When you look at the Oilers Rookie roster for their Young Stars Tournament in Penticton, B.C. the first three names that stick out are Connor McDavid, Darnell Nurse and Leon Draisaitl. All three come with the stardom associated with being a high first-round pick and the potential to be key contributors to the Oilers very soon.
For McDavid, this will be his first Young Stars Tournament, having been taken first overall in the 2015 NHL Draft at the end of June.
“I’ve heard it’s a very fun tournament,” said McDavid. “It’s always a good time, it’s very competitive and, obviously, it’s a nice part of Canada. It will be good to spend some time out there as well.”
As a seasoned Penticton veteran, having played in the tournament in 2013 and 2014, Nurse is looking forward to the increase in tempo from his off-season training.
“It’s always good to get out there,” said Nurse. “Obviously, you don’t play many games in the summer that have high tempos. It will be good to go out there and get my legs under me. I look forward to playing with these guys.”
Draisaitl wasn’t surprised to see his name on the roster this season. After being selected third overall in 2013, the big German centre got a taste of NHL hockey with the Oilers but finished his season in junior. Draisaitl is eager for the experience this tournament gives him and looks to not only compete but to win.
“We all go there to win the tournament,” he said. “That’s what it’s all about. Guys want to make the team and guys want to impress, but at the same time we’re still a team. We want to win and we want to win every game. I think we’re all going in with that mindset.”
All three Oilers games in Penticton will be broadcast live on edmontonoilers.com.
The American Hockey League announced today that the Oilers affiliate, the Bakersfield Condors, will play the Stockton Heat in a regular-season outdoor game on Friday, December 18. The game will take place at Raley Field in West Sacramento, California.
Stockton is the affiliate of the Calgary Flames, bringing the Battle of Alberta to the California outdoor hockey scene.
2015-16 marks the first season the Condors will serve as the primary developmental affiliate of the Oilers. They had previously competed in the ECHL.
This will be the eighth outdoor game in AHL history and first in the state of California.
“This event will be a special showcase for our Pacific Division in its inaugural season,” AHL President and CEO David Andrews said in a press release. “We look forward to this celebration of hockey outdoors and to sharing the experience with the terrific hockey fans in Northern California.”
The first AHL outdoor game took place in Syracuse, NY on February 20, 2010. This will be the first time an Oilers affiliate has played in an outdoor game.
Raley Field is home of the Sacramento River Cats minor league baseball team, the AAA affiliate of the San Francisco Giants. It seats 10,624 with additional hillside seating in the outfield.
The Condors begin their AHL era on October 9, against the Grand Rapids Griffins. The Griffins are the Detroit Red Wings affiliate and are coached by former Oilers Interim Coach Todd Nelson. The Condors will be led by Gerry Fleming.
Oilers Captain Andrew Ference has been around the league for some time. The veteran of over 900 NHL games has played with and against some of the league’s brightest stars.
The Oilers will bring in one of the next crop of those expected star players in Connor McDavid. The 2015 first-overall pick is highly touted by the hockey community and has been since he was a young boy. The 18-year-old centre will come to Edmonton with expectations and pressure placed on him by the media and the fans, but it’s nothing new to him.
As one of the leaders of the Oilers, Ference will undoubtedly provide counsel to the youngster. One of the things he wants McDavid to do is just have fun.
“There are some things you can relate to (with McDavid),” said Ference. “Obviously, your first year in the league. There are some things with him that not too many of us are going to be able to relate to. He’s dealt with things with tremendous maturity. He’s been incredibly impressive. Honestly, for the most part, it’s the off the ice stuff. It’s the day-to-day stuff and how to handle yourself, how to make sure that you have somewhat of a normal life outside of the rink and what not. To have that getaway from all that attention, from all that kind of spotlight. I think that’s the biggest thing. He’s a great kid. He’s a very nice man. He’s mature, he’s got his focus on the game. Give him an opportunity to be normal and have fun. Have fun with not only hockey but have fun growing up and living this life and making sure he’s doing things he gets fulfilment out of as well.”
The pressures of being a rookie in the NHL are great enough. Perhaps Ference is onto something with his advice. Everybody needs an escape.
Andrew Ference has followed along with his team very closely this summer. The entire league has.
Perhaps no team in the NHL has seen such an overhaul in personnel both on and off the ice. The additions and changes have been talked about a lot this summer and so much so that Ference is ready to stop talking and start doing.
