“This is probably the biggest difference I’ve had.”
Taylor Hall has been through NHL training camps before. The hard work, the grind, the long days and the teachings are nothing new.
In the lead-up to this season, the 2010 first-overall pick has had four different NHL head coaches. Todd McLellan will be Hall’s fifth. Under McLellan, Hall notices a difference in training camp.
A new season with new messaging is off to a fast-paced start in the eyes of one of the Oilers biggest stars.
“There’s a demand for a much higher work ethic in practice,” said Hall. “That’s going to turn over into the games, and that’s exciting. You want to be a part of that. You want to be a part of a team that’s hard working and goes into other teams’ buildings and the other team knows there’s going to be a big game ahead.”
Camp McLellan is in session.
“It was very intense,” said 2015 first-overall pick Connor McDavid. “That’s the way it has to be. Very intense and very attentive to detail and high energy and high pace. It’s all stuff that needs to carry over to the games. You practice like you play.”
McDavid is making the jump from the Ontario Hockey League, where he had a successful career with the Erie Otters. The pace of McLellan’s practice was expected, but still an adjustment.
“The pace and intensity is ramped up a couple notches,” said McDavid.
While Hall is just one game shy of 300 for his career, his linemate Teddy Purcell has played a combined 505 between playoffs and the regular season. Even Purcell notices a different energy with McLellan running the show.
“I think just the tempo, the speed, the attention to detail,” said Purcell. “There’s no cruising the line or asking your buddy what’s going on. As soon as the whistle blows, you’re sprinting and you’re going. If you screw up, you’re going to stick out pretty good and you don’t want to do that. The tempo and speed is real good.”
Pace was the common theme among the players in Leduc as they reflected on the differences under McLellan.
“I think as a hockey player, the biggest thing you want to do is simulate a game every shift and that’s short and hard,” Oilers winger Jordan Eberle said Friday. “I think (McLellan) realizes that when it comes to drills. We’re not going to be out there too long but we’re going to go hard and we’re going to do it with pace and precision and intensity. I think that’s something he really strives for when you watch his practices or when you’re in his practices. I thought we accomplished that today.”
VOCAL WITH A PURPOSE
It’s a good bet McLellan loses his voice before the end of camp.
“It’s eight years now and I’ve lost it every year,” he said.
McLellan showed early he liked to be vocal with his players. With Hall, Purcell and McDavid’s group on the ice Friday morning, McLellan was unhappy with the execution for one particular drill. He became quite persuasive on the importance of getting it right the next time.
“We have to bark a little bit,” McLellan said. “They have to understand what’s acceptable and unacceptable. The first thing is getting organized and being ready to go in a drill situation. We were a little bit sloppy there, it took one bark and they were prepared. That’s a detail I think is real important. The difference between learning and engaging. There were moments where we had to really slow down today and teach some of our principles. Then right after that, we asked them to engage and they were really good in that situation.”
The Oilers seem to respond to McLellan’s style, welcoming the accountability.
“We were too inconsistent last year and had too many excuses and not enough changes. Todd is coming in with accountability right away and you saw that day one. There’s going to be no off days and no beating around the bush with him,” said Purcell.
With McLellan it’s not only about being vocal, it’s about being calculated with his words. Eberle seems very happy with that, and is familiar with McLellan from their time together at the 2015 World Championship.
“That’s one big thing I love about Todd’s philosophy,” said Eberle. “He’s not just telling you to do it, but he’s telling you why and you have to learn why you’re doing it. I think, in the long run, it makes you think the game a little bit more. It makes you compete a little bit harder because it’s what’s actually going on and it gets everyone on the same page.”
In other words, McLellan speaks with a purpose.
“I think the biggest thing with Todd is he’s not a dictator,” said Eberle. “He’s not going to tell you to ‘do this and you better to do it.’ He’s going to tell you why you’re doing it. He’s going to give you a reason why you’re doing this. It helps you understand the game and it helps you understand how you’re affecting the guys around you.”
IT'S ALL IN THE DETAILS
McLellan began Friday’s schedule with a video session in the locker room to go over some "staples" for how they want to play. Following that, the first group of players went through an intense skate and then returned to the locker room for a special teams specific video session before coming back out for more on-ice practice.
McLellan's process aims to cram as much information and learning into the first few days so the team can focus on executing later in pre-season.
As fast paced as Friday was, there were still times McLellan slowed things down to make sure the players understood everything he was trying to get across. For example, when McLellan wanted to work on special teams a bit he slowed things down and had the players skate slowly across the bluelline. But when the drills start again and the whistle blows, it’s right back to work.
“There’s a lot of teaching that goes on at the start of camp,” said Hall. “I’ve had five different coaches now and everyone runs camp a different way. I think he wants to get his learning in as quickly as possible so we can kind of process it and get better as camp goes on. Certainly, there’s some times where you don’t seem like you’re doing a lot but, at the ice level, there’s a lot going on and there’s a lot of information you’ve got to take and try and do the best with it.”
Once the Oilers get the details down, the tempo of practice will be turned up even more.
“I don’t think we’re into an NHL practice yet. I really don’t. We’re into an NHL training camp, which is for me a little bit different,” said McLellan. “When we practice in October and we have some concepts and some principles we’ve grabbed onto, there should be pace and tempo. Today, there was a lot of setting guys up in proper positions and explaining to them why they were there and getting them to grasp those concepts. Our pace and our practice should go up immensely later on.”
FIRST DAY IN THE BOOKS
McLellan had a lot of success in his time with San Jose. His first step to generating success with the Oilers starts in this very training camp. With the first skate in the books, the players like what they see.
“It was a good first day,” said Eberle. “I think anytime you get into the first day of camp, there’s a lot of nerves. With the way Todd runs it, it’s high intensity. Quick to the boards, quick to the corners, quick to start. I’m actually used to that because of World Championships. I knew what to expect so I was kind of giving the hint around to the guys so that they knew. I thought it was a good first day though. Once you get that first drill out of the way, you settle into the practice and tempo.”
Talking with the players, it’s clear that there is a respect for McLellan and they’re ready to follow him on their journey up the standings.
“I think everyone is buying in,” said Hall. “I think everyone is sick of what’s been going on the last five years. You don’t want to be a part of that, you want to be a part of something successful. Todd has had a great track record of having success and there’s no choice but to buy in.”
McLellan will continue to install concepts and deliver messaging, and it’s so far so good for the Oilers bench boss.
“I liked the day,” said McLellan. “I think we were happy in getting our message across, concept-wise. It’s a feel-out process. They’re going to figure out what makes the staff happy and what makes them not so happy sand vice versa so that’s going to take some time. I thought the players showed up engaged, ready and their effort, for the most part, was very honest and that’s all we can ask of them.”
“I think mission accomplished on day one,” he said.