Playoffs? Unlikely, but Possible

Do you have tickets to the Boundary Battle of Alberta yet?  I know the first game sold old in just hours, but I told you a few weeks ago that they added a 2nd game and as of writing this, tickets are still available at just $25 bucks a ticket.  And thus far it’s a solid list of names on both sides, with more to come.  For me, this week’s additions were the most exciting thus far as I’m a MASSIVE fan of both Brian McGratton and big Georges Laraque!  Probably the two best heavyweights in the league from 06-09.  If we could get Georges and McGratt’s to throw down, that would be GREATLY appreciated!  I’m not asking them to do it, just if they feel like it I wouldn’t hate it…The game is going to be a great, but the big thing for me is the proceeds going towards project sunrise, a mental health initiative and anyone who knows me likely knows that’s something that really hits home for me having dealt with mental health issues as I’m sure most of you (if not all) have as well.  I have no problem talking about my problems, but many do.  We need to do what we can to end that.  So my suggestion is to get some tickets to the noon game.  It’s affordable, it’ll be a blast and it’s going towards a great cause so how can you go wrong?!  Tickets available at Boundary Ford in Lloydminster.

If you’ve been reading my stuff this summer then you know that I do not believe that the Oilers are making the playoffs.  I’ll say it again, this is a one year rebuild.  That doesn’t mean that they’re looking to tank the season at all, but it just means that the focus from management is on the following seasons much more than this one.

 

We know what they’ll get from a lot of players assuming they remain healthy.  We know McDavid will be amazing, we know Draisaitl even in a poor season is still capable of being terrific, Nugent-Hopkins, Klefbom, Nurse, etc. we pretty much know what those guys are going to bring to the table.  But if they’re actually going to make a run to the playoffs this season, it is pretty vital that they max out on what they have on these six players.

 

Mikko Koskinen

He’s not the tire fire most fans think of him as…not yet anyway.  The issues with the glove to me was MUCH more mental than it was physical.  That doesn’t appear to me to be something that can’t be overcome.  And if he does overcome it, where is the weakness?  Koskinen given proper rest this season, not to mention being prepared both mentally and physically for more of a grind, could produce some real nice numbers.  If the Oilers are to make the playoffs, a large part of it rides on him giving the team at least a .915 Sv%.  Don’t get me wrong, the easy thing to say on Koskinen is that the league started to figure him out.  I was guarding against that when he was rolling early.  But it’s at least possible to suggest that when he first started to struggle it was because of the injuries on the blueline (Klefbom and Russell, not to mention Sekera), and by the time that blueline got healthy he was getting more and more fatigued.  With a healthy blueline, and before getting run into the ground, Koskinen had a .927 Sv%.  I’m not going to suggest that’s who he is, but most people want to point to the disgusting decision made on him and say he’s awful.  Don’t confuse the decision/contract with the goaltender.  And while it’s unlikely he’s a .920 or better goaltender, there is some evidence that suggests he could be.

 

Mike Smith

Obviously, I could have just said the goaltending in general.  But I get paid by the word…(I don’t get paid…well, actually I in a way do on this one, but not by the word).  Bruce McCurdy from the Edmonton Journal brought this to my attention on Twitter the other day that while Smith had a rough season last year, post All-Star break he was actually pretty decent with a .912 Sv% and a 2.28 G.A.A. in 17 games.  Can he do that for 35-40 games this season?  If he can, it’d make his contract well worthwhile.

Don’t forget with both these tendy’s that they’re now playing in a Dave Tippett system.  Mike Smith was awesome for Tippett in Dallas, saw his game erode in Tampa, and became a star again for Tippett in Arizona.  Ilya Bryzgalov looked elite playing for Tippett in Arizona, and never looked like the same guy anywhere else.  Marty Turco was the same.  People forget that Devan Dubnyk got his career back on track playing for Tippett first, THEN ending up in Minnesota.  Two big, athletic, and technically strong goaltenders like Koskinen and Smith could really thrive playing for Tippett as we’ve seen in the past.

 

Cooper Marody

The more I’m giving this thought, the more I like Cooper Marody’s chances to make the team with a good camp.  That 3rd line centre spot is his for the taking.  If he’s ready, he’s the perfect fit for the role being a RH shot who can really dish the puck and is willing to play a complete game.  Some might say Gaetan Haas is penciled in for the role, but I personally see him as the 4th line centre, with Brodziak going to Bakersfield (or going on LTIR as I was told the other day that his back is essentially done).  Jujhar Kaira has an outside chance of filling the role, so does Sam Gagner.  But for me, the 3rd line centre role is Marody’s job to lose.  Not only could thrive given softer minutes as I’m sure he would see playing behind McDavid and Nugent-Hopkins, but he’s a real weapon on either PP unit with his vision.

