Woodcroft: Two Things I Want the Players to Focus On
Photo credit:© Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports
By Jason Gregor2 months ago
Jay Woodcroft is entering his second training camp as head coach of the Edmonton Oilers. Since being named head coach of the Oilers on February 10th, 2022, the Oilers have the second most wins and second most points in the NHL. They are considered by many, including themselves, a legit Stanley Cup contender. But winning the Cup is difficult. Carolina, Toronto, Tampa Bay, Colorado, Dallas and Vegas are in the same position as Edmonton. You could make an argument that New Jersey, the New York Rangers and Los Angeles should also be included. I’d have them slightly below, but a significant trade deadline addition for any of these 10 teams could be the difference in who hoists the Cup next June.
The Oilers have much higher expectations this season. I sat down with Woodcroft to discuss the heightened expectations, his role in controlling them and what excites him about this season.
Jason Gregor: Your team is second in wins and points since you took over. This will be your second full year, and your team is in a different position now than you were a year ago. How does your approach change, if it does, coming into a season where the players have said the expectation bar is higher?
Jay Woodcroft: I think that it’s a positive thing where we’re at. The life stage that we are in as an organization. We’ve come a long way in this last year and half. Our players have put in a ton of good work. We are at 28 or so playoff games and from those experiences, that’s what leads to those expectations. But as I said to you before, our expectations heading into this season, and in training camp, is to take care of two things. The first thing is to take care of your day, the second thing is to take care of our standard. If we do that, I think that we will be in a good spot. I think that it is important to put the focus on those two things.
For me, as we move through this journey of training camp leading into the start of our regular season, you make sure that the pressure never exceeds the pleasure. You take joy in your journey. You take joy in being around each other as a team. You learn your lessons along the way. But to me, it comes back to those two things: taking care of the day and taking care of your standard.
**What he means by taking care of your day, is what are you doing on game day, a practice day and on a day off? Are you taking care of the things that will allow you to get better? Proper rest on an off day. Focus on improving during practice and being focus on game day.**
Gregor: Players always talk about how they look to improve. The game is getting faster, they are always working on things. How about as a coach? Is there anything Jay Woodcroft focused on this off-season in helping you become a better coach?
Woodcroft: Well, first thing I would say is at the end of the season, whether you won the championship or not, I think that learned people reflect on their year, on things that went right and situations that you would handle differently. Then you go to work and that’s what we did as a coaching staff. That’s what I did personally. What does that look like? It takes the form of film study, of paying attention to your own game, paying attention to what is current, paying attention to the top teams in the National Hockey League.
I think we have done a lot of really good things here over the last year and half. We’ve had the record that we have had for a reason. We have played the amount of playoff series that we have had for a reason. There is a lot of good things going on with our team. We hold a lot of things dear in our organizational DNA that has got us to this point, but as we try to take a step forward, you spend time really looking at the finer details so that you can add layers to your game. So that’s how we try to approach it as a coaching staff. We look past what’s surface level. We dive deep into what we think can really help our team.
As a human being, how do I improve? I spend a lot of time in the summer on trying to renew, on learning, and having conversations with learned people. Listening to other coaches, doing a lot of reading, listening to podcasts, spend a lot of time on self-improvement and that’s how I fill my cup. Because I believe that it’s hard to pour from an empty cup. You have to have a certain level of energy and enthusiasm heading into a new season and that’s what I try to do.
Gregor: You have a ton of offensive talent; you were the highest scoring team in the league last year. Many of your leaders talked about how they have to learn how to win a low scoring game. Sometimes just learn how to not give away a game. How can you help them instill that and learn how not to lose a game?
Woodcroft: Number one we talk a lot about mentality. How a 2 -1 win gets them the same number of points at the end of the day as a 7-1 win does. For me, when you put importance on winning a certain way, or playing in a certain way, early in a season, I think that shows dividends as a season wears on and into a playoff run. The big thing, and a good thing, is that we’re aware of it. We call attention to it. We put focus on it, and we all know there are parts of our game we want to improve.
One of those is our comfort level in those types of tight one-goal games. But what I really like, and in my conversations with our players is that there is a level of maturity, there is a level of understanding where players know that for us to be successful in the long run, there are things that we have to take care of in the short run. And that’s one of them.
Apr 17, 2023; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; Edmonton Oilers head coach Jay Woodcroft during the first period against the Los Angeles Kings in game one of the first round of the 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Rogers Place.
