Archive for 2016-10-09

Connor McDavid: BPA

I just completed our first ever Oilers Network Hockey Pool. We had sixteen teams enter and it was a snake draft, which meant we picked one through sixteen and then reversed the order picking sixteen through one. I got the eighth selection and Sidney Crosby was still on the board, so I took him (despite some concussion concerns).


When I selected my team, my strategy was always to take the best player available (BPA). The results of which, I didn't wind up with any Edmonton Oilers on my team. This isn't to say that there weren't some attractive Oilers to choose from. Milan Lucic, Jordan Eberle, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Leon Draisaitl all went pretty high; I just didn't have the timing to select any Oilers on my team.

Of course, being from Edmonton, Connor McDavid went first overall. Judging by the first two games of the NHL season, this may have been a wise choice.

BPA on the Oilers


McDavid is leading the Oilers in every major way. As the new captain, he's already shown in two games that he can take over a hockey contest and put the team on his back. In back-to-back games against the Flames, he and his line have carried the play and provided most of the offense. 

Of the 12 goals Edmonton has scored, five are from his line and of the 22 points scored by Oilers this season, his line has 11. This isn't even counting the plays in which McDavid gets an assist on the powerplay or in helping players like Leon Draisaitl who are not primarily designated for his line, but get power play time next to McDavid.



BPA in the NHL

Currently, McDavid leads the NHL in points. Six points in two games and he doesn't look like he's slowing down. With 12 goals in two games, the Oilers are on top of a few categories in the NHL. McDavid, Draisaitl and Eberle crack the top-eight in scoring. These three also are top-seven in goals. McDavid and Oilers' defenseman Kris Russell are top-ten in plus-minus and Cam Talbot is second in wins among goalies.

It's still early and a lot can happen on Saturday in a jam-packed evening of hockey, but it's not a sight most fans have seen from the Oilers in October in a long time.

Stats courtesy of NHL.com

Continued Success?


The Oilers have the Sabres and Hurricanes up next and neither team has registered a win. Both games are at home for the Oilers and while Edmonton can't take either of these teams for granted, the real test comes against St. Louis on Thursday Oct. 20th.

Win or lose, the way McDavid has played in two games this season, it appears as though he's going to have a sophomore season for the ages. Until otherwise unseated, he's clearly the best player available in hockey.

But, who cares what I think right? For now, I'll just keep my mouth shut until I feel like spilling my guts again.





Jim Parsons is a business owner, husband, father and sports fan. For more information about Oilersnetwork.com founder and Oil Spill articles author Jim Parsons, click here.




Want to start spilling your sports gut? We're looking for writers. Go here.


What a 7-4 Win Means Moving Forward

I'm the kind of guy who only half believes that they don't look at how you win, just what the score is at the end of the game. If you follow that philosophy, a 7-4 win over the Calgary Flames in the season opener at Rogers Place looks pretty good.

The other half of me, while happy Edmonton scored seven goals in their first game of the season, sees just how many glaring issues there were with the method to which that victory came about.


Connor McDavid

Ok, McDavid was amazing. Of all the issues in last night's game, there wasn't one negative in his game I can mention, other than the fact that when he left the bench after losing an edge, he gave me that "oh sh$@, here we go" moment. I don't like that feeling.

McDavid was tenacious, fast, determined, skilled and put the team on his shoulders like a good leader should do when it appeared Calgary was inching back into the game. And... that move on the penalty shot was sick. It always worried me that McDavid was kind of a one-trick pony on breakaways, which he clearly is not.

Kris Russell


I hope he has a ton of games like he had on Wednesday. To me, he and Larsson were the Oilers' two best defensemen and he earned the second star of the game he was awarded. Smart plays, crisp passes and few mistakes. That's how he needs to play. I would like to see him more on that dismal power play though.


Tyler Pitlick and Jesse Puljujarvi


Those two will keep employment on the NHL squad if they reproduce the efforts we saw against Calgary. Pitlick, in particular, made the most of every minute he was given. It's amazing that he was once considered a near write-off prospect.


