The last stop on the current Oilers road trip is a homecoming for a couple of veterans and linemates, as Matt Hendricks and Boyd Gordon each played for the Washington Capitals earlier in their careers.
Hendricks suited up for the Caps for three seasons between 2010 and 2013, while Gordon played in Washington a little earlier, starting his NHL career there in 2003 and spending seven years with the organization. Hendricks and Gordon both played on the 2010-11 Caps squad that finished first in the Eastern Conference during the regular season but bowed out to the Tampa Bay Lightning in the second round of the playoffs.
Following a strong WHL career with the Red Deer Rebels, Gordon was selected in the first round (17th overall) by the Caps and spent his first three seasons up and down between the NHL and AHL before becoming a full-time big leaguer in 2006-07. He set a career high in points that year with 29 and appeared in 36 post-season games during his tenure with Washington.
“It’s good to be back,” Gordon said following Monday’s Oilers practice at the Caps facility in Arlington, Virginia. Since it’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day in the United States, many hockey fans took advantage of the holiday to watch the Caps and Oilers practice, so Gordon was frequently approached by locals who welcomed him back to the city.
“I played here quite a while and met a lot of great people and teammates. Any time I come back it’s always pretty special for me. I really enjoyed my time here, really nice city. There’s a lot of great history, which is something I enjoyed while I was here.”
Hendricks also had his most productive offensive season as a member of the Caps, as he put up 25 points in 2010-11. He too built a nice post-season resumé, appearing in 28 playoffs games. And while Hendricks didn’t play quite as along in Washington as Gordon, he echoed his teammates sentiments about their former city.
“It was a great time playing here, great fan base and great organization,” Hendricks said. “I played on some real good teams, teams that challenged in the playoffs, and made a lot of great friends. I had my kids here, they were born in Virginia over at the hospital, so it brings back a lot of great memories. It’s a great place to live.”
Both Oilers also agreed they’d like to close out the trip with a W against their old squad.
The 2015 NHL Draft has been speculated by many to be the deepest since the 2003 Draft mined the likes of Shea Weber, Jeff Carter, Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry and Anze Kopitar among many others.
Oilers GM Craig MacTavish talked about the importance of the draft for the club.
“It’s an extremely important draft. The primary focal point of our organization right now is in preparation for this upcoming draft. We now have Pittsburgh’s first-round pick. We have two first round picks. We’re going to get an early pick in the second round so that’s going to be a pick that we’ve got to utilize very well. And then we’ve got two third-round draft choices. It’s essential that we do very well at this year’s draft.”
In addition to being deep, at the high-end the talent is extremely highly touted with Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel.
“They’re both generational players. I’ve seen Jack play at BU. I’ve seen Connor McDavid play before, going into this tournament. Both players really accounted for themselves well against older, tougher competition. And that’s really a good measure.”
MacTavish was recently at the World Junior Hockey Championships when both 17-year-olds McDavid and Eichel were among their respective teams' best players in a tournament normally dominated by 19 year olds.
“It’ll probably be the last time we have an opportunity to see both those players competing on the same ice surface. Both players, any team would be ecstatic to get. There were many, many good players that were in that tournament as well. Lawson Crouse is another guy for Canada that did very well. Noah Hanifin’s gotten a lot of notoriety at Boston College. Pavel Zacha, Czech-born player who plays for Sarnia, Mitch Marner in London. There are a lot of high-end players in the draft.
“From what I’ve been told by Stu MacGregor and Bob Green it’s a very deep draft.”
Today, Oilers general manager Craig MacTavish confirmed the rumours swirling around that Bob Green has been promoted to the position of Director of Player Personnel for the club.
“These are things that normally are done internally but there’s been quite a bit of information that Bob Green has taken over as Director of Player Personnel for the Edmonton Oilers. He’s going to oversee all aspects of our scouting department,” MacTavish began.
“This is really a confirmation of some of the rumours that have been out there. When I go to the rink and run into scouts of other teams who are asking me about this, I felt it was time to reveal some of this information. Other than that, it’s really our policy and my policy to keep these changes as internal as we can. But this is an effort to really fortify the horse power of our amateur and pro scouting staff.”
Green has an impressive resume which includes building an Edmonton Oil Kings squad that made the WHL Finals three years in a row with two Memorial Cup appearances and one Memorial Cup victory.
