eller IIFourteen months ago during the morning skate prior to the October 22nd game against Edmonton, someone asked Lars Eller what he thought of the  Oilers.   In a rare example of dressing room candor, Eller pointed out the issues surrounding a team that, at that point had won only two of it’s first nine games of the season,

“They play a little bit like a junior team I think sometimes. They’re a little all over the place. There’s not a lot of structure always in their game.”

That night the Oilers came from behind a 2-0 deficit with four straight goals to edge the Canadiens 4-3  prompting head coach Dallas Eakins to go into an historic gloat.

“When a player like Lars Eller runs his mouth before the game it makes for great banter in our dressing room and great motivation so we thank Lars Eller for his comments.”

In terms of controversy, this hardly ranked with Wayne Gretzky in 1983 calling the New Jersey Devils a “Mickey Mouse franchise” except maybe in Eakin’s world.  Unfortunately in hindsight he unfairly came across as a bit of a fool.    (You can see the video of the Eller/Eakins exchange below) .

Since that night last October the Oilers have demonstrated that they so play like a junior team.  Some would say, the comparison may insult junior teams.  Junior teams develop young talent. The Oilers are a monumental failure in that deparment.    The win that night gave them a 3-6-1 start to their season. Since then they have won only 33 of 107 games.

58 - Sven Andrighetto

58 – Sven Andrighetto

In a roundabout way, that brings us Sven Andrighetto. Andrighetto has two goals and an assist in his first three NHL games and has played remarkably well. Nobody who’s paid attention to his time in the American Hockey League is surprised at his early success. But Andrighetto can be better and that’s why, when Lars Eller returns from his shoulder injury in the next week or so, Andrighetto will be heading back to Hamilton where he will be given the opportunity to truly dominate. The Canadiens are very conscious of the development process. When Marc Bergevin took over the Canadiens, beefing up the player development department was one of his first priorities.

Nathan Beaulieu and Jarred Tinordi are examples of the Canadiens “development process” which ensures that no player earns an position on the roster until he is absolutely ready and each prospect is afforded every opportunity to reach his goal. On the outside, there are the second guessers. Surely Beaulieu is better than Gilbert, they say. Can’t Tinordi be be better than Weaver or Emelin or Gonchar? I believe they will be, but not before they are absolutely ready. You want to see them dominate the AHL first, and I haven’t seen that in either of them yet.  There will be the same pressure on the Canadiens to promote 20 year Charles Hudon who is currently leading the American Hockey League scoring race.

The Oilers have drafted in the top ten in each of the last eight years. Four times they’ve had the number one pick overall. And, because not enough attention has been paid to teaching them to play the game “the right way”, as a group the Oilers continue play like a “junior hockey team”.

So Todd Nelson replaces Eakins and becomes the Oilers sixth head coach in the last six years. Eakins  deserved better.  But then, so did Pat Quinn, Tom Renney and Ralph Kruger before him.

Has anyone thought that maybe coaching isn’t the problem in Edmonton; that perhaps an investment in player development might be in order?  The operative word there is “investment”.  From this vantage point, it seems like the Oilers would rather allocate their resources elsewhere.

I ask myself what kind of player Nail Yakupov might be at this stage if he’d been subjected to the Canadiens process the way Alex Galchenyuk has.  Or, for that matter, Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Jordan Eberle or Sam Gagne.  Are the Oilers about to send Leon Draisaitl down the same path?

Also on Monday –

….Centre Lars Eller (shoulder) and defenseman Mike Weaver (concussion) practiced with the Canadiens in non-contact jerseys.  Defenseman Bryan Allen, now recovered from the flu, was involved in full practice.

….The Canadiens recalled left wing Eric Tangradi from the Hamilton Bulldogs.  Tangradi was reassigned to the Bulldogs on Friday and played for them Saturday against Rochester with no points but a team leading six shots on goal.

….It was announced that Canadiens head coach Michel Therrien will be inducted into the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League’s Hall of Fame.  Therrien coached the Granby Bisons to the Memorial Cup championship in 1996, the first by a QMJHL team in 25 years.

Eller Comments on Oilers – Eakins Answers Back  (Oct. 22, 2013)