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Why Jack Campbell has been the best Oiler in the NHL Preseason

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Photo credit:Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Jason Gregor
7 months ago
The NHL preseason can be a tough place to accurately evaluate players. We’ve seen many up-and-comers stand out in the preseason, then be unable to sustain their play once the regular season began. Magnus Paajarvi had a hat trick in the fall of 2010. Alex Plante had four assists in two games in the same year. Linus Omark had five points in four preseason games in 2011. Jesse Joensuu had two goals in three games in 2014. Anton Lander had five goals and six points in six games in 2015. Tomas Jurco tallied three goals and five points in 2019. Brandon Perlini scored five goals and six points in 5 games in 2021, and the greatest unexpected preseason performance occurred in 2018 when Ty “the answer” Rattie scored seven goals and 11 points in four games.
Jack Campbell isn’t a rookie or a young player trying to establish himself. He’s a proven NHL goalie, looking to rebound after a tough 2022-23 season.
It is only the preseason, but from my seat, Campbell has been the best Oiler thus far.
He’s stopped 66 of 68 shots in two starts. Both came on the road where the Oilers were outshot by a combined 68-42. He was the main reason they won in Calgary and in Seattle last night.
Campbell has been positionally sound. He’s looked poised, and most importantly, he’s played with confidence.
Yes, it is only the preseason, but gaining confidence and playing well must feel great for Campbell. When training camp opened, Campbell spoke about how much of his off-season was spent working on his mental game and not being so hard on himself after games. Last year Kevin Woodley from In Goal Magazine noted, “I’d be more focused on Campbell working with a sports psychologist, than anything technical.” Essentially, Woodley felt much of Campbell’s issues started between his ears.
It is early, but Campbell has looked very good. He seems more relaxed off the ice as well. He’s smiling more. He grew out his hair and is rocking a pretty sick flow. In our brief conversations, he seems in a better place than he was last year. He won’t be experimenting with new equipment during this season. If he has a rough patch, he will be able to focus solely on his mechanics and his mental approach.
Goaltending is the most volatile and unpredictable position in the NHL. Outside of the top-seven goalies, we often see significant changes in goalies from season to season. In Jacob Markstrom’s last four seasons, he’s had Sv% of .892, .922, .904 and .918. And many would have him a top-10 goalie in the NHL.
Campbell has had stretches of brilliance, where he plays great for a month, or three, but he’s also shown he can struggle for an extended period of time. Finding a consistent middle ground would be great, but it is difficult for many goalies.
It is only two games, but Campbell has looked great so far, and while I don’t expect him to allow one goal/game most nights, I feel he is more than capable of being a solid performer. He doesn’t need to steal games regularly. The Oilers have more than enough offence to support him, but if he carries this sound play into the regular season, the Oilers’ odds of winning a regular season divisional title for the first time since 1987 increase significantly.

