Every team will have questions as they put one NHL season behind them and move onto another. For the Edmonton Oilers, there were plenty of them. A team that performed well in the regular season, then dropped the ball in the 2020 play-in round, the Oilers have a lot to prove. Big changes in some areas and little change in others means some of the burning questions are still out there.
Oilers’ head coach Dave Tippett took time to answer some of the more obvious questions in a Q & A session with Postmedia. Here were his responses:
How Will the Oilers Improve 5-on-5?
In 2019-20, the Oilers gave up 154 goals even-strength. That was sixth-worst in the NHL and the teams below them (with the exception of Toronto) were lottery teams. The Oilers were fantastic on the power play, but not-so wonderful at scoring even-strength goals. Why weren’t the better?
Tippett said that the team didn’t get enough five-on-five scoring from their third and fourth lines. That needs to improve and one of the reasons the Oilers added more depth that they believe can produce offense. Tippett said, “The bottom six did a hell of a job on the penalty-kill, but we have to have more puck play from that group. Adding more forwards helps.”
How Will the Goaltending Rotation Work?
One of the areas Edmonton did not make improvements in was goaltending. While the team added Anton Forsberg as a third-string option — that might come in handy based on the new taxi squad rules — they stuck with Mikko Koskinen and Mike Smith. Tippett was asked about his game plan in that regard.
He responded that the shortened season means they’ll be using both guys regularly. He explained:
“It’s such a condensed thing with so many back-to-backs (11), we’re using both guys. We went two-two-two (each goalie alternating two games) last season, but I don’t know if we’ll do that this year. We may even need our third guy, (Anton) Forsberg. That was a very good job by our management to secure a guy like that. He’s played in the NHL.”source – ‘Plenty of questions for head coach Dave Tippett heading into Edmonton Oilers training camp’ – Jim Matheson – Edmonton Journal – 01/02/2021
The goaltending was not Edmonton’s issue during the regular season. It wasn’t great in four games when it counted. This will be something fans watch closely this season.
Competition for Jobs at Forward?
The Oilers added a number of depth forwards. In fact, there are too many and not all of them will make the opening night roster. Of the 17 forwards on one-way deals, Tippett was asked who gets squeezed out and was there an effort to create competition for jobs?
With names like Tyler Benson, Devin Shore and Alan Quine as potential names that could be on the Oilers taxi squad, Tippett said he’s happy management added more forwards and said, “We needed to have more skill in our bottom six.” He added that Oilers will likely have to use a number of these forwards and that there will likely be days someone isn’t happy they aren’t playing, but that’s just how it will go this season.
He said it will be up to GM Ken Holland as to how many forwards the team carries to start the year and if anyone goes on waivers.
Is Kyle Turris a Good Two-Way Center?
The Oilers added Kyle Turris in free agency and while his past season in Nashville wasn’t great, he’s proven to have an ability to score. But, Tippett was asked if Turris can be a good two-way option behind Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl?
Tippett thinks so. Saying Turris understands the little parts of the game that are important, he can also be a top offensive player when called upon. When Ottawa went to the semi-finals, Turris was a key two-way player for the team and when Tippett had Turris in the world championships, he was the go-to face-off guy on the right side. He was given that responsibility over names like Mark Scheifele, Nathan MacKinnon, and Nazem Kadri.
Tippett is also extremely pleased that Turris gives the Oilers a right-shot option at center now. He said, “Gives us a different look. We talked about that in the off-season and that was one of our goals, to get a right-shot centre. Sometimes you can’t do it but we did.”
How Does Barrie Change the Oilers Power Play?
With Oscar Klefbom out and Tyson Barrie in, are the Oilers at all concerned that they won’t be able to repeat last season’s power play success? They were the top team in the NHL in that regard.
Tippett says that Barrie coming in as a right-handed shot changes the look and feel of the power play a little but Barrie loves to shoot and the Oilers will encourage him to. Tippett said, “Barrie is a really creative. Looking forward to see how he meshes with the other guys.”
As for the defense and Barrie’s usage in five-on-five situations, the Oilers won’t be hiding anyone and he’s going to find a balance where everyone will be playing a lot. He admitted that the term “Committee defence” might be a good way to describe the Oilers this season.
Who Will Be the Main Penalty Killers?
Outside of goaltending, the one area it appears the Oilers might have taken a step back is in their penalty killing options. What is Tippett’s plan there?
The coach said, anyone who wants a shot may get one, but time on the penalty kill won’t come on a volunteer basis. He plans to use Turris in that role as well as Gaetann Haas. He said the team still has Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jujhar Khaira from last year and he expects Kailer Yamamoto and Jesse Puljujarvi will apply some of their experience penalty killing in other leagues to the Oilers kill this season.
Needless to say, Tippett has a plan. While the jury is mixed on how much the Oilers improved this offseason, it’s hard to argue Holland didn’t do a lot with very little money. Was it enough and can the coach work with the team that’s been assembled for him? He seems to think so.
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Jim Parsons is a freelance writer who covers the Edmonton Oilers and news and rumors posts here at The Hockey Writers.
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