The Oilers are just as excited to open the season as the rest of the teams around the NHL. As far as the adjustments to the new staff and systems, the Oilers feel like they’re prepared to start the year on the road in St. Louis on Thursday.
“I think we’re pretty ready,” said Matt Hendricks. “We’ve been pretty tested so far in camp, in terms of knowledge and in terms of taking in the information the coaches want. Execution has gotten better and better. Throughout camp, from day one, we keep improving. We’re seeing affirmation, we’re seeing confirmation of that through video clips and stuff before practices.”
There are several new faces in the locker room, but the returning players want to erase last season’s results and push forward into a new season.
“I know this is an excited group,” said Hendricks. “There’s a lot of guys that want to start the season on the right foot, forget about last season, get all that crap out of us and start the year that we think that we can do.”
Oilers defenceman Oscar Klefbom sat out a few practices and games near the end of the pre-season as his head coach said he was just a little “banged up.”
The blueliner has been full-go for a couple of days now and says he’s ready to start the season fully healthy.
“I’m feeling 100% for sure,” said Klefbom. “It feels good to be on the ice again. I’m very excited and looking forward to the first game.”
Klefbom said his injury was just some soreness in his foot and he’s fully ready to play when the Oilers open the season against St. Louis on Thursday. Sitting out was a precaution to limit the regular season games he’d miss to start. It turns out, he won’t miss any.
The Oilers have taken the ice at Rexall Place for their Tuesday practice. The lineup remains unchanged from yesterday.
“I thought he was really close.”
Leon Draisaitl, the third-overall pick in 2014, nearly made the Oilers roster out of camp this season, according to his general manager.
“What we told Leon this morning is that he did everything we asked him to do,” said Peter Chiarelli.
Head Coach Todd McLellan also believed the centre was right in the discussion.
“He had a really good camp,” said McLellan. “He did a lot of the things we asked him to do at the beginning of the summer with conditioning, moving his big body around, coming to camp prepared to play and compete. He played well in the exhibition season.”
While Draisaitl had a chance to stick with Edmonton to begin the 2015-16 season, the organization felt it was in the player and the team’s best interest to have him go to Bakersfield and work on some things.
“What we told him was ‘you have to look at the big picture, we have to look at the big picture. You had a good camp. You outplayed some people, there’s no question there. Play ramps up, things change, dynamics of the game change as games progress into the regular season. We want you, when we call you up, to stay here for good. So you’ve got to work on your 200-foot game. Offensively, you can play in the NHL right now. You’ve got to work on the 200-foot game, the little stuff on the defensive side of the puck, whether it’s at wing or centre.’” said Chiarelli.
The Oilers GM says Draisaitl will predominantly play centre in Bakersfield, but is pleased he now has the ability to play either wing.
“We tried to send him with a good message,” said Chiarelli.
By sending Draisaitl to the AHL, the organization is giving him a chance to play more minutes, higher up the depth chart right from opening night.
“We want to build a long career for him and we want long-term success for our team and we just feel right now, for both, it’s best that Leon spend a little bit of time in the AHL to start the season,” said McLellan. “It gives our group here an opportunity to get to know each other better… they’re still trying to figure me and us as a staff out and we’re trying to figure them out. I’d rather do that with Leon playing a lot and playing centre down there, having success on the power play, than being in the midst of all that here right now.”
The Oilers have hit the ice for their first regular season practice of 2015-16, after finalizing their opening day roster this morning.
- Oilers run battle drills in intense practice
- Bounce-back practice key
- Slepyshev's game shows on tape
- IN FOCUS | Tough Love
- PRACTICE RAW | Connor McDavid
- PRACTICE RAW | Mark Letestu
- PRACTICE RAW | Justin Schultz
- PRACTICE RAW | Todd McLellan
There were a lot of teaching moments on the ice today for the Oilers. Head Coach Todd McLellan directed an intense practice at Rexall Place and ended things with a unique drill.
Half the players positioned themselves against the boards with space in between. The other half lined up behind them. When the whistle blew, the players would battle for the puck until they heard the whistle again. They’d rotate partners and engage in another battle at the whistle. This rotated through as the players worked on positioning and battling, through fatigue.
