I loved watching the rookies emerge each season. In the fall of 1972, I spent countless hours discovering the rookie crop (here). Bill Barber was exactly what the Flyers needed, a pure scorer. Steve Vickers made the Rangers and played so well Emile Francis traded Dave Balon. Gregg Sheppard, from North Battleford, SK was a top Boston rookie and an outstanding two-way center. The California Golden Seals (my other favourite) had a young man named Stan Weir surprising with his offensive prowess. Murray Wilson was fast, Terry O’Reilly was tough, Tom Bladon had a great shot, Steve Shutt barely played and might have been the best of the whole damned bunch by the time all of their careers were done. Shutt was a wonderful player.
Today, another season begins and I believe this year in Edmonton will be a lot about rookies before the campaign ends. Ethan Bear is in the NHL tonight, and there’s a watershed on the way.
The Athletic Edmonton features a fabulous cluster of stories (some linked below, some on the site). Great perspective from a ridiculous group of writers and analysts. Proud to be part of The Athletic, we are celebrating our 2-year anniversary this week. To mark the occasion, you can get 40% off subscriptions here.
- New Lowetide: Ken Holland has a plan for the Oilers’ top prospects.
- New Daniel Nugent-Bowman: At home with Ken Holland: Packing away the championship memories and preparing for a new challenge
- Daniel Nugent-Bowman: Q&A: Oscar Klefbom on being a mentor, his strategy for staying healthy and saying goodbye to a friend.
- Daniel and Jon: Ten bold (and not so bold) predictions for the Oilers this season
- Lowetide: The Oilers are poised to break a 25-year-old franchise record this season
- Lowetide: Jesse Puljujarvi’s fast start leads the way for Oilers prospects as 2019-20 gets underway
- Lowetide: Joakim Nygard and Gaetan Haas bid for final Oilers spots during a strange game in Calgary
- New Daniel Nugent-Bowman: An educated guess at the Oilers’ opening-night roster
- Lowetide: Jay Woodcroft’s Bakersfield Condors might be bound for glory
- Jonathan Willis: Ethan Bear, Tomas Jurco outshine the competition in second-to-last Oilers preseason game
- Daniel Nugent-Bowman: Joakim Nygard managing his anger as he eyes spot on Oilers.
- Jonathan Willis: Assessing the Oilers’ roster as the final positional battles are sorted out
- Jonathan Willis: Oilers cut Evan Bouchard and Shane Starrett. Is Ethan Bear on the cusp of making the team?
- New Daniel Nugent-Bowman: Connor McDavid’s nearing return and four other things we’ve learned from Oilers camp
- New Daniel Nugent-Bowman: How five months in Kelowna changed Leon Draisaitl’s hockey career
- Lowetide: Matt Benning may be vulnerable to a trade as Ken Holland works to tweak Oilers roster
- Corey Pronman: Oilers No. 9 farm system.
- Lowetide: Oilers top 20 prospects summer 2019.
Joakim Nygard-Connor McDavid-James Neal. This line may never take a spin, but it was in existence for a time yesterday at practice. McDavid is a good bet for 40 goals, can Neal and Nygard combine for 25? Let’s set the total for the line at 65 total.
Leon Draisaitl-RNH-Zack Kassian. I like this line a lot, it’s been discussed at length for a long time. Dave Tippett has effectively married forwards 2 and 3 (Leon, Nuge) and forwards 1 and 4 (McDavid, Neal). 40 for Leon, 20 for Nuge, 10 for Kassian? Can this second line score 70 goals?
Markus Granlund-Gaetan Haas-Alex Chiasson. Are there 30 goals on this line?
Jujhar Khaira-Colby Cave-Josh Archibald. Are there 30 goals on this line?
Darnell Nurse-Adam Larsson. I like the idea of this pairing and they did perform well against elites in 2017-18. Can they do it again?
Oscar Klefbom-Ethan Bear. Klefbom is primed to emerge as a big player on this team, they just need to have playoff success and get him famous. Bear is in a great spot, needs to keep it by having an impact.
Kris Russell-Matt Benning. I’m fascinated by this pairing. Can they have success? I think so.
Mike Smith (Mikko Koskinen). My spidey senses say Smith gets tonight’s start, Koskinen the Saturday assignment.
Tomas Jurco, Patrick Russell, Brandon Manning
OILERS IN OCTOBER
- Oilers in October 2015: 0-1-0, goal differential -2
- Oilers in October 2016: 1-0-0, goal differential +3
- Oilers in October 2017: 1-0-0, goal differential +3
- Oilers in October 2018: 0-1-0, goal differential -3
It’s all or nothing since Connor McDavid arrived. I didn’t like the Euro idea, don’t think teams with issues should be crossing the Atlantic a few days before the season. History recalls the first game of the season rarely ends with a close score during these years.
WHAT TO EXPECT IN OCTOBER
- At home to: Vancouver, Los Angeles (Expected: 1-1-0)
- On the road to: NYI, NJD, NYR, CHI (Expected 2-1-1)
- At home to: Philadelphia, Detroit (Expected 1-1-0)
- On the road to: Winnipeg, Minnesota (Expected 1-1-0)
- At home to: Washington, Florida (Expected 1-1-0)
- On the road to: Detroit, Columbus (Expected 1-1-0)
- Overall expected result: 7-6-1, 15 points in 14 games
- Current results: 0-0-0, 0 points after no games
The schedule is there for the Oilers to get off to a dandy start to the year. Six of the first 10 games are winnable in my opinion. I have tonight as a loss.
