Ethan Bear had a very successful rookie season, full credit due the young man. He worked hard over the spring and summer, arrived in camp and impressed everyone, and adjusted quickly to the role Dave Tippett chose for him. Those sentences roll off the typewriter easily, but you can go a decade or more between fifth-round picks working out this well. You know, Dave Tippett should get some credit.
I’m proud to be writing for The Athletic, and pleased to be part of a great team with Daniel Nugent-Bowman and Jonathan Willis. Here is our recent work.
- New Lowetide: How many ‘peak seasons’ can Oilers fans expect from Connor McDavid?
- Lowetide: Oilers’ increased focus on drafting skill is key to future success
- Lowetide: A short history of Oilers’ impact prospects at the world juniors
- Lowetide: Why Dave Tippett’s training camp with Oilers will be so compelling
- Lowetide: Oilers first-round pick Dylan Holloway’s fast start has fans buzzing
- Jonathan Willis: A brief history of Oilers teams with goalie problems, and how they overcame them
- Jonathan Willis: The Oilers are better with Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl apart at 5-on-5
- Lowetide: Oilers’ reasonable expectations for 2020-21: The results
- Lowetide: Oilers’ reasonable expectations for 2020-21: Goals against
- Lowetide: Oilers’ reasonable expectations for 2020-21: The Goals
- Lowetide: Oilers Top 20 prospects, post-draft edition.
THE COACH AND YOUNG PLAYERS
I’ve tackled this before, here and at The Athletic, and it’s a fairly easy thought but the thrust of the point needs an exclamation point. Which brings us to today.
If I say Tippett found a way for Bear to flourish, or slotted Kailer Yamamoto into a spot he could be useful, or set up Caleb Jones to have success, you can see it in your mind’s eye. However, the impact of having three players shine like diamonds in a single winter is borderline astonishing in recent (2000+) history. For the three successes to be drafted outside the top 20 is merely another layer of sugar.
I think I’ve found a way to place last season in context. Here are my answers to questions about specific young players after the 2009-10 campaign, in the “RE” series. Pat Quinn was coach, in charge of deploying the troops, and good young players were going sideways.
What do these (Andrew Cogliano) numbers tell us? Cogliano played in relatively calm waters for a player his age and experience. I think he might have missed MacT’s tendency to find a role for a player and stick him there. His 5×5/60 performance was down year-over-year but the entire roster experienced a dip.
How can these (Jean-Francois Jacques) numbers be better? They can’t, but Jacques would do less harm if he weren’t in a featured role. His presence (when healthy) on the top 6F was distressing and he’s ill-suited to playing minutes when offense is expected from the Oilers. The idea was to have a physical player on each line (Stone, Jacques, Moreau, Stortini) but it became obvious early on that he just wasn’t helping at all.
What do these Taylor Chorney numbers tell us? Chorney, a raw rookie clearly over his head, enjoyed the toughest zone start among defensemen and top 4 minutes in terms of difficulty and pairing. Incredible. At what point does a drowning man learn to swim?
They should have kept (Rob) Schremp for (Shawn) Horcoff’s offensive role. I’ll never understand this. Rob Schremp wasn’t in competition with Horcoff for playing time, nor will he be in competition at any time in the future. Even in a season when line matching was hit-and-miss, Horcoff played the toughs. Schremp is after Gagner’s job.
How Could these Sam Gagner numbers be better? This was a painful season for the Edmonton Oilers. Gagner played against the soft parade and delivered a fine Corsi. However, the offense wasn’t as strong at 5×5 and a more experienced center would have done more with the opportunity. Gagner was unable to be a difference maker at EVs, and he’ll need to improve because those ideal minutes are likely to be the domain of Tyler Seguin or Taylor Hall next year.
What’s the biggest surprise about the Oiler career of Robert Nilsson? That he’s still here.
What do these Ladislav Smid numbers tell us? Smid played in the best possible circumstances (Lubo as his partner, easy minutes in terms of opposition and a reasonable zone start) and his numbers reflect it. One would hope for more offense, although playing with Lubo meant a lot of playing guard while the brilliant one ad-libbed his way to California.
What do these Tom Gilbert numbers tell us? He’s the best defenseman on the team. Gilbert played a more comfortable role after the trade deadline and went 21gp, 3-17-20 in March and April and his final 7 games saw him deliver 2-10-12 totals. Before that, it was a matter of Pat Quinn trying to turn him into Ed Kea. Gilbert had the best season overall a year ago too, when the competition included Visnovsky, a healtier Souray and Grebeshkov. (Note: Ed Kea was a defensive defenseman).
What do these goalie numbers tell us? There were 6 rookie goalies who played over 1,000 minutes in the NHL this season. They were: Rask (Bos) .931; Howard (Det) .924; Varlamov (Was) .909; Gustafsson (Tor) .902; Deslauriers (Edm) .901 and Dubnyk (Edm) .889. JDD played in front of a poor team but you’d be hard pressed to include him among the league’s top rookies at the position. Deslauriers had some outstanding games (3 SO’s tied him with Howard for 2nd among first year G’s) but as mentioned above there were some poor moments.
There were too many youngsters in 2009-10 and I have sympathy for Quinn and Renney in that way. However, they doomed the roster with decisions like Jacques and Chorney playing too high, and found a way to derail Cogliano. Gagner still being sheltered was the right call but they might have moved him to wing at that point since center was a bridge too far. He didn’t like Lubo even though Smid had a good year with him, why not keep him around and build on that pairing?
A coach like Dave Tippett has great value because he can get these kids into successful situations. I’m excited to see Jesse Puljujarvi and Evan Bouchard and Philip Broberg enter the NHL with Tippett as coach. He has the touch.
I’m not sure if I’ll write on Kemp at this point, but wanted to pass along something learned over the years. Like Swedish boxcars, the NCAA defenseman who doesn’t get power-play time can fool you offensively. Kemp’s NHLE is 7.9 on 3-8-11 in 32 games with Yale (ECAC), so he isn’t going to see NHL power-play time. Then again, John Marino also played in the ECAC and his final college season (33 games, 3-8-11) is a perfect match for Kemp. Marino would post 26 points in 56 games with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2019-20. Count Kemp as a fine shutdown prospect with good speed and a good head on his shoulders.
LOWDOWN WITH LOWETIDE
A big show coming this morning as we have several hockey stories to track. Ryan Rishaug from TSN will join me at 10:20 for the latest from Red Deer on the World Junior team. At 11, Frank Seravalli from TSN will stop basting the turkey and join me to talk about NHL-NHLPA negotiations and return to play dates for the 2020-21 season. 10-1260 text, @Lowetide on twitter. See you on the radio!