The evenings are getting shorter. And cooler.
This time of year always reminded me of two things: One, that harvest was not far around the corner. To this day I think I can smell wheat chaff before even time to combine (and on the Pacific Coast, now, where there is any!).
And Two, that hockey was near. And as our attentions slowly turn to the Edmonton Oilers 2019 pre-season, here are…
9. Edmonton native Alexander Petrovic has signed a PTO agreement with the Boston Bruins. I never really though that Petrovic was given a fair chance in Edmonton. A concussion was just one of the issues for the right-shot D-man.
8. New Yaroslavl (KHL) head coach Craig MacTavish has hired Denis Grebeshkov as one of his assistant coaches under the Lokomotiv banner. A serviceable D-man for the Oilers from 2007-2010, Grebeshkov's 2013 return was a mistake on both sides.
7. There was a significant shuffling of chairs on the deck of the good ship Red Wings this week. Among the moves in Detroit: Former Oilers captain Shawn Horcoff has added Assistant Director of Player Personnel to his Director of Player Development title.
6. There is no question that Mikko Koskinen must improve his 5 × 5 save percentage if he is to emerge as the Oilers # 1 goaltender this season. Last year it was a paltry .913, 2nd-Worst among NHL among goalies. newcomer Mike Smith Any better (.908), but Smith's résumé suggests he should be able to rebound (career 5 × 5 SV% of 921).
5. There will be no Alberta Golden Bears game again this year for the Oilers rookies. I always felt this tilt was a good test for the kids and I hope it returns. But make a business decision and not a hockey one. At least (mercifully) there will be no NAIT mis-matchup either. No disrespect meant that organization. There was just way too wide of a talent gap for the game (it ended 9-1 Oilers) to be useful to either of them.
4. For the Oilers to be a playoff team this season veteran defender Adam Larsson must return to form. There is no easy answer as to why he fell off so markedly in 2018-19. His 5 × 5 possession numbers were only off ever-slightly from his 2 previous seasons. Larsson's zone starts were also within a whisker or two of his career marks, as was his ATOI (21:37). What my eyes saw were bigger mistakes in situations where I used to see him make them. That sometimes points to injury. We know Larsson has struggled with his back. A successful off-season may be key to a bounce-back.
3. Enigmatic Oilers winger Jesse Puljujarvi showed up in another Finnish media hit this past week. One of the things that came up during the TV interview was the language barrier in Edmonton. Through an online translation, Puljujarvi is roughly quoted as saying that the language has been a challenge for him. He would like to speak better English and agreed that it has been one of several “small things (that) went wrong”. He probably regrets how he handled English lessons originally organized by the club. It has been widely reported that the team did not take this step. But I actually said that was not true at all. Instead, I was made to understand that Puljujarvi was aware of the lessons but "blew them off".
2. It will be a fascinating year for ex-Oilers winger Taylor Hall. His much-anticipated return from injury and knee surgery will soon be overshadowed by his looming UFA status. Hall has held off signing an extension with the Devils. Certainly, New Jersey has since taken steps to show Hall it's serious about building a contender. Not just on the ice, but also in how it communicates with their star player… making sure he feels involved in the process. All the smart things that smart organizations do. But for Taylor Hall, his UFA year is the biggest and best chance he will ever have to set himself up for the rest of his career and life. Who among us (and be honest now) take that opportunity? Could that happen in Edmonton? Well, time has passed. The people chiefly responsible for him being sent out of town in the first place are now gone. Hall always liked playing in Edmonton and I hear that most of the sting from the trade is past. The opportunity to play with Connor McDavid again also probably be a negative. So yeah, I think it's possible. But not without another big salary headed out in order to make the numbers work. So we shall see.
1.One of the most-watched roster battles at Oilers training camp this fall will be for the 2RD position. With head coach Dave Tippett seeming to telegraph that Kris Russell will move back to the left side, a long list of names will be in competition for the role over on the RHS. That list includes (but limited to) Matt Benning, Joel Persson, Ethan Bear and Evan Bouchard. Well respected junior hockey watcher Brock Otten (@BrockOtten) has published his annual Top 25 OHL prospects. And it's led by Oilers 1st Round draft pick Bouchard. Otten writes:
“His (Bouchard's) vision, poise, and overall play with the puck should translate well to the NHL level. While he will never be a truly dynamic defender like that Erik Karlsson, but he will be the league's best in his own end, I think he will grow in those areas over his career and become a very solid top 4 defender and number one powerplay QB for the Oilers. NHL Comparison: Larry Murphy.
Both General Manager Ken Holland and Dave Tippett have seemed to suggest that Evan Bouchard is likely to get close to a full season in Bakersfield of the AHL. And on the face of it, that seems like a solid play. After all… there are ripe prospects ahead of him.
But if Bouchard emerges as the leading contender in camp, do they stick to those plans or not? Always believed that if you are the best player, you are the best player. And Bouchard is both the finest pure talent and the best long-term bet.
We should know early, as the roster will be pared down quickly.
Find me on Twitter @KurtLeavins
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LEAVINS: Jesse Puljujarvi author of some of his own misfortune