit: Terrence Lee-USA TODAY Sports

5) Oiler fan in Van asks – Tomas Jurco has had a wonderful pre-season but I know that these results don’t necessarily translate to the regular season as we saw with Ty Rattie last year. Where do you see Jurco fitting into the lineup?

Jason Gregor:

I think Jurco is more talented than Rattie, but consistency has been his downfall. Part of that is due to injuries. Two back surgeries in the past three years have hampered his ability to remain in the NHL. I see Jurco battling with Sam Gagner for the second LW job. I could see him start as a 13th or 14th forward and then work his way up. The final few cuts are going to be very interesting.

Robin Brownlee:

Jurco is a smart player around the net. Points aside, that’s what stands out for me. He’s a top-nine guy, but with Nygard, who was very good in Calgary, and Haas showing well, is there room for all three of them in that mix? Wish I could read Tippett’s mind on that one.

Tyler Yaremchuk:

I think he’ll be in the top-six on opening night, he’s earned that much. I do think he has a little bit more NHL skill than Rattie does but I’m not sure if it’s enough skill to make him a permanent fixture in the top-six. Regardless, I would like to see him start next to Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and maybe even get a look with McDavid and Draisaitl. If he ends up scoring 10-15 goals this season, it’ll be a massive positive for the Oilers.

Christian Pagnani:

I think Ty Rattie, Kailer Yamamoto, Jesse Puljujarvi, and Anton Lander in year’s past show that preseason isn’t the best indicator of regular season success. It’s easy to get caught up in a prospect lighting it up, but this is such a small sample size against what is often non-NHL calibre players. It’d be hard to say Jurco doesn’t make the team, because on merit he should and the Oilers don’t have any winger depth. Might as well give him a shot and if he can’t succeed you just put him in Bakersfield.

Baggedmilk:

As you mentioned, we’ve been fooled before so I’m just going to wait and see what happens when the games actually mean something. Right now, I see Jurco slotting in the middle six somewhere.