by Lisa McRitchie on 10/04/11 at 02:00 AM ET
Coach Tom Renney gets asked a million questions every day, but Monday’s questions seemed to be concerning many more topics than usual. Renney was asked about the condition of his players, his choices for cuts, his starting lineup, about the players who weren’t cut, the team trip to Jasper and everything else the people of Oil Country would like to know. The Edmonton Oilers have a portion of Renney’s interview available on their website and Jason Gregor of the Team 1260, has a much longer portion available in the 3rd hour of the October 3rd show.
On injured players, Renney is making it clear that he can’t risk bringing players back too soon, he simply doesn’t have the bodies if said player ends up going back down. Ben Eager is feeling much better following his concussion suffered at the Joey Moss Cup game, but does not have another head or brain test scheduled until Friday. Very likely that will not be enough time to determine that the winger could play on opening night. Renney said that should Eager get a good enough practice in on Saturday, there is a possibility.
On Ryan Whitney, Gregor mentions speaking with the defenceman concerning his feet. Whitney has been having pain up his leg when he pivots. Whitney has been putting himself through the paces and is skating with far less pain, but if he is put on the team’s IR, he must remain there for a full week. The Oilers will release their roster and which players they will have on the IR on Wednesday, and at this point, most people see Whitney being on that list. Gregor has penned a piece on Whitney with more details on Oilers Nation.
Sam Gagner still isn’t much of an update, but it is an ankle injury and not much time has passed. Gagner is listed as week to week and Renney reiterated this saying “I think he’s kind of week to week and not real long, but we’re looking at a couple anyway.” Look for Gagner to be another player listed on the IR.
Gilbert Brule’s being sent down is supposed to help the centre rebuild his confidence and get some games in. Renney speaks frankly and highly of Brule and clearly has high hopes that Brule will find his game again in Oklahoma City, and that the reports back will be good. Gilbert Brule is a gritty, strong player who can be a strong asset to the Oilers team but only when he plays up to his positional, just like every other player out there. After an especially poor year last year, due mainly to health concerns, Brule has this opportunity to try to turn things around for himself. There is always the possibility that if one of the rookies outplays Brule, another team may be interested, but at this point it is up to Brule what his future will bring.
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins appears to have made the starting night’s roster and Renney confirmed; “Ya, I think Ryan will start the season with us. We all understand the parameters there that he can operate in before we have to make a real concrete decision on the season. Again we’ll do it a day at a time but he’s had a very good camp.”
Indeed he has, with points, passes, and poise. Nugent-Hopkins has been a professional both on and off of the ice, and has looked as though the cameras don’t even faze him. Renney will play Nugent-Hopkins in all situations and as much as the coaching staff feels they can, after all the first nine games are “free.”
“I’m going to play him. This is about two points now and the guys that can help us do that, we’ll play. I fully expect that Ryan will be an important contributor to our needs every night. I believe I have more weapons in front of me from the forward group this year and with that you might see minutes diminish across the board a little bit. The same time that I say that, if we need to double up a line because they’re going that well and he happens to be on it, all good… I think I’m keeping it realistic too in terms of my expectations for him. I think that’s important. “
There are two rookies on the roster at this point “They’ve made it so far and it’s a long season and anything can happen; we all know that.” Although Teemu Hartikainen has already played his first games in the NHL, he didn’t quite make the cut this time. In Renney’s eyes, however, Hartikainen is “very very close to making this team.” Should the Oilers’ history of injuries persist, and who’s kidding who, they look like they will; Hartikainen should see some more games in the NHL before long.
Swedish centreman Anton Lander in Renney’s eyes is a “Big strong two-way centre that can navigate the ice as anyone on our team can, he’s as good as anyone else. He’s shown a touch; he’s shown some offensive ability regardless of the location of the lineup that given night, certainly shown ability to penalty kill, versatility around the board so he certainly became appealing for those reasons…
“Anton is just a very smart player that can manage all aspects of the game with and without the puck, so far. It’s one thing to play probably six of your exhibition games against other teams with other guys that are getting a look and probably two where you’re seeing something close to an NHL lineup. Well, we’ll see an NHL lineup starting Sunday. We’ll see how everybody makes out.”
It may have been due to injuries that Lander made the final cut, but Gilbert Brule was also sent down to Oklahoma City before Lander. If Lander is still questionable in terms of NHL readiness, he can’t be far off.
“We’ve said from the beginning of the year and last year that this is a process. The one thing that we can’t do is force feed the game to these guys to the point where it’s counterproductive. There’s a need to be confident, to be able to play yourself with that confidence and there’s a need to be able to learn and grow and develop with the unique challenge that’s in front of you. We fully expect the guys that are still here to be able to do that naturally but it is about a process here. Sometimes, we’ve all done it as coaches where you’ve got to get a young guy acquainted with that confidence or the way he needs to play by using the minors for example. I can’t nor will I be afraid to do that.”
When looking at the big three from last year, Taylor Hall, Magnus Paajarvi and Jordan Eberle, Renney says “I think they’re good. They want to build off of strong years last year.” In order for the Oilers to be successful in any way this year, these young men will need to take what they learned last year and expand upon it. Some say that the second year is harder than the first, but these rising stars cannot let that sentiment get to them or settle in; they need to make the most of every shift they get and play to the best of their abilities.
The current roster withstanding, the recent string of injuries to defencemen is slightly alarming and now is the time where the waiver wire is as stocked to its fullest. Renney admits that he and GM Steve Tambellini look at every player that is made available, every day. But, “Unless we’re really excited about somebody, probably not.” So, don’t expect the Oilers to snap up the next defenceman who becomes available.
That Renney stresses confidence in his players as much as he does means that Renney identifies with rookies, sophomores, generally the youth and less experienced players on his roster. By pushing his players to have as much confidence in themselves, and their games as possible shows that Renney recognizes that as a coach he is responsible for more than just teaching drills and putting together line combinations, that he is partly responsible for doing everything he can to help ensure the personal development as well. This is something that you would want in your head coach, especially with a team as young as this Oilers’ team.
A lot can happen in the few days before opening night on Sunday, but with any luck, more players will return to the ice healthy this weekend than leave injured.
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Lisa McRitchie is a fairly new writer, online at least, but makes up for inexperience with passion for the game of hockey and memories of Mrs. Leskiw’s English AP class; who knew they would pay off one day.
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