Zack Kassian


Got promoted this morning at practice and is skating on that second line with Pouliot and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. Anton Slepyshev was ok, but Kassian was clearly better and earned the promotion.

Fixes


Edmonton needs to figure out this power play. They scored seven goals and went one-for-six on the man-advantage. That they let in two short-handed goals in one game is inexcusable. They could have at least scored to cancel those out, but they didn't. The power play needs a major facelift.

Edmonton got badly outshot in this game and got lucky to run into a poor goaltending performance by Brian Elliott. Part of that has to do with only two shots on four power plays. If Edmonton expects to beat better teams, they can't rely on seven goals to do so.

Turnovers were an issue as well. Leon Draisaitl made a doozie that led to the Brouwer goal. Blue line turnovers like that are death to a hockey team and even an improve defense can't handle the onslaught that comes if the forwards are constantly giving away the puck in scoring positions.

Overall it was a fun and entertaining game with lots of learning lessons I'm sure the Oilers coaching staff will take a look at. How they come out against Calgary on Friday — specifically against a player like Matthew Tkachuk — will be interesting to watch.

But, who cares what I think right? For now, I'll just keep my mouth shut until I feel like spilling my guts again.





Jim Parsons is a business owner, husband, father and sports fan. For more information about Oilersnetwork.com founder and Oil Spill articles author Jim Parsons, click here.




Want to start spilling your sports gut? We're looking for writers. Go here.

Game 1 and the Oilers 23-man Roster

With pre-season now done and the 23-man roster announced, the season is here. It makes sense for us to logically prematurely tear apart or overrate the success of this team before even one game, but that's what we do.


Most Likely Lineup

McDavid - Lucic - Eberle
Pouliot - Nugent-Hopkins - Slepyshev
Maroon - Draisaitl - Puljujarvi
Pitlick - Letestu - Kassian
Klefbom-Larsson
Sekera-Russell
Nurse-Davidson
Talbot

* Oh, and I wrote this piece yesterday and had to update it today seeing as all fit hit the shan on Tuesday and threw some of my predictions for a loop.

Here we go!


Making the Cut


Obviously, many of the choices for 2016-17 are obvious, but there are a few pleasant surprises. Some of these surprises came as a result of good play and those players deserve to be with the big club. Some of the surprises got an opportunity thanks to injuries that opened spots which otherwise wouldn't have been available.

There is a lot being made of the Versteeg exit and the resulting consequence of asking Puljujarvi to do what few other rookies have been able to do before him. It is a bummer that the Oilers didn't see the Versteeg situation coming and pick up a player like P.A Parenteau off waivers to shelter Puljujarvi. I'm confident if Edmonton knew Versteeg was going to happen, they'd have done this differently. The fact that Edmonton made a contract offer to Versteeg tells us they wanted another right-winger and the Oilers will need to make sure Puljujarvi isn't in over his head tonight.

Something else to consider. Versteeg is not a first line winger. If Calgary is grabbing him to play him in that spot, this speaks volumes to the level in which Calgary is hurting for a right wing and should Edmonton have played him in that spot, we'd all be up in arms about how our depth is terrible and Versteeg doesn't deserve to be in that spot. Versteeg stings, but he's not the end of the season by any means.


First Line


Edmonton will start the season with a top-line forward group of Connor McDavid, Jordan Eberle and Milan Lucic. This line did pretty much what was expected of them when the blueprint was laid out. The only difference being that it took a bit longer for them to gel.

Over the course of the preseason, these three got better and better. There were some obvious chemistry issues at first, but by the final game, this line was dominating the opposition. It's logical to assume that while they may not dominate every night, they're going to have more games that not where they run rough-shot over their opponents.


Second Line


The second line is a bit less obvious, but based on this morning's skate, it seems pretty clear that Todd McLellan might be going with a trio of Ryan Nugent-Hopkins with Benoit Pouliot and Anton Slepyshev. This could change quickly by subbing in Leon Draisaitl on that right side. Yes, there is still debate over Draisaitl playing wing versus center, but I assume he's going to see both positions regularly and McLellan loves to play top-six players in top-six positions. I think this is the main reason Kris Versteeg saw the writing on the wall and left for Calgary. Draisaitl is a top-six forward in the NHL and this deployment gives the Oilers two very dangerous lines. Slepyshev has been quite good in preseason, but this doesn't appear to be a long-term thing.

