Has Peter Chiarelli done enough to address Edmonton Oilers' lack of experience on the wings? - Canadanewsmedia
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Has Peter Chiarelli done enough to address Edmonton Oilers' lack of experience on the wings?

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There’s an old saying that “youth must be served”, but how much youth is too much? Such was the question facing Edmonton Oilers General Manager Peter Chiarelli this past off-season with respect to his wingers. Three times in three years did Chiarelli trade off the top producing winger on his club — first Taylor Hall, then Jordan Eberle, finally Patrick Maroon — then he decided to cut ties with veteran Michael Cammalleri when his contract expired last June.

By way of replacement, the Oilers added free agent Tobias Rieder on July 01, but that was it for actual NHL-calibre players under contract. Late in the summer veteran wingers Scottie Upshall and Alex Chiasson agreed to Professional Tryouts, but that option may have taken a major hit when Upshall failed his medical yesterday.

Upshall is reportedly expecting to be ready to go by early next week, as per Chiarelli. So let’s consider it a “setback” as opposed to “end of times” for the purposes of this post.

By my count the Oilers have twenty players who are competing for jobs on the wing, with twelve of those men holding legitimate hopes of making the big-league roster.

It’s tricky to determine who’s who in the sense that there are several players who are versatile enough to play centre or wing. For purposes of this discussion we will consider Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jujhar Khaira as in the mix for spots on the wing, while excluding Leon Draisaitl and Ryan Strome from consideration. For now the latter two are pencilled in at 2C and 3C on our projected depth chart even as both spent some time at right wing last season. Obviously those circumstances could change, even as early combinations from training camp support the above.

The natural centres, including a couple of players destined for the AHL club, are marked with an asterisk. The wingers in turn are listed on their natural side, even as a handful of them — Upshall, Rieder, Caggiula, Aberg — are capable of flipping to their off-wing.

The list is presented not as any sort of depth chart or projected line combinations, but simply in order of NHL experience. This propels Milan Lucic to the top of the list. The just-turned 30-year-old has an absolute wealth of big-league experience since making the league as an underager back in 2007. The subsequent eleven seasons have seen him amass 811 regular season games and a further 114 in the post season. Much has been made of his apparent fall off a cliff in the second half of the 2017-18 campaign, when he mustered but a single goal after Christmas, with a -18 ranking over that same extended span. Ugh.

Lots of water under that bridge over the summer, as extensively covered by colleague David Staples, but the bottom line is that Lucic remains with the team. By the words of himself, his coaches, and teammates like Connor McDavid, he’s anxious to redeem himself. A bounceback season by the hulking winger would be a massive step in a turnaround by the team as a whole. Given his lofty position on the depth chart, on the payroll, and within the leadership group, it’s essential that he return to at least a solid performance in the middle six.

That assumes that Ryan Nugent-Hopkins seizes the day at 1LW, as he did down the stretch last season. Todd McLellan indicated in his scrum yesterday that RNH would be starting the season in that spot, and there’s every reason to be optimistic that he will continue to succeed in the role. That said, the now (gasp) seven-year veteran has all of 14 NHL games’ experience playing the wing.

High expectations as well for Toby Rieder, originally selected by Edmonton in that same 2011 NHL Draft that they took Nuge first overall, but only now an Oiler after a circuitous trip around the Pacific Division. The 25-year-old has over 300 games under his belt, basically four full seasons with 12-16 goals in each. A versatile speedster capable of playing both wings and both special teams, he seems a likely bet to line up on one flank of his fellow German, Draisaitl.

Beneath him on the experience meter are a couple of younger players (being) developed within the Oilers’ system. The club has high hopes for Drake Caggiula if the 2x $1.5 million extension he signed in June is our guide. The general buzz from the pundits and the fanbase is decidedly less optimistic on the 24-year-old North Dakota grad.

As for Jujhar Khaira, he is the rare case of a drafted and internally-developed player who made the grade. He took an important step forward in 2017-18, becoming a full-time NHLer, spending time at both centre and wing, carving out a role on the penalty kill, and scoring 11 goals in the process. His $675,000 cap hit for the remaining year of his contract makes him one of the true bargain deals on the payroll.

It is, however, the right side where the lack of experience is particularly noticeable. Perhaps the primary reason why McLellan kept defaulting to Draisaitl as his 1RW of choice last season, even as that move weakened the lower lines.

