Ten Thursday Thoughts…

Jason Gregor
10 months ago
September is right around the corner, which means “captain skates” will begin for many NHL teams and then training camps begin mid-month. For anyone involved in the NHL — management, coaches, players, fans and media — it is an exciting time. The run of professional tryouts (PTOs) has begun, and the Oilers have two with Brandon Sutter and Sam Gagner. Those two, along with Rapheal Lavoie and Lane Pedersen, will battle for the 12th and final forward spot on the Oilers’ opening night roster.
Barring injury, it seems to be the only roster spot up for grabs.
1. General Manager Ken Holland outlined in an interview with Mark Spector the Oilers plan to start the season with the seven D-men who finished last year: Darnell Nurse, Mattias Ekholm, Cody Ceci, Evan Bouchard, Brett Kulak, Vincent Desharnais and Phillip Broberg. The goalies will be Jack Campbell and Stuart Skinner. The only real competition is at forward and it is limited. Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Zach Hyman, Evander Kane, Connor Brown, Ryan McLeod, Warren Foegele and Dylan Holloway seem poised to be in the top nine. Mattias Janmark and Derek Ryan will be the 10th and 11th forwards which leaves only one roster spot to fill. The Oilers, barring injury, will start the season with a 21-man roster, so likely only 12 forwards.
2. How Dave Manson and Jay Woodcroft deploy the defense will be interesting. Philip Broberg needs to play. He doesn’t require waivers, so he could go to Bakersfield. He likely wouldn’t love it, but him playing big minutes in the AHL is better than playing limited minutes in the NHL. It would see he and Desharnais are battling for the #6 defense spot, which would be third pair right defense. The one caveat is health. The Oilers’ top-five defenders missed a total of two games last year. They were extremely healthy. The odds suggest that won’t occur again, and that might be the opportunity for more ice time for Broberg.
3. I believe it is far too early to make an assessment on how good Broberg  might be. He has played 69 regular season games averaging 12:54/game. He’s barely got his beak wet. I believe he will be a solid top-four defender, I just don’t know when. Usually it takes 200+ games, which, even if he plays every game this year, wouldn’t occur until after the 50-game mark of the 2024-2025 season. The challenge for the Oilers is they are in win-now mode, and he won’t be able to get as much ice time as Oscar Klefbom and Darnell Nurse did when they broke in the league because this version of the Oilers is good. It is much more difficult to earn ice time on a competitive team.
4. This might be the least surprising training camp I’ve covered for the Oilers since 2001. Holloway and Lavoie seem like the only young players with a realistic chance to make the team. A lack of roster intrigue isn’t a bad thing for the Oilers, far from it, but it is odd how few openings there are. Holloway, Foegele and McLeod could be a really solid third line. Maybe Holloway pushes for more ice time as the season progresses, but to start it seems the top-six is locked. I guess there is some uncertainty as to what the line combinations will be, but that is rather minor. The four wingers — Kane, RNH, Hyman and Brown — will either play with McDavid or Draisaitl, which is a pretty nice option.
5. I’m all for second chances. In fact, I think we need more of them, rather than fewer, but a person needs to show they are remorseful. The Lethbridge Hurricanes announced Bill Peters as their head coach yesterday. Peters resigned from the Calgary Flames in November 2019, after revelations surfaced of his anti-Black racial abuse of Akim Aliu when he coached Aliu in Rockford of the American Hockey League.
Aliu released this message yesterday.
Peters might be legitimately remorseful. He was teary-eyed in his press conference, but it is odd that he’s never apologized to Aliu directly, at least according to Aliu. I truly hope Peters understands his actions, which occurred multiple times and were incredibly wrong. It wouldn’t be difficult for Peters to obtain Aliu’s phone number and reach out. The hockey world is small. He should, and he should understand Aliu might not fully accept his apology. But at least he should try.
6. The NHL had five 50-goal scorers last year. The league had five in 1996 and 2006 but hasn’t had more than five since there were nine 50-goal men in 1994 and 14 in 1993. McDavid, Draisaitl, David Pastrnak, Mikko Rantanen and Brayden Point reached 50 goals last year. It was the first time for all of them except Draisaitl. In the past 10 years, Alex Ovechkin has five 50-g0al seasons, Draisaitl has three. They have combined for eight while the rest of the NHL has a total of six. McDavid, Pastrnak, Rantanen, Point, Chris Kreider and Auston Matthews each reached 50 goals once.
It is difficult to do, but I think we see six players reach 50 this year. Offence is on the rise, and I’m hoping it continues.
7. The Oilers begin their informal “captain skates” next week. It sounds like all the veterans will be there, and I assume young guys like Lavoie and Holloway, who hope to become regulars will be as well, along with a few others. I had a few brief conversations with a few different players this summer, and the overriding theme is they are excited to get back, but feel they have much to prove. They believe they wasted a great opportunity last season. The series loss to Vegas stung — deeply. I expect a more focused team, when it comes to turnovers and defensive execution. That is what cost them the series, not a lack of offence.
8. But I don’t expect the Oilers to slow down offensively. It is their greatest strength. They led the NHL in goals last year with 325 and were 17th in goals against with 256. They had 24 more goals than second place Boston and 36 more than any team in the Western Conference. Seattle had 289. They could score 25 fewer goals and still lead the league, and if they could reduce their goals against by 25, then they’d be similar to what Vegas was last year with 225. Reducing goals against and the glaring errors will be their focus, but I don’t expect them to significantly change their offensive approach.
9. I hope Phil Kessel signs a contract and plays. He isn’t the star he was when he won two Cups with Pittsburgh, but I would like to see how far he could take his ironman streak.
10. In six days, Sports 1440 will launch. It has been huge learning curve organizing all the new hosts, contributors and the extended digital component, but I hope you like it. We will be live on 1440 am dial and streaming at www.sports1440.ca. The signal might be spotty in places, so I highly recommend you go to the App store and download, for free, iheartradio, Stingray or the Radio Player App. And the new feature is the Jason Gregor Show will also be live on YouTube and Facebook. (we plan to have the other shows there in the future, but we are just going to start with one to iron things out). Please subscribe to our Oilersnation YouTube Channel. We will have lots of fun interactive stuff on there, if you are inclined to watch. We’d love to reach 16K subs before the launch. So do us a solid, click here and hit the subscribe button. Thanks in advance.


Much like every time we’ve ever done a trip like this, our first-ever #NationVacation to Seattle is going to sell out quickly so you’ll want to get your spot locked in as soon as possible. Need some details on what’s going down? No problem:
  • When: November 10 – 12th
  • Where we’re staying: Four Points by Sheraton Downtown Seattle
  • What you get: Your flights, three nights at the hotel, a ticket to the hockey game (Edmonton vs. Seattle), and a ticket to the football game the very next day (Seattle vs. Washington).
  • How Much: The total cost for the trip, flight, hotel, and entry to the game is $1999 per person (based on double occupancy) 
  • Tickets: Ready to dive in? Click this link.

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