All 24 teams involved in the playoffs began training camp yesterday, and the Oilers qualifying round opponent, Chicago Blackhawks, were without a key player.
Goalie Corey Crawford wasn’t on the ice and according to Kevin Woodley from In Goal Magazine, Crawford wasn’t even in Chicago yet. And head coach Jeremy Colliton spoke like a head coach who hinted he might not be back.
If Crawford doesn’t play, the Blackhawks will start either Malcolm Subban or Collin Delia. That is a significant downgrade.
Crawford was ranked sixth by clear site analytics in adjusted numbers (goals, saves and sv% above expected), while Subban was bottom five among goalies. We still have a 18 days until the playoffs begin, so maybe Crawford will be in goal, but if not this is a big blow for the Blackhawks and a major advantage for Edmonton. Crawford’s availability will become the most-watched topic leading up to the Hawks/Oilers matchup.
DAY ONE CAMP OBSERVATIONS…
I wrote last week that Connor McDavid would be in better condition for the “second training camp” this season, because he was able to skate and train like he wanted to. Last summer he was rehabbing and he barely got to skate before training camp. McDavid is extremely diligent about his training and he loves to push himself. The fact he finished second in the NHL with 97 points, despite not being able to train to his standards, illustrates how dominant of a player he is.
Yesterday he looked a bit more explosive than he did in October. Maybe that was because it was the first time I’ve seen him in four months, but from my vantage point he had a bit more jump, and he confirmed it after practice.
“I feel pretty good now,” said McDavid. “Coming back to training camp in September I hadn’t been on the ice a ton. I hadn’t been able to work out much, so this break kind of allowed me to maybe get my body back into shape where it needs to be. I definitely feel good now.”
It might be hard to imagine, even for Oilers fans, but McDavid could be more dangerous in the playoffs than he was in the regular season when he was second in league scoring.
Dave Tippett discussed how this unexpected break helped McDavid.
“Last summer was an unprecedented summer for him, in trying to get back healthy, in shape and ready to go, so it was probably hectic and very tiresome with the amount of work he put in and coming into camp he was really trying to focus on getting himself back,” said Tippett.
“This break he has been unbelievable. I probably talked to him more than any other player during the pause. He worked hard trying to get our game back, and then going with the group (return to play committee) that was working with the league, and he has been very vocal with all our players making sure everyone knows where we stand with everything. If you saw the first practice today, he’s a very motivated guy. He was leading the charge.”
McDavid led a very uptempo practice, and he, along with line mates Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Zack Kassian, had a quick pace throughout.
Listening to McDavid after practice, it sounds like RNH and Kassian will be his wingers to start. He mentioned, “If he doesn’t work we can always go back to him (RNH) with Leon.” They did play as a trio in the final two games before the season was postponed, so Tippett will stick with it.
The one change is Andreas Athanasiou is skating with Leon Draisaitl and Kailer Yamamoto, while Tyler Ennis skated with Riley Sheahan and Josh Archibald. Ennis and Athanasiou switched, and that makes sense. I didn’t think we’d see Ennis and Yamamoto on the same line in the playoffs.
James Neal, Jujhar Khaira and Alex Chiasson were the other line and unless a forward is injured, I expect these 12 to be the forwards on August first.
Mike Smith was in the starter’s goal for the first practice, and based on the first 71 games that was a good indication of who will be the starter in the next game. However, I believe how the goalies play in scrimmage over the next few weeks will factor in to whom Tippett starts for game one against the Blackhawks. But I sense Smith has a slight advantage today.
- Philip Broberg skates very well. He needs to develop his on-ice awareness a bit more. With Ken Holland in charge you know they won’t rush him. He doesn’t look ready for this season, and scrimmage is hard to gauge, but it will take time for him to adjust to the quickness of small area play on North American ice.
- The more I see Ryan Mcleod, the more I like him. He’s a big body who can skate. He has the potential to be a solid bottom six forward. If he focuses on his defensive zone play and PK work, he is someone I see playing in Edmonton in the future.
- Today the Oilers skated at the community rink. Broberg, Mcleod, Benson and Marody did not practice with the main group, nor did the three young goalies. But the four skaters did take part in the scrimmage from noon to 12:30 p.m. Koskinen was tested a few times by McDavid and made two big stops. Smith’s team won 3-1 yesterday and 2-0 today.
- Khaira’s line was quite effective during practice in the five-on-five drills and they scored twice including a nice goal from Khaira, when he walked out the corner, slipped by a defender and slid it five-hole on Smith. I like the makeup of that line and I think they will be able to do some damage against other teams’ bottom six.
- Athanasiou’s speed has been noticeable both days. He isn’t shifty like Ennis, and is more a straight ahead player, but he should be able to open up some space for Draisaitl when he forces D-men to back in.
- The Oilers overall team speed is noticeably quicker than it was in October with the additions of Tyler Ennis, Athanasiou and more comfort in the NHL from Yamamoto, Gaetan Haas and Joakim Nygard. The Oilers aren’t a Cup favourite, but in my eyes they are better than some expect. Their second half showing wasn’t a fluke in my eyes.
- Draisaitl, along with Artemi Panarin and Nathan MacKinnon, were named finalists for the Ted Lindsay Award for the most outstanding player. The award is voted on by the NHLPA. In the 48 previous years, a D-man — Bobby Orr in 1975 — won it once, and a goalie has won it three times — Dominik Hasek (twice) and Carey Price. I’d love to see the voting results when the winner is announced during the Conference Finals.
- I did an Instagram Live video today for part of the Oilers scrimmage. It was a test run and if you are interested in watching some of the scrimmage and I will do one again tomorrow. The scrimmage usually starts between 11:45 a.m. and noon. My handle is Jasonwgregor.