Among those under contract, only Zack Kassian has as many as 100 NHL games. The 27-year-old journeyman seemingly found a home in Edmonton when traded here midway through the 2015-16 season, but in 189 games as an Oiler has mustered just 17 goals. Despite the abundance of apparent opportunity further up the batting order, he settled in to a fourth line role last season. Is there more there?

The same question can surely be answered in the affirmative for Jesse Puljujarvi, but the follow-up queries are obviously how much more, and how soon? If yesterday’s avail is our guide, McLellan intends to stay the course with Puljujarvi on the third line flanking Ryan Strome. Whether he might see an expanded role on either or both special teams remains to be seen, but one thing is clear: the 20-year-old Finn has talent galore, and it’s on both the player and the coaching staff to get the most out of it.

In Pontus Aberg and Ty Rattie the Oilers have a pair of retread wingers with some history of offensive production, even as neither of them is fully established at the NHL level. Early second-round picks in 2012 and 2011 respectively, both struggled to make the grade with deep Central Division clubs in Nashville and St. Louis, and are receiving what Craig MacTavish famously referred to as “a second opinion” in Edmonton. Both showed promise in top-six roles down the stretch — Rattie had 9 points in 14 games, Aberg 8 in 16 — but both had their issues defensively. From the sounds of McLellan’s avail, Rattie will get a longer look with McDavid & RNH, while Aberg’s immediate prospects are less certain.

Those comments on Rattie also likely tip McLellan’s hand towards Kailer Yamamoto, who enters the pro ranks this season after a 9-game trial a year ago. He projects as a top-six winger who is likely to start the season in Bakersfield under the “Rattie with McDavid” scenario.

That leaves nine of the ten signed wingers in Edmonton, exactly the number one might expect on the 23-man roster. Does that leave room for one or both of the PTOs?

As their placement among the upper rungs of our chart shows, NHL experience is a long suit for each man, and is clearly a commodity in high demand in the bigger picture. I had previously considered Scottie Upshall to have a strong chance to make the grade alongside his old Blues’ teammate Kyle Brodziak on both the fourth line and the penalty kill, but his knee issue is a complicating factor. That perhaps opens the door a little wider for Alex Chiasson who is younger and healthier.  Chaisson is a natural right winger whose 381 games of experience far outstrips the 219 combined games of Puljujarvi, Aberg, Rattie, and Yamamoto. He’s also the only one of that group who has much potential as a penalty killer.

As a group, to call their production “mediocre” would be kind. Other than Nugent-Hopkins and his 24 goals, most of them scored from the centre position, the rest were clustered around the 10-goal mark, plus or minus 3.

Suffice to say a few of these dudes are going to have to raise their game. Early favourites to do so can be found here:

This setup sees the left-shooting Rieder flipping to the starboard side and providing a little more experience on that right flank.

Worth noting that Caggiula was ill and missed today’s skate, while Aberg was assigned to a lower line which is perhaps a tell. The Swede may be in tough for a spot, and appears to be the most vulnerable should the Oilers ultimately tender an offer to Chiasson or Upshall. The other guy who might be on the bubble is Kassian, whose name has come up more than once as a player whose contract might be moved to make room to pay a defenceman, be it Darnell Nurse or a new hire.

Recently at the Cult of Hockey

STAPLES: Nurse heading out of town opens up opportunity for Bouchard, Jones, Jerabek

STAPLES: Arrows up for Bouchard, Jones, down for Maksimov, Yamamoto

LEAVINS: Report on Oilers rookies 6-3 loss to Flames rookies

LEAVINS: The Oilers organization can’t make that mistake again

McCURDY: Alex Chiasson comes to Oilers camp on PTO

Follow me on Twitter @BruceMcCurdy

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Seahawks on brink of playoffs after win over Vikings – TSN

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SEATTLE — Bobby Wagner leaped over the line of scrimmage, swatted Dan Bailey‘s field goal attempt and sparked the Seattle Seahawks to two late touchdowns.

Whether or not what Wagner did was entirely legal, he frankly didn’t care.

“I’m not stressing about that. I made the play. They called what they called,” Wagner said. “There’s times in games where things happen all the time. I’m not stressing on it. It was a big block and we’ll definitely take it. It was amazing.”

Wagner’s block midway through the fourth quarter was the catalyst in a 21-7 win over the Minnesota Vikings on Monday night that pushed Seattle to the brink of a playoff berth.

