Ralph Krueger came into the season as the Oilers new head coach with the reputation as a master motivator and strategist. Someone who could get the most out of his players and work well with the contingent of young stars.
There are a couple of other things in addition that have become evident in the one month he has been behind the helm. The main one; there is a changing of the guard in Edmonton.
Last year Tom Renney relied heavily on his veteran players with Shawn Horcoff and Ryan Smyth leading the team’s forwards in ice time on a nightly basis. The top offensive line in Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jordan Eberle were kept out of many situations in an attempt to shelter them in their young careers, however that also led to one of the lowest ice time averages for a top line in the league.
This year tells a much different story. It started in the abbreviated training camp when Krueger announced that while Horcoff would remain his captain, however Eberle and Hall, along with Nick Schultz would wear the A’s. That meant that Ryan Whitney, Ales Hemsky and Ryan Smyth, who all wore A’s last season at one point or another, would no longer do so, effectively taking the first step in handing the team over to the new regime.
It has also been evident on the ice where Hall, RNH and Eberle are all averaging over 20 minutes a night with increased roles and rookie Justin Schultz is consistently the team’s leader in ice time each night on defence.
There is also the press box, and one just has to look up there over the past week to see who is sitting in it. Ryan Whitney, the team’s highest paid defenceman and an eight year NHL veteran has been in a shirt and tie for three of the last five games. Or to look beside him last game where Ryan Smyth, a warrior of over 1,000 NHL games and second all time in Oiler games played, was out as a healthy scratch.
The message from the beginning has been simple. Those that can help the team the most will play. Krueger doesn’t care what the name on the back of the jersey says or what they’ve done in the past, it’s what they’ve shown in the present. Both Whitney and Smyth have played below the standards of what is expected of them recently and a message was sent swiftly to them.
The two veterans are still expected to be big contributors to the team throughout the year, Krueger is just hoping his message has sunk in.
While statistically the differences at this point from last year to this year aren’t drastically different, the process certainly has been.
Ralph Krueger clearly sees which players are the future of this team and he’s putting them in an elevated role with increased responsibility.
Players like Hall, Eberle, RNH, Sam Gagner and Schultz have obviously been the main recipients of his approach, however it also gives great opportunity to other younger players like Nail Yakupov, Teemu Hartikainen and Magnus Paajarvi that the opportunities are there for them to seize and take advantage of.
Whether his approach brings them any closer to a playoff spot in the end, you have to admire Krueger’s resolve and his business like approach to putting the best lineup on the ice every night.