RANDOM THOUGHTS…

Sep 27, 2023; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; Edmonton Oilers defensemen Ben Gleason (6) and Vancouver Canucks forward Arshdeep Bains (80) look for a loose puck during the second period at Rogers Place. Mandatory Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports
  • For players on the bubble, or unlikely to crack the opening night roster, their main goal in the preseason is to get noticed and leave a positive impression on the Oilers coaching staff. Ben Gleason has done that. The un-drafted 25-year-old has improved every game. His puck moving and offensive acumen are his best attributes, but he’s worked hard on his defensive game. If there is an early-season recall for D-men, he’d likely be the first one called. He is a completely different style of defender than Markus Niemelainen, who is a big, physical defender, but so far, I think Gleason’s done more. He played four NHL games in 2018-2019 with Dallas but has spent the past four seasons in the AHL. He’s only 25. I’m not sure if he’ll ever be a full-time NHLer, but his play in the preseason has shown he could fill an NHL spot for a few games if the injury bug bites the Oilers.
  • Xavier Bourgault scored twice last night, which is huge for a young player’s confidence. He will be starting in Bakersfield, and this year he’ll be expected to be one of their offensive leaders. That is the next step in his progression and popping a few preseason goals should give him a boost when he starts in Bakersfield. He has played five preseason games thus far, and he should have a good understanding of what he needs to work on to push for a regular spot in the lineup next season, or maybe even later this year.
  • I’ve really liked Dylan Holloway’s play in every preseason game he’s played. He’s been around the puck each game. He’s using his speed well on the forecheck and when transporting the puck. Warren Foegele has also been very involved in his three preseason games and leads the Oilers with 13 shots on goal. I’d start them on the third line on opening night. They, along with Ryan McLeod would be a big, fast trio, who should match up very well against any third line and should be able to handle some second lines as well.
  • Philip Broberg’s pass on Bourgault’s second goal was slick. I’d guess those who claimed Beau Akey was better might have taken a step back from the ledge. I’m not that concerned with Broberg’s development. If this was 2013-2016, he’d have been playing top-four minutes on a bad team like Darnell Nurse and Oscar Klefbom did. The good news is the Oilers aren’t a bottom-feeder, they are a legit contender, so young players like Broberg aren’t thrust into big minutes and important roles right away. I know he can play the right side, but I felt he looked better on his natural left side. The issue is the Oilers have Nurse, Mattias Ekholm and Brett Kulak on the left side as well. It is a good problem to have, and Broberg’s ability to play the right side will help him, but eventually, the Oilers will need to find a spot for him on the left side. Next year at the latest.
  • My outside-the-box idea would be to play Holloway as the fourth line centre with Raphael Lavoie and Mattias Janmark. Lavoie has come to camp and done everything that is expected of him in a bottom-six role. He’s been sound defensively, scored a goal and he has 1o shots in four games at 5×5. I wouldn’t play Derek Ryan at centre. Yes, he could do it short-term, and he might on opening night, but I like Holloway’s size and speed. The issue is, he hasn’t played much centre as a pro. It is a very difficult position. Lavoie has done more than Lane Pederson, in my eyes, and I’d have him as the 12th forward. The problem with playing Holloway as the fourth line centre is I think he deserves more ice time and should play on the third line. But a solution around that could be giving him a shift or two after a penalty kill in the top six, as Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Evander Kane and Connor Brown will be on the PK.
  • Connor McDavid’s goal last night was such a great shot. His slight hesitation makes is very difficult for a goalie to stop the shot. Not to mention he placed it perfectly on the ice, where there is space as the goalie goes down into his butterfly. We saw him bury a few in that exact spot last season, and watching that goal again this morning, it is almost impossible for a goalie to stop. McDavid has really improved as a shooter, and that’s why I think he will become the ninth player in NHL history to post consecutive 60-goal seasons. Wayne Gretzky did it four years in a row between 1982-1985.
    Mike Bossy (1981-1983) and Brett Hull (1990-1992) did it three years consecutively.
    Phil Esposito (1971-1972 and 1974-1975), Jari Kurri (1985-1986), Mario Lemieux (1988-1989), Steve Yzerman (1989-1990) and Pavel Bure (1993-1994) did it twice.
    We haven’t seen an NHL player achieve consecutive 60-goal seasons in 30 years. McDavid will end that drought this season.
  • I actually like the Anaheim Ducks’ bet on Trevor Zegras. They signed him for three years with a $5.75m AAV. He wasn’t going to sign an eight-year deal for $7m. He likely wanted $8m like Jack Hughes. What I like most is that if Zegras keeps improving and gets a big ticket in three years, good for him. It is also good for the Ducks because they would sign him for eight years and he’d be 25-32 years old then, with a better chance he is able to maintain good value at 32. Had they signed him for eight years now, then he is a UFA at 30, and would likely want another long-term deal. Under this strategy, he will be a UFA at 33 (if he signs an eight-year deal after this contract), and then the Ducks would be in a better position to have him sign for less.

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