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FIVE THINGS: First day on the ice

by Chris Wescott / Edmonton Oilers

On Friday, the Oilers opened what is the first training camp of the Todd McLellan era. The team split into three groups and hit the ice at Leduc Rec Centre. Here are five bits of news, notes or observations.

1. McDAVID'S LINE

When camp opened, the first-overall pick in the 2015 draft centred a line with a fellow top pick and a winger with experience playing with big-time talent.

When Group A hit the ice Friday morning, McDavid was between Taylor Hall and Teddy Purcell. Hall is no surprise, as the 2010 first-overall pick is a prolific scoring left winger and can make the most of playing with a talent like McDavid.

Purcell also shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise. The 30-year-old winger posted 51 and 65-point seasons with the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2010-11 and 2011-12. His linemate for much of that time was a pretty superb talent himself— Steven Stamkos.

2. AN INTRIGUING COMBO

Also in Group A was a line some predicted before camp. Anton Lander, Leon Draisaitl and Nail Yakupov skated together on Friday morning.

The Draisaitl-Lander pairing was expected, having been announced Thursday by McLellan. Draisaitl skated up the middle but, should that line continue together, Lander might see time there as well. Here is what McLellan had to say Thursday,  on those two:

“Leon will start playing as a forward. That may sound strange. I think I can see him on a line with Anton Lander right now and Anton is a centre by trade as well. The way we play in our system is we allow those forwards to roam. They are both very capable of taking faceoffs. Our defensive-zone coverage will be as such where our low forward, not necessarily our centreman, is responsible for taking care of it. I think that those two can interchange and interact somewhat. But there will be certain days where we clearly define to them they’re playing either wing or centre and we’ll see how it goes.”

Yakupov playing with a highly skilled passer like Draisaitl spells trouble for pre-season opponents if they can click, and Lander plays at a high level like he showed he could last season. McLellan said that line is very intriguing to him, bringing them up again on Friday.

"The interesting line for me is that Draisaitl-Lander-Yakupov line," said McLellan. "If we can get them gelling and playing the right way, they can be very dangerous. That’s a goal of ours anyway."

3. HIGH INTENSITY

From essentially the first drill, one thing is apparent about McLellan and how he runs his camps and practices — there isn’t much standing around. McLellan is an intense, vocal teacher and made sure practice was executed at a high pace.

Practices were structured in such a way that players moved quickly from drill to drill.

If he didn’t like the way a group of players ran a drill, he’d call them back, deliver his adjustments quickly and immediately have them run it again. There’s not much chalk talk while the team is on the ice.

At one point, Group A was not grasping the concept of a certain battle drill. McLellan launched into a heated, but short, lecture on the importance of being ready for your turn and why the drill was important.

In addition, McLellan has shown the players a high attention to detail. The coach held two video sessions for each main group at camp today, one before their skate and one between skates.

McLellan brings a no-nonsense approach early at camp and the players were saying good things.

4. DEFENSIVE SHUFFLE

While some of what the Oilers want to do on defence was easy to figure out, the team did move their pieces around quite a bit. Defencemen rotated partners throughout both Group A and B skates.

Here is a look at some of the more consistent pairings.

GROUP A:

Sekera-Fayne
Ference-Nikitin
Davidson-Hunt
(Oesterle rotating in)

GROUP B:

Klefbom-Schultz
Reinhart-Gryba
Nurse-Musil
(Simpson rotating in)

It will be interesting to see which pairings stick together once the team starts scrimmaging. McLellan indicated it will take time to determine chemistry.

5. QUITE THE CROWD

Hundreds of fans were in attendance in Leduc today, all of whom were randomly selected from thousands of entries in the Training Camp Priority Draw. It just further shows the optimism surrounding the team this season, as fans continue to support the Oil in large numbers. 14,434 were in attendance for the Oilers Rookies game against the University of Alberta on Wednesday night. It’s becoming a common theme to see Oilers gear everywhere.

“This is definitely the most excited I’ve seen Edmonton for sure,” said Jordan Eberle. “There’s definitely been excitement every year, with every organization. It’s a new season and you’ve got a new slate. But this season especially, with what’s gone on. In our room, we’re just excited to get back and playing hockey again.”

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