The process to hire Peter Chiarelli as President of Hockey Operations and General Manager happened very quickly.
Chiarelli became available on April 15. Bob Nicholson became the CEO of Oilers Entertainment Group on Monday and by Friday, Chiarelli had a new home.
The two were very familiar with each other from their time together at Hockey Canada. Nicholson is the former President and CEO of Hockey Canada, and worked with Chiarelli at the 2014 Olympics.
“I really got to know him when we went to Sochi, through the Olympic games, and I really like the way he communicates,” said Nicholson. “He’s a clear communicator, he’s obviously worked in Ottawa and worked in Boston and built those teams together. And how he looks at the game, he sees the game changing and I think he’s going to be flexible to make sure he makes the right changes to put this team going in the right direction.”
OEG Vice Chair Kevin Lowe, who was also part of Team Canada’s management team at the 2014 Olympics, was sitting next to Nicholson in the meetings with Chiarelli. It seemed like the right match for the former Bruins GM.
“One of the reasons it happened really quickly is because I’d known them from before and I really like them, I respect them and I respect their hockey minds and I respect them as people. It made it very easy to be comfortable with the situation,” said Chiarelli.
The process was fast-moving and that’s just fine for Nicholson.
“This has gone so quickly, one of the keys that we talked about was how is your team going to play? If the team is as quick as we got this contract done I think that will be great for the fans,” said Nicholson.
A big third-period goal by the Barons captain helped spark Oklahoma City to a 5-2 win over the San Antonio Rampage, giving them the 1-0 series lead in the American Hockey League’s Western Conference Quarterfinal.
“I thought overall, our game was good,” said Barons Interim Coach Gerry Fleming. “The chances that we created or gave them, I think we created ourselves. We just turned the puck over. Then we started managing the puck and sticking to the game plan, and our special teams were good tonight. We were fortunate, got some bounces and hopefully we’ll get some guys rested up and ready for Saturday.”
The Barons scored on a power play at 12:04 of the opening period for the 1-0 lead. Although Brad Hunt was credited with the goal, it may have been tipped in front.
Vincent Trocheck tied it up at 15:56, assisted by Shane O’Brien and Garrett Wilson.
The Rampage outshot the Barons 12-8 in the opening period, but OKC led 38-31 in that category at the final buzzer.
Oilers prospect Laurent Brossoit made 29 saves for the Barons.
“It’s a lot of emotion. We’re very happy, but at the same time we’re trying to stay as even-keeled as possible,” said Brossoit. “You don’t want to have your emotions ride high and low too much. You’re trying to keep it even. I was just glad that I was seeing the puck, and when they did come I made a couple timely saves and I’m glad I contributed.”
A turnover at the Rampage blueline went the other way and San Antonio potted their second of the game to take a 2-1 lead. That goal, at 8:01 of the second, came off a tip by Rocco Grimaldi, assisted by Jonathan Racine and Quinton Howden.
Hunt fired a great chance off the crossbar later in the period that could have tied things up.
OKC did tie the game following the midway point of the third. Barons Captain Ryan Hamilton toe dragged out in front of the Rampage net, forcing Greg Zanon to take a slashing penalty at 9:33 of the third. Winquist walked in from the point to the top of the circle and fired a wrist shot past Dan Ellis at 10:22, on the power play, to tie the game at 2-2. Hunt and Andrew Miller each earned assists.
Hamilton put home his own rebound with a great individual effort, with 5:55 remaining in the third, giving the Barons a 3-2 lead.
Unfortunately, a questionable hit would take the Barons captain out of the game shortly after. Hamilton beat Shane O’Brien to the puck behind the net by a wide margin and the Rampage forward sent him into the boards with a heavy hit. O’Brien took a boarding penalty and a game misconduct, and was escorted off the ice. Hamilton had to be helped off by teammates.
Connor Jones scored on the empty net at 18:39 of the final frame for some insurance.
The Barons, visibly upset by the O’Brien hit, engaged in some pushing and shoving in the game’s final minute.
