The Edmonton Oilers lost their final game of the preseason 3-2 to the stubbornly effective Vancouver Canucks, running the final record to 6-2-0 for the Alberta club. In icing a fairly complete lineup, Todd McLellan got a good look at what his team will look like in all three disciplines this season. The report card suggests there’s work to do.
DEFENSE, LAST NIGHT
- Matt Benning hasn’t yet settled in to the player he was a year ago, his play at the blue line that caused a turnover on the second VAN goal is the kind of thing that will cost him 5×4 time. He remains mobile and can pass or carry but his instincts seem off and he’s often caught in between right now. Might benefit from a trip down the depth chart while also being the best available option.
- Kris Russell had a solid preseason, looks very comfortable left hand side. Was part of the giveaway train last night but the veteran has been one of Edmonton’s best blue liners during preseason.
- Eric Gryba was in no-man’s land a couple of times defensively and there were issues with the puck on his stick. That was made evident when he took a penalty after having a shot blocked by Sam Gagner mid-game. I like him as a 7D, fill in utility defensemen. As a regular there are going to be issues in my opinion.
- Darnell Nurse seems to be bigger and faster this fall but there are defensive and recognition issues. The first goal against came when Nurse didn’t recognize danger behind the net (oncoming Canuck) and he never did make a play. Have to be more aware that close to the net and this is year three. He needs a more substantial partner than Gryba in my opinion.
- Oscar Klefbom doesn’t seem to have the burst we’ve seen in the past, could be flu or foot but my guess is he isn’t 100 percent and that’s a giant concern.
- Adam Larsson was defending a lot last night, something he’s good at but you’d prefer the puck heading in a better direction.
- Cam Talbot played well, can’t say any of the goals were on him, the first two included defensive lapses leading to ridiculous chances. Need to tighten up in front of the goalie.
FORWARDS, LAST NIGHT
- Ryan Nugent-Hopkins had one really good chance and five shot attempts so there was a story there. Nuge is a valuable player with and without the puck but he needs to post 5×5 offense.
- Kailer Yamamoto continues to impress, he keeps his feet moving and gets the puck to very good places in the wink of an eye. I liked him on the power-play point, he has wonderful instincts. Vancouver paid more attention to him, thought the rookie handled it well. Should have ripped the puck on the late 10-on-1.
- Drake Caggiula played his usual aggressive game, not many chances created from it but he was solid in his eight minutes. I think he might end up playing a lot on McDavid’s line.
- Milan Lucic is faster this year, not sure we’ve seen him more effective at 5×5. That’s really the only question we have about him—but it’s important for him to deliver 5×5 offensive consistently.
- Leon Draisaitl had a fantastic evening, his two goals were high skill and show there is chem between 29 and 97. I thought he’d play a lot on RW in August, less certain now. We know it works!
- Connor McDavid was freewheeling early and Vancouver had no answer. Once the home team got the lead, they buttoned things down (although Edmonton got lots of chances and should really have cashed). At 5×5, the difference between McDavid on and off the ice is the Grand Canyon.
- Patrick Maroon had some looks but the puck wasn’t bouncing for him last night. Maybe he’s saving goals for opening night this week.
- Mark Letestu plays so much on special teams I wonder how much it impacts 5×5 usage. In the RE series, I bet he would lose 5×4 time to Ryan Strome and others. I do think that’s very possible during the year.
- Ryan Strome had his best game, including a nice chance and good work in his own zone. The most encouraging game he’s played, took a slash on his hand and that’s something to keep in mind.
- Jussi Jokinen had a quiet game to my eye, noticeable mostly for an unfortunate double-minor in the third period. I love that he’s on the team. Smart player.
- Jujhar Khaira was very noticeable early, less so later on as lines shuffled a little. He has shown enough and then some to earn an opening night start.
- Jesse Puljujarvi played well in a checking role, his big body is such an advantage in gaining a coverage edge. I very much like his skill set.
A panel of NHL.com experts have chosen McDavid as the favorite for the Hart Trophy. Article is here. This isn’t a big news item and I know you’ve seen things like this over the last few weeks. I mention it as a reminder of what we are witnessing here: An amazing career rolling out in real time.
Many years ago I got a chance to see the Spruce Goose, Howard Hughes majestic contribution to the world. When you enter, there is a short video talking about the construction (and reasons for it), and for my tour there was also a short speech. The tour leader said something like “when you see this plane, the sheer size will amaze you. Take a long look at the entire plane, because about five minutes after you see it, you will have adapted to the scale.”
That’s exactly what happened! About 10 minutes after seeing it, the Spruce Goose didn’t look as impressive. I’d lost the awe and it had been replaced by curiosity about its history and the race to get it completed. Don’t let your mind trick you about Connor McDavid, don’t adapt to scale! This is a very special player.
The penalty kill looked strong enough last night, my guess is Chris Kelly gets released from his PTO in the next 48 hours.
He was in fact slated to play last night, but flu apparently caught him. Probably means he’ll have to hit Bakersfield this weekend to play a few games. That may mean Jesse Puljujarvi gets to stay.
News is still coming in this morning about last night’s events on and near Jasper Avenue. Thoughts with the injured officer and others involved and I hope you were able to land home and dry. Scary times we live in, hope we hear everyone involved is okay this morning.
WHAT’S HE BUILDING IN THERE?
The Oilers need a righty defenseman like Colin Miller. It matters because getting wins early is a key to getting into the playoffs and or winning the division. I like Matt Benning and am pleased with Kris Russell’s play, also pretty comfortable with the Klefbom-Larsson pairing if both are healthy. The third pair is a concern and we know Nurse-Benning was a solid third pairing one year ago.
Is there a Colin Miller trade in Edmonton’s future? The PK looked good last night for long periods, but the defense needs to tighten up. Maybe there’s an opportunity to address this area over the next few days. Game One counts two points in the standings and there is a clear need for help on the blue. This much is true.