Thoughts on the Oilers: Training Camp and Final Roster

11189242This season can’t start soon enough. We’ve spent so much time speculating on line combinations, player acquisitions and realistic expectations this summer. I think most of us are ready for some meaningful hockey.

Aside from the addition of Connor McDavid, I think the best thing going for the Oilers is the coaching staff. McLellan has really taken control of the team, and I really do think the club will push for wins rather than continuous development. Part of this is also the new GM and the franchise’s renewed commitment to success. As much as we harp on Eakins, Nelson and even Kreuger, I think it was obvious that management (and ownership) was more focussed on development rather than actual wins.

The only reason I like following the annual training camp is to see which player will get the most written about them. This year, it’s been Anton Slepyshev, who really has impressed over the past few weeks. I’m not convinced that he’ll be a full time NHL player this coming season, but I don’t think he’s far off either. Last season, Jujhar Khaira, Bogdan Yakimov and Vladimir Tkachev got a lot of attention. The first two didn’t do a whole lot in this year’s training camp, while Tkachev went undrafted.

The key thing to remember is that training camp really is for the “Group A” guys to get going and for the “Group B” guys to demonstrate they haven’t regressed in any way. If I’m management, I need the AHL bound players to show well in camp and give some assurance that the development system is working. Very rarely do we see someone make the team out of training camp, and when they do, they don’t seem to last long and remain as a fringe player. Patrick Thoresen and Lennart Petrell come to mind.

The roster is starting to take shape now that a number of players have been shipped out. Here’s my guess for the opening night:

Hall McDavid Purcell
Pouliot RNH Eberle
Draisaitl Lander Yakupov
Korpikoski Letestu Hendricks

I’d much rather see Draisaitl start and finish in Bakersfield this coming season, but he appears to be in McLellan’s plans. If he stays, my concern is that he’ll be developed somewhat on-the-fly as a center, whereas a stint in the AHL would be beneficial for his development. He’s been outstanding over the past few weeks, and will likely be used the same way Pavelski was in San Jose: paired with another center but taking faceoffs in specific situations.

And the uhh…defence:

Sekera Fayne
Klefbom Schultz
Reinhart Nikitin

Not good enough in my opinion. What’s frustrating is that there were options this summer, but instead Chiarelli shipped out Marincin, overpaid for Reinhart and brought in Gryba. Things might be okay if Schultz and Nikitin bounce back, but the club is taking a risk with this group. It’ll be interesting to see how McLellan matches his defence pairings with the forward line and which 5-man units get favorable zone starts.

Thoughts on the Oilers: Defencemen, Rookies and Training Camp

10279542Welp. This hasn’t gone as planned.

Five straight losses to start the season. Three of which were against division opponents.

From what I’ve seen, this is a better team than last year. The goals against are coming from quick plays and bad turnovers. I haven’t seen a whole lot of running around in the defensive zone, which was prominent last year. And it was always after that running around the Oilers would get scored on. This year, there’s just been some horrible turnovers and sub-par goaltending that’s been to blame. But both of these things are fixable.

I’m still confident in the twelve forwards. Again, it’s not a deep lineup, especially at centre, but I think all four lines (for once!) are pretty decent. My only issue is the utilization of Draisatl on the second line. The club has got to do something about that to not only find a complementary player for Yakupov, but also give Draisatl a chance to develop properly.

I had confidence in the defensemen at the start, only because I assumed that Petry would be playing important minutes and the rest of the group would be legitimate NHL players. Instead, Petry has had his minutes reduced, including a healthy scratch, and the club has relied on guys like Schultz, Nurse (back to junior now) and Hunt (back to the AHL).

What this tells me is that the Oilers training camp did not go too well. There were injuries, but the coaches didn’t do enough of an assessment to confidently assign the right minutes and situations to the right players. We’re five games in to the regular season, and the club is only now starting to iron out their defensive roster.

I guess this is what happens when you’re coming out of a losing season and start to re-jig your defensive tactics. Coaches have to test out which players fit where and basically reacquaint themselves with the roster. Perfect example is benching Petry for guy like Hunt. The latter has a decent shot and can join the powerplay, but his overall game isn’t near the level of the former. Marincin, who stood out near the end of last season is only now getting in to the NHL roster.

I’d also be curious to know how much say the forwards have on who plays defense in key situations. I don’t understand how or why Schultz is playing more than 24 minutes when he’s having such a hard time playing without the puck. The guy is fantastic getting out of the zone, but still has trouble keeping up with rushes from the opposition. He’s still developing, and really should be deployed more efficiently.

Regardless of the poor start, there’s ample time to turn this around and get some wins. There has yet to be a game where the forwards, defensemen and goaltending all played a decent game as a unit. Now that the defense is looking like somewhat of an NHL roster with the promotion of Marincin, the goaltending should improve.

Recommended Links

Gregor: Draisaitl’s development likely better in junior – Edmonton Journal

Mirtle: Blame bad luck, goaltending for Oilers early mess – Globe and Mail

Same time next year – Lowetide