OPENING 23-MAN ROSTER
1 G Mike Smith, 37. Smith started slowly but had a .912 save percentage after the All-Star break. I’m not sure he won the starters job for opening night but Koskinen may have lost it.
2 G Mikko Koskinen, 31. Delivered in October and November (.924) 2018 but struggled afterward. Oilers need him to perform well, Koskinen will get plenty of chances.
3 LD Oscar Klefbom, 26. Four more years at just over $4 million, he’s a grand value contract. Per 82gp: 8-24-32. One of my favourite moments in preseason came on the night Tippett came to the podium postgame and raved about him.
4 LD Darnell Nurse, 24. Great skater, physical. Coverage and passing are not strength, he is going to be a big part of this team’s success or failure in 2019-20. Per 82gp: 7-19-26.
5 LD Kris Russell, 32. The Oilers appear to be serious about moving him to LH side. A strong season could increase his trade value.
6 LD Brandon Manning, 29. One of the ongoing conversations over the summer was Manning as a No. 7D option. It came true, or at least to open the season.
7 RD Adam Larsson, 26. Shutdown defender is key to any success Oilers may have this year. His on ice five-on-five goal differentials since arriving in Edmonton: 71-55, 48-48, 45-77.
8 RD Ethan Bear, 22. He is one of the major surprises on this roster today. Bear drew rave reviews for his conditioning during camp, and is slated to be the first (among many) who will have a chance to win the No. 2 RHD job this season.
9 RD Matt Benning, 25. He remains on the roster despite trade rumours going back to summer. Benning’s goal differentials by season (five-on-five) since arriving in the NHL: 42-32, 50-47, 43-34.
10 LC Connor McDavid, 22. His speed and skill at full tilt boogie is intoxicating. In your lifetime there will be very few truly unique feats to delight you. This man in a hockey game is one of them. A giant walks among us. Per 82gp: 37-69-106
11 LC Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, 26. Per 82gp, he has scored 22-36-58, perfect for a No. 2 center. The issue for Nuge is finding quality linemates who can be effective on a line that will face tough competition.
12 RC Gaetan Haas, 27. RH center who has speed and two-way skills, we don’t know if his skills are a match for the NHL game. He’ll play tonight on the No. 3 line. Does not qualify as a rookie. Oilers are vulnerable here, Haas is a gigantic reach based on the fact his NHL resume is 48 minutes of five-on-five time in preseason.
13 LC Colby Cave, 24. He brings some nice things, including PK ability, faceoff ability and he gets chances in the offensive zone. The problem is he doesn’t score on any of them. Coach Tippett likes him for his utility and looking at the depth chart after Nuge it’s easy to understand.
14 LW Leon Draisaitl, 23. The big man scored 50 goals last season, a feat that puts him on a higher level. Don’t expect another 50, but something close to career average (per 82gp: 29-44-73) is reasonable. A real gem. He might play center tonight.
15 LW Joakim Nygard, 26. He has speed, giving Nygard a major advantage over other hopefuls. His SHL scoring pace (he was among the league leaders) shouldn’t be overlooked. He is getting a major push early in the season. Does not qualify as a rookie.
16 LW Markus Granlund, 26. He’ll be in the Rieder role, PK man who can score some, check some and maybe move from pivot as required. He did very little in preseason.
17 LW Jujhar Khaira, 25. Khaira is a rugged two-way forward who has shown signs of being a solid PK man. Per 82gp: 8-14-22, he has performed well in preseason in a checking role.
18 LW Tomas Jurco, 26. He has had some success (per 82gp: 9-11-20) in the NHL but it has been four years since he was a regular in the league. Looked good in preseason.
19 RW Zack Kassian, 28. Per 82gp as an Oiler, he scored 10-14-24, which is excellent production for a role player but doesn’t warrant No. 1 line work. He has been splendid in preseason.
20 RW James Neal, 31. I think Ken Holland made out like a bandit with this trade, even if it doesn’t work out. I think 16 goals is a reasonable expectation. Neal might play with McDavid tonight, could have a storybook beginning to his career.
21 RWAlex Chiasson, 28. Over the last three seasons, he output per 82gp is 16-15-31, and eight of his 22 goals a year ago came on the power play. He’s a bit of an odd match in this forward group (counting on 22 goals again is unwise). It’ll come down to where he plays and how much power-play time he gets.
22 RW Josh Archibald, 26. One of my favourite offseason additions, Archibald can PK, score goals, skate and play a physical style. No real negatives.
23 RW Patrick Russell, 26. The numbers and reports from Bakersfield had him playing well in all situations, and we saw it in real life during the preseason. Impressive preseason. Does not qualify as a rookie.
1 LC Riley Sheahan, 27. He can win faceoffs and PK, and if Sheahan scores 10 goals during the year Edmonton should consider this a successful signing. Currently in concussion protocol.
2 RD Joel Persson, 25. Along with Bear, he qualifies as a rookie. Persson’s puck moving ability looked solid, and his speed was impressive during preseason. On the night Tippett put him on the No. 1 PP unit, he was hurt before the Oilers got a chance to see him. Of course.
LOWDOWN WITH LOWETIDE
At 10 this morning, TSN 1260. The NHL season begins!! We’re lucky to have Bruce McCurdy from the Cult of Hockey at the Edmonton Journal as a guest at 10:20. We’ll look ahead to the season, and talk about hockey traditions. Kris Abbott from OddsShark will talk NHL odds and we’ll chat NFL Week 5. 10-1260 text, @Lowetide on twitter. Talk soon!