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Two Games: Ten Observations

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Photo credit:James Carey Lauder-USA TODAY Sports
Jason Gregor
3 months ago
Two preseason games, two shutouts. Not ideal if you’re a fan of offence, but such is life when you play eight preseason games and have limited NHL players.
I strongly believe that players will show the coaches if they are ready to compete for a roster spot. There is a large gap in the NHL-readiness of players in training camp, and usually that gap is easily recognized.
Here are 10 thoughts from the first two games.
1. Markus Niemelainen will be in the mix for a roster spot. He might not be on the opening-day roster, due to limited salary cap space that I outlined last week, but I expect he will make his presence felt in Edmonton this season. He skates very well for a big man, and he’s a rare breed in today’s game: a player who excels at body contact along the boards and in open ice. It is a skill his teammates admire, and notice, and when the inevitable injury occurs in Edmonton, I expect him to be the first recall.
2. Jake Virtanen hasn’t been bad, but he also hasn’t done much to stand out. He will need to do more to earn himself a one-way contract. Edmonton doesn’t have much right-shot forward depth, so he might land a two-way deal and start in the AHL. But through two games he has done little to grab the attention of the coaching staff. He must elevate his play in the next 10 days.
3. Tyler Benson showed well in his two games. I don’t see a spot for him in Edmonton, and if I was him, I’d hope to get claimed on waivers by a team lower in the standings where he’d have a better chance to get his foot in the door. Dylan Holloway has jumped over him in the pecking order on the left side. Many players just need to be in the right situation to get a better look in the NHL. Many players have been claimed on waivers and got better opportunities elsewhere. I hope that happens for him, because he gives you everything he has every game. Work ethic and consistency are his calling cards.
4. If Benson clears waivers, he and fellow SSAC graduate James Hamblin could be the top line in Bakersfield this season. Hamblin has made nice progress over the past few seasons. He might be a player similar to Derek Ryan, who took the long path to the NHL. He has the smarts and speed to be in the mix down the road for an NHL team. But he’ll be hard pressed to crack the Oilers lineup with McDavid, Draisaitl, and McLeod down the middle.
5. Unfortunate timing for Vincent Desharnais. The hulking defender injured himself in the Captain skates leading up to training camp and has yet to skate with the group. He is skating on his own and getting closer, but as Rick Bowness said, “It is hard to make the club from the tub.” Desharnais wasn’t going to crack the right side of the D in the preseason but showing how he’d match up against NHL players was something he really wanted. He’s yet to play an NHL preseason game, and unless he has a quick recovery, that might not happen this year.
6. Dylan Holloway was the best forward to dress in either of the first two games. It is early in the preseason, but he’s getting noticed, which is what you want young players to do. I suspect he will play in Calgary tomorrow, and the Flames will dress more NHLers than Holloway faced v. the Jets on Sunday. He just needs to keep getting noticed and the coaches will have no choice but to play him.
7. These first two preseason games were excellent evidence as to why the Oilers don’t need eight preseason games. Over half of the league only plays six or fewer preseason games. It is actually quite odd how the NHL allows teams to play an uneven number of preseason games. The NFL, NBA, and CFL have the same number of games. MLB varies due to split squad games, but it is strange how some NHL teams will play five preseason games and others play eight. Let’s be real: Teams don’t need eight preseason games. It is simply a cash cow. Edmonton, Calgary, Ottawa, and Montreal are four of the seven teams who play eight games. The Canadiens and Senators will play each other for four consecutive preseason games, but the last two will be in Gander and Moncton.
8, Alex Peters is someone to watch. He’s had quite the hockey journey. He was drafted 75th overall in 2014 by Dallas while playing in the OHL. The Stars never signed him, and he went to University and played three seasons with St. Mary’s. He started his pro career with Wichita in the ECHL, and played 64 games over the past two seasons before he was recalled to Bakersfield and skated in 15 games. He is 26 years old, but he has looked very poised every time I’ve watched him in practice and in games. He’s on an AHL-only deal, but I’m curious to see what he does in Bako this year.
9. It isn’t as easy to score on the power play as some think. The Oilers had six minutes of PP time in game one and 11:24 last night and have yet to score. I understand the theory that it is easier for players to pick up points on the power play, because of having one extra skater on the ice, but you still need to execute and have the skill to score. I don’t expect to see the top guys on in Calgary either. It wouldn’t be a great PR to have Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl’s first preseason game come on the road. I do wonder if McDavid and Draisaitl will only play home games like last year, which would mean they’d dress Friday v. Calgary, Monday v. Vancouver, and Friday v. Seattle.
10. At this point I’d rather play Ryan McLeod at centre than Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. McLeod is bigger, faster, and better on draws.
What has caught your eye through two games?

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