Excitement, optimism, and heightened expectations were the story of day one of training camp for the Oilers. For only the second time in 30 years, there are legitimate expectations that the Oilers can be a contender. Leading into the 2017/2018 season, after Edmonton made the playoffs for the first time in a decade, was the only other time I can recall fans and pundits thinking the Oilers could be a real threat. The 2017/2018 season did not go well, the Oilers struggled mightily and finished 11th in the Western Conference.
Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Darnell Nurse, and Jesse Puljujarvi are the only remaining players who were regulars on that team. Kailer Yamamoto played nine games before going back to junior, and Brad Malone got into seven.
Nurse has vivid memories of that season.
“We only learn if we follow up and act on the lessons that were taught to us after 2017,” said Nurse. “I remember that summer personally and everyone talking about how we were a good team, we’d get back to the playoffs and be a contender. That isn’t how the league works or sports works. You have to earn it, and we didn’t earn it at all. We have to have a chip on our shoulder this year. It was great to get to the Western Conference Final, but there was only one winner last year and we were in the big group of losers. To get to the ultimate goal it will take a lot more work than we even put in last year.”
It took four seasons before the Oilers won a playoff round again, and the three years of disappointment are a great reminder for the Oilers leadership group. Don’t expect a repeat of 2018. This team is more focused and the pace of practice, and the demands from Jay Woodcroft hammered that home.
Woodcroft didn’t like how Kailer Yamamoto was forechecking in one drill and let him know. He didn’t yell, but made it clear they needed to be quicker and more assertive. Woodcroft was an assistant coach in 2018 and is determined not to have a similar setback this season.
Woodcroft’s top lines yesterday:
- Kane – McDavid – Yamamoto
- Hyman – Draisaitl – Puljujarvi
- RNH – McLeod – Foegele
- Holloway – Malone – Virtanen
- Janmark – Shore – Ryan
Ryan and Janmark are battling for a right roster spot now due to the salary cap. Putting them on the same line allows them to essentially have an “in real-time” competition.
Foegele did play RW in Carolina, so he has played there before, but will he start the season on RW? We’ll see.
The defense pairs were Nurse-Wanner (filling in for Ceci), Kulak-Bouchard and Broberg-Barrie. I think there is a very good chance those are the pairings that start the season, but I think the top three lines are a work in progress. Woodcroft will likely try a few different combinations as training camp progresses. And we’ll see if Dylan Holloway can push his way into the top-nine conversation.
Quotes That Make You Go Hmmm…
“We want to make sure we are competing against each other so we will compete for each other in the season,” Woodcroft.
Woodcroft has a gift with words.
“Defending is the one area as a group we haven’t improved at the same rate as offensively and we have to focus on it.“Nurse.
This is very accurate. However, Edmonton did take big strides down the stretch last year after Woodcroft arrived. The Oilers had the 6th best goals against/game in the NHL at 2.78. Colorado was 5th at 2.76. The Oilers finally got their 5×5 goals against/game under two, allowing 1.92 over the final 38 games. If they want to be a real contender their 5×5 GA has been in that range this season.
“I will try to be really good on the forecheck and hanging onto the puck is maybe the other one I can be better too. And go to the blue paint, be strong…mean.” Puljujarvi when asked which areas of his game he wants to improve.
I loved that answer, especially the last three words. Puljujarvi might be the happiest player on the Oilers. He’s always smiling and laughing, but he’s also the biggest forward they have. He’s a huge human, and probably doesn’t know how strong he is. Hearing him say “be mean,” doesn’t match his persona, but he’s bang on. He has the size and strength to intimidate and push people around in the blue paint. He is still young, only 24, and if he adds that element to his game this season, he will be a handful for D-men.
“I don’t think it was worth it to hold out for a bit more money. I didn’t want to miss any time and now I can put my best foot forward. I understand the flat cap, and I didn’t have any rights (arbitration) this year.” Ryan McLeod.
McLeod signing for $798K was all salary cap related. They literally only had around $165 more dollars to give him. McLeod has the right attitude. Missing camp wouldn’t have been wise, and while there is no guarantee, I’m sure the organization will remember his willingness to accept the lower salary and reward him in the future. McLeod has the opportunity to have a breakout year and really cash in next season. His speed is his best asset, and he started using it more to his advantage as he got more comfortable late in the season. He has the potential to develop into an excellent third line center.
“That is definitely the role I want to play this year and Cece (Cody Ceci) has the same mindset. Playing against the toughest competition, as a defenseman, is a lot of fun. It is not easy. It is a hard job, and your mistakes are glaring and the things you do well you usually don’t get noticed for. Thankless jobs like that, for me as a competitor, are fun to be a part of and I’m looking forward to taking on that role again.” Nurse on having over 50% of his TOI v. Elite under Woodcroft and Manson.
Expect a similar distribution to start the season. Nurse and Ceci will play tough minutes and 5×5, and Nurse won’t see much PP time with Barrie and Bouchard logging those minutes.
- When: On Thursday, January 12th, we’re jumping on a flight at the Edmonton International Airport and making our way to Vegas. On Sunday evening, we’ll fly back from Vegas to Edmonton. So the dates that you need to block off for this trip are January 12th to 15th.
- Where we’re staying: After landing in LV, we’ll jump on the free shuttle and make our way to the Park MGM before settling in for a good night’s sleep. 😉
- What you get: Your roundtrip flight, hotel, shuttle, viewing party (Friday night), game entry — we got seats this time (Saturday night), and exclusive entry into our pre-trip ‘get to know everyone’ event.
- How Much: The total cost for the trip, flight, hotel, and entry to the game is $1499 per person (based on double occupancy)
- Tickets: Ready to dive in? Click this link.
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