Oilers general manager Craig MacTavish spoke to the media at Rexall Place to recap the 2014-15 season, on Monday. Here is the full coverage.
- Oilers agree to terms with Yakupov on two-year extension
- MacTavish comments on Yakupov
- MacTavish on Klefbom & adding to defence
- Oilers to take time with coaching hire
- Draisaitl & Nurse have chance to earn spots
- Full blog coverage
Oilers General Manager Craig MacTavish fielded questions about the team’s coaching search at his season debrief press conference at Rexall Place on Monday. Todd Nelson, who led the team to a 17-22-7 record as interim coach, is certainly in the mix. However, MacTavish and the Oilers are determined to take their time with this decision, and that includes waiting for the dust to settle in the coming weeks and possible candidates to show themselves.
“Before I talk about that, I’d be crazy not to acknowledge the good job I feel that Todd did since he took over,” said MacTavish. “I don’t want to get into too much about specifics about what the next coach will look like, but I’ve been consistent in what I’ve said about coaching. I’ve got to let the emotion die down from the season. We’re going to give a fixed amount of time going forward to see what that landscape looks like and then we’re going to make a decision. It really is my experience that you’re better off buying some time before we get to that conclusion.”
MacTavish emphasized development as a key piece to the team getting better in the coming years. That just so happens to be a strength of Nelson’s coaching. Nelson worked down in the American Hockey League on the Oilers farm team in Oklahoma City from 2010 to this season. Strides were made in the games of Anton Lander, Jordan Eberle, Nail Yakupov and others under Nelson’s watch. That is something that is not lost on MacTavish, although the club will still take its time with the hiring process.
“It’s not a wide net, for sure, and I’m not saying we won’t catch Todd in that net ultimately,” MacTavish said of the net they’ll cast for a new coach. “There is no downside for me to take time to make this decision. I’ve had that dialogue with Todd, I’ve communicated very clearly to Todd that I’ve admired the job and respected the job that he’s done. I’ve seen it, much like you have, there has been an improvement in the on-ice performance. Todd gets the lion’s share of the credit for that. There has been personnel changes, that I think have helped as well that I wasn’t able to do with Dallas (Eakins) here. But Todd is a laid-back guy that his messaging has really resonated with this team. Having said all that, I still want to give myself some time to see exactly what the landscape is going forward.”
The Oilers have two promising prospects coming up the pipeline next season who are that much closer to earning a roster spot. Darnell Nurse, who was taken seventh overall in 2013, is seen as the Oilers top defensive prospect. Leon Draisaitl is an offensively gifted centre, taken third overall in the 2014 draft.
Draisaitl, 19, played 37 games for the Oilers this season, recording nine points (2-7-9). He then finished the season with the Kelowna Rockets in the WHL and lit up the score sheet. He had 53 points, including 19 goals and 34 assists, in 32 games for the Rockets. He has nine points (2-7-9) in six playoff games.
Nurse, 20, was named Canada’s player of the game in the gold medal round of the 2015 World Junior Championships. He was also named Sault Ste. Marie’s MVP, despite playing only 36 games for the Greyhounds. He recorded 33 points (10-23-33) and 58 penalty minutes in 36 games this season in the OHL.
Each will be given the opportunity to earn their spot in training camp, which is why Oilers General Manager Craig MacTavish wouldn’t commit to sending them to the AHL right away for more seasoning.
“They wouldn’t want to hear that in a press conference, and what I’ve said about them for the last quite some time is that they’re going to determine their own level,” said MacTavish. “I don’t want to put a ceiling on them that they have to go to the American Hockey League. But they’re going to determine that, and there’s nothing wrong with going to the American Hockey League. It’s a great developmental league, a great developmental tool, it enhances development, it speeds up development in a lot of ways. The challenge for both Darnell and Leon will be to come in here and prove that they’re ready, because it takes an exceptional athlete to make that transition right into the NHL. We need players that think the game well and have experience so that will be on both Darnell, who has a lot of experience, and Leon, who is going to get a lot of experience here in this CHL playoffs and hopefully into the Memorial Cup.”
The strides Oscar Klefbom has made on the ice in just his second professional season here in North America have been documented throughout the last year. The 21-year-old defenceman increased the number of NHL games played from 17 in his rookie year to 60 this season, recording 20 points (2-18-20).
In the second half of the season, Klefbom was paired often with Justin Schultz as the top duo on the Oilers blueline. Klefbom, the 19th overall pick in the 2011 NHL Draft, has shown glimpses of what he could become for the organization and that has his general manager excited.
“When you talk about Oscar, I don’t think there is one facet of the game where you can put him in and hurt his development,” said Oilers GM Craig MacTavish. “There are guys that I see that are just going to be really good players and potentially star players. I see that in him. I don’t think there is one area, when you have meetings with players at the end of the year, there are normally four or five things you can point out that they’ve got to do better. You’ve got to improve on your fitness. But I’m at a bit of a loss for him, with the exception of experience.”
