Author of the article:

Kurt Leavins

Publishing date:

Feb 14, 2021  •  10 hours ago  •  5 minute read

Edmonton Oilers players celebrate a goal scored by defenseman Evan Bouchard (75) in the first period against the Ottawa Senators at the Canadian Tire Centre on Feb. 9, 2021. Photo by Marc DesRosiers /USA TODAY Sports

For the first time in decades the Head Coach of the Edmonton Oilers is not having to scratch around to find actual NHL players to put in his lineup.

Instead, every night Dave Tippett is leaving a 5-some in the press box that in any of the 5 previous seasons would have been playing every night. That’s actual depth. And while it presents some challenges for sure, it is a very nice problem to have. Especially on Defence, which for decades has been a black hole for this franchise.

That and more in this week’s edition of…

9 Things

9. James Neal was placed on waivers Saturday, but cleared Sunday. Neal and his $5.7m were never going anywhere on the wire. This was all about maximizing flexibility with the Taxi Squad. Neal is a useful player. But if someone had claimed him, wouldn’t you quickly find another way to spend that money? Moot point now, though.

8. Oilers Now is losing one of their most popular guests. Brian Burke had become a Thursday mainstay on Bob Stauffer’s show, but Burke is now back in hockey ops with Pittsburgh. Those will be big shoes to fill. On Oilers Now, Burke was given the room to be himself and listeners soon realized that there was far more depth and breadth to him just than truculence.

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7. It was a tumultuous week for Sports Talk Radio in Canada. 3 TSN Radio stations flipped formats, and layoffs resulted. I’m always sorry to see good people lose their jobs. Full-stop. But 2 of those AM stations had lost their NHL rights, the 3rd never had them. Sports-Talk is already an expensive format due to high labour costs. And COVID has affected revenues in all formats and markets.

6. Jujhar Khaira is arguably enjoying the best run of his pro career. His future did not seem headed in this direction. He was waived earlier in the year, his play less than ineffective. Now? He looks big, fast and confident. The caveat is we’ve seen this from J.J. before. Consistency is his Achilles Heel. If Khaira is still playing close to this level in 10 games, I’ll be closer to proclaiming him as “arrived”.

5. I’m not the least bit sorry that the Oilers weren’t playing during Hockey Day in Canada. Dave Tippett had to ride his fastest horses the hardest in order to pull out of the club’s early season tailspin. As a result, I thought Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid were a step off their peak over the last couple games. So, 3 days of rest for your 2 best players AND you’ve won 6 of 7? Yes, please.

4. Jesse Puljujarvi has been deemed eligible by the NHL to resume all team activities. I don’t wish COVID on anyone. But I will admit to feeling especially bad that this week’s events happened to Jesse. Here’s a young guy who has been through a lot, and worked hard to fit back in. Then, due to what sounds like a false positive, he’s the one that ends up having to isolate from his teammates. Life just isn’t fair, sometimes. Glad he’s o.k. and back where he belongs.

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3. I see some folks clamouring for Caleb Jones to be in the lineup. I’m afraid I don’t agree. And trust me, I want to see all the young guys succeed, Jones included. But Jones would be the 5th best Power Play option on this team. And he would not be in the Top 4 Penalty Killers either. Jones just doesn’t put himself in enough lanes. That leaves the coach in a bind. It’s hard to carry a D-man who doesn’t play either special team. He ends up at about 10: 00 a night, forcing the TOI up on the other 5 guys. Right now, I’d put Jones 8th or 9th on the depth chart.

2. Last week in this space I mused that Right Defence had become an area of strength for this organization. A lot of people think the Oilers need a top-flight goaltender, and I tend to agree…if not this year, surely next. And if you need to trade for a big piece like a legit starting goaltender, you almost always have to give up something substantial in return. If you don’t think one of those right-hand D’s is what the other team will be demanding in return, you’re kidding yourself. Remember, my saying something doesn’t always mean I’m advocating for it.

1.It is easy to make the case that 4 of the Oilers best 6 Defencemen are right-hand shots: Tyson Barrie, Adam Larsson, Ethan Bear and Evan Bouchard, then Darnell Nurse and William Lagesson on the LHS. Right now, when all of them are healthy, they need to be in the lineup. Especially the first 5. Lagesson has surprised me. It remains to be seen whether he can continue this run of strong play. But with good veterans and penalty killers Kris Russell and Slater Koekkoek available as depth, I’m not worried. But if all 4 of those RHS guys DO need to play and Tippett doesn’t always want to run out an 11-and-7 lineup, then who swings over to play the port side? Who, indeed?

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In talking to a few people now who watched Evan Bouchard play a lot of games in London as a Junior, you learn that Bouchard played the LHS there quite regularly. In fact, he and teammate Adam Boquist (both right-hand shots) would often play the Power Play together with excellent results. In fact, Bouchard has more recent experience on the LHS than any of the Oilers right-handers.

So, if Tippet ran Nurse-Barrie, Lagesson-Larsson, Bouchard-Bear, you’d have 4 guys who can play the Power Play, and 2 pairs (Nurse-Bear, Lagesson-Larsson) who can PK. And on the 3rd pairing, Bouchard-Bear would face more preferred matchups. You could also flip Barrie and Bear, yes, but I think Bear is the better defender to play alongside Bouchard.

Is playing a raw rookie on his offside in a tough division a gamble? A bit of one, yes. But as I said, there’s depth to back him up if it doesn’t work.

And Evan Bouchard’s elite skills and pedigree make him a solid bet to be able to pull it off.

Postscript:

Hall of Fame hockey writer Frank Orr passed away this week. When I first walked into the Foster Hewitt gondola at Maple Leaf Gardens and saw Mr. Orr, I knew I had arrived. Legend. RIP.

Find me on Twitter @KurtLeavins

Recently, at The Cult…

LEAVINS: Oilers play most complete game of the season in 3-0 win over Habs

McCURDY: Neal Puljujarvi make notable news on Saturday

STAPLES: Is Jujhar Khaira a mystery finally solved?

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