“It’s a form of a body position, competitive-type drill that forces you to be athletic and strong when you get fatigued,” said McLellan. “It tests your mental capacity to stick with it. You can line your team up and skate them back and forth forever without pucks and most of them are in well enough condition to handle that. That battle drill is the game, in my opinion. It happens along the boards, you move to your next job. It happens (again) along the boards, you move to your next job. They did a good job of it.”
McLellan can’t remember when he first utilized the drill, but admits he likely first saw it as a player.
“It was a staple of ours in some of the other places that I’ve coached when our games got away from us and we weren’t nose over the puck. It will become a staple of ours when we need it,” said McLellan.
Captain Andrew Ference thinks the essential lessons taught in the drill pay dividends on the ice in games.
“The smaller details of your body positioning and where you’re battling from end up making a huge difference in your team,” said Ference. “Obviously, we have a long way to go from our last couple years. Bringing down goals against, being a harder team to play against and those are the lessons for sure.”
Taylor Hall said last night’s 5-2 loss to Vancouver was the first time this pre-season that things didn’t go according to plan for the Oilers. Head Coach Todd McLellan said he wouldn’t give any of his position groups a passing grade for the night. Today’s practice was the team’s first chance to work towards their bounce back.
“We’re trying to define standards and what’s acceptable and unacceptable,” said McLellan. “We have played some good hockey in the exhibition season. We followed it up last night with a game that was, in my opinion, unacceptable in a lot of different areas and that can happen. We’re a team that’s going to learn a lot of lessons as we go. It’s how we respond to them, how we approach the next day, how we as a staff try and structure the day so we can get better. I didn’t think we were at a level we needed to be in a lot of the confined areas of the game and we worked on that today. Yesterday, I was disappointed in the group and today I was proud of the group and it can happen that way. We can have some days where it’s not that good, but we better respond the next day. Hopefully, we got our footing underneath us again and we’re ready to play the proper way in Vancouver tomorrow.”
Is it possible to teach that kind of rebound in the pre-season, or does it take time to develop? Well, bad games are going to happen. McLellan says no matter who you are you have bad games. It’s about knowing what you can live with and what needs to be addressed. That may take time to cultivate, but today was a start.
“I think defining the standards is what we’re trying to do. What’s acceptable and what isn’t? We’re going to have bad games,” said McLellan. “I know Chicago has won three Stanley Cups in the last six years and they’ve had bad games too. It’s what you do as a team after to get better and how you accept that. We spent good time on video today, pointing out situations, not necessarily systems but just situations, execution situations. Then we parlayed that into time on the ice. When they left (practice) they were tired.”
The Oilers may have something in 2013 third-round pick Anton Slepyshev. This is the winger’s first season in North America after playing in the KHL, and he has done nothing but impress so far in training camp and pre-season.
He has played so well that he is now getting time on a line with skilled players, Connor McDavid and Taylor Hall. With Jordan Eberle out 4-6 weeks with a shoulder injury, Slepyshev has stepped up to help fill the void.
Head Coach Todd McLellan agreed with the media that he continues to warrant discussion for the opening night roster.
“When I look at his game, and we watched the video again, the video doesn’t lie,” said McLellan. “He did a lot of the things we worked on today in the game (on Thursday night). He’s a young player, but he’s played pro hockey before. You can see it. He’s been around pro players before. It doesn’t matter what league you’re in, you’re just around older players, more mature players and he carries himself well.”
McLellan said earlier in camp that Slepyshev was “opening our eyes” to what he can do. The 21-year-old can fill spots up and down the lineup, with the ability to play a faster, skilled game or a slower, heavier game. McLellan says the winger has the ability to change the dynamic of a line, depending on who he is replacing.
The Oilers have taken to the ice at Rexall Place for their Friday morning skate.
Gazdic and Klinkhammer are rotating in.
There are eight defencemen on the ice. Oscar Klefbom (who is a little banged up per Head Coach Todd McLellan) is not among them.