Chris Carson followed the blocked kick with a 2-yard TD run with 2:53 left, and Justin Coleman capped off the Seahawks’ fourth straight victory with a 29-yard fumble return for a touchdown 18 seconds later.

What was an ugly and mostly forgettable first three quarters turned into a Seattle party in the fourth as the Seahawks (8-5) moved to the brink of wrapping up a wild-card spot in the NFC. One win in Seattle’s final three games — including matchups with lowly San Francisco and Arizona — should be enough to put the Seahawks into the post-season.

“It’s really about the defence. I loved the way they played, they played so hard and so spirited,” Seattle coach Pete Carroll said. “It was almost poetic after last week’s game that Bobby would get to block the field goal and he pulled it off and did it. That was an incredible play.”

Minnesota (6-6-1) twice had scoring chances in the fourth quarter when it was still a one-score game but was turned away each time. Minnesota’s chances of winning the NFC North took a major hit with its second straight loss, but the Vikings still hold the No. 6 spot in the NFC.

“Part of it is being better on third downs. We haven’t really done a good job there. Part of it is being better in the red zone,” Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said. “We had the ball on the 2-yard line and didn’t score.”

But much of the conversation centred on Wagner’s block of Bailey’s 47-yard attempt with 5:38 left and whether it was entirely legal. Wagner’s jump through a gap in Minnesota’s offensive line was fine, but it appeared he used his teammates to gain leverage, which allowed him to come through and block the kick. A flag was initially thrown but was picked up by the officials.

Wagner said he attempted it four times in practice without a problem but acknowledged it could be tough to pull off the play during the fourth quarter of a tight game.

“When I did it in practice I was pretty fresh,” Wagner said.

Zimmer said he asked for an explanation of what happened but wasn’t given one. He was told he couldn’t challenge.

“Quite honestly, I didn’t see what happened. I was told what happened,” Zimmer said.

Seattle took possession and Russell Wilson immediately scrambled 40 yards deep into Minnesota territory. Five plays later, Carson scored and Seattle finally had a cushion. Two plays after that, Jacob Martin sacked Minnesota’s Kirk Cousins and the ball popped to Coleman, who weaved his way for the clinching touchdown.

Cousins threw a 6-yard touchdown pass to Dalvin Cook with 1:10 remaining, but Seattle recovered the onside kick.

“I feel like all of our losses we, as an offence, we are so slow,” Vikings wide receiver Adam Thielen said. “Our defence is keeping us in games. And we’re not pulling our side of the bargain.”

Wilson had one of the worst passing games of his career, completing 10 of 20 attempts for career-low 72 yards and a baffling interception late in the first half, one of the many mistakes by Seattle that allowed Minnesota to hang around. But Seattle’s ground game was outstanding against one of the better run defences in the NFL. The Seahawks finished with 214 yards rushing, led by 90 yards from Carson.

Sebastian Janikowski hit field goals of 37 and 35 yards to account for all of Seattle’s scoring until the closing minutes.

“If you run it 40-something times, you ought to win. That was pretty good,” Carroll said.

FOURTH QUARTER WOES

Minnesota hung around despite failing to run a play in Seattle territory until there was 4:16 left in the third quarter. Cousins was 20 of 33 for 208 yards, most of that coming late. But he failed to get the Vikings into the end zone from inside the Seattle 5 while trailing 6-0 early in the fourth quarter.

The Vikings had first-and-goal at the Seattle 4 but turned the ball over on downs with 9:06 remaining. Two short runs and an incompletion brought up fourth-and-goal at the 1, and Cousins’ pass for Kyle Rudolph was knocked away by Bradley McDougald. Bailey’s field goal was blocked on Minnesota’s next drive.

REACHING 100

Minnesota fell to 0-6 when allowing its opponents to run for at least 100 yards. The Vikings came in to the week giving up 99 yards per game on the ground, good for seventh-best in the NFL. Seattle had 136 yards rushing in the first half.

OTHER CENTURY MARK

Thielen tied Cris Carter as the fastest Minnesota player to reach 100 receptions in a season, both accomplishing the feat in 13 games. Carter did it in 1994 when he finished the year with 122 catches. Thielen is the first Minnesota receiver to get to 100 catches since Randy Moss in 2003. But Thielen didn’t get his first catch until midway through the third quarter. He finished with five catches for 70 yards.

UP NEXT

Minnesota: The Vikings return home to host Miami on Sunday.

