There’s been an interesting wrinkle in this season that’s been fun to watch playout: the taxi squad.
Each NHL team was allowed to have an additional four to six players, and a goalie, that were eligible to practice and travel with the respective clubs. Edmonton’s initial taxi squad included Joakim Nygard, Tyler Benson, Ryan McLeod, Patrick Russell, Alan Quine and Stuart Skinner, but that didn’t take long to change.
As the year’s gone on we’ve seen players brought up, and dropped down, all the while having hard, game-like practices on a regular basis.
Now we approach the NHL playoffs, where on any given year a regular flock of Black Aces would act much like the taxi squad does in the regular season. And as a whole, the Oilers have done a great job of managing their group.
“You’re gonna need a lot of bodies. Playoffs, you never know what — knock on wood — injuries come along,’ said Oilers head coach Dave Tippett after last night’s win over the Canucks. “We try to make sure everyone stays engaged. Our assistant coaches have done a great job with the taxi squad and I give the taxi squad guys a great deal of credit: they work.
“Sometimes they don’t play for a while, but they put the work in and stay ready. You saw that tonight with a guy like Bouch jumping in and having a real solid game. They do a lot of game situation like work in the practices and it paid off for them. We’re going to need a lot of bodies, you can never have enough depth.
“It’s hard, we’ve talked about this before. A normal year you have one or two guys pissed off they’re not playing. This year, we’ve got 10. That’s the way it goes.”
It also allowed someone like Evan Bouchard, who hadn’t played a game in 64 days, a chance to stay in shape and be ready for his next chance. Last night, he made the most of it. He played the third most minutes of any Oilers player and saw time on both the power-play and the penalty kill.
As someone who had been concerned with Bouchard’s lack of playing time throughout the season, it’s nice to see him step into the lineup and succeed the way he did.
With the Oilers having used a regular recall on him, there’s going to be more chances for him to play down the stretch of the season — and maybe even into the playoffs.
The on-ice results haven’t been great for Caleb Jones and Ethan Bear, but that’s largely in part due to a dismal 3.39 on-ice shooting percentage for the pair that’s played 175 5×5 minutes this season. Nonetheless, getting the pair a night off allowed for Bouchard to step in and have a strong game as he did.
It’s going to be hard to predict, but it’s going to be interesting to see the way the pairings shape up down the stretch. I think the Oilers are fairly locked in on Nurse-Barrie, Kulikov-Larsson in the top four, but it’s open season on that third pairing.