The early portion of the season was always about the rookies. In 1970, we knew early days Gilbert Perreault was going to be a special player. We also knew the Montreal Canadiens had a bumper crop, with names like Guy Lapointe, Marc Tardif, Rejean Houle, Bobby Sheehan, Phil Myre and (late in the season) Ken Dryden.
I loved watching the rookies, first via The Hockey News and then, eventually, through Hockey Night in Canada appearances. My Dad and Grandpa used to complain (“too many names I’ve never heard of!”) but for me it meant renewal, fresh faces, and, hopefully, expansion teams beating the old timers. In that time, 1971, the Boston Bruins represented new and exciting, the Toronto Maple Leafs old and worn, in a way I can’t describe adequately to you from this side of 1970 fall. It was a fact though, I can assure you of it.
My Dad and Grandpa weren’t wrong. In 1960-61, 15 rookie skaters dressed and played in 30 or more games. Most of them (Dave Keon, JC Tremblay, Bob Nevin, Dallas Smith, Jerry Toppazzini, Reg Fleming, Gilles Tremblay, Willie O’Ree) were known to me as a child or would become known to me in the years after I became acquainted with the league population.
By 1970-71, the total number of rookie skaters who appeared in 30 or more games counted 51 (more teams, more players) and my Dad and Grandpa had no time for Fran Huck or Greg Polis or Ernie Hicke. If Darryl Sittler showed up in enough Saturday night games for the Leafs, they might say something like “that Sittler kid is coming along” late in the regular season. I didn’t care. Rookies meant renewal, promise and hope.
Today, the song remains the same. So, we celebrate Evan Bouchard and Kailer Yamamoto and Ethan Bear on this Saturday, for they are the future. It’s opening day for our beautiful game. It’s time to welcome all the freshman and see how they shine.
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- New Jonathan Willis: On AHL opening night, Caleb Jones and friends make it clear they want NHL jobs.
- New Lowetide: Orange, white and blue October: In 1979, the Oilers rocked the NHL.
- New Daniel Nugent-Bowman: After the death of his father, Sweden trip holds special significance for Adam Larsson, and one of his opponents.
- New Scott Wheeler: How the eye test fails to properly evaluate Evan Bouchard.
- New Daniel Nugent-Bowman: Why the Nuge-McDavid-Rattie line has been so successful.
- Lowetide: The 2018-19 Oilers are in a period of transition.
- Jonathan Willis: How worried should the Oilers be about the preseason struggles of Milan Lucic and Leon Draisaitl?
- Jonathan Willis: Oilers bet on Ty Rattie paying off and other lessons learned from training camp.
- Lowetide: A transaction flurry as Oilers finalize 2018-19 roster
- Daniel Nugent-Bowman: Leon’s time to shine. This is an amazing piece, exceptional.
- Lowetide: Oilers waive Aberg, release Jerabek and stand at 25.
- Lowetide: Oilers prospects Berglund, Maksimov off to fine starts
- Lowetide: Is this the year an Edmonton Oilers player wins the Calder Trophy?
- Ryan Nugent-Hopkins—Connor McDavid—Ty Rattie
- Milan Lucic—Leon Draisaitl—Kailer Yamamoto
- Jujhar Khaira—Ryan Strome—Jesse Puljujarvi
- Tobias Rieder—Kyle Brodziak—Zack Kassian
- Oscar Klefbom—Adam Larsson
- Darnell Nurse—Matt Benning
- Kris Russell—Evan Bouchard
- Cam Talbot (Mikko Koskinen)
Evan Bouchard plays in his first NHL game, Kailer Yamamoto beats the odds two years in a row. It’s still a McDavid/Talbot ‘key to the game’ but the big thing to watch is what happens when 97 is off the ice. Can this team close the gap?
- McDavid on-ice 5-on-5 2017-18: 81-61 (57.04 percent goal share)
- McDavid of-ice 5-on-5 2017-18: 82-115 (41.60 percent goal share)
WHAT TO EXPECT FROM OCTOBER
- On the road to: Sweden to play NJD (Expected: 0-0-1) (Actual: 0-0-0)
- On the road to: Boston, NYR, Winnipeg (Expected 1-2-0) (Actual 0-0-0)
- At home to: Boston, Nashville, Pittsburgh, Washington (Expected 1-3-0) (Actual 0-0-0)
- On the road to: Nashville, Chicago (Expected 1-1-0) (Actual 0-0-0)
- At home to: Minnesota (Expected 0-0-1) (Actual 0-0-0)
- Overall expected result: 3-6-2, 8 points in 11 games
- Current results: 0-0-0, 0 points after no games
I’m not necessarily down on the Oilers team but the first month of the schedule is very difficult. Washington won Stanley a year ago, Winnipeg could win it this coming season (they are my pick). Boston twice, Nashville twice, and Pittsburgh thrown in for good measure. You could absolutely argue I’m being too kind to Edmonton here.
THE OPENING NIGHT ROSTER
- G Cam Talbot. He came in and established himself with fine play, Todd McLellan is comfortable with his starter entering the season.