Third Line

The third line looks like Drake Caggiula with Patrick Maroon and what will be Jesse Puljujarvi. The substitution tonight is Anton Lander in at center while Caggiula nurses his injury. Lander was waived having not originally made this team, but not reassigned. I wrote a detailed piece over at my other main stop the Hockey Writers, citing how this is a wake-up call for Lander and he needs to get this figured out now.

Related: Lander Demotion a Wake-up Call

Once Caggiula returns, this third line is a nice combination of speed, enthusiasm, skill and energy. Two rookies on the line, however, has the potential to be exposed defensively from time to time. For those concerned about Caggiula's inexperience, coach Todd McLellan had this to say about Caggiula's play:

“He’s done that to a very high degree,” said McLellan. “He has an intensity to him that is NHL-bound. He has some very good ready and react skills, he’s competitive, he’s won, he’s very mature. A lot of the qualities you look for in an NHL player he possess at this point.”

Fourth Line

The fourth line will be Mark Letestu with Zack Kassian and Tyler Pitlick. The cast will be rounded out by Anton Slepyshev.

Puljujarvi


There is potential that having Puljujarvi on the third line goes one of two ways. With Versteeg, (or another more veteran right-winger) Puljujarvi as an alternate forward clearly means he still projects to be a top-line forward, but has the time to work his way there. I would have said, even as recently as a few days ago, that Puljujarvi was going to play right wing on the second line. Then I saw the below video.



Two things stand out for me in Puljujarvi's interview — neither of which I'm holding against him, by the way. First is the language barrier. It has to be affecting the time it takes for a player to learn the systems. In a way, hockey is a universal language, but for a player who likely has trouble both speaking and understanding English, this has to be a hurdle. Second, he's admitted to the time it's taking him to adjust to the smaller ice surface.

With that in mind, using him on the third line still means he's not playing a ton of ice time, but it does mean he's going to need to contribute. There is officially more of a burden on this kid.

The Defense

The first pair belongs, without question, to Oscar Klefbom and Adam Larsson. I can't explain the breath of fresh air that comes with watching these two players together and the confidence I feel that they'll not be overmatched each and every night.

I'm not suggesting either of these players are Norris trophy candidates this year, but it's sweet music to see two well-rounded defensemen running the core of this blue line and just scratching the surface of what they can become.

The second pair is a bit tougher to guess, not because of who's in it, but where they'll play. Currently, it looks like Andrej Sekera (left) with Kris Russell (right). This could flip-flop back and forth based on how things are going.

The third pair is Brandon Davidson with Mark Fayne. Rounded out with Darnell Nurse as a seventh defenseman.


Who Didn't Make the Cut

It appears to me Eric Gryba is the first real bonafide NHL player in a long time to be a casualty of depth in the Oilers organization. He did get a contract, but a two-way deal and he's not scheduled to be in the opening rotation tonight.

Matthew Benning looked like he was going to be close and his name appears on the roster, but he'll sit tonight too. I think if he sits for more than a game or two, he'll be reassigned to the AHL. There, he'll be given top-pair minutes and lead the Condors defense in a variety of ways.

Matt Hendricks is on the team but will sit due to injury. As is Iiro Pakarinnen. The real question mark is Mark Fayne. Where is he? He's on the team but he sort of sits on the outside looking in. Is he a possible trade piece?

But, who cares what I think right? For now, I'll just keep my mouth shut until I feel like spilling my guts again.





Jim Parsons is a business owner, husband, father and sports fan. For more information about Oilersnetwork.com founder and Oil Spill articles author Jim Parsons, click here.




Want to start spilling your sports gut? We're looking for writers. Go here.


Versteeg to Sign... in Calgary

The rumoured announcement that the Oilers were set to sign forward Kris Versteeg appears to be premature. It looks as though the Calgary Flames have swooped in and scooped up Versteeg on a one-year, $950,000 contract.

