Oilers Training Camp Observations

Jason Gregor
7 months ago
Yesterday was only day one of training camp, but there were still many things worthy of discussion.
Let’s dive in.
1. Ryan McLeod joined Mattias Ekholm on the injured list. Ekholm has a tight hip flexor and said if it was the regular season he’d play, but because there are still 20 days before the start of the regular season they opted to be cautious. McLeod has a soft tissue issue, but it doesn’t sound serious and he should be on the ice during camp and be able to play a few preseason games.
2. Jay Woodcroft had his forward lines set for what we could see on opening night, excluding McLeod.
Lane Pederson slotted in for McLeod. Warren Foegele, Derek Ryan, and McLeod played well together in the playoffs and we could see them start the season together. Brandon Sutter, who starts camp at the top of the fourth line centre depth chart, was between Dylan Holloway and Mattias Janmark. The bottom could change, based on performance, but on opening day Woodcroft gave us a small insight into how he sees things. Raphael Lavoie needs a great preseason and training camp to put himself in the mix.
3. On Wednesday Evander Kane mentioned the Oilers had some small tweaks to their defensive and neutral zone systems. Ekholm mentioned the importance of being comfortable defending in your own zone for 45 seconds to a minute. Essentially, you need to be comfortable being uncomfortable. Yesterday I watched how they defended defensively. It was only one skate, but I noticed the centre was more stationary. Not at a standstill, of course, but with less movement. Tomorrow they will have a scrimmage at 11 a.m. (doors open to the public from 10:00 a.m. to 1 p.m.) and we could get a better sense of the small adjustment defensively. They didn’t do much neutral zone work, so I was unable to see the change Kane hinted at.
4. Speaking of Kane, he said this about his wrist: “It is an injury that takes probably a few years to get back to 100% in terms of sensitivity and feeling, but in terms of functionality I feel great.” He had a tough year, injury-wise, having the gruesome wrist injury. He then returned and a few games later he broke “a bunch of  ribs.” He only played 41 games, and for many of them he was recovering from injuries. Him staying healthy would be a big boost for the Oilers.
5. Another consistent message has been that they want to be better defensively. Ekholm and Leon Draisaitl have spoke about the need to be comfortable in a 2-1 game and learn how not to lose the game. Kane said something similar but in a different way. “Learning that maybe sacrificing 3-5% of your offence to ensure and be 100% instead of 90% when playing defensively and keeping the puck out of our net. At the same time, we don’t want to take away from what we do offensively and how we attack, because that is what makes us a great hockey team.”
The first few months of the season is where this mentality needs to be built and refined.
6. Jack Campbell made a few big saves in the cross ice mini-scrimmage that garnered hoots and hollers from his teammates. Campbell even fist pumped his blocker after one sequence of two solid saves. He was smiling and laughing, and for Campbell having fun and being relaxed will be a key for his success. He came to a new team with a new contract, and then switched his equipment during the season, which is extremely rare for a goalie, and the year didn’t go as well as he’d have liked.
“Switching up gear all the time and just trying to figure things out and it didn’t come easy, but, man, I learned so much. It was a great summer of growth and things are really comfortable and I’m ready to get going. My standard for myself is so much higher than how I performed last season, but so much good came from having a tough year as far as my growth. My focus is getting back to where I know I can be and elevating it.
“This summer I spent a lot of time working on it (not being so hard on himself if things don’t go well). Stu gave me some good pointers on working on that, it really helped and that’s why he is a great teammate,” said Campbell.
7. Sutter is a player to watch, because it is rare to see someone return after a two-year absence, and more rare because it was due to long COVID.
“When you hear the term long COVID, you assume it is something with the virus, but it is more your immune system’s reaction to it,” said Sutter. “I was all out of sorts and took a long time to figure out why. The big challenge is getting your body back into it after two years away. “I’m 34 years old now and it is never easy playing at this level and you have respect that everyone here is in prime shape.
“The hardest part was just figuring out for the longest time was was actually wrong, and once I did, that helped. The last six to eight months is when I started noticing a difference. I started feeling like myself again and got my breath back. I had horrible shortness of breath for about two years. Once I was able to get that back and started training again it felt good. I kept improving and I said in July I would start skating like I would for a normal season and after about three or four weeks I was pretty confident. At that point, I spoke to my agent and we started making calls.
“I’m happy it worked out here. I’m happy to be a normal husband and father again and once I felt better I wanted to give it (playing hockey) another shot. I didn’t want my career to end on those terms and I’m hungry to see where I’m at,” said Sutter.
8. Sutter joked about how he was a Flames fan growing up.
“I was a Flames guy,” laughed Sutter. “When my dad retired from playing and we moved back to Sylvan Lake, I noticed at school the kids were all wearing a Flames jersey or an Oilers jersey. My uncle Brian was coaching the Flames, so I decided I’d be  Flames fan. Then Darryl coached there, my dad coached there, Ron and Rich worked there, so we were always Flames guys. I got a couple texts (chirps) from my cousins when I got the tryout here, but everyone is pretty happy for me. I’m just happy to be anywhere, and I’m really happy to be here because we have a really good chance to win,” Sutter said.
9. It is the first time Sutter’s been on a PTO (professional tryout) and he admitted it requires a bit of a different mentality. “Today I got on the ice and I was skating around with Erne and a couple of the coaches and I said this is just like peewee tryouts,” he said. “It isn’t much different. I’m just trying to have fun with it. I’ve been around an NHL dressing room for a long time, but coming to a new room it takes a while to get comfortable.
In the scrimmage, Woodcroft had McDavid and Draisaitl’s lines go up against Pederson, Sutter, and Malone lines. For Sutter, he will find out quickly how he feels when going up against the two best offensive players in the game.
“You couldn’t ask for a tougher start (laughs),” said Sutter. “It is one way to find out if you are ready or not going out against two of the best players in the world. They are awesome, and they’ve been great for me. It is good to be on the ice with them and shows you the pace you have to be at every day to be ready. After being away for two years, you have to get to that pace as soon as you can. You can skate all you want in the summer, and train all you want in the gym, but until games start and the pace starts v. NHL players, there is nothing like it.”
10. With Ekholm not skating, Dave Manson started day one with these D pairings.
Would they start the season with Kulak and Ceci as a pair, even though Nurse and Ekholm face the toughest matchups? I understand the theory that you could use Kulak and Ceci as a defensive pairing, but Nurse and Ekholm are your two best defenders, and I don’t see how they aren’t facing the toughest competition. And if they are, then their partners are too. Would Manson start the season with Bouchard and one of Broberg/Desharnais as the two partners with Nurse and Ekholm? He could, but I’d guess that is an option we see during the season, rather than at the start.


Our fifth annual Pizza Pigout is going back to where it started. In 2019, we had our first Pigout at Molson House and then COVID arrived, and we transitioned to having it in conjunction with a drive-in movie. It worked well, but we wanted to bring it back to the original place, because it allows attendees to try more pizza. This format allows more mingling and tasting many different great pizzas. If you love pizza this is a must-attend event.
  • Date: Wednesday October 11, 2023
  • Time: 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.
  • Location: Rogers Place, Molson Hockey House (2nd floor, 18+ only venue)
  • Ticket price: $65 per ticket
  • Ticket bundle: $250 for 4 tickets (saving you $10!)
The event ends and then we will have a Watch Party  for the Oilers season opener v. Vancouver at the Ice House, right across the street.
Pizza, Kidsport and hockey. A great mix. Hope to see you there and then watch the season opener.

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