Klefbom figures to get more and more of that much-needed experience as he continues his career. But the experienced gained this season has the organization salivating at the future of their blueline.
“I think, offensively, he’s grown the last 20 or 25 games,” said MacTavish. “I don’t know what everybody in here feels, but I feel a whole lot of comfort when he is going back and defending and going to break the puck out. When I look at Oscar, all I think is we need a couple more of him. I think we’ve got one in the system and that will move the dial too as well.”
The other defenceman that MacTavish alluded to was most likely Darnell Nurse. The Oilers top defensive prospect, taken seventh overall in 2013, is currently in the second round of the OHL playoffs, captaining the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds.
MacTavish is comfortable with Klefbom and Schultz as an important pair heading into next season, but did explain the need to add to the roster on defence. The question is whether or not the price will be right and what will come available, in terms of top defencemen.
“I think we can be a competitive team, for sure, but we’ve got to make additions there,” the general manager said. “For me, it gets to how much we’re going to pay in terms of developing assets for proven assets that are declining assets, potentially declining assets. The minute that developing asset intersects with that declining asset, that’s when you regret it. That’s really the gist and the crux of our decision making now going through to next year, because make no mistake, we have the assets that we can go out and acquire more proven players. But these players are going to be, in all likelihood, declining players and is that going to be the best strategy for our hockey club?”
MacTavish thinks that, should one of those players become available, the Oilers have the assets to make something happen.
“Do I envision a scenario where a proven top one or top two defenceman becomes available? Potentially. I think there are going to be some very unhappy teams here in the next couple of weeks. There are going to be some teams that are up against a very tight salary cap and that’s going to create an environment where they could potentially be looking to off-load some high-end assets and we’d be in a position, because of some of the developing assets we have, that we’d be able to acquire them, and the money that we have.”
Oilers General Manager Craig MacTavish opened the question-and-answer segment of his year-end press conference with comments on Nail Yakupov, who the organization agreed to terms with on a two-year contract extension this morning.
MacTavish was impressed with the turnaround that Yakupov had in his game from the first half of this season to the last half.
“I don’t know that I’ve seen any transformation like that in all my years in hockey,” said MacTavish. “He really did become a very valuable player down the stretch. Whatever ignites that, whether it’s a conversation, a linemate or a coach or a level of experience, it’s really hard to identify what ignites that but there’s no denying that Yak has turned a corner.”
Yakupov also spoke to the media, and was asked if he sees himself as part of the “core” group of Oilers youth.
“I’m just trying to do my best and trying to make my team happy and get some points every game and just trying to improving my game every day, every game, every practice and everywhere. Of course, I just want to be the best player and just want to work every day. That’s it,” said Yakupov.
MacTavish says Yakupov has shown the potential and growth that made him the first-overall pick in the 2012 NHL Draft. That makes him an integral part of the organization moving forward.
“From what I talked about before, our growth is going to be internal growth and incremental growth and Yak in his development is a byproduct of that strategy and something that’s going to be continued,” said MacTavish. “We’ve talked about, there was a lot of discussion involving, Yak and about the potential to trade but, again, I’ve said and I’ve been consistent in what I’ve said that it’s not my preference, I don’t think it’s good strategy, to trade developing players. I think that’s been rewarded and Yak has been rewarded with a two-year contract.”
The Oilers have announced that they have agreed to terms with forward Nail Yakupov on a two-year contract extension.
The 21-year-old established a new career high in points with 33 (14-19-33) in 81 games this season. The second half of the season is where Yakupov really put up numbers. Post All-Star break, Yakupov recorded 21 of those 33 points, including nine of his goals. From February 9-18, Yakupov had a point streak of six games. He had a five-game streak from March 9-18.
At the trade deadline, Oilers General Manager Craig MacTavish said he was pleased with the improvements Yakupov was making and that they were eager to extend him following the completion of his entry level contract.
“I see it to continue to evolve the way that it has,” said MacTavish. “We all see the promise now that we had when we drafted him. I had zero interest in trading Nail Yakupov. I think we’ve gone this far, we’ve got to see the end now. It has been some ups and downs, some sideways play and some head-scratching stuff and he’s on top of his game now. He shows all the assets that we saw when we drafted him: the speed, the physical power, the shot, he’s making good plays with the puck and who knows what unlatches all that for him, but he’s really figured it out. He’s playing with confidence, he’s a hardworking guy and we’ve got to see how it finishes. I’ve have no question that Yak is going to continue to develop and he’s got a reference point of what he needs to do now because he’s hit a new level. I’m as curious as anybody to see where that level goes because I think it’s sky high.”
