With the Edmonton Oilers set to kick-off their 2017-18 regular season schedule against the Calgary Flames Wednesday, there’s going to be plenty written about every aspect of that in the next few days — as it should be. Previews. Predictions. The works. That’s the focus now with the pre-season finally over, with the Oilers finishing 6-2, and with the latest round of cuts made.
That said, I’d like to slide in a mention about some items I’ll be writing over the course of this season in the wake of the Top 100 Oilers list we just finished. That was a two-and-a-half year project – a combination of a walk down memory lane with many of the players who won all those Stanley Cups and a collection of more recent Oiler players. That series drew a lot of reaction when we finally wrapped it up. I appreciate the compliments from those of you who enjoyed it.
Framed by that, the geniuses at Nation Headquarters and I have decided we’ll take another run at the List Thing, although we’ll do it in smaller chunks – a series of Top-10 Lists made up of profiles of the players on each list in a similar format to the Top 100. We’ll run two profiles per month, so each Top-10 will take five months. For the next couple of a lists, at least, we’re also going to limit it to the post-1990 era. Let’s face it, if go all the way back to 1979-80, we’d be seeing a lot of the same HHOF names on those lists, so we’re going to focus on the era since the last Cup parade.
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I’m going to try to have some fun with this and maybe slip in some behind-the-scenes stuff along with the obligatory career stats and pure hockey fare. The first list I’ll be running, starting this month, is Top 10 Unsung Heroes. Call them the unheralded glue guys, whatever you want. I’ve also got ideas about another list or two. That said, if you’ve got a Top-10 list you’d like to see done, let me know and I’ll consider it.

THOSE KIDS

Sep 18, 2017; Calgary, Alberta, CAN; Edmonton Oilers right wing Kailer Yamamoto (56) controls the puck in front of Calgary Flames goalie Mike Smith (41) during the second period at Scotiabank Saddledome. Mandatory Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports
On merit alone, the Oilers made exactly the right decision in choosing to have rookie Kailer Yamamoto start the season here while sending sophomore Jesse Puljujarvi to the Bakersfield Condors of the AHL. Merit has to matter, even factoring in the bigger, long-term picture – contracts, salary cap etc. – or what’s the point of having “competition” for roster jobs at camp?
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Yamamoto, who just turned 19 Friday, was absolutely better than Puljujarvi, also 19, in pre-season while competing for a spot on right wing. It wasn’t close. In his six games, Yamamoto finished the pre-season with 5-2-7 and didn’t once look overwhelmed by facing NHL competition. Puljujarvi played in one less game and ended up at 2-1-3. In the short sprint that is camp and pre-season, Yamamoto graded out better. In the long term? We don’t know.
What we also can’t say with any certainty is if Yamamoto will be here beyond nine games. If he doesn’t show any signs of being in over his head and continues to shine, then the call has to be made about keeping him and using a year of his entry-level deal. If he struggles or is just so-so, the call to send him back to Spokane of the WHL would make all the sense in the world. Again, merit and performance have to matter.
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With Puljujarvi, there’s nothing that says he can’t earn a recall based on how he performs in Bakersfield and the situation here with the Oilers – injuries etc. Is it disappointing that a prospect drafted fourth overall in 2016 has been surpassed, at least for the time being, by one taken 22nd in 2017? On some levels, sure. At the same time, players don’t develop at the same rate. What we see today isn’t necessarily what we’ll three months or three years from now. Right now, Yamamoto earned a shot. Puljujarvi didn’t.

WHILE I’M AT IT

Like you, I was sickened, stunned and angered while listening to news reports of what unfolded Saturday night near Commonwealth Stadium and later on Jasper Ave., when the same suspect who hit an EPS officer with a car and then attacked him with a knife, was arrested after intentionally running over pedestrians in a rental van. That strikes pretty close to home when we hear the term “terrorist attack” attached to the events.
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Who hasn’t been in and around the streets near Commonwealth Stadium where the officer on traffic duty was struck and attacked? Who hasn’t strolled down on Jasper Ave., going out for a meal or a drink with friends, where the man in the van injured four people? I’m not going to get sucked into the politics of what-in-the-hell would compel somebody to commit such acts. All I know is that anybody who’d do that, regardless of nationality and/or religion, isn’t right in the head or the heart. Not going to hate or broad-brush an entire race because of it. Not going to be afraid. If I do that, if we do that, the bad guy wins.

RECENTLY BY ROBIN BROWNLEE