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Photo Credit: Tom Kostiuk

Monday Mailbag – Do the Oilers have enough team toughness?

Happy Monday and welcome to a brand new edition of the Monday Mailbag. As always, I’ve taken the questions you’ve emailed me over the past week, relayed them to our writers, and copied and pasted their words of wisdom right here on the ol’ Internet machine for your education and enjoyment. Today, we’re looking at McDavid and Draisaitl getting engaged physically, Jesse Puljujarvi, team toughness, and a whole lot more. If you’ve got one, email it to me at [email protected] or hit me up on Twitter at @jsbmbaggedmilk and I’ll get to you as soon as we can.

Nov 24, 2019; Glendale, AZ, USA; Edmonton Oilers center Connor McDavid (97) and center Leon Draisaitl (29) on the bench against the Arizona Coyotes at Gila River Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

1) Brent asks – During the Montreal series, both McDavid and Draisaitl were often engaged in the physical side of those games, and I wonder whether or not everyone likes seeing that from them or if they would prefer that they stay out of it?

Jason Gregor:

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I have no issue with them being engaged. They weren’t going out of their way to run players, but when contact was there they initiated it sometimes. I didn’t think it hurt their game.

Robin Brownlee:

How do they stay out of it when they’re emotionally involved in the game? A lot of great players have created more room for themselves by being physically engaged — Gordie Howe, Mark Messier, Glenn Anderson, Pavel Bure and Peter Forsberg are examples of players who not only thrived in physical play but sometimes initiated it. There are limits of course as I’d rather not see them fighting, but they can’t remove themselves from the physical aspect.

Cam Lewis:

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I don’t want to ever see either player drop the gloves but I have no issue with them mucking it up. They’re intense and emotionally invested in the game. You like to see that passion. Neither are passive players.

Tyler Yaremchuk:

I loved it! They both deal with a lot of crap, and I think that when they show some physical bite, it does a little bit to deter that. There is absolutely nothing wrong with the two of them asserting their own physical dominance every once in a while. Connor is having his most productive season ever and it’s also been his most physical season ever.

Baggedmilk:

Why would you ever want them to shy away from the shenanigans? I love that these two are engaged in the battle and I think they’ll figure out with time and at-bats how to balance the aggression with the skill. I love it.

Feb 25, 2021; Vancouver, British Columbia, CAN; Edmonton Oilers forward Jesse Puljujarvi (13) celebrates with forward Leon Draisaitl (29) after scoring agoal as Vancouver Canucks defenseman Alexander Edler (23) skates away in the third period at Rogers Arena. Edmonton won 3-0.

2) Andrea asks – Jesse Puljujarvi has been a major bright spot for the Oilers this season and my question for everyone is in regards to how he’s doing based on what they were expecting. How do you compare Puljujarvi’s results to what you were thinking ahead of the season?

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Jason Gregor:

I thought he’d score 10 goals, so he has surpassed my offensive expectations. I’m not surprised he is playing well because he is 22 and he is more comfortable around his teammates because he improved his English. He will be better in the next few seasons as he continues to get stronger and he improves his puck handling skills.

Robin Brownlee:

I didn’t know what to expect, so I’ve been impressed with how he’s played and how involved he is. He’s hard on the puck, stubborn in from of the net. He’s using his size. What he needs to do now is turn all of that into better production, like we’ve seen of late. His numbers, 12-7-19 (10-5-15 at even strength) are a bit light for somebody who plays as much with McDavid as he does. If he stays on the course he’s on, the numbers should improve.

Cam Lewis:

It’s one of the best stories from this year. We’ve seen so many young guys come to Edmonton and struggle and have their career go up in flames so it’s great to see the organization right the ship with such a talented and likable player. He’s been better than I’d expected he would be and has proved he’s a key part of things long-term.

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Tyler Yaremchuk:

I was really hoping he’d get to at least 10 goals, and I said I would consider that a big success. Honestly, he’s blown me away this year. He’s gone from an outcast to a key part of their top six in a matter of months and he deserves so much credit for doing that. I did not see this coming but it’s made me incredibly happy.

Baggedmilk:

Puljujarvi has been a great story so far this year and I can’t wait to see how high he can fly. Before the season started, I predicted (read: guessed) 12 goals but I never would have expected him to settle in as well as he has so quickly. I love this kid and I love his enthusiasm.

Feb 1, 2020; Calgary, Alberta, CAN; Edmonton Oilers right wing Zack Kassian (44) skates during the warmup period against the Calgary Flames at Scotiabank Saddledome. Mandatory Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

3) Daylen asks – With Kassian and Khaira out of the lineup due to injury, I feel as though the Oilers are missing a little bit of individual toughness as was evident by the team getting pushed around a bit by Montreal. How do you view the overall team toughness and do you think there is enough there for a series against the Jets, as an example?