“He’s been working in our organization now for a few years with the Oil Kings highly successfully, getting a lot of attention for building a Memorial Cup team. Then he took a full-time job with the Edmonton Oilers last year and has been on the job for just over a year now. We’ve been really impressed by the detail of his work. He knows how to build a team and is on side with our preference to get bigger, stronger and faster athletes.”
Heading into a very important draft for the Oilers with two first rounders, a high second-round pick and two third rounders in the deepest draft since 2003, MacTavish felt it was important to have someone in this role who works well within the group.
“He’s shown he can work with this group and do an excellent job. Those qualities were obvious to me and the rest of the management in the organization. Bob’s going to do a really good job for us in this capacity.”
The Oklahoma City Barons have skyrocketed up the standings to first place in the entire AHL. They have 58 points in 40 games, with a record of 27-9-2-2.
“I think there’s got to be a lot of credit given to Gerry Fleming and Tony (Borgford) and Kelly Buchberger too as well,” said Oilers GM Craig MacTavish. “It speaks to the tradition and culture here which was really been started through Bill Scott, who now works for us, and Todd Nelson. It’s a very close-knit group of players. We’ve got a really good mix of veterans who help set the bar for the youth. And we’ve got a good mix of youth. Bogdan Yakimov last night was exceptional. JJ Khaira, Mitch Moroz is down here. That’s to really complement a really good, young D-core.”
MacTavish added that he feels the future is in teams having a mobile blueline and the Oilers are very well prepared for that with the young, mobile defence in Oklahoma City.
“Defencemen that can move the puck, move their feet, get the puck up ice. Dillon Simpson, Jordan Oesterle, David Musil, Gernat, Brandon Davidson who we’ve seen and Marty Marincin who everybody knows. There’s a lot of guys on the back-end who have potentially bright futures in the NHL.”
Having better calibre of players at the NHL level has helped improve player development.
“We’ve been talking about adding more competitive people and more size to our lineup. I’m seeing the evolution of a lot of that. It takes time to draft these players, bring them in and develop them, develop them the right way. I feel like our organization up top is strong enough, deep enough and growing up top so we have the time to put these guys and leave them down here at the American League level where development best occurs. We’re seeing that firsthand.”
For the first time, the Oilers held their annual mid-season amateur scout meetings in Oklahoma City. Oilers GM Craig MacTavish talked about the decision to hold the meetings here.
“I think it works out really well with our minor league team down here,” he said. “Obviously, that’s the main impetus behind getting everyone down here. And the amateur scouts very seldom get to see American Hockey League play. It’s another brand of hockey and it’s good information for them and a good meeting place for us all.”
It worked out perfectly that the Barons had three games in three days to help frame the meetings.
The Oilers are on the ice for practice this morning at the BB&T Center in Sunrise, Florida.
The line combinations are as follows:
The Oilers are working on dump ins and shooting drills.
The Oilers worked on a drill Friday that’s familiar to those who watched Todd Nelson coach in the American Hockey League. The team pushed the two nets to either side of the centre circle and worked on 3-on-3 battles in tight quarters.
The thought process behind the drill is to get the puck off your stick quickly and decisively and score as much as you can in a short period of time.
“It’s like a game, you don’t have much time,” Benoit Pouliot said. “At the same time, it’s a fun drill for the guys to have fun and try to score the most goals possible. I’ve done that drill a couple of times on other teams too and it’s just good for your quick passing and quick release. You have 2-3 seconds with the puck in the offensive zone too so you have to make a quick decision.”
Practicing quick decisions with passing and shooting could help the Oilers bolster their offence, which hasn’t produced at a satisfying level to the players.
“It’s just in tight and bearing down on goals,” Luke Gazdic said about the drill. “We need to get some more goals for a team that’s known for its offence. We haven’t been scoring a lot lately. The production has mainly been from one player (Benoit Pouliot) the last couple of games. It’s nice because it also lightens the mood a little bit. It’s fun. It’s a tough drill but it has a purpose and it’s nice to get stuff like that in.”
“It’s fun,” Oscar Klefbom added. “We did that a lot together in OKC. It’s a fun drill. The puck is going to go fast out there and it’s good for the forwards just to have a quick release and their head up all the time.”
How did the players fare in Nelson’s drill?