 

James Neal

This one might have been at the top of the list for a lot of people.  Not that I’m really ranking them, but I actually believe in Neal’s ability to rebound to form, or close to it anyway.  To me, if we’re talking about the Oilers making the playoffs, 25 goals is a must from Neal.  But again, I don’t see it as that far fetched.  He’s more talented than Patty Maroon was in 2017 who netted 27 in what will likely be the same role for Neal.  And Neal has a much better shot than Maroon has or had.

 

Tyler Benson

I can’t stress enough that you remember the pedigree this kid had going into his draft year and the injury issues began.  This is not your normal 2nd round pick who has a year under his belt playing in the AHL.  Benson is the type of talent where had he been healthy, even just in 16-17, that he may not have even seen the AHL.  He has two completely healthy campaign’s under his belt, and he’s looked like the potential top-six winger he looked since Bantam.  The scary predicament for the team here however is having both Benson and Marody in the lineup.  Ideally, you break in one before bringing in the other.  But for the Oilers to make the playoffs, it might be a case where both players are going to be required to make the lineup.  This whole time I’ve been saying that Benson should be broke in on the 3rd line, but if Marody ends up as the 3C, I’d probably want Benson on another line.  Most would say horse shit to that and they’d love Benson and Marody together because of how they performed together last season.  It’s a fair point, but I personally don’t like playing rookies together, and neither are great skaters so I’d want some speed on both their lines.  With that all said, you aren’t going to start Benson on the 4th line with very limited minutes.  So then the ideal spot is on the 2nd line with Nugent-Hopkins.  I believe he’s very capable of filling that role, but it is a lot bigger ask than getting softer minutes on the 3rd line would be.

 

Top Four RD Emerges

I cheated a little here, because this is not one player, but one position where they’ll need one of three candidates to be able to handle.  Right now, the 2nd pairing RD is Kris Russell.  Russell falls into the category of “know what you’re getting”.  What we know we’re getting from Russell isn’t a top-four defenceman.  Matt Benning MIGHT have the ability to play in someone’s top four, but he and Nurse were pretty awful together when given that opportunity last season.  So that leaves the candidates for the role being Joel Persson, Ethan Bear, and Evan Bouchard.  The problem is that it is very likely too much to ask of one of these players to step in and be legitimate top-four defencemen, but all of them fit much better with Darnell Nurse on the second pair as they all move the puck much better than Russell.  Persson is likely the top candidate for the role as he is the most experienced in pro hockey of the three (of course this is his first in North America).  Bear has everything except he is the weakest skater of the three.  Bouchard is the most talented, but he’d have to absolutely kill it in camp to even get a look for me as I would pretty badly want him to spend most of the season in Bakersfield.  Very unlikely one of these three can emerge as a top-four guy this season, but if one of them could it would be a MASSIVE lift for the blueline.

I’ll add one crazy idea to this before I’m done, which is moving Nurse to the top pairing with Klefbom.  @WheatNOil on Twitter brought this up a few months back suggesting that Nurse’s game could possibly lend itself to switching sides as his game wouldn’t be near as hindered as an exceptional puck-mover would be playing their off-side.  And with how Klefbom can move the puck, I could see them really meshing well together.  That would allow Larsson to move to the 2nd pair possibly with Caleb Jones, whom it isn’t ideal for him either to start out in a top-four role, but being the most talented and most ready of the D-men ready to step in this season, and believing that Jones and Larsson might really mesh together, perhaps that’s the move.  I think it’s really unlikely the coaching staff would look at Nurse on the top pairing with Klefbom, but it’s something worth exploring given the current situation on the blueline.

 

If all six of these things happen for the Oilers, they won’t make the playoffs, they’ll comfortably make the playoffs.  That has about a 2% chance of happening.  They do need most of it to happen though, especially the goaltending.  Do not hold your breath on this team making the playoffs.  But, it is possible.

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Integrating the Kids

Did anyone check out the Ocho yesterday?!?  All day, TSN2, all Ocho!  I got to check out the Cornhole and the Dodgeball.  Was on the treadmill while the Cornhole was being played, didn’t realize I was pulling against Canada.  I loved the dude in the cowboy hat with the beer in his hand though, dude could Cornhole!  The Dodgeball was disappointing from a Canadian POV, as our boys quite frankly choked.  The one thing I know about Dodgeball is that if you got someone down 12-2, you have to finish it.  Felt awful for the great Matty O.B. on that final throw, just heartbreaking, but you just HAVE to win that game.  I haven’t seen a comeback like the States pulled off since Peter LaFleur (no relation to Guy, or new Packers head coach Matt) and his team from Average Joe’s gym came back to defeat that dastardly White Goodman (cousin of John) and the Globo Gym Cobras.