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Jason Gregor:

I don’t think Montreal pushed them around. Edmonton didn’t back down at all, but it is a blow because both are big, strong, physical players who can skate. I suspect Khaira will be ready for the playoffs, but Kassian’s injury is a blow. I know he hadn’t been consistent this season, but they will miss his size and physicality when the games are more physical. They hope he is ready for the playoffs.

Robin Brownlee:

They definitely lose size with Khaira and Kassian out, but that doesn’t mean they can’t play a robust game. Toughness extends beyond being able to run somebody over. It’s about battle level. The problem. of course, is that if you play a team with the same battle level that’s physically bigger, you’re at a disadvantage. They’ll do better against Winnipeg than against Montreal — more free flow and skating against the Jets.

Cam Lewis:

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Did they get pushed around? They won the first game on a brilliant comeback and then almost did the same thing in the second game. They seemed fine to me. The Oilers don’t back down.

Tyler Yaremchuk:

I think they’re fine. Individual toughness can come in a lot of different ways and I think there are still enough players in the lineup who are hard to play against. It’s not an issue for me, even with Khaira and Kassian out of the lineup.

Baggedmilk:

Khaira and Kass definitely help in the toughness department but I don’t think the Oilers are just going to roll over and show opponents their tummies without them either.

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Photo: Twitter.com/NHL

4) Ed asks – Last week, Elliotte Friedman mentioned that the league is looking at a contingency plan of having the Canadian division playoffs in a bubble in the USA. Given the worsening COVID situation in Canada, would this be a prudent option since there are no fans in the stands, does it make any difference?

Jason Gregor:

It does, as players are more comfortable at home sleeping in their own beds. Players don’t want another bubble. I suspect they will do everything to avoid that.

Robin Brownlee:

COVID will dictate. It must. I think having fans in the stands does make a difference — how much is up to debate — and is the optimal situation, but that’s not where we’re at.

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Cam Lewis:

I really can’t see the players signing on for another bubble, and I can’t see Canadian team players being happy with being on the road and away from their own homes for a long period of time.

Tyler Yaremchuk:

I can see why they would do it. There’s no sense in risking an outbreak with a Canadian team if they can’t get the vaccine yet. If they go to the US, it would eliminate travel and potential quarantine for the team that comes out of the North Division and there’s a chance the players could get vaccinated once when they land in the US. I really want to see the Oilers play playoff games at Rogers Place, but I understand why it might not happen.

Baggedmilk:

I bet we’ll see the Canadian teams back in a bubble for the playoffs if the COVID situation doesn’t improve in short order and well… you know what? Let’s just wait and see.

5) Sammy D. asks – With the Oiler Braintrust not retiring numbers unless you are in the HHOF, there is a need for the next level of players to be recognized. I am all for the Ring of Honour thing – brass plaques or banners or something to show our love for the next level of players/staff/ etc. My question – who is in the inaugural class of the Ring of Honour?

Jason Gregor:

Bill Ranford and Ryan Smyth. Ranford was incredible in the 1990 Stanley Cup and in the early 90s when the team was terrible, while Smyth resonated with the next generation and is 5th in goals, 8th in assists and 6th in points all-time in franchise history.

Robin Brownlee:

I’d rather go this route than water down the jersey retirement ceremony by including players not in the HHOF because the reality is there are a handful of players/team personnel who are significant but who will never be inducted. I’d prefer it not turn into a popularity contest. — honoring players/personnel every five years as opposed to annually would allow for reflection and context. My first additions would be:

Joe Moss
Ryan Smyth
Doug Weight
Cam Lewis:
If there’s some kind of ring of honour, you could honour players like Esa Tikkanen, Ryan Smyth, Doug Weight, and Bill Ranford. And, of course, Joey Moss should be honoured too.
Tyler Yaremchuk:

Ryan Smyth and Doug Weight are the first two players that come to mind. I think it is a fantastic idea. I also think it would give the arena a little bit more character. Right now there is a lot of just grey space at Rogers and a Ring of Honour would add some colour and character.

Baggedmilk:

Smyth is obvious. Weight is too. How about a guy like Jason Smith? He was beloved while he was here but his career would never land him in the HHoF? Hemsky? He was the most skilled player we had for years and was as fun to watch as he could be frustrating. How about Fernando Pisani? Hometown boy that took us on the ride of our lives back in 2006? Roloson? I guess I just don’t know where the line would be to qualify because I could make cases for a bunch of guys.

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