Edmonton Oilers training camp is a little less than a month away (prospect camp is sooner!) and there are a few things on my mind that I will be looking at specifically during that time. Here is a list of 10 issues of interest that we should start to see some answers on during Training Camp.
1) Nuge’s Shoulder. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins underwent a shoulder surgery probably 3 months later than he should have because Steve Tambellini thought for sure that last year was the year (he was wrong). The young man missed a couple of weeks before the WJHC tournament because of his shoulder then didn’t play in the AHL afterwards, opting instead to rest the shoulder for the shortened NHL season. The timeline for him to be ready for opening day is tight and he will likely miss either part or all of training camp. If he’s ready to play then we should count our lucky stars.
2) Chemistry. If Nuge is unable to attend training camp then the line combinations could get a little unruly without an appropriate number of centermen in the organization. Can Gagner regain the chemistry he has shown on and off with Hall and Eberle, can Mark Arcobello stand in on the 2nd line? Training camp is a time to feel things out and I have a feeling the MacBlender was gifted to Eakins as housewarming present. There will be a lot of “Nice to meet you”s when camp begins. Finding the right matches on the ice might not be so easy. The Pacific Division is a real battle ground and falling behind because of chemistry problems is not an option.
3) 2LW. How quickly can Perron adjust to playing with his new teammates? What does he bring to the table? Perron has been a consistently good player for a little while and he’s put up decent scoring numbers without high end talent to accompany him. When the lineup is healthy he will likely fall into a soft minute line with Gagner and Yakupov. What kind of damage can he do in that position? He’s in a really good spot. The fanbase doesn’t know him that well and expectations are likely higher on Yak to produce. This is a hanging curveball that’s waiting to get jacked out of the park.
4) Klefbom. Oscar Klefbom has been much-anticipated since his name was called in the draft not altogether that long ago. Since then he has missed considerable time due to injury, the latest a shoulder that needed surgery (Classic Oilers). The GM all but has a poster of the young Swede on his bedroom wall based on the way he talks about him, and that isn’t totally unwarranted based on the fact that he looks like he belongs in either a boy band or in a Disney sitcom about a hockey playing boy band that travels around the world competing against other teams then playing concerts during the intermissions. He stands a fighting chance to make the NHL club out of camp (that’s more than we can say for the other young defensemen coming to camp) and if he doesn’t then his stay in the AHL may be pretty brief. How good is he and can he adjust to the North American ice surface fast enough?
5) Young Blue. The Oilers have a number of defensemen who are graduating from the Juniour ranks and turning pro. Oilers training camp should be a good place to see how far their apprenticeships have come. It’s true that none outside of Klefbom are even expected to push for an NHL roster spot this year but that doesn’t mean we cant be excited to see this crop of blueliners. How far away does Marincin look? How slow is David Musil for real? Do these young men look that far out-of-place or not? And what of the 7th Overall pick in last year’s Draft? His skating is supposed to be superb, but can he compete at all against men? The list of young men trying to establish their place on the Oiler depth chart is long but of the longshot youngsters I am most excited to see Nurse, Marincin, Gernat, Musil, and Fedun.
6) YakCity. Yakupov ended last season with 15 points in his final 15 games. Shockingly the NHL’s most proficient rookie wasn’t a finalist for the award that is given to the most proficient rookie (especially given the fact that the PHWA is so keen to point out that they must vote on awards based on their EXACT definition). Still, Yakupov was the NHL’s rookie scoring leader and was getting stronger as the season wore on. Will he come into training camp and pick up where he left off? He started last season on LW when by all indications he was a RW, once he switched back to his proper spot he looked much more comfortable. This year he can get the training camp in and hit the ground running. Will he? I’m counting on it.
7) Schultz the Younger. Justin Schultz had a fine rookie season in the NHL. When you look at what he did in the AHL and the NHL combined it’s even better. The Oilers don’t have a defender they can rely on for 25 minutes a night, Schultz might one day be that man. This training camp will hopefully go a long way to making him more comfortable (read: effective) than he looked by the end of last season. He played an entire season’s worth of hockey between the two leagues, a monumental task coming out of the College system. Lots of good young defenders take steps backwards in their 2nd year. Can he avoid that? Will he get the opportunity to play with Ference or will Eakins opt to keep him playing with Schultz the Elder?
8) Making a difference from the Bottom 6. The Oilers’ bottom 6 forwards were indefensibly bad last season. MacT’s comment regarding that group was that the team was lucky if they just didn’t hurt them when they were out there. Not exactly high praise for the muckers and grinders. The Oilers come back this season without Horcoff, Smithson, Petrell, and Belanger. They have been replaced with Gordon and Joensuu. If that equation doesn’t balance for you either, don’t panic, you aren’t alone. Boyd Gordon is a younger version of what Horcoff was last year but with less offense and Joensuu is a relative unknown. The other spots will be filled by returnees like Hemsky, Smyth, and Jones. So really this bottom 6 will look pretty familiar to Oiler fans. Can this group with only minor tweaks turn into a more competent unit? Lets hope Eakins can work some magic here.
9) The New Boss. Dallas Eakins isn’t new to coaching professional hockey but this is his first job as an NHL Head Coach. He’s been doing it since he retired as a player and was a rising star. Now he’s the Oilers 17th head coach in as many days (actually 5th in 6 years but whatever) and there will be a learning curve. We know Dallas Eakins is incredibly well prepared, focused, and is somewhat of a kindred spirit to new GM Craig MacTavish. In a recent interview on Oilers Now assistant coach Steve Smith let it be known that Eakins had significant philosophical differences with the things Ralph Krueger was doing tactically. Eakins has this training camp to get his message across, pick his roster, and prepare this young team to compete for the playoffs for the first time since 2006. Oh, then he has to pick a Captain.
10) C14. The Oilers Captaincy is vacant and the job of naming the new Captain is up to newcomer Head Coach Dallas Eakins. The club has turned over the team in general to its young stars and part of the transition meant saying goodbye to long-time Oiler Shawn Horcoff. Will Eakins give the C to one of Edmonton’s young stars or go with one of the veterans? Will he elect to go without a Captain until he knows his roster better? The favourites in this competition are Hall and Eberle, but the newly acquired Andrew Ference could be a dark horse for the role.
Those are the 10 things I’m looking at when Oilers Training Camp opens. This is something we will most likely come back to when these questions start producing answers. What are you looking for at Oilers Training Camp?