Spots still available to play in this game amongst former NHL players! $1000.00 to play. For more information, call the Lloydminster Region Health Foundation at 306-820-6161

So, my big theme this summer has become that we as fans need to see this Oilers season for what it is, which is a one year rebuild.  It doesn’t mean they won’t try to get in the playoffs, and it doesn’t mean they’re going to blow anything up.  But it is a massive mess that Peter Chiarelli left behind, and it is going to take some more time to untangle everything.  What would Connor McDavid like to see more: the Oilers doing everything they can to scrap into the playoffs every season, or the Oilers having a great plan to move things forward and become an elite team who are Cup contenders every season?  It’s without a doubt the latter.

 

But it’s not just about waiting out the cap mess.  This team has a lot of prospects who are close to playing right now.  They also have a lot of kids who are going to be eligible for the Seattle expansion draft too.  So this is really a perfect season to take a hard look at what they have in the system.  But you can’t just try to jam as many of them in the lineup as you can at once.  And it’s not as if they’re all finished products.  So it is going to be a balancing act for Holland and Tippett.

 

I know they’re reading this, and I know they’re dying to know “how Soups would handle such a difficult situation”.  No problem fella’s, I’m happy to help.

 

Tyler Benson

Where does he fit:

Entering this season, the best fit on the roster for Benson would be on the 3rd line seeing some softer minutes.  Put him in a position to succeed.  Long term, I see Benson as a top-six winger.  I’ve said in the past that I like him to ride shotgun with McDavid.  Do not confuse that with suggesting he’s a 1st line winger, I’m not saying THAT.  But what I am saying is that his game (should he pan out) will be a perfect fit.

What needs work:

The skating.  His top speed will never be high-end, but the explosiveness and edge work can always go up another level.

How many NHL games:

I expect Benson to win a spot right out of camp.  I’m not saying they’ll gift it to him, nor would I, but I do believe he’s going to earn it.  Should he go back down though, they still should be looking to get him 25-30 games this season.  It isn’t a make or break season for Benson’s career by any means, but having become such an intriguing piece for the Oilers future they need to test him.

 

Cooper Marody

Where does he fit:

3rd line centre.  Early last season I was suggesting that Marody could make Ryan Strome expendable simply because he brought many of the same traits as Strome did to the table (similar size, RH shot, similar skating ability, etc) but Marody was the far better playmaker and perhaps would produce at the same level as Strome or maybe even a bit better.  Obviously we know that Strome is long gone and that 3rd line centre spot is desperately needed to be filled.

What needs work:

Just like Benson, it’s the skating.  To me, he just looks as though he lacks lower body strength (much the way I feel about Maksimov’s skating).  His stride looks clean, but he just doesn’t generate the speed you’d expect.

How many NHL games:

I believe he’s going to get a good hard look in camp.  Most aren’t looking at him as a possibility for the big squad, but he might have a better shot to make the club than Benson based on what isn’t in his path.  And again, much like Benson, I believe 15-20 games should be the goal here.  Marody is now 22, 23 in December.  They need to see what they have in him.

 

Kailer Yamamoto

Where does he fit:

On the right side, pretty much anywhere in the top nine.  His skill suggests he can play in the top six, but obviously we’ve seen him struggle offensively when given the chance.  He’s been really good in his own zone however, and appears as though he can be an excellent penalty killer.  So in my mind you aren’t hurting him if he plays on any of the top three lines.

What needs work:

Strength.  People hate this being said right now about undersized players, but he’s too small.  When I say that, it’s not his height, it’s his weight.  With added weight will come added strength (assuming he’s putting on muscle, not just going to McDonald’s for 20 nuggs all the time, I’d love to do that, nuggs are deadly).

How many NHL games:

Kailer needs most of the season in the AHL.  He’s been jerked around badly by the Oilers the last two seasons.  Let him go to Bakersfield, play in the top six, and get his game going.  Having said that, you can likely do that while giving him 10 games.  But I wouldn’t let that happen until January at the earliest.

 

Caleb Jones

Where does he fit:

Bottom pair on the left side.  He can play either side, but you want to make it as easy of a transition as you possibly can for Jones who is the most ready to step in this coming season.

What needs work:

Defensive positioning.  Not sure there is a D prospect who doesn’t need to work on his D zone positioning, but the Oilers can’t afford to bleed any more chances then they already do this season.

How many NHL games:

I don’t believe Jones will see much of the AHL this season.  Maybe not at all.  But, given how many D-men they have to break in coupled with the fact they have five D-men returning from last season, I wonder if Jones won’t go down just to give others more of an audition?  Even if he should take a step back, I’d still be looking to get him into 20 games or more.

