The Edmonton Oilers won’t even play their first pre-season game until tonight when they face the Calgary Flames down the road in Cowtown, but it’s not a stretch to suggest Dave Tippett’s top nine forwards are pretty much decided.
There are more personnel decisions to be made with the fourth line than with the rest of the forwards combined. Tyler Benson is right in the middle of that mix along with Brendan Perlini, Devon Shore, Ryan McLeod, Kyle Turris and Colton Sceviour as the pre-season schedule begins. Benson’s story we know. Here and now, the local kid who used to wow ‘em with his talent alone has given himself a real chance to make the roster.
Talent aside, Benson, 23, is hungry and he’s in shape, which is a good place to start making a move when the clock is ticking on your career, as it most certainly is with his. “For me personally, I feel like this is where I belong,” Benson said Friday.
“I’ve put the work in at the AHL level, I’ve done well there for three years, and I feel like coming into this camp, this is where I want to be. This is where I want to be a full-time player, and personally, I just feel like I’m an NHL player.”
GM Ken Holland has put together more depth up front than Tippett has had the last couple years, most notably with the additions of Zach Hyman and Warren Foegele, and by bringing in Perlini and Sceviour. While there’s plenty of convincing left to do and lots of competition, Benson has found a way to stand out.
“He put the work in this summer, he looks quicker, he’s more determined, so I think he’s a player with the mindset that he doesn’t want to play anywhere but Edmonton,” Tippett said. “He’s going to come in and prove that. It’s great when a young player does that. It gives him a chance to be successful.”
MATTERS OF CHOICE
I don’t understand Josh Archibald’s reluctance to be vaccinated for COVID, especially when that reluctance could spell the end of his time with the Oilers and the income that comes with being a player in the NHL. Likewise, I don’t get the conspiracy references to COVID as a “plandemic” on the timeline of Archibald’s Twitter account.To me, that’s tinfoil hat stuff.
While I disagree with his refusal to get vaccinated to this point – Archibald has yet to go public with the reasoning behind that –it’s his decision to make, not mine, not yours. And while I think the hidden agenda bit on his timeline is lunatic fringe material, it’s not up to me to shout him down or change his mind, even if many consider it their duty on Twitter.
The reality is, choice comes with consequences. Aside from the pain-in-the-ass complications being unvaccinated creates for the team – missed games because of quarantine rules and subsequent roster juggling – Archibald has removed himself from the pack, the all-for-one-one-for-all mentality so important to the team dynamicwith the choice he’s made.
As heartfelt as Archibald’s motivation for not getting vaccinated might be, I wonder how it plays in the room. We know what his teammates and Tippett are saying about the situation for public consumption, but what’s the word behind closed doors? Your guess is as good as mine.
The bottom line is Archibald is a handy player, but he’s a utility winger and penalty killer who can be replaced. Tippett will have to do that for 30-plus games even if he keeps him. Several players at this camp, like Benson and Turris, would love to fill the roster spot Archibald occupied last season, and they’re vaccinated.
It goes without saying Connor McDavid will have his name all over the Oilers’ record book by the time he’s done playing, but it is something of a surprise he’ll pass Wayne Gretzky, the player who essentially wrote that book, in one category before he celebrates his 25th birthday Jan. 13.
McDavid is entering his sixth season as team captain, a tenure in which he’s worn the C 362 games – that ranks him third in the history of team captains. Next is Jason Smith, who captained the Oilers for 368 games 2001-07 and Gretzky, who wore the letter for 377 games 1983-88.McDavid became the youngest captain in team history when he got the C in 2016.
HITCH HANGING IN
So, Peter Chiarelli has been promoted to VP of hockey operations by the St. Louis Blues and Ken Hitchcock is back in the Show Me State as a coaching consultant after his stint behind the bench here. I’ve known Hitch, who turns 70 in December, for 35 years. He’s a lifer in the coaching business. It’s really no surprise that he’d rather stay involved in the game than hit the golf course and fade into the sunset.
As for Chiarelli, well, the first thing that comes to mind is the three-year extension he signed Mikko Koskinen to on his way out the door here Jan. 23, 2019. Chiarelli, as it turned out, was fired within 48 hours of getting the ink done. Sure.
AND . . . Yesterday would have been JoeMoss’s 58th birthday. So many people miss you, Joey.