With 7.6 seconds left in the game, Matthew Ford potted a second empty-net goal for the 5-2 win.
“I don’t think we went into this series thinking they’re a better team than us,” said Brossoit of the team’s confidence, following the win. “They beat us more (in the regular season) than we beat them, but I honestly think it was because we were short staffed and had injuries and all that. When we’re a full lineup and we’ve got all our players back I think we have the edge.”
Game two is on Saturday night at 6 p.m. MDT in Oklahoma City.
AUDIO: Craig MacTavish on Oilers Now | Leon Draisaitl on Oilers Now
Leon Draisaitl is having fun in the WHL, and why wouldn’t he? It’s a chance to play longer, with the Oilers out of the playoffs, and it’s a real shot at winning a championship. The Kelowna Rockets have advanced to the Western Conference Final and Draisaitl is headed there with them.
“It’s been good. It’s been very good,” said the Oilers 2014 third-overall pick, who joined Bob Stauffer on Oilers Now on Wednesday. “Obviously, winning is a lot of fun. We have a special group this year and so far the playoffs have been great for us.”
Draisaitl and the Rockets are a good team that got even better as the season went on. There are expectations that they could go all the way, even competing for a Memorial Cup. The Oilers prospect feels the pressure.
“Yeah, there definitely is (pressure),” said Draisaitl. “Teams, or people around the league, always say the Rockets are stacked and it’s almost unfair. For us, it’s playing with pressure that’s for sure. But I think so far we’ve been doing a very good job. All we do is take it game by game and try to not look too far ahead.”
Draisaitl has 15 points in nine games this post-season. After playing 37 games for the Oilers this season, Draisaitl went down to junior and lit up the scoresheet, tallying 53 (19-34-53) points in 32 games.
Leon Draisaitl was nervously watching the draft lottery a year ago, without knowing where he would be selected in the first round. The centre was taken third overall by the Oilers in the 2014 Draft.
Flash forward to this year, and Draisaitl was able to watch casually as a fan. He did so on Saturday night and was wide-eyed at the outcome as the Oilers won and will now draft first overall in June.
“I was surprised a little bit, but at the same time I think it’s great for the Oilers and the organization to most likely get a game-changing player. It’s very exciting and I’m looking forward to what’s ahead,” said Draisaitl, who joined Bob Stauffer on Oilers Now, Wednesday afternoon.
The consensus is the top two players on draft boards across the league are Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel. Selecting one of those two adds another young centre to the Oilers mix, which could mean someone plays on the wing or has a harder time immediately making the roster out of camp. Draisaitl isn’t worried about that.
“I think that comes down to camp when the time (comes),” he said. “That’s all going to show with the way we are, the way we play in camp, the way we present ourselves. There are obviously going to be battles there for spots and, no matter what for me personally, wherever that will be if it’s on the wing or as a centre I think I’m willing to do whatever it takes to be on that team.”
A pair of Oilers legends have expressed high praise for 2015 NHL Draft top prospect Connor McDavid this week.
On Tuesday, Wayne Gretzky told the media that McDavid is the best to come into the draft in a long time.
"He's as good as I've seen in the last 30 years, the best player to come into the League in the last 30 years, the best to come along since (Mario) Lemieux and (Sidney) Crosby," Gretzky said. "He can definitely change a franchise's fortunes.”
The Oilers won Saturday’s draft lottery and the right to choose first overall in the draft. McDavid is NHL Central Scouting’s top-ranked North American skater.
Gretzky’s old teammate, Hockey Hall of Famer and former Oilers star defenceman Paul Coffey, also has great things to say about McDavid. The 18-year-old played minor hockey with the Toronto Marlboros of the Greater Toronto Hockey League. It just so happens that Coffey, who has coached the Marlboros AAA team, has watched McDavid play for a while.
“I’ve watched him for four years,” said Coffey. “He was a Toronto Marlie and I coached the Marlie team all the way up to a couple years younger than him. Marlie night is Marlie night. It’s Friday night and we play and my boy, who is a year younger, would always want to stay and watch those guys play.”