Seattle: The Seahawks play their final road game Sunday at San Francisco.

___

More AP NFL: https://apnews.com/NFL and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL

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The St Louis Blues are a mess after getting blown out by Canucks – Daily Hive

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The St Louis Blues are in a crisis of sorts after getting booed off home ice following a 6-1 loss to the Vancouver Canucks on Sunday.

Brock Boeser and Elias Pettersson had their way with St Louis. Boeser picked up his second career hat trick, while Pettersson had his second five-point game of the season and was named NHL First Star of the Week.

Starting goalie Jake Allen was chased from the net after giving up three goals on six shots, while backup Chad Johnson didn’t fare much better, giving up three goals on 15 shots.

Vancouver’s three first period goals marked the first time the Blues allowed three in the opening stanza to the Canucks since December 15, 1996. The Canucks won 8-0 that night (goals were scored by Alex Mogilny x3, Pavel Bure x2, David Roberts, Gino Odjick, and Markus Naslund, in case you were wondering), leading to Blues head coach Mike Keenan being fired five days later.

St Louis might have considered canning their bench boss after this latest pathetic effort, but of course, they’ve already played that card, firing Mike Yeo last month.

“We gave up eight scoring chances in the game and six goals against,” said new Blues head coach Craig Berube. “There are a lot of areas that have to be better tonight, for sure.”

The Blues aren’t a good team this year, but losing badly to the Canucks — a team that dropped 12 of their previous 14 games — was a new low.

Vladimir Tarasenko even felt the need to apologize for his team’s effort.

“I apologize to all our fans,” he said. “We can’t play at home like this. I don’t know how to fix it. We work on it but it doesn’t work for now.”

Not long after the game, the Blues called up goaltender Jordan Binnington from the minors, while Johnson found his way on waivers.

No, not that Chad Johnson, but hilarious stuff from Ochocinco nonetheless.

Tensions boiled over at Monday’s practice, when teammates Robert Bortuzzo and Zach Sanford got into a fight, with Bortuzzo landing a couple of good punches.

Meanwhile, rumours have circulated that the Blues might be willing to offload their captain, Alex Pietrangelo.

The Canucks will hope the Blues remain a wreck for the foreseeable future, as these two teams meet again at Rogers Arena on December 20.

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Rob Williams

Man of the people, voice of the fans. Daily Hive Sports Editor.

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Russell Wilson revelation made by Vikings coach Mike Zimmer ahead of Seahawks game – Express

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That is the option of Minnesota Vikings coach Mike Zimmer, who takes his team to Washington tonight to face the Seattle Seahawks.

Zimmer believes the 30-year-old Seahawks quarterback is still improving as a player.

“He still throws the ball very accurately,” Zimmer said about Wilson.

“Maybe his deep ball is better than I’ve seen it, it looks like to me.

“That’s just off the top of my head. I know he’s throwing it good now.”

With both teams looking to secure a wildcard playoff place Zimmer understands the importance of this upcoming Week 14 game.

Zimmer is expecting the Seahawks to try and establish the run game.

“Well, it’s going to be difficult,” Zimmer said.

“I think they do an excellent job in the run game, obviously.

“I think Chris Carson is maybe one of the best backs in the league, really, watching him run. He’s physical, he’s downhill, he hurdles, he does so many good things.

“They do a great job in their scheme and the way they block with the different schemes they have off of it.

“Russell Wilson keeps the ball and makes another added dimension, and then quite honestly they’ve got really good receivers too.”

Since Week 5, Wilson has 22 touchdowns, two interceptions and a 128.3 quarterback rating – the second-highest in the league over that span behind Drew Brees at 128.9.

And Zimmer was full of praise for Wilson’s ability to read a defence.

“He sees blitzes,” Zimmer said.

“I can remember a few years ago, we had a zero-blitz and he checked it and hit a touchdown.

“I remember the scramble he made in the playoff game where the ball went over his head.”

Zimmer feels the key to dealing with Wilson is not just applying pressure with the front four men.

“I think you have to mix it up on him,” Zimmer said.

“They have some movement passes where they get out of the pocket.

“Then they have some scrambles and they have some normal play action drop backs.”

Despite the Seahawks focusing on their run game, Zimmer believes there has been little change in what the Seahawks are asking of Wilson.

“They still use him and move him on passes out of the pocket with the boots and things like that,” Zimmer said.

“I mean, to me, it looks like – he’s always been really good.”

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