The Edmonton Oilers have a rather awkward relationship with the preseason. We’ve all drank the kool-aid in previous years after watching them dominate the league during its exhibition season. There was a stretch just last season where it looked like Ty Rattie was going to be ‘The Answer’ and Jesse Puljujarvi looked primed to break out after a handful of solid preseason games. Before that, we had the likes of Anton Lander showing flashes of NHL ability only to fizzle out once the games started to count.
Friendly reminder: Preseason results rarely mean much. Last year Detroit was 7-1 and Edmonton 6-1. Two best records.
Year before Oilers were 6-2. I look more at individuals than team results when so many players in early preseason games won't be on NHL rosters.
— Jason Gregor (@JasonGregor) September 20, 2019
The history of preseason standouts not finding a way to make an impact in the regular season has led me to a point where I am incredibly skeptical of preseason results. So while most were dissecting Mikko Koskinen’s glove hand on Thursday night, I shrugged. It didn’t cause alarm bells to go off in my head.
To sit and jump to conclusions about a player after his first few periods of preseason hockey is a little bit ridiculous. We can sit here and debate about whether Koskinen has improved his ability to catch hockey pucks all day but the bottom line is, after just one or two preseason games, nobody knows.
Last season, Koskinen had stretches where he looked really good and was able to keep his save percentage above 0.915. There were also stretches where if he could keep the opposition to under four goals, it was a feat. He’s a hot and cold goaltender, we all know that. The hope is that he can find more consistency this season but he won’t be perfect so there shouldn’t be panic over a poor preseason outing.
I had the same thought when I saw people complaining about some of the defensemen in training camp. You can sit there and rip a guy for a bad turnover or for having a bad plus/minus, but in my opinion, you need to have some context with it. Who were they paired with? Sometimes we get overly excited about a player and fail to remember that they’re playing against mainly AHL calibre opponents but I’m also willing to cut a guy a little bit of slack if he’s playing with an AHL calibre defence partner.
Maybe I sound like I’m just making excuses for players but my original point still stands. I just don’t like to see big decisions made from the preseason.
Now, sometimes they’re unavoidable and rosters decisions still need to be made at some point but the talk about someone like Matt Benning being expendable because Ethan Bear or Joel Persson had a handful of decent preseason games is a little ridiculous. Bear or Persson can look amazing through all of the preseason games but that doesn’t mean they’re going to look the same ten games into the regular season. You don’t trade a young, right-shot defenseman with just 200 career games under his belt because of a few strong preseason games.
That’s why I’m such a big fan of Ken Hollands’ philosophy. A few weeks ago, he said that he would rather send a player down and call them up later in the season, then keep a guy around and send them down after a month or two.
That’s part of the reason why I wasn’t terribly upset when the team sent down Tyler Benson or Cooper Marody. They both looked good and in past years, with previous regimes, they might have stuck around for a little bit longer and possibly even made the team.
Instead, the Oilers opted to give longer looks to Gaetan Haas and Joakim Nygard. Those are two guys who probably wouldn’t be interested in being sent down to the AHL, they might prefer to just head back to Europe. You need to know what you have in those two because if you decide they won’t make your team, you probably won’t get them back. With Benson and Marody, you can bring them back up whenever you please. I see nothing wrong with keeping Haas and Nygaard around for five regular-season games before you decide if they’re going to be full-time members of your team.
On the flip side of that, just because you keep someone around for game one of the regular season, doesn’t mean he needs to be there for game five or ten. The decisions made out of training camp don’t need to be final if you make the right moves.
The rest of the preseason will determine who starts the year with the Oilers, but I really don’t think it should determine much else. If Matt Benning or Jujhar Khaira struggle, I don’t want to see the Oilers make a rache decision and deal them so that they can squeeze an unproven option into the lineup.
The nice thing about having Ken Holland in charge, I don’t think he will make a shortsighted decision and that should be incredibly comforting for Oilers fans. I won’t overreact to a handful of preseason games and Holland doesn’t seem like the type to do that either.