“I thought they did fine and moved the puck quick and shot when they had to,” the Oilers interim coach said. “It’s amazing that defence in that drill always seem to do better than forwards just because they check more in a game, so they’re used to the checking aspect, and then when they get a chance to shoot they like to shoot the puck. It was good. I thought the guys moved the puck quick and shot when they had to.”
“It’s a fantastic accomplishment.”
Oilers bench boss Todd Nelson summed it up perfectly when asked about veteran centreman Boyd Gordon playing in his 600th career NHL game last night in Tampa. After stints in Washington and Phoenix, the 31-year-old Saskatchewan native has endeared himself to the Oilers organization and their fans for his work ethic and unsung hero mentality.
“Gordo’s carved out a very nice career for himself,” Coach Nelson added. “He really plays a good, hard game and is always in the trenches. He’s a guy that goes in the faceoff dot for key draws and carries the lion’s share of the penalty kill. He’s a guy that tries to do things right every time and be consistent.”
Always humble and typically a man of few words, Gordon said he feels lucky to be in the NHL and relishes each day at the rink.
“It’s something I'm proud of and it was definitely a special night for me,” he said. “You just want to keep playing games and play for as long as you can. It’s a privilege to play in this league. Any time you get an opportunity to play in the NHL, it’s something you want to treasure.”
Gordon has done 600 games the hard way too, considering his top performance traits are winning faceoffs, blocking shots, marking opposing teams’ top players and killing penalties. He scored 81 points in his final WHL season with the Red Deer Rebels in 2002-03, but became a faceoff-winning, shutdown specialist in the NHL.
“I put up some points in junior, but when you’re a pro you have to figure out what you’re good at and what your niche is, and and I think I found that,” said Gordon, who credits his father, as well as his Rebels coach Brent Sutter, for teaching him the game and how to develop his faceoff prowess.
Gordon ranks second in the NHL in blocked shots by a forward this season with 53 (Ryan Getzlaf has 57), sits eighth in the league in faceoff success at 56.5% and sixth in total faceoff wins with 843. He’s also scored five goals this year and has a career-high 12.5% shooting success rate.
When Oilers interim Head Coach Todd Nelson glances over to the Tampa Bay Lightning bench during tonight’s game, he’ll see a former American Hockey League colleague guiding the opposing squad in Jon Cooper.
Nelson and Cooper share quite a few similarities. Both grew up in small Western Canadian cities (Nelson in Prince Albert, SK and Cooper in Prince George, BC). Both have worked their way up through the minor league coaching ranks, and both were mid-season NHL head coaching replacements.
Cooper guided the AHL's Norfolk Admirals and Syracuse Crunch from 2010 to 2013, while Nelson was bench boss of the Oklahoma City Barons. He took the reins of the Lightning in March 2013 when Guy Boucher was relieved of his duties and proceeded to lead the team to a 101-point 2013-14 campaign. Tampa Bay is also off to a strong start this year with a 27-14-4 record.
Many of the prospects Cooper coached in the AHL have turned into impact players with the NHL club, like Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat and Brett Connolly. Nelson said his goal is to enjoy similar success with the Oilers and see some of the guys he’s helped develop in OKC grow into NHL regulars.
“Jon’s done a fantastic job here,” Nelson said. “He has his team playing well. They’re an explosive team. It’s a situation where I'm going to relish the fact that we get to coach against each other. Hopefully in the future, we as an Oilers team can accomplish what Tampa Bay is accomplishing right now.”
Tonight’s Oilers vs. Lightning game marks a bit of a homecoming for winger Teddy Purcell, who spent the last four and a half seasons playing in Tampa before he was dealt to Edmonton in the Sam Gagner trade this past summer.
The 29-year-old from St. John’s, Newfoundland started his NHL career with the LA Kings but was traded to Tampa during the 2009-10 campaign. Purcell played 310 regular season and 22 playoff games with the Lightning, scoring 203 regular season points and 18 more in the post-season.
“I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t excited,” said Purcell, who ranks fourth in Oilers scoring this year with 19 points. “It’s nice to come back and see some familiar faces. It’s a little different, but I’m excited to play tonight. We had a lot of successful seasons here, and I give a lot of thanks to this organization for giving me the chance to become an every-day NHL player.”
Purcell said he got a chance to meet former teammate Steven Stamkos for lunch yesterday and also visited his former Tampa home, which is now occupied by current Lightning forward Brian Boyle, who’s in his first season with the Florida squad.