 

Joel Persson

Where does he fit:

For me, the only two spots for Persson at the moment would be as the number seven defenceman which definitely isn’t ideal for any of these kids, or the number four role which could be far too much responsibility.  But it is very possible he gets a look in that spot as he might be the best fit with Darnell Nurse.  We’ve seen Kris Russell in that spot, they can get exposed.  We’ve seen Matt Benning in that spot, and they’re a train wreck together.  Persson is 25, RH shot, skates well, and moves the puck well.

What needs work:

I’d be a major hypocrite if I tried to claim I know.  I’ve seen clips of the guy play, and read several scouting reports on him, but compared to the other kids I really don’t know his game that well.  Couple that with the fact that he’s been playing in Sweden his entire career.  So the best I can say at this point is experience in North America, which is coming.

How many NHL games:

Who knows what kind of true agreement the Oilers have with Persson and his agent for coming over this season?  It might be that he refuses to play in the AHL.  But if he’s smart, he’ll be ok with possibly playing the first 20-25 games of the season in Bakersfield to get adjusted to North America, and then seeing spot duty with the Oilers.  A 15-20 game stint should give them a decent look at what they have, and obviously you can go from there.

 

Ethan Bear

Where does he fit:

Same thing for Bear as with Persson.  The two spots that make the most sense are the number seven guy which isn’t ideal for a kid to sit in the press box, or on the second pair with Nurse which is a LOT to ask.

What needs work:

Skating.  I do believe it gets overrated how weak of a skater Bear is.  His edgework appears very solid to me.  His top speed is where he’s lacking, and that is difficult to improve.  However, I recall Bear’s quotes from the interview Mark Spector did with him back in May.  “I had my fun last summer, and the summers before. It’s time to grow,” Bear said. “To realize how much hard work it takes to make it in the NHL.”  It’s a good quote, and that’s one where it’s easier said then done.  But reading between the lines here I’d say that it’s possible Bear’s lack of commitment in past off-season’s has possibly hurt his skating.

How many NHL games:

As many as possible.  I believe he’s ready, but the fact of the matter is that Holland only moved out Sekera so there are a lot of D who need time with the Oilers and not very many spots available.  To me, you have to find a way to get him 20 games, but I say that as someone who is still a very big believer in the kid.

 

William Lagesson

Where does he fit:

3rd pair left side, or like a lot of guys, the number seven spot.  But with Jones in the way and it not being ideal to have any of the kids in the number seven spot, Lagesson might have to wait for an injury on the big club to get his opportunity.

What needs work:

Puck-moving.  You could easily say his skating, but his stride is rougher, which means he’s likely topped out in his skating ability.  It’s good enough, but just not a strength in his game.  So with that being the case, I believe to succeed in the NHL he’ll need to move the puck at a pretty high level.  He moves it decent already, but it can improve.

How many NHL games:

This is going to be difficult barring a rash of injuries.  Perhaps Tippett and Holland will see him differently than some schmuck like myself, but as much as I’ve liked Lagesson over the years, he’s still a lower ranked prospect than Jones, Bear and now Persson (although Persson mostly because of his one-way deal).  So how many should they be looking to give him this season?  I would want to give him at least 10, but again, it is going to be difficult to do barring some guys going on the shelf.

 

Evan Bouchard

Where does he fit:

Short term, he’s in the same mix as Persson and Bear, except that we know they won’t have him sit in the press box as the number seven guy.  Long term though, we know they’re banking on him being at least a top four guy.  For me, I believe he can be a top pairing guy.  Unlikely he could be a legitimate number one guy (though you never know with D, see Mark Giordano), but a top pairing guy.

What needs work:

Defensive play.  I know he said in an interview on TSN the other day that he has been working on his skating and puck retrieval this summer, and that’s good, but if he is going to play as soft as he tends to in his own zone, then his positioning and stick need to be high-end.

How many NHL games:

Nine games or less.  Unless I’m mistaken, despite being eligible for the AHL this season, Bouchard’s ELC still will not kick in until the following season as long as he stays below the 10 game mark.  I can’t find it for certain, but I don’t believe the seven he played last season count towards that total.  Basically, give him a few games for sure (without triggering his ELC), but mainly just give him the season in the AHL.  Don’t fuck around here.  Benning, Persson and Bear should mean you have zero reason to.

 

Honourable mention goes to Dmitri Samorukov.  He moves to pro hockey this season, but with SO many kids possibly needing time, I just can’t see him getting his shot.  Add to that, a full season in Bakersfield is not going to hurt him in the slightest.  You could say the same for Bouchard, but the only thing about Bouchard is they have such a massive need for a defencemen of his exact game that he may get at least a small look.  If it’s up to me, perhaps they both get a game or two, but for the most part I want them anchoring the top four in Bakersfield.

 

It is a BIG season for some of these kids as the system continues to get better and fewer spots are available not just on the big club, but throughout the organization.  Decisions are going to be made soon on some of these kids, so Holland, Tippett, and company better find out what they have.

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