His observations fall in line with the public opinion.
“Connor is special. He’s the real deal,” Coffey said. “I’m not saying this to put any added pressure on him or say things people have already said, but he’s definitely the real deal. Great kid, great family. It’s exciting. I sent him a note that, as a former Oiler, we’d be happy to have him here for sure.”
If he is an Oiler, Coffey says it’s just more motivation for him to continue watching McDavid’s career.
“I’m not big on staying up anymore, because I get the early start in the morning. But I’ve got to tell you, I’ll be staying up and watching more than a period now that’s for sure. I used to try and catch one period of Oilers games but (there would be) a reason to stay up longer for sure.”
When asked if McDavid is the game-changer for a franchise that most believe he could be, Coffey leaves no doubt to his opinion but stresses the need to surround a talent like him with the right support.
“100%, but he can’t do it by himself,” said Coffey. “Wayne (Gretzky) couldn’t do it by himself. That’s the way it is. You can’t do it by yourself. Everyone has to (help). When you get a talent like him or you get a talent like Wayne or a talent like Mario (Lemieux), it’s up to everyone else to keep up and get going because you don’t want him to come back down. You don’t want the special talent to come back down to anyone’s level. It’s up to everyone else to pick their game up higher. You get those special players in any sport and it’s up to everyone else to pick up their game and keep pace. Nobody can do it by themselves.”
On Wednesday, it was announced that Paul Coffey was named to Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame’s Class of 2015. The former Oiler star defenceman has seen and done a lot of things in his life, including four Stanley Cups and a sport in the Hockey Hall of Fame. This new recognition is not just one to add to the pile.
“It’s not just another achievement,” Coffey said in a phone interview Wednesday afternoon. “The Hockey Hall of Fame is great, getting your number retired by a team is great, but Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame, involved with all sports across the country, is not better but it has a different ring to it.”
Coffey looks back on his career, and when asked to rank his memories and achievements he couldn’t just pick one.
“They all rank the same,” said Coffey. “I said to somebody today, ‘as you get older and you’re lucky enough to achieve different things, it always comes back to the places you’re most comfortable and the championships you won.’ You could lead the league in scoring every year and get a billion goals, but to be a champion you share something with (others). The city of Edmonton, the Canada Cups, the Stanley Cup in Pittsburgh, (those are) to me, the most special.”
Coffey is a three-time Norris Trophy winner and four-time Stanley Cup champion (’84, ’85. ’87 with Edmonton and ’91 with Pittsburgh). He played in 14 NHL All-Star Games and won four Canada Cups in ’84, ’87 and ’91. Coffey was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2004, following a NHL career in which he played 1409 regular season games and 194 playoff games.
Paul Coffey was named as a member of Canada’s Hall of Fame Class of 2015 on Wednesday and had a chance to reflect on his time in Edmonton in a phone interview following the announcement.
“That’s where we all cut our teeth, so to speak,” Coffey said of Edmonton. “That’s where we all learned to do a lot of things on and off the ice. Your independence. We were all young, we were learning as we went. There are no instructions, no directions, there’s no book on how to act as an 18-year-old playing hockey in the NHL, you’ve got to figure it out by yourself.”
Coffey said the city of Edmonton and playing for the Oilers is a long list of memories he keeps close to him even now. It was the team that drafted him sixth overall in 1980, and gave him a chance to become a professional. The Hockey Hall of Famer and superstar defenceman returned to the city this past fall for the 1984 Stanley Cup reunion at Rexall Place.
“You know what the best part was? Nobody has changed,” said Coffey of the reunion. “Everybody is the same. We’re all older, but everybody is the same. Everybody has the stories and fortunately or unfortunately, everybody remembers them a little different. But the conversations were easy. The genuine concern about how everybody is doing was real. Everybody was interested in other guys’ families and how they’re doing, where they’re living and what they’re doing to keep busy. I enjoyed that the most. I don’t need to chat to a guy about what happened 30 years ago. That’s all fun for a short chuckle, but I think the interesting thing for me was to chat with everybody and see how they’re doing. Everybody is great and everybody was proud to come back to Edmonton.”
