It isn’t just players who use the preseason to sharpen their skills and prepare for the season. Head coaches will also use it to experiment with different combinations, or try to create chemistry and familiarity for new players to the team.
Oilers bench boss Dave Tippett will be doing that tonight when he plays Zach Hyman with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.
“I might look at that line of Nuge and Hyman tomorrow,” said Tippett after practice yesterday. “With Turris on there it gives a right-handed centreman with Nuge. I’m trying to do some things that may crop up during the year. There are times we might play Draisaitl and McDavid together, so I’d like to see Hyman and Nuge together. They are going to kill as a penalty killing pair together. Hyman just gives us that extra depth. He and Nuge are smart players, and we could get to those combinations during the year so I want to give them all a test run now.”
Draisaitl and McDavid don’t need any time to sharpen their chemistry. The moment they play together they are instantly dangerous. Over the past six seasons, they’ve played 2,882 minutes at 5×5 together and 4,486 TOI overall. They don’t need to play together in preseason to have success. There weren’t any preseason games last year and they combined to score 16-37-53 in 343 minutes at 5×5, which equals 9.28 P/60. Ridiculous production.
Tonight is more about Hyman and RNH trying to get a feel for one another. They’ve played a total of 4:13 (5×5) and a whopping 9:36 overall. When Tippett unites his Dynamic Duo together in the regular season, it is easier to do if he feels comfortable having a solid second line. I’d argue when Tippett does that, having Jesse Puljujarvi with Hyman and RNH makes the most sense. That is the best option for a second line when Draisaitl is with McDavid. Draisaitl played the right wing when Patrick Maroon was on their line and then played left wing when Zack Kassian skated with them. Tippett doesn’t have to play a right winger with McDavid and Draisaitl. If Brendan Perlini continues to play well in the regular season he could be an option.
Playing Hyman with RNH tonight makes sense. And it is also a wonderful opportunity for Kyle Turris with Kailer Yamamoto sitting out. “He (Yamamoto) took a bump to the head late in the game,” said Tippett. “He had a little headache after the game. I spoke to him yesterday and he wasn’t feeling quite right and they shut him down for a couple days. As of right now it is not more than a couple days, but we’ll see how he feels over the next few days.”
This is the worst-case scenario for Yamamoto. He struggled for the final 40 games last season, and hadn’t done much in his three preseason games thus far. He was expected to play the final two preseason games and hopefully gain some confidence. He will miss tonight, and there is a chance he won’t play Saturday either, which means he’ll start (if healthy) the regular season having not played for a week. It isn’t ideal, and in the ultra-competitive NHL, if Turris makes the most of his opportunity tonight then Yamamoto’s leash to remain in the top-six gets a bit shorter. If he was playing well, Turris having a strong game or two wouldn’t impact Yamamoto much, but Yamamoto has left the door open for someone to challenge him for his spot in the top-six.
Draisaitl – McDavid – Puljujarvi
Hyman – RNH– Turris
Foegele – Ryan – Kassian
Benson – McLeod – Sceviour
Nurse – Barrie
Keith – Ceci
Mike Smith is scheduled to play the entire game. Kris Russell will play his first preseason game and he’s in a battle with Slater Koekkoek to play alongside Evan Bouchard. Russell will play the final two preseason games, but will that be enough to find a spot on the opening night roster?
Duncan Keith and Cody Ceci will play their second game together. Like Hyman and RNH, they are looking to build some chemistry. Both Keith and Ceci felt they got better as the game went on against Calgary, but feel they will need some time to get a feel for one another’s tendencies. Tippett is hoping it happens quickly as he plans to use them in key defensive situations.
“They are going to have to play against good players,” said Tippett. “They are both veteran, solid players. We expect them to play minutes against good players. I liked them in practice today. They looked they were working a little better. Hopefully every day they gain more knowledge of each other and get it going in the right direction.”
The Keith-Ceci pairing will be interesting to watch. I’m not sure I can recall a pairing that so many Oilers fans are hoping fails, just so they can say “I told you so.” Neither has played a regular season game, yet many are declaring them both terrible. I’m leery of people who are more interested in seeing someone else fail just so they can be right. I’d struggle living that way.
Ceci was solid in Pittsburgh last season. He played the sixth most minutes at 5×5 among Penguins players. He actually had the seventh most 5×5 points on a team that finished fifth overall in the NHL. Ceci had a 59.4GF%. He was on the ice for 41GF-28GA. He had a 48.9xGF%. He played 826 minutes at 5×5 and his most common linemates were Mike Matheson (412), Zach Aston-Reese (201), Jared McCann (193), Teddy Blueger (189) and Jason Zucker (175).
Ceci has a $3.25m AAV. He is paid like a #4 D-man. He played very well last year. If he plays like that again, Oilers fans should be thrilled.
I understand some are concerned about Duncan Keith due to his age and his possession numbers the past two seasons in Chicago. Age isn’t as big of an issue for me. Players are playing longer than ever before. I view playing with raw rookies the past two seasons, on a team with horrible defensive structure (via coaching), as part of the reason why Keith’s numbers were so bad. I spoke to three players who played against him last season and they all said they still feel is a solid NHL player. Time will tell how the pair does, but writing them off before playing one game seems a tad premature for me.
Garland- Pettersson- Chiasson
Petan – Miller – Podkolzin
Bailey – Dickinson – Lockwood
Dries – Focht – McEwan
Hughes – Poolman
Rathbone – Bowey
Hunt – Burrows
Elias Pettersson and Quinn Hughes are playing for the this first time this pre-season after signing contract extensions last weekend. Former Oilers forward Alex Chiasson is filling in for the injured Brock Boeser and many in Vancouver believe Chiasson will sign a contract with the Canucks.
WHAT THEY’RE SAYING…
It appears that for the first time since they’ve been members of the Canucks, Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Tucker Poolman have been split up. Ekman-Larsson and Myers lined up with one another at morning skate today and will almost certainly do the same tonight.
This leaves the door open for Poolman to get his first reps in with Quinn Hughes Thursday night in Edmonton. As a defence-first defenceman, Poolman should compliment Hughes’ game well and allow him to be the primary puck-mover on the pair.
Jaroslav Halak wasn’t on the ice this morning, as Thatcher Demko and Michael DiPietro were out for morning skate. They’re also the only goaltenders listed on tonight’s roster.
Justin Bailey took his first skate with the Canucks in a long time. He tested positive for COVID-19 while trying to cross the border before camp and was forced to miss all of training camp and the start of the preseason. In a bold choice that likely won’t stick for any game this preseason, Bailey was paired with Quinn Hughes on the Canucks’ fourth defence pairing.
GAME DAY PREDICTION: Edmonton starts much better than they did on Monday and defeat a weaker Canucks lineup 5-2.
OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: McDavid and Draisaitl connect on three goals. Some will question why Tippett is playing them together.
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