Yakupov's centre, Derek Roy, says he saw strides in his linemate's game.
“Even the last couple of games, he was flying,” said Roy. “He was skating really good and moving the puck and making plays, getting shots through to the net and doing some of the small things that are going to make you successful in the league. The more he learns and the more he gets better, he’s going to be a dynamic player in the NHL. I believe that. That’s why I’ve just tried to help him as much as I could.”
Yakupov was taken first overall in the 2012 NHL Draft. He has 88 points (42-46-88) in 192 NHL games. He finished the season on a three-game point streak, including scoring his 14th goal of the season in Saturday's finale in Vancouver.
The Oilers are holding their end of the year media availability at Rexall Place. Stay tuned for more coverage, including videos, audio podcasts and blogs.
- Schultz on getting stronger
- Nelson reflects
- Improvement in Yakupov
- Roy has had talks with Oilers
- Ference on his recovery
- Read all blog posts
Oilers defenceman Justin Schultz wasn’t very pleased with how the 2014-15 season played out.
“It obviously wasn’t a good year for me and the team,” he said. “I’ve got a lot of improvement to work on this summer. I thought there were times where I thought I was improving and times where I wasn’t. It’s going to be a big summer for me to come back and be ready to play in the fall.”
The improvement he talked about starts with the battles in the corners and along the wall. That is an area of Schultz’s game that he wants to improve. Oilers Interim Coach Todd Nelson sees that as an area for growth as well.
“Everybody can up their battle level and that’s one thing we talked with Justin about,” said Nelson. “He’s been making the conscience effort to do so. You can see him, with the battle drills in practice, make an effort to get better. That has improved, especially over the last couple of weeks. That’s a focal point.”
For Justin to be able to win more of those battles, he intends to hit the gym and put an emphasis on getting stronger and upping the intensity this off-season.
“For me, it’s obviously building some more strength to help me in the battles in the corners and my defensive game, which is obviously something I need to improve on. That’s going to be my focus and hopefully I can make some strides this summer,” Schultz said.
The defenceman played 81 games this season, recording 31 points (6-25-31) and 31 penalty minutes. He was -17.
Todd Nelson coached the Oilers, under the interim tag, to a record of 17-22-7 since taking over full-time on December 30. Time has flown by for Nelson in his first NHL head coaching action.
“Well, personally, it’s been great,” said Nelson. “It’s been a great experience ever since I got the call from (Oilers GM Craig MacTavish). I was grateful for the opportunity and I think that we’ve made some positive strides moving forward. There are some building blocks we can lean on moving forward.”
The Oilers will continue their evaluation process moving forward into the off-season. That evaluation includes the head coaching position and the future of that office for the Oilers. Nelson is sure to be a candidate for that job, and thinks he put his best foot forward.
“I have no regrets about how I handled things,” he said. “I went about it day by day and, like I’ve said before, there’s a lot of work to do here but I think that we made some positive strides in certain areas. I was happy for the experience and I had a great time.”
Under his watch, Nelson feels there were improvements.
“Some of the positive things I saw was when I first got here there were some situations where we’d be up a few goals and then a team would score a goal and we’d get a bit rattled,” said Nelson. “We saw the team grow as the season went on where when that happened again we hunkered down and preserved the victory. I think as a group, I saw some positive signs with that and it has to continue moving forward. There are some building blocks that we can work on next season.”
Nelson spoke with the team before they depart to various homes and vacation spots. His message was simple.
“I didn’t say much. I just said, ‘thanks for the work that you put in and thanks for doing the things or trying to do the things I wanted (you) to do, and have a good summer.’ I thanked them for their time. For the most part, they gave me what they had and that’s all I can ask for,” said Nelson.
As for whether or not Nelson would return to the Oilers in some capacity other than head coach, he wasn’t ready to say.
“I haven’t really given much thought to that,” he explained. “Everything is pretty fresh, but I enjoy working here, I enjoy the people I work with, they’re fantastic people and it’s always a great day to come to the rink.”
So what’s next for Nelson? “A lot of fishing,” he says. Fishing and waiting, as the two go hand in hand. But as for if he wants to be back next year, Nelson says, “absolutely.”
Nelson will head to Oklahoma City to offer his support to the Barons during their Calder Cup playoff run.
Davidson, 23, appeared in 12 games with the Oilers this season, posting his first career National Hockey League goal on March 30th against the Colorado Avalanche.
Marincin, 23, registered five points (1G, 4A) and 16 penalty minutes in 41 games with the Oilers. He recorded his first NHL goal on March 25th against the Colorado Avalanche.
Musil, 22, appeared in four games with the Oilers, posting two assists and two penalty minutes, including his first NHL point that came on April 7th against the Los Angeles Kings.