Gregor: Your power play was historically great last year and has been elite for years. Do you have any input as to why the top power plays seem to stay consistent whereas the top penalty kills, there is more fluctuation? Any idea why?
Woodcroft: I think that it speaks to the way that the game is being played. Goals are up. In the NHL meetings with the coaches, the general managers, and the league it was discussed about how power plays were at the level they were at. Obviously here in Edmonton we have done very well with that, but it’s across the league, all scoring is up across the league as a whole. I thought that it was interesting to see how many penalty kills were below 80% last year; that was a unique thing. I think for us to take a step as an organization, putting that focus on the penalty kill, improving the penalty kill, getting that number to where we want it to be to avoiding some meltdown games, that’s key for us to improve in an area where we want to improve, which is lowering our goals against.
Gregor: There is always lots of questions coming into a new season. Everyone is curious how is this going to play out, how’s that going to play out. Is there anything that intrigues Jay Woodcroft that you are curious to see how it plays out?
Woodcroft: Yeah! I’m interested to see the competition to win some of the forward jobs as training camp moves along. I think that it is going to be a fierce competition. You have guys like [Brandon] Sutter, [Sam] Gagner, [Adam] Erne on PTOs. You have Raphael Lavoie, Lane Pederson, Brad Malone, James Hamblin, and Drake Caggiula all in the mix.
As a coach, you spend a lot of time preparing for training camp. You’re talking about instilling the values for your team. You have tactics that you want to introduce, all of that type of stuff, but what’s most exciting is when you take a step back and watch the cream rise to the top. You watch how people get better on a day-in, day-out basis. How people come in and battle for the position they are seeking. And I think it is incumbent on the coaching staff to make sure that we are paying attention. Really paying attention to that daily battle that is happening. To me, that’s what’s fascinating about training camp.
Gregor: You’ve mentioned in the past it is important to ensure players get opportunities to showcase what they can do. Will we see more pre-season games from some of those guys so that you can say maybe this guy got a fair shake, he got his four to six preseason games? Will those in the battle play more games?
Woodcroft: Yeah, I think that that is fair to say. Early in training camp, you want to make sure that some of the younger players are getting a little bit of pre-season action and what not, but our focus is on making sure that the Edmonton Oilers come out of the gate strong. So, the decisions that we make with teams in training camp, the decisions we make with who is going to play in pre-season games, and who is going to stay around for how long? All of those have one thing in mind which is how do the Edmonton Oilers get out of the gate the way we want to get out of the gate? That is my main focus, and our main focus.
It will be exciting to see how they perform in camp and the preseason.
I’m curious to see how Dylan Holloway looks. He’s still very young, but he has loads of potential. Could he break out this year? Will he be able to force Woodcroft to use him in the top-six at times? Because he doesn’t require waivers, will he spend some time in the AHL?
Are we underrating Lane Pederson’s chances of making the team? He scored 17 goals and 24 points in 18 AHL games with Abbotsford last season before being recalled to the Canucks. They acquired him, along with Ethan Bear from Carolina last October. Pederson remained in the AHL but crushed it with Abbotsford before being recalled in December. He played 11 games with the Canucks and was claimed on waivers by Columbus in January. He finished the season in Columbus producing 2-13 in 16 games.
The Oilers signed him to a two-year, one-way contract on July 1st. They must have seen something they like. He was 54% in the dot in the defensive zone last season. He skates well and can kill penalties. Brandon Sutter has a much better NHL resume, but he hasn’t played in the league in two seasons and is coming off a two-year absence due to long COVID. Pederson is under contract, and while Sutter would likely sign for the same $775K, he has to earn a contract. Admittedly, I view Sutter, if his cardio is good, as the better option, but I might be guilty of overlooking Pederson.
I love that Raphael Lavoie bet on himself. The Oilers offered him a higher AHL salary and lower NHL salary, but he opted to take his qualifying offer because it had a higher NHL salary. His response in those talks was, “I’m going to make the NHL club.” He was Bakersfield’s best player the final four months. He had a slow start, mainly due to recovering from an injury and missing training camp. Once he got up to speed, he was very good. He’s in tough to earn a spot on the team, but he has the size and shot to make an impact. He needs to get noticed early and often. He needs to play so well the Oilers are forced to keep him.
Ryan McLeod will join Mattias Ekholm on the sidelines for the first few days of camp. He also had a tight hip flexor, and like Ekholm, they are being cautious with it. Both are expected to join the team during camp/preseason.
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