- G Mikko Koskinen. Both Peter Chiarelli and the coaching staff were heading for the Pepto early and often during the first few minutes of his Oilers career but he settled in and we’ll see if he can establish himself over the season.
- LD Oscar Klefbom. A key player, he has been mostly good through the preseason. His shot has the usual power and I haven’t seen him go walkabout defensively too many times. He’s always going to be the lesser defender on his pairing, that’s not the same as saying he isn’t a quality player.
- RD Adam Larsson. Fine shutdown defender looked a little off later in preseason, he’ll need to play big, effective minutes for 82+ and looks capable. A very important player on this team, because you have to defend. He helps his partner, be it Klefbom or Nurse, in the defensive zone.
- LD Darnell Nurse. Needs to keep improving his defending and cut down on the penalties, but arrows are headed in a good direction. His ability to skate the puck out of danger is effective and underrated by many.
- RD Matt Benning. I believe he can successfully cover the No. 2 RD job but it’s a bet for sure and the Oilers may want to have a backup plan. Benning has his detractors, I’m a fan.
- LD Kris Russell. Looks like he’ll play No. 3 LHD this season. I’m not sure any of the hopeful lefties on the farm will push this year but they are coming and it might mean a changing of the guard next summer.
- RD Evan Bouchard. He is exactly as advertised, sublime passer with intelligence and the calm feet required to weigh options before committing. Defensively he’s raw, I’d fall short of calling him a project. How quickly can he learn at the NHL level? Suspect we’re about to find out.
- LD Jason Garrison. PTO invite won the day over a pedestrian group of hopefuls, not certain how long he’ll hold on to the position. Speed is the concern, he can hammer the puck.
- RD Ethan Bear. Bear might benefit from another 35 games in Bakersfield, not sure the organization will afford him the chance. He can pass the puck and shoot it, and his boots are better this year.
- LD Andrej Sekera. Injured.
- LC Connor McDavid. He can still part the waters and is faster than a speeding bullet, plus the organization appears to have found him new solid linemates. I have him scoring 50-70-120 this season, and have seen many projections beyond.
- LC Leon Draisaitl. A massive season for the big man, he’ll be asked to drive his own line, push the river, and score 70+ points. Can he do it? That will be a major question answered by April.
- RC Ryan Strome. He was what he was on the day the Oilers traded for him but the organization seems to be disappointed any way. He is solid in the No. 3 center role and the team appears to have settled for that outcome.
- RC Kyle Brodziak. He looks solid on the penalty kill and maybe he can chip in 8-10 goals over the season. Faster than Letestu and that is key.
- L Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. He played well during preseason, the line was very hot and outscored opponents 7-2 at 5-on-5 while Nuge was on the ice. He’ll need to be the responsible winger on the line.
- L Milan Lucic. I’m interested to see what might happen if the big man struggles alongside Draisaitl. The smart play would be to move Lucic down, don’t know if the organization will have the stomach for it.
- L Jujhar Khaira. He looks strong and effective again, the offense was a bit of a surprise one year ago, you’ll want to see him do it again.
- L Tobias Rieder. He started slowly in preseason but came on as time moved along. I can see him on any of the lines 2-4, and he’ll be vital to the penalty kill this season.
- L Drake Caggiula. Caggiula played up the lineup consistently last year, he’s stapled to the No. 4 line now. There is some urgency here, although he is fighting some issues physically.
- R Ty Rattie. He was exceptional during preseason, passing, shooting, scoring and keeping up with the McDavid. He has locked down the No. 1 RW job.
- R Kailer Yamamoto. He wasn’t promised a job coming in but once again forced his way onto the roster. Looks like Yamamoto isn’t secured onto a specific line, and with little 5-on-4 time, it will be vital to find a way to deliver offense.
- R Jesse Puljujarvi. The big winger was brilliant early, faded a little (after taking an elbow against Winnipeg) and we’ll see if he can deliver offense on what should be a soft parade third line.
- R Zack Kassian. He needs to be consistent and aggressive, while staying out of the penalty box as much as possible. You could make the case he is losing his hold on the 4R job but a strong performance early will re-establish him.
- R Alex Chiasson. Based on quality of play, he earned the contract and NHL job. I’ll be interested to see how much he plays and who he replaces when drawing in.
CONDORS 8, HEAT 1
I watched the game and can confirm the final score. Al Montoya was splendid in the game, especially early, and stopped 21 of 22 (.955). Tyler Benson had a goal, an assist and four shots on goal in his pro debut. Caleb Jones (1-1-2) is an NHL player, just not all the time, and when he’s more consistent he will be recalled. Cooper Marody is smooth with 12 o’s, my goodness he can finesse his way into good scoring situations. I also liked William Lagesson plenty. That was the best game I’ve ever seen a Condors team play.
SATURDAY SPORTS EXTRA
At noon today, we’ll run until the end of the Oilers game (Dean Millard will have the post-game show) with guests Todd Cordell (Hockeybuzz) and Andrew Peard (Oil Kings PBP). Cordell will be by after the second period to discuss the game in progress and Peard will talk about a fantastic start for the OK. Tune in starting at noon, TSN1260.