Thoughts and Questions going into Oilers Training Camp

By John Christie
The Edmonton Oilers open their 22nd NHL training camp in Sherwood Park, Alberta on September 12, 2001. Here are some random musings heading into training camp and other things to loom for.

Who will be the New Oilers Captain? The top three candidates are Ryan Smyth, Todd Marchant and Jason Smith with Rem Murray, Mike Grier, Ethan Moreau and Steve Staios as long shots. The Oilers have three excellent choices and they can’t go wrong with any of them. Oilers GM Kevin Lowe and Craig MacTavish will determine the Oilers captain after the last pre season game. It looks to be a race between Todd Marchant (longest serving Oiler) and Ryan Smyth who was captain for team Canada and a player who Lowe loves in terms of his character, heart, grit, reliability and leadership.

Who will win the back up goaltender’s job? This will be an interesting battle between Jussi Markennen (fifth round pick in 2001 draft) and Ty Conklin (free agent from New Hampshire in 2001). Markennen has played internationally for Finland and played six seasons in the Finish Elite League while Conklin has completed fours years of NCAA hockey. The pre season will determine who will get the back ups job as I envision Markennen playing three full games and Conklin playing three full games. If no one wins the job, look for Lowe to scoop someone from the waiver draft or make a future considerations type deal for a Mark Fitzpatrick, Corey Hirsch, Jimmy Waite or sign Kirk Mclean as a back up.

Impact of Rookies: Great discussion during the off season on the Oilers board to determine which rookies will make the opening day roster. This year, the Oilers will have both younger and older rookies vying for positions on the big club. The youngsters who will get a good look include forward Jani Rita (13th overall in 1999 draft), defenseman Alexei Semenov (2nd round in 1999 draft), forward Jason Chimera (Hamilton Bulldogs). Older rookies include defensemen Ales Pisa (9th round selection in 2001 draft) and Kari Hakanna (8th round selection on 2001 draft) and goalie Jussi Markennen (5th round selection in 2001draft). If logic dictates that Lowe wants to look to New Jersey’s style for player development, look for Jani Rita and Alexei Semenov to start the year in Hamilton to get increased ice time.

How the new players will fit in? Jochen Hecht, Marty Reasoner, Steve Staios played with different NHL teams last season. They style of play will be different but being in Edmonton, the new players will enjoy the Oilers style and playing in a solid hockey environment and city.

Special Teams Play: Penalty killing was strength of the team last year. Under Craig MacTavish, the team used variations to off set the other teams powerplay. Craig MacTavish was one of the best at killing penalties during his NHL career. This will be strength for the Oilers. You will continue to see Greir, Marchant, Moreau, Smyth, Murray, Niinimaa, Brewer and Smyth on the penalty kill during the season. The Power play will need to improve and with out Weight leading and quarterback the PP, new leaders will need to be established and new creative ways to score on the PP. The coaching staff can experiment during the pre season.

Continued Development of Youngsters: The Oilers younger players will have to continue to improve for the team to be competitive. We saw this last year with Eric Brewer, Daniel Cleary, Mike Comrie and Shawn Horcoff. As the season wore on, all these players improved and when Dallas eliminated the Oilers, Eric Brewer was the best defenseman on the team and many said he was the most improved player on the league. Comrie and Horcoff are entering there second year and both have had almost a year in the NHL. With Weight in St. Louis, the younger players will have to continue to make great strides.