While Versteeg was merely on a PTO and could have been signed by any team at any time, this has to be seen as a loss to the Oilers. Versteeg was looking to be a smart depth addition for Edmonton, giving players like Jesse Puljujarvi time in the AHL or lower on the depth chart to get accustomed to the NHL ice surface size and speed of play.

More to come as the announcement is made official.

* Update: Coach Todd McLellan has stated that Edmonton offered Versteeg a contract and he simply chose the Flames. Looks like playing time and position on the roster was the determining factor for Versteeg.


Oilers Set to Announce Signing of Kris Versteeg

As per Marc Spector, the Edmonton Oilers and Kris Versteeg look like they've come to terms on an actual NHL contract.


This is a good move for Edmonton and means that Versteeg is back to almost one-hundred percent healthy after a small injury in preseason.

With the trading of Nail Yakupov, this pretty much sealed the deal for Versteeg. It will be interesting to see if Edmonton increases it depth at right wing with some of the moves today on the NHL waiver wire.

More to come as the news goes official.

Oilers Waive Lander, To Claim Teemu Pulkkinen or P.A. Parenteau?

The Edmonton Oilers sent Anton Lander down on waivers today for the purpose of assignment into the AHL. While he's a defensive specialist who is excellent at faceoffs and penalty kills like a beast, the reality is, he'll probably clear waivers and play a some of the season with the Condors until an injury makes it possible to recall him.

Lander Down, Caggiula In


Lander's demotion isn't terribly surprising. Since his time in Edmonton under coach Todd Nelson, he hasn't produced a lick of offense despite getting regular playing time with the team. Players on the depth chart in Edmonton passed him by and Lander simply hasn't done enough to keep his spot.

Lander down means that Drake Caggiula (who I've been extremely high on since he was signed as a college free agent) has likely made the team and will play third-line center for the Oilers to start the season. Caggiula went down with a minor injury in preseason, but he (and Kris Versteeg) were back on the ice today at practice in regular colored practice jersey's and should be good to go for Oct 12th and opening night.

Oilers to Claim Teemu Pulkkinen?


If the Toronto Maple Leafs somehow pass on Teemu Pulkkinen, the Oilers may choose to grab him up. Last season, Pulkkinen had 12 points in 36 games with Detroit before having his season cut short due to a shoulder injury. He's dominant at the AHL level (and I mean absolutely dominant).

Pulkkinen gives the Oilers depth at right wing if there are any doubts about either Kris Versteeg's health or the readiness of Jesse Puljujarvi. With Yakupov gone, there is potentially space to add another right-winger.

P.A. Parenteau


The backup plan should Pulkkinen go is P.A. Parenteau who last year with the Leafs in 77 games had 20 goals and 21 assists for 41 points. He's a perennial positive Corsi player who can play well in tough positions. He'd add immediate depth to the Oilers, who if they are interested in winning this year should take a close look.

Both Parenteau and Pulkkinen give the Oilers options with their young right-winger Puljujarvi. If Edmonton doesn't claim either one of these players off waivers, it tells us they have solidified their decision to run with the young Puljujarvi and that their confidence he can adjust to the NHL in unwavering.

But, who cares what I think right? For now, I'll just keep my mouth shut until I feel like spilling my guts again.





Jim Parsons is a business owner, husband, father and sports fan. For more information about Oilersnetwork.com founder and Oil Spill articles author Jim Parsons, click here.




Want to start spilling your sports gut? We're looking for writers. Go here.

Who's Fault Is It That Yakupov Is Gone?

Let’s consider Nail Yakupov for a minute. The Oilers just traded him for virtually nothing, ending what has been called the Yakupov experiment. We hear that Yakupov was a good kid, but not a great hockey player – he didn’t have the skills to make it. But, let’s consider another angle – the angle of coaching.

I have a PhD, am a retired university professor (40 years as a professor), and an educational researcher whose job was to consider education’s impact on children and young people. Here’s the transition – when a young man of 18 or 19 years of age, regardless of his immense talent, is drafted into the highly stressful environment of competitive sports – especially hockey, which is also extremely physically challenging –the challenge of anxiety and stress is present. Such stress ruins a young man’s chance to perform at his peak.


