As we move through the preseason with two split squad games already under the Oilers belt, something has been impressing me more than the play of any particular player on the ice, Todd McLellan.
While the veteran coach was a welcome addition for most Oilers fans, he hasn’t coached a single regular season game for his new club and Oilers fans are eager to see what he will bring to the table. While the sample size is small thus far, the results are already telling.
McLellan’s comments in media scrums are indicative of a veteran coach coming from a veteran system which he helped establish. Following the split squad game against Calgary, the Oilers announced that the training camp roster had been split into two teams. These two teams are essentially an NHL roster, and a rookie roster. McLellan went on to explain his logic after being asked if he was sending a message to the rookies:
“There is no message. It’s basically what they read into it. If I’m a player, I’m looking and saying, ‘jeez, this group is full of veteran NHL players and this group doesn’t have any in there.’ If that’s how you’re looking at it, you think that you’ve divided NHL and American League. It can look that way, it can come across that way, but I do know there will be some players from the other group that are going to play on our team at some point and it could be as early as this year.”
What impresses me most about Todd McLellan’s approach to his first training camp as head coach of the Edmonton Oilers? He already has a plan, one day into preseason. This is a far cry from the last two training camps run by former Oilers coach Dallas Eakins, which saw AHL players on the roster right up until the regular season (and beyond), without any clear direction. McLellan has already stated that he wants to finalize his roster and give the team a couple games together before the regular season even opens, and that is music to my ears. By splitting the pre-season roster up into two squads and icing the best of both, McLellan has maintained a consistent message: only the best of the two will play the season opener.
Who could forget the Oilers entering the regular season without an established 2nd line center, or with Grebeshkov being counted on to play defense for his former team? In both years Dallas Eakins was featured as the “solution” in Edmonton, he hadn’t figured out his roster until the season had already began. Todd McLellan already has a process, and he intends to make sure he enters the 2015-2016 NHL season with the right troops. One split squad game into the preseason and he is already miles ahead of his predecessor. His language is precise, his systems are proven, and his experience is not in question.
While we can’t draw comparisons via wins and losses for both coaches (given the fact that they iced completely different rosters), we can draw one simple conclusion: The Oilers finally have a veteran coach with a plan, and the players are buying in.
Additionally, the intensity level of practices seems to have picked up. How many times have we seen ex Oilers such as Ladislav Smid get traded to new teams, only to hear them comment on how much more intensive the practices were on their new teams compared to the Oilers’? From the start of the process, McLellan seems to have addressed this issue, and still commands the respect of his young players.
After watching Dallas Eakins construct a miserable record of 36 wins, 63 losses, and 14 OT losses through 113 games, Oilers fans were justifiably excited when interim AHL coach Todd Nelson stepped in and seemed to turn the team around. While Nelson went 17-25-9, the team played a much improved game, and many players flourished after the coaching change. We can only speculate how much of a difference McLellan can make over Nelson, but one thing I’m sure we can all agree on is that the former is already out of the gate with a bang. Given McLellans pedigree, winning record, and special teams, Oilers fans have much to be optimistic about. We can’t quantify how many more wins McLellan alone will factor into this season, but I think it’s a safe gamble to state his guidance will be good for at least a moderate climb in the standings, to say nothing of McDavid or any of the other young players that could make the team out of camp.
While it’s only 2 split squad preseason games, the underlying stats seem to suggest that McLellan is already coaching the Oilers towards better possession numbers, despite the fact their previous bench boss claimed to be a possession driven coach. There are good signs that the young guns are finally in the right hands (however early in the year), and that Todd McLellan is the rudder that could very well steer the goodship Oilers out of troubled waters.
I hope you enjoyed this guest post from Kjell Iverson. He’s a bright guy with a great passion for the Oilers! Not only that but he’s a great graphic artist as well. Expect to see more of what you seen at the beginning of the post from Kjell in the future!
You can follow Kjell on Twitter @KjellIverson.