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.
The Oilers American Hockey League affiliate, the Bakersfield Condors, have inked 2013 second-round pick (56th overall) Marc-Olivier Roy to an AHL contract.
The term of the contract was not released.
Marco Roy finished out his QMJHL career with the Quebec Remparts in 2014-15 after three seasons with the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada. In 229 regular season games in the QMJHL, Roy compiled 86 goals and 106 assists for 192 points. In the playoffs, Roy recorded 56 points (19-37-56) in 60 games.
For the 2015 Memorial Cup hosts (Quebec), Roy scored a goal and added four assets in five games.
Roy is a 20-year-old 6-foot-0, 183-pound forward from Boisbriand, QC.
Oilers Hockey School presented by Rogers hosted another special guest this week as the kids were treated with a visit from Oilers defenceman Darnell Nurse.
Nurse is in Edmonton to watch the start of the 2015 FIBA Americas Women’s Basketball Championship as his sister Kia takes to the court for Canada, and he jumped at the chance to drop by Oilers Hockey School while he was in town.
The 6-foot-4, 205-pound d-man also spoke about the upcoming Oilers training camp and how he feels about the battle on the back end that lays ahead.
“I am just going to get myself ready to go out there and earn a job,” he said. “It’s something that I am expecting myself to do, but at the same time, it’s going to take a lot of work. And I’ve got to put that work in.”
Nurse’s OHL playoff run with the Soo Greyhounds this past spring got cut short in the semifinal round thanks to Connor McDavid and the Erie Otters, but that meant he got to join the Oilers AHL affiliate Oklahoma City Barons on their playoff run in May. Nurse said that extra experience with the AHL club was hugely beneficial as he gets ready to become a full-time pro in 2015-16.
“Any opportunity you have to get out there and play definitely helps. But it was good to help me gauge myself and things I need to work on. I have another year under my belt. I know what to expect and I know what to expect from myself.”
Nurse appeared in two games with the Oilers at the beginning of the 2014-15 NHL season, before reporting back to the OHL with the Greyhounds where he made 36 regular season appearances, tallying 10 goals and 23 assists. He tacked on three goals and five assists during the Soo's post-season run and contributed four assists during his short four-game stint in the AHL playoffs with OKC. Nurse also led Hockey Canada to a gold medal at the 2015 IIHF World Junior Championship and earned tournament MVP honours in the process.
Nurse’s next action in Oilers silks will be at the Young Stars Classic taking place in Penticton in mid-September.
Darnell Nurse is pulling double duty during his trip to Edmonton this weekend.
The defenceman was wearing his Oilers hat/helmet on Friday as a special guest at Hockey School in St. Albert, and on Sunday he’ll be in big brother mode at the Saville Sports Centre cheering on sister Kia and the Canadian women’s basketball team in their first game at the FIBA Americas Championship.
“It’s a pretty good lineup for the weekend,” Nurse said between on-ice sessions at Oilers Hockey School. “It’s an opportunity to get into the community and come to the Hockey School, and obviously (Kia) is here so I want to watch her play.”
|Kia Nurse (photo courtesy of Basketball Canada)
Kia has stolen the Nurse family spotlight this summer, leading Canada to a gold-medal performance at the Pan Am Games in Toronto with a remarkable 33 points in the championship game against the United States. The 19-year-old, who was picked as Canada’s flag-bearer for the Pan Am closing ceremonies, will look to continue her hot streak in Edmonton as the national team looks to qualify for the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio.
And it hasn’t just been national team success for Kia in 2015. Despite being a first-year player, she was also starter at the University of Connecticut this past season and helped the Huskies capture the NCAA championship.
Darnell and Kia are children of Richard and Cathy Nurse, who played pro football in the CFL and Canadian university basketball for McMaster, respectively. Their older sister Tamika also played at the NCAA level. That must mean Darnell has some basketball skills in his blood too, right?
“No, none… I wish,” he laughed. “I can jump, but putting a ball in the hoop is a lot harder than it looks.”
Nurse said the family plays two-on-two games when they’re all home together, but when was the last time he and Kia squared off one-on-one?
“When I knew I could beat her, so probably when we were like eight years old,” he laughed. “After that I knew I had no chance. I gave up on that dream.”
Nurse’s pursuit of his dream to become a full-time NHL blueliner will continue at Oilers training camp in September, but for this weekend he’ll support Kia’s dream of becoming an Olympian.