“You talk, talk, talk, talk and it gets kind of old to be honest,” said Ference. “There is always optimism. With every single team I’ve been on, this time of year brings optimism. There has to be action and there has to be legitimate change in the way we’ve done things.”
Ference’s call for action stems from his desire to win and do so in Edmonton. Yakupov, who is also skating in the same camp had a similar sentiment last week talking about needing every player to come together and work hard. The players are on the same page.
“Everybody has to dig deeper and be a little bit more prepared,” said Ference. “That has to be throughout the entire organization. It can’t just be one or two guys having a better year. I think all of us really have to dig deep and not just talk about how we want it to change but really go out there and put some solid action behind it.”
Personnel changes alone don’t win championships. How those pieces come together and compete this season and in the future will determine the success of the club.
Everyone knows Cam Talbot has a small NHL sample size. The former New York Rangers goaltender played in the shadow of Henrik Lundqvist under the lights of the big city.
When Lundqvist went down due to a vascular injury last season, Talbot was forced to step in and he did so extremely well. He went 16-4-3 in Lundqvist’s absence and posted a 2.16 goals-against average and .929 save percentage.
His performance led teams around the NHL to take notice. It also made him Edmonton’s top goaltending target this off-season. They managed to acquire the 27-year-old at the draft in a trade with the Rangers.
Oilers defenceman and captain Andrew Ference was one of the players to come away impressed by Talbot’s performance last season.
“I think like most guys in the league, you see Lundqvist go down and he played great,” said Ference. “For the first few games, you’re watching on TV and you’re kind of waiting for him to bend a bit. Obviously, when you’ve got a guy like Lundqvist you’re not going to see a lot of whoever is backing him up. When he kept playing well it was like, OK, he’s legit. He did really well for that team. He came in in pressure situations and big games to try and fill shoes like Lundqvist’s is not easy. I think it’s what really impressed everyone around the league about him.”
Talbot will compete for number one status in Edmonton this season
Here at edmontonoilers.com, we have documented what has been an off-season of change for the Oilers organization. From the promotion of Bob Nicholson to CEO of Oilers Entertainment Group, to the hiring of Peter Chiarelli as President of Hockey Operations and General Manager. There will be a group of new coaches behind the bench this season, led by veteran Head Coach Todd McLellan. Trades and free agent signings have reshaped the roster, and don’t forget the addition of first-overall pick and expected impact centre Connor McDavid.
The ride has been fun for the fans and fun for the media to cover. It’s no surprise the league has taken notice of the Oilers improvements, but imagine being a player in the system.
Oilers winger Nail Yakupov has kept a watchful eye on the additions. Yakupov, who is in Edmonton at the Perry Pearn’s 3-on-3 Hockey Camp this week, spoke to Oilers TV about the changes to the coaching staff and front office.
“These (coaches) have been working for San Jose for many years and they’ve been playing in the playoffs. They know how to play in the playoffs. They’ve coached guys like Joe Thornton and (Joe) Pavelski and other guys… Brent Burns. It’s a good opportunity,” said Yakupov. “The GM won a Cup in Boston, right? So, it’s always good to have those types of guys.”
Like so many others, Yakupov is optimistic that the changes will help the club moving forward. But he also recognizes that the players will have to come together and prove themselves on the ice.
“I hope and everyone is hoping (the additions) are going to bring something special to our team and make our team better again,” said Yakupov. “We have to just play. Something could happen every day. You never know. I’m just happy for another season and happy to get back. I can’t wait to play and see all the guys.”
When the Oilers return to camp, they do so with the goal of turning these organizational moves into real results.
“The Oilers organization wants to do their best to make the team better,” said Yakupov. “It’s all about the team and we’ve got to stick with it. We’ve got to be together and show how we’re going to play. We’re getting older every year and the bad ways should stop one day.”
If you don’t get the hype surrounding Oilers 2015 first-overall pick, Connor McDavid, then just check out the film. The potential and talent of McDavid is well-known in hockey circles and has been for years. It has Oilers players like Taylor Hall and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins already voicing their excitement about their new teammate, before training camp even opens.
Nail Yakupov is the latest Oilers player to speak to the media about McDavid.
“Everyone talks about McDavid,” said Yakupov. “It’s kind of been crazy, especially in this city. I think it’s really good for us too. He’s a really good player and I think it will help us to be better.”
