Man was it great to be back at the rink today! There was a lot of things going on out there so I’m just going to get to what really caught my eye.
1) Justin Schultz can flat out fly! It was a real treat to watch him join the rush on the breakout drills, even if he didn’t really get an opportunity to score & he was quickest to the puck during the puck chase drill as well. Looked relatively decent playing along side his namesake Nick & I wouldn’t be surprised to see the 2 of them paired together come Sunday. Still a work in progress.
2) Devan Dubnyk was zoned in. His puck battle efforts were good, never caught out of position & used his body well positioning. Any playoff chance for this team will be hinged largely on his efforts between the pipes.
3) Sam Gagner seems to have gained some footspeed & was battling hard during all the drills. Made a few brilliant passes from behind the net to Hemsky & Yakupov. He’s in a contract year & I expect a big year from him offensively pivoting Yakupov & Hemsky
4) Nick Schultz’ stick work was very effective. He was very calm knocking down passes & getting in the face of the puck rusher. I think he will do the coaching staff a great service being paired w/his namesake Justin, opening night.
5) Hemsky looks happy out there. After 10 long years, it looks as if Hemsky finally has a legitimate scorer (not named Sykora) to pass to. If you were at the rink today, you could see Ales’ licking his lips (a Hemsky trademark) trying to find Yakupov, which he did. There was some real, legitimate chemistry with that line today. I will go on record & say this, IF Hemsky stays healthy there’s no reason to believe he can’t eclipse 38pts playing on the RW w/Gags & Yak.
6) Yakupov was probably the most noticeable player on the ice today. We can close all doubt on whether or not this kid can play the LW because boy can he ever! He reminds me a lot of Ovechkin, the way he drives to the net, finds open ice & his shot… it’s like nothing you’ve ever seen before. There was a one-timer drill where he went bar-down 5 in a row. His release is so quick & so laser-like that with playing with Gagner & passing from Hemsky, I will go on record AGAIN & predict 16+ goals from this kid with a Calder Nomination this year.
7) Ralph Krueger has a plan. His practices were high tempo with purpose. He gave every player the opportunity for 1 on 1 battles down low & through the middle. Really enjoyed his breakout plays & how he really mixed up the defense pairings for 2 straight hours,which leads me to believe he’s not sold on any particular defensive pairings, as of right now
8) At or around 12:30 local time, Gene Principe broke the Mark Fistric deal (on my Twitter timeline at least), which saw the local product coming to the Oilers from the Stars for a 3rd round pick. What this does is solidifies our #6 spot on defense. Fistric plays big & with 235 hits last year while averaging 16mins of TOI was good enough for 5th amongst NHL defenseman. With Peckham out with a hip flexor, Sutton most likely gone for the season, Potter & Tuebert become bubble players on this team now, it gives the Oilers some grit on the backend that will be lacking.
1- We can expect Hall-RNH-Eberle to deliver big numbers & I expect a 40 goal scorer this year from this line
2- Yak-Gags-Hemsky looked solid today with instant chemistry. If healthy, the Oilers finally have a legitimate 1-2 punch in regards to scoring lines
3- Smyth-Horcs-Hartikainen. A solid a 3rd line as any we’ve seen. If Harti plays well, Ryan Jones may be relegated to 4th line duties when he returns, which as per Steve Tambellini, is unknown. If Jones is ready, I would expect to see him on the RW on Sunday
4- This was a real KruegBlender today. What we do know is Belanger will center the 4th line, what we don’t know is who his linemates will be. Eager, PRV, Petrell & Hordi were all given a look today, my expectations are based on Jones’ health. If Jones isn’t ready by Sunday, I would expect Eager-Belanger-Petrell to start the year. Expect to add Harti to the 4th line mix upon Jones’ return from injury
That’s all for now!