The Oilers have had a strong start to the preseason. They are sporting a 3-0-0 record thus far, and they have scored 18 goals along the way. The competition hasn’t exactly been strong as no team has iced anything close to a full NHL roster against the Oilers just yet, so that record needs to be taken with a grain of salt. Generally speaking, there have been a lot of good things to come out of Oilers camp so far though.
There are 4 more preseason games left before the team departs for Europe to play an exhibition game in Cologne, Germany and their regular season opener in Sweden. The Oilers have sent quite a few players down to the AHL already, so we’re starting to get a much better idea of who will be on the team to start the season. I want to take a moment to acknowledge some of the early cuts from Oilers camp that had good showings.
Tyler Benson tore up the bantam league here in Edmonton as a teenager. He surpassed current Oiler Ty Rattie’s Alberta scoring records in bantam. However, injuries derailed his junior career. He ended up being selected in the second round by the Oilers in 2016; but he had enough talent to have been a first rounder had he not been injured. He is finally healthy coming into a season for the first time in a long time, and he was impressive this September. He showed fantastic playmaking ability during the rookie camp, and he notched 3 assists in 2 preseason games with the Oilers. Edmonton was lucky to get Benson where they did in the draft, and I believe that he will be a good player at the NHL level. This season will be his first as a professional, and I anticipate him having a lot of success in the AHL this season. I wouldn’t be shocked if he got called up for a few games with the big club this season.
Caleb Jones really impressed me during the rookie camp. He spent his summer training with his big brother Seth, who is quickly becoming one of the better offensive defencemen in the league. The training has seemingly been working well. Jones clearly improved his skating this summer. He was much more confident jumping into the play offensively. He showed that he can move the puck quickly and accurately. He did some special things with the puck on his stick during the rookie camp. He and Bouchard looked great running the point on the powerplay. He even scored a few goals, which was great to see. Jones has shown me that he is a much better prospect than I originally thought that he would be. I’m looking for him to put up some numbers in Bakersfield this year. Once he got to main camp, he seemingly took a step back. He wasn’t as good against the higher level of competition of NHL players. He will get there though. He could potentially be in the conversation for a spot on the Oilers in 2019-20.
There are a few young players that are still in camp that have been impressive thus far as well. Ryan McLeod, the Oilers’ second round pick this past summer, has looked really good. He is a fantastic skater, and he is keeping his game really simple. He has made crisp passes and smart decisions with the puck. He needs to work on his defensive game, but you could say that about any prospect that comes straight out of junior hockey. Todd McLellan has praised how good of a student he has been in training camp, which is good to hear. McLeod has played in all three of the Oilers’ preseason games so far. Some people have suggested that he might make the team. I really don’t think that he will make the team because there is no need to rush this kid along, but he is looking like a solid prospect.
Cooper Marody is another kid that has been impressive to me. He has a silky set of mitts on him. He has great poise with the puck. He has the confidence to make a move with the puck on his stick in the defensive zone and then to make a good pass to clear the zone. His lines have created a lot of chances, although his point total in his two preseason games hasn’t reflected that to this point (1 assist). I really like Marody’s game. Like Benson, I would not be surprised if Marody were to get a few NHL games under his belt at some point this season, but it won’t be right away out of training camp.
Oilers fans have been excited to see what Evan Bouchard would do at this year’s training camp. He scored a beautiful goal off of the rush against Calgary, and he got an assist against Winnipeg last night in almost 23 minutes of ice time. He has shown great poise with the puck on his stick in his own zone at times. His elite passing ability has been on display so far in this camp. Bouchard has done a lot of good things, but he has made quite a few mistakes defensively as well. The Oilers would have to take the good with the bad if they were to keep Bouchard past his potential 9-game audition. Bouchard is going to be a great player for years to come. He might start the season with the Oilers, but I still see him playing in London again this season.
The biggest takeaway that I’ve had from training camp so far is that the Oilers are finally at a place where they have quality depth developing in the pipeline for the first time since I was a child. Along with the names I’ve mentioned above, there’s Kailer Yamamoto (I’ll talk more about his camp in tomorrow’s article), Ethan Bear, Kirill Maksimov, Ostap Safin, and Stuart Skinner who all have legitimate chances to be contributors on an NHL roster eventually. You can all thank Peter Chiarelli and his scouting staff for this new revelation. It is vitally important that the team has a cupboard full of quality prospects to draw from if it is to be competitive for years to come. With Connor McDavid in the fold for 8 more years at the very least, the pipeline needs to be flowing right now, and it is. It is a great proposition for the team’s long-term outlook.
Thanks for reading! Stay tuned for part 2 of What We have Learned in Training Camp So Far tomorrow, where I’ll focus on the battles for right wing spots and for defence spots.