About the possibility of playing on a line with McDavid, Yakupov takes a wait-and-see approach.
“That wouldn’t be bad,” he said. “We still have some time. Have to be ready for the season, have to be ready for camp. It’s all the coaches’ decision on where I’m going to play. It’s all about them. Our goal is just to be strong, play hard and make some good fitness testing. Just get going in the exhibition and get ready to go for the start of the season.”
Yakupov was asked about having two former first-overall picks leading the charge up the middle for the Oilers. McDavid and Nugent-Hopkins certainly bring some star power and potential to the position.
“We have real good centres. Both of them. They are really good and they are really smart and they’ll be some of the best centres in the league, especially on our team,” said Yakupov. “It’s not all about just a couple guys and not about the one guy. We have a team and we have another 20 guys who are going to play hard and make some things happen on our team.”
The Oilers finished 19th in the NHL last season on the man advantage (17.7%). Their conversion rate on the power play drastically improved from the first half of the season, where they were operating at just 14% before the All-Star Break. Following the break, Edmonton improved to 23.6% and sat fourth in the league during that time.
Oilers centre Ryan Nugent-Hopkins sees improvement on the power play this upcoming season, given the strides made last season and additions to the coaching staff and the roster. One of those key additions should be 2015 first-overall pick Connor McDavid, who has the high-end offensive capabilities that can boost a power play.
“I think, as the year went on and near the end of the season, we really picked up our power play,” said Nugent-Hopkins. “We started scoring and just had the confidence to go out there and get the job done. For whatever reason, that was something we were lacking at the start of the year. With a guy like (McDavid) coming in too, that will ignite us a little more hopefully. We should be a team with a really strong power play and we’ve got to get back to that.”
Oilers new Head Coach Todd McLellan has a history of coaching productive power plays. With San Jose the last seven seasons, only once were the Sharks ranked outside the top 10, and twice McLellan’s Sharks were second in the league on the man advantage (2010-11 and 2011-12).
San Jose’s Power Play Under McLellan:
2009-10: 4th (21.0%)
2010-11: 2nd (23.5%)
2011-12: 2nd (21.1%)
2012-13: 7th (20.1%)
2013-14: 20th (17.2%)
2014-15: 6th (21.6%)
For years, the Oilers have been looking to add depth up the middle. Heading into the 2015-16 season, it would appear they are the deepest they have been at centre in quite some time.
Heading into his fifth professional season, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is a huge part of the centre group in Edmonton. The addition of 2015 first-overall pick Connor McDavid has added excitement and potential. Adding free-agent signing Mark Letestu has bolstered the depth and veteran leadership. The development of 2014 third-overall pick Leon Draisaitl and the emergence of Anton Lander as a legitimate NHL option have also given the Oilers things to look forward to.
“I think this is probably our best year for centremen depth, that I’ve been a part of,” said Nugent-Hopkins. “We still have young guys, which is always good. With Mark coming in, I think he’ll be a really good leader for us and show us the way. There’s going to be competition amongst ourselves and I think that’s going to make us better.”
Nugent-Hopkins looks forward to the day when they can roll numerous offensive lines against opponents. Given the added depth at centre, that day is closing in.
“Having two or three lines that other teams have to worry about on the offensive side of things makes such a big difference,” said Nugent-Hopkins. “It spreads everything around a lot more and I think the best teams in the league are deep on the offensive side of things and also on defence. When we get the right depth and we find that on our team, it’s going to be a big change for us.”
Four years into his professional career, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is ready to take the next step. He’s been thrust into a key roll on the Oilers since entering the league as the first-overall pick in 2011.
The 2014-15 season saw Nugent-Hopkins post a career-high 24 goals. He also tied a career high in points with 56 in 76 games.
At Oilers Hockey School in Leduc on Thursday, the centre reflected on the improvements he’s made in his game, particularly this past season.
“I think I was better at finding the balance between the offensive side and defensive side,” said Nugent-Hopkins. “If you worry too much about one or the other, it might hurt the other one. But I think if you play solid at both ends of the rink you create more offence for everybody on the ice. I think I started to find that a bit better last year. I think a big thing in this league is just being consistent. That’s something that I want to keep working on and try to keep the same mentality and the same work ethic every night.”
Nugent-Hopkins has also put on more muscle. The centre says he weighed about 175 pounds at the draft, but is currently around 195.