The FIBA Americas Championship runs Aug. 9-16 at the Saville Centre. Tickets are available on-site and through Ticketmaster. Canada opens its round-robin schedule Sunday at 6:30pm MT vs. Puerto Rico.
Oilers Hockey School presented by Rogers had another special guest stop by on Wednesday as the kids were treated with a visit from two-time Olympic gold medalist and Canadian National Women’s Hockey Team goaltender Shannon Szabados.
Edmonton native Szabados spoke of the privilege of giving back to the community where she grew up playing hockey.
“It’s nice to be home for the summer and I take any chance I get to come back to the rink, especially when it’s camps like these,” she said. “These camps were my favourite and always the highlights of my summer, so it’s nice to be able to help out and give back to the community in this way,”
After four seasons of collegiate men’s hockey with MacEwan and NAIT, Szabados just finished her second season with the Columbus Cottonmouths of the Southern Professional Hockey League (SPHL). She’s back in her hometown for the summer and talked about the minor pro experience so far.
“It’s been amazing. I didn’t quite know what to expect when I first went down there because it is so far south, but I’d say the majority of the league is Canadian. So I have played with and against a lot of the guys down there and that made the transition easier,” she said. “And as far the fans go, it’s been unbelievable. We have a lot of die-hard fans down there. The hockey is great and I am getting ice time and starting to feel more comfortable.”
As far her career progression goes, Szabados feels like she is right where she belongs following a 15-9-1 campaign with a 3.12 GAA and .907 save percentage.
“I think any hockey player’s goal is to play the highest level possible and I think right now the (SPHL) is a good fit for me.”
Being a local product, Szabados also spoke fondly of when she got to suit up and participate in an Oilers practice on March 5, 2014.
“That was so awesome and such an honour. Some of the kids were actually asking about that today,” she said. “The Oilers organization has been so great to me, so I feel it’s important to come out and help whenever I can. I was born and raised in Edmonton and will definitely always be an Oilers girl at heart.”
Szabados backstopped the Canadian National Women’s Hockey Team to two consecutive gold medals at the 2010 Vancouver & 2014 Sochi Winter Olympic Games.
Oilers forward Luke Gazdic was in Edmonton on Tuesday making a guest appearance at Oilers Hockey School and sharing some of his thoughts about the upcoming season.
Gazdic expressed excitement as a result of the flurry of off-season changes the club has gone through recently, and what it could all mean moving forward.
“There’s definitely a lot of big changes happening, and there is a buzz in the city that I haven’t really felt since I’ve been here,” he said. "With the way things have gone over the last few years, I think change is to be expected and with change comes a lot of expectation. So it’s something that I know a lot of guys, including myself, are really looking forward to.”
With the off-season additions of fellow checking-line forwards Mark Letestu and Lauri Korpikoski, Gazdic is well aware the team make-up is bound to be different heading into the 2015-16 season. And given that notion of higher expectations, he knows what challenges lay ahead when it comes to the battle to make the lineup.
“It’s always been my mindset that I am coming in to earn a roster spot, and I have had that same mindset since my first pro camp, so it’s nothing new for me. I know I am going to come into camp in the best shape possible and give myself every chance to be an effective player in the lineup.”
The 6'4” left-winger has made 107 appearances with the Oilers over the last two seasons, tallying four goals, three assists and racking up 127 penalty minutes with 22 fights.
The annual Oilers Hockey School presented by Rogers kicked off this week at Servus Credit Union Place in St. Albert, and the kids in attendance were treated with a special guest visit from Oilers winger Luke Gazdic on Tuesday.
Gazdic took part in some on-ice training sessions with a few lucky groups of seven to 15-year-olds and spoke about the privilege of being able to participate in the event.
“I am just happy to be here and happy to help,” he said. "I did camps like this when I was younger and for me it was always nice to see pro athletes come in. It’s awesome to be able to give back in this setting and help young kids develop their skill sets.".
This year’s Oilers Hockey School runs from July 19 to August 7 at Servus Credit Union Place in St. Albert and August 9-14 at Leduc Recreation Centre.
Special guest appearances continue this week with Olympic gold medallist Shannon Szabados, former Oilers goaltender Jeff Deslauriers and both current and former Edmonton Oil Kings WHL players. Current Oilers players will also be visiting in the coming weeks.