Coffey finished his career with over 1400 regular season NHL games under his belt, along with four Stanley Cup championships and 194 playoff games.
AUDIO: Craig MacTavish on Oilers Now | Leon Draisaitl on Oilers Now
Oilers General Manager Craig MacTavish joined Bob Stauffer on Oilers Now to discuss winning the draft lottery and the path ahead for the club. MacTavish was asked to describe the runaway top two prospects in the draft, Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel.
McDavid is NHL Central Scouting’s top-ranked North American skater for the 2015 NHL Draft. He recorded 120 points in just 47 games this season for the Erie Otters of the OHL. He leads the OHL in playoff scoring with 23 points in nine games. He also helped lead Team Canada to gold at the 2015 World Junior Championships.
“I think the most productive player the CHL has had in a number of years, but the most dynamic, the most electrifying,” said MacTavish of McDavid. “He is a guy that he looks like a shark when he’s playing hockey. He’s just looking to pounce at any time and he’s looking to get the puck and be in a position that he can get the puck at full speed. He’s got the most dynamic skill set that I’ve seen in a number of years, in terms of just bringing people out of their seats with open-ice plays.”
Eichel is the top American player, and second-ranked North American Skater by Central Scouting. Eichel won the Hobey Baker Award as the NCAA’s top player this season. As a freshman at Boston University, Eichel compiled 71 points in 40 games.
“Jack Eichel, his open-ice game is excellent as well,” said MacTavish. “He maybe doesn’t put himself in as many positions as Connor would, but he’s a big guy that’s got electrifying speed. He’s at full speed in three strides and he shoots the puck like a BB. What he’s done at the NCAA level, in a more mature league, has been quite incredible for a 17-year-old.”
The Oilers will select first overall at the 2015 NHL Draft in Sunrise, FL (June 26-27).
“So much work goes into the draft and so forth. When you get lucky enough to win the lottery, in a year when you have franchise players at the top like you have this year, it’s quite incredible,” said MacTavish.
With the “generational” talents at the top of the draft, MacTavish wasn’t even entertaining the thought that the Oilers might trade the pick.
“No. That would be crazy in my mind.”
At his end-of-season press conference, Oilers General Manager Craig MacTavish declared next season a, “development” year. This, because of all of the youth currently on the roster and the potential of more on its way. After winning the draft lottery and being gifted with the first-overall pick in the 2015 NHL Draft, the Oilers might have altered their timeline just a bit.
Oilers General Manager Craig MacTavish was on Oilers Now with Bob Stauffer on Wednesday afternoon and he said that things “marginally” change now that they have the opportunity to add one of two “generational” talents that sit at the top of the draft.
If the Oilers selected Connor McDavid, MacTavish says it would give them three of the best, if not the best, players in the CHL playoffs. Leon Draisaitl and his Kelowna Rockets advanced to the WHL Western Conference Final. Darnell Nurse and his Sault Ste. Marie team will tango with McDavid’s Erie Otters in the OHL Western Conference Final.
“I think it marginally changes,” said MacTavish. “I said at the end of the year, before we were fortunate enough to win the lottery, it’d be a very important developmental year for us. I still believe that. We arguably have the three best players in the CHL right now and they’re going to be flowing into the program, certainly Leon. All three will. Next year, Leon is done with his junior eligibility, as is Darnell. The player we pick will be on our team next year.”
All that said, there is still work to do for the Oilers, and MacTavish believes it will be, “a very important developmental year.”
“We also talked about some very critical positions that we need improved upon,” said MacTavish. “Without getting into those specific too much, we’re highly motivated to improve our club so we can make the step everybody has been waiting for for quite some time. I think with a few critical adds, it will still be largely determined by the internal growth of our team and the guys that are flowing into the system for next year. We’ve got to make a few key personnel changes and improvements and I think that could ignite it quickly. It’s not as simple, in our minds, as we got the first pick, we’re off and running. We still need to do the things that we talked about at the end of the year.”