Nail the Player


Here is what we know about Nail Yakupov. During his first season (2012-13), he played 48 games. He scored 17 goals and had 14 assists for a total of 31 points. He didn’t set the world on fire, but he played well enough that Oilers’ fans looked forward to his future. Then, the future came.
During his second season (2013-14), Yakupov played 63 games and his scoring shrunk to 11 goals and 13 assists. His third season (2014-15) was worse. He played 81 games, with 14 goals and 19 assists. Nail Yakupov stayed the same: what changed was his coach. During 2012-13, the Oilers coach was Ralph Krueger. During the following two years, when his scoring and success slid, his coach was Dallas Eakins.

Coaching Styles


I know little about each coach – but I do read. On September 27, The New York Times, contrasted Mike Babcock, the coach of the Canadian team at the World Cup of Hockey, to coach Ralph Krueger, the coach of Team Europe. The reporter noted that Babcock runs a tight ship. On the other hand, Krueger is freer at the helm, allowing for course corrections. Babcock is the cold technician. Krueger is the soothing force.

So what, you ask? The research clearly found a significant relationship between a coach’s anxiety and an athlete’s anxiety and performance level. Furthermore, a great deal of research on young athletes found that psychological characteristics and environmental conditions play a major role in the development of athletic success.

Consider it. In a highly stressed environment, where winning and losing matters so much, a young hockey player’s expectations of himself, his relationship with his coach, and his teammates’ expectations are all factors that cause anxiety. We are talking teenagers here. In a young male athlete, constant pressure from his coach for successful competition causes especially high levels of anxiety. On the other hand, a coach’s support reduces anxiety and stress and leads to improved performance.

Fear of failure, a sense of inability, a fear of losing control of the game, and psychological stress increase a player’s anxiety. In research terms, a negative significant correlation exists between a coach’s anxiety and an athletes' performance. This means that, as the coach’s anxiety increases, the athletes' performance falters. Research shows that anxiety not only involves the mind but also affects the whole body’s reactions. In other words, when an athlete is too stressed and anxious – regardless of skill – that athlete no longer can perform well.

Anxiety vs Performance

A coach’s anxious behavior, which includes undue and excessive feedback, causes mental imbalance, upsets a player’s focus, and leads to poor performance by the player and the team. Other research found that a player’s actions, memory, and attention are impaired by high anxiety. Anxiety becomes disabling among youth – of which Yakupov was.

People tend to believe that, when a player like Yakupov is so highly skilled, which one expects of a first overall draft pick, that player will be successful simply because he is so skilled. But this forgets the impact of an athlete’s age. Here research found a statistical relationship between age and anxiety level of the athletes. Specifically, as athletes age, their anxiety decreases; and, younger players are prone to stress and anxiety.

In summary, research shows a significant relationship between coaching and an athlete’s anxiety and performance. Any type of anxiety can affect a player’s performance. But a coach's relationship with an athlete can create a safe environment where players grow. A coach – especially of young men - must be relaxed to understand and control their anxiety if the team is to win.

What Does it All Mean?


So what do we know? We know that Ralph Krueger was a relaxed coach. And, we have Eakins’ own words – from a 2016 Toronto Star interview. When Eakins reviews his mistakes coaching the Oilers, he notes that one mistake was to “make the players accountable.” The article quotes Eakins:  “I look back and I’d like to slap myself, going, ‘You tried to speed it up.’ “We just went too fast. And the group wasn’t ready to go too fast. They were immature. And they are going to be an excellent hockey team there in a couple of years.”

My point: when we look at Yakupov’s tenure with the Oilers, let’s not forget to look past Yakupov’s talent and skills as a hockey player. Let’s also look at the Oilers’ environment during his first three years. So I ask this question: had Krueger stayed the Oilers’ coach, would Yakupov be leading this Edmonton Oilers’ team? Would he and McDavid be part of the best forward line in hockey?

I like Yakupov. I wish him well in St. Louis. I hope he finds a coach who gives him space to regain his confidence. And I remind myself how hard it is for very young men to play the complex and stressful game of hockey we have all come to love.


Guest Contributor - Jim Parsons