The Edmonton Oilers returned to the ice for Day 2 of their ‘NHL Return to Play’ camp on Tuesday. The team shifted from the main sheet at Rogers Place to the adjacent Community Arena. Once again, a scrimmage was part of the action in the Alberta capital.
Here are some notes, observations and news from Day 2.
A Faster Bunch?:
One thing that team insider Bob Stauffer made mention of on Tuesday was that the Oilers appear to be both “quicker” and “faster” than last September. Three major additions play a role in that.
Kailer Yamamoto, recalled in December from AHL Bakersfield, has added an element of speed, skill and tenacity to the top six forward group. Even at his size, Yamamoto has been a lot to handle for opposing defenses.
Andreas Athanasiou, acquired from Detroit at the trade deadline, also has blinding speed. Unlike Yamamoto, however, he has a 30-goal season under his belt AND brings some size to the table. He’s been skating with Yamamoto and Leon Draisaitl early in training camp.
Tyler Ennis, acquired from Ottawa at the trade deadline, also has some wheels and offensive ability.
One thing noticeable from today's practice...— Bob Stauffer (@Bob_Stauffer) July 14, 2020
The @EdmontonOilers are WAYYY faster/quicker than they were back in the fall.
The additions of Athanasiou, Ennis and Yamamoto have changed the complexion and make-up of the team.
Nygard also is back to 100% and was flying today.
An interesting note on Nygard, who was a solid two-way winger with a little punch in his first season. He suffered a hand injury and underwent surgery in late January. He has not played in nearly six months.
Edge To Koskinen?:
If the media in attendance is to be believed, Mikko Koskinen looks good in camp. Play-by-play voice Jack Michaels made note of Koskinen’s performance in practice on Tuesday, tweeting out the following.
Last two days Koskinen looks a lot like the guy who stopped 142 of 147 shots over his last four appearances prior to the pause. He was 6th with a .917 save pct among goalies who played at least half a season (35+app). pic.twitter.com/b5mKkEgYta— Jack Michaels (@EdmontonJack) July 14, 2020
Koskinen was the better of the two netminders by stats in 2019-20. He had a better save percentage (.917 to .902) and goals against average (2.75 to 2.95) than Smith. The appearances were nearly identical, with Koskinen playing 38 games and Smith 39. Each had one shutout on the season.
Back in the spring, shortly after the league announced it’s ‘Return to Play’ plan, I made the case that Koskinen should start Game 1. I stand by that today.
Here is the verdict I came to in the above linked piece.
Both Smith and Koskinen have positives and negatives to their games. As a result, I’d expect both goaltenders to get work in the playoffs. That will certainly be the case if Edmonton is able to get passed Chicago, as expected.
When it comes to Game 1, however, Mikko Koskinen should be the starter. History suggests that Smith is a wild card to start, while Koskinen has put together two straight seasons of solid starts.
Both will likely be called on, but the smart bet for Game 1 is Koskinen. Will Dave Tippett agree with that sentiment?
It’s foolish to assume that one goalie has an edge after just two days of practice. It is worth noting that Koskinen appears locked in, however. If he keeps that same energy going, he should get the nod on August 1st.
Jones Not Ready To Join Main Group:
For the second straight day, Caleb Jones did not skate with the main group of Oilers. The good news? Jones did skate after the main group left, wearing an orange jersey. It’s hard to imagine this is COVID-19 related with Jones in the building and on the ice.
The plan is for Jones to continue skating after the main group. That seems to be a sign that what he is going through isn’t overly serious or a reason to be concerned.
“He’ll continue to skate every day until we get the green light that he can join the regular group,” Tippett said after practice on Tuesday.
Daniel Nugent-Bowman of ‘The Athletic’ noted that Jones was not going easy in drills after practice. He worked with assistant coach Brian Wiseman. He was joined by the other ‘Black Aces’ on the Oilers roster.
Caleb Jones sure didn’t look like he was taking it easy at the end of black aces practice. Assistant coach Brian Wiseman put him through the paces. This, and reading between the lines from Tippett’s comments, makes me think there shouldn’t be much to worry about. We’ll see.— Daniel Nugent-Bowman (@DNBsports) July 14, 2020
Jones was joined by Philip Broberg, Tyler Benson, Cooper Marody and Ryan McLeod.
The Other Side:
The Blackhawks saw a key veteran player opt out of the ‘Return to Play’ plan on Monday. Another vital part of their team also was deemed ‘unfit to practice’ and apparently isn’t even in Chicago at this point in time.
Andrew Shaw, the pesky veteran third-liner who plays on the edge, officially opted out on Monday night. Shaw has dealt with concussion issues and wasn’t expected to play in the playoffs anyway. The good news? We should see Shaw back and healthy for the 2020-21 season.
The other player making headlines? Starting goaltender Corey Crawford. The veteran goalie did not practice Monday or Tuesday, deemed ‘unfit to practice’ according to coach Jeremy Colliton.
Jason Gregor is reporting, via Kevin Woodley, that Crawford is not even in Chicago at this time.
Without Crawford, the Blackhawks could be in trouble. They had a great insurance policy in Robin Lehner during the season, but traded him to the Vegas Golden Knights at the trade deadline. Malcolm Subban and Collin Delia would be in line to fight for starts should Crawford not be available.
It certainly changes the complexion of the series.