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Full camp allows Woodcroft to put his stamp on Edmonton Oilers

Edmonton Sun logo Edmonton Sun 2022-09-23 Robert Tychkowski
Edmonton Oilers head coach Jay Woodcroft answers questions at training camp on Thursday, Sept. 22, 2022 at Rogers Place in Edmonton. © Provided by Edmonton Sun Edmonton Oilers head coach Jay Woodcroft answers questions at training camp on Thursday, Sept. 22, 2022 at Rogers Place in Edmonton.
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Instead of having to jump in in the middle of the season and grab the wheel of a ship that was heading in the wrong direction, Jay Woodcroft has a whole training camp to work with this year.

He believes that is going to make a big difference.

“Last year it was a sprint to catch your breath because of the nature of the schedule at that time,” said the Oilers head coach, who took over the team in early February just as it was heading into a stretch of six games in 10 days. “We had to be very specific with the things we had to work on and the lack of practice time.”

This year he’s had all off-season to analyze the season and the roster and devise his plan of attack.

“The benefit of a summertime of preparation and reflection allows a coaching staff to really formulate a game plan for what they want to accomplish in training camp. It allows us to implement every detail of the game we want implemented. Having a little more time allows us to add layers to the onion and grow our game each day.”

EIGHT IS TOO MUCH

The pre-season schedule is needlessly long at the best of times, but this year takes the cake with the Oilers playing a ridiculous eight exhibition games in 13 days, starting Sunday afternoon against Winnipeg.

For players who’ve been scrimmaging for weeks, it only takes about three games to get ready, so Woodcroft will sit down with his veteran guys to see how they’d like to spread out their appearances.

“It’ll be a conversation with some of our more experienced people to see where they’re at and what they might need in order to be prepared for the regular season.”

GETTING SERIOUS

The first Blue-White game of camp goes Saturday morning and the coaching staff would like to stress that it’s not going to be a friendly walk-through.

“I want to see a level of competition,” said Woodcroft. “As a coaching staff we’re taking it seriously. We want to see people separate themselves at different positions. In order to do that there has to be a high level of competition in that scrimmage. We’re looking to get something accomplished.”

SHOCKER

Nobody in the world thought Evander Kane would be a long-term solution in Edmonton when the Oilers gave him the opportunity to resurrect his career last season. The belief was that he would produce here for the last half of the season and lock in somewhere else, maybe somewhere with brighter lights and warmer weather.

Even Kane wasn’t expecting to make Edmonton home.

So, what turned the tide in the Oilers’ favour? For starters, the salary cap kind of limits where a $5 million player can go. Beyond that, he kind of liked the mix here.

“This is a great opportunity,” he said. “Part of it is also the right fit. With this group, this organization, from the top down, it was hard to pass up. Having an opportunity to truly compete for a Stanley Cup and hopefully hoist one on a Canadian team, those are things you always wanted to do as a kid.”

There is no questioning the impact Kane had on this team when he joined in mid-season. Whether it was scoring goals or being an aggressive menace, he provided a missing dimension and personality that made Edmonton a much harder team to play against.

“You saw the impact he had when he came into our group,” said defenceman Darnell Nurse. “He was able to produce at a high level. He set the scoring lead (in the playoffs), brought physicality and the intangibles you need to have success. He was a great addition.

“It will be good to have him here throughout the whole year. To bring that from the start of camp all the way through just makes your team better.”

YOU NEVER KNOW

The Oilers are already seven deep on defence with the addition of Ryan Murray, and they have some young defencemen knocking on the door, but they are very interested in seeing what PTO invite Jason Demers can offer.

“For this one I relied on Woody,” said GM Ken Holland. “He has a relationship with him from their San Jose days and we knew that Cody Ceci would be out for the first little bit of training camp.

“He’s a veteran guy. It’s an opportunity for Jason to come in and earn a contract but it’s also an opportunity to be in an NHL camp and play some pre-season games and if he can’t impress us, maybe he can impress somebody else. From our standpoint there is nothing to lose.”

NOTHING IS PERMANENT

Everyone likes to get excited about the opening line combinations in training camp, but Woodcroft warns that nothing is written in stone.

“You have to start somewhere,” he said, adding he expects the shuffling to start soon. “In the first couple of days I want everybody to get into a rhythm so there hasn’t been a ton of tinkering with the lines.

“As we get into the next phase of camp we have five exhibition games in a short period of time, so we’re going to pull from different lines to create lineups for each evening. I would expect certain players to move and play with different people.”

rtychkowski@postmedia.com

Twitter.com/rob_tychkowski

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