As the Edmonton Oilers get set to take on the Chicago Blackhawks in their best-of-five play-in series, there’s news from the training camp. In this post, I’ll share some good news for Leon Draisaitl, who was nominated for the Hart Trophy. Finally, Theodor Lennstrom is headed to Sweden on a loan from the Oilers.
Item One: Leon Draisaitl Nominated for the Hart Trophy
When the the Ted Lindsay Award nominees were in, the list included the Oilers’ Leon Draisaitl, the Colorado Avalanche’s Nathan MacKinnon, and the New York Rangers Artemi Panarin. Interestingly, the exact same trio of stars were selected as the three finalists for the Hart Trophy.
As hockey fans know, the Ted Lindsay Award is quite prestigious because it goes to the most valuable player as voted upon by that player’s peers. The Hart Award winner is chosen by the professional hockey writers.
There’s a good case to be made that Draisaitl should be the favorite because he led the NHL in scoring with 43 goals and 67 assists (110 points in total) in 71 games. No other player scored more than 100 points during the 2019-20 season.
Item Two: Dependable Tyler Ennis Might Be on Draisaitl’s Wing
Tyler Ennis must have considered himself lucky this past season when he was traded back home to Edmonton. He could be even luckier if head coach Dave Tippett keeps him on a wing with Leon Draisaitl. Ennis might not have been Tippett’s first choice, but he might be his last.
Another newcomer to the Oilers, Andreas Athanasiou had a week – five practices to be exact – to impress his coach and get a chance to partner with Draisaitl and Kailer. But, the short story is that he didn’t. Now Ennis has a chance.
Tippett noted that, “Ennis is a veteran who’s played with and against a lot of good players and he’s not intimidated. He’s a smart player who plays the game efficiently.”
Ennis scored pairs of goals and assists and four points during the nine games he played with the Oilers after he was trades from the Ottawa Senators (he scored 33 points in 61 contests with the Senators). (from “Ennis is better fit for Edmonton Oilers with Draisaitl right now than Athanasiou,” Jim Matheson, Edmonton Sun, 21/07/20).
Item Three: Joakim Nygard Still Finding His Way in North America
Everytime I’ve seen the Oilers play, I’ve noticed Joakim Nygard. So, it’s a bit of a surprise to me that he’s found skating in the NHL to be a challenge and feels he hasn’t yet found his game in the NHL. Part of his issue has been injuries. In October, Nygard suffered cracked ribs; then, in January, he broke his hand. The damage? He missed 34 games in total.
Tippett weighed in on the issue for the 27-year-old Swede: “He came over as a first-time NHL player, first season as a pro in North America getting acclimated to the new rinks and the speed, which was a challenge. Then he had a couple of injuries, the last one was really bad because he was going to miss an extended time. He didn’t feel he had the traction to get going but I talked to him and his hand is good and he feels way more comfortable now. It’s like his second year, he understands how we play, the day-to-day routine. His concentration right now is getting his game up and running to the best level.”
Nygard had only three goals and nine points in 33 games this season, but his potential gives him a shot of being much better. He’s a speedster who jumps on loose pucks, and he will at least a high-quality bottom-six player for the Oilers.
Item Four: Andreas Athanasiou Moved Down a Line
As noted above, Andreas Athanasiou had his chance but was moved down to a line with Riley Sheahan and Josh Archibald at Sunday’s practice. Athanasiou had been working alongside Draisaitl and Yamamoto. But he’s given up that place in lieu of Ennis.
The Oilers traded for both Athanasiou and Ennis prior to the trade deadline. When Ennis arrived in town, he spent time on Connor McDavid’s line. There’s certainly a chance he could end up there again when the puck drops and the qualifying round begins. While Athanasiou is noted for his speed, it’s uncertain where might land in the team’s postseason lineup.
Again coach Tippett weighed in to note, “We’re just looking for that chemistry on lines and to see where everything fits. Those guys were here for a little bit but there’s still some uncharted waters for them.”
Item Five: James Neal Is Looking Healthy Again After His Ankle Injury
James Neal couldn’t have had a better start with the Oilers in the 2019-20 season. In total, he scored 19 goals on the season, but he struggled after his red-hot start. Part of the issue was that he suffered an ankle injury on January 30. Now, he looks about as good as new. Can we expect another hot start after the – almost – offseason?
Neal admitted, “The break gave me a chance to heal, ankle injuries, hand, those nag at you quite a bit. I did everything I could to get back when I did.”
In fact, he added, “I don’t think the body’s been this healthy or this refreshed ever going into the playoffs. I think a lot of guys around the league can say that.”
Neal has been partnering on the team’s third line with Alex Chiasson and Jujhar Khaira. Both Neal and Chiasson will likely get power play time when the series starts. Both are good in front of the net with quick hands and accurate shots.
Item Six: Will Mike Smith Get the Nod in Net?
The Oilers have strong goaltending with both Mike Smith and Mikko Koskinen. But news out of camp suggests that Smith has looked a sharper than his goalie partner. If Tippett and goalie coach Dustin Schwartz are making the call right now about who starts against the Blackhawks on August 1, it would likely be Smith.
Tippett coached Smith for an extended period of time in Arizona, and the veteran goalie had a 1.99 goals-against-average in 16 playoff games in 2011-12. That season he beat the very-same Blackhawks in six games in the Coyotes Round 1 series victory.
As Smith noted, “There’s a good battle going on between myself and Mikko. That’s a strength of this team.”
Item Seven: Theodor Lennstrom Will Play in the SHL
In a short news piece away from training camp, the Oilers loaned defenseman Theodor Lennstrom to Forlunda HC of the Swedish Hockey League for the 2020-21 season. The undrafted 25-year-old hasn’t played in North America yet and won’t for another season. The Oilers signed Lennstrom to an entry-level contract on April 29th of this season.
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