|Oilers' coach Craig MacTavish is looking forward to training camp and working with Edmonton's recent roster additions.
Craig MacTavish relishes the fact each season he's given a new challenge behind the bench of one of the NHL's more storied franchises.
"I think the nice thing about the job is that it's ever-changing," the Edmonton Oilers coach told NHL.com. "It evolves around your experiences as a coach and, more importantly, the personnel you deal with."
The 2008-09 season, which happens to be his ninth in Edmonton, MacTavish has greater expectations.
"I can't remember a period of time over the last 15 years where we've been so excited heading into training camp," he said. "We say that every year, mind you, but this year we actually mean it."
MacTavish is especially thrilled to have defenseman Lubomir Visnovksy, acquired in a trade with the Los Angeles Kings, in the mix. He's also looking forward to working with the Oilers' other recent additions, including left wing Erik Cole and centers Ryan Potulny and Gilbert Brule.
Visnovsky, a strong right point man on the power play, was sent to Edmonton in exchange for forward Jarret Stoll, who led Edmonton with 122 hits last season, and defenseman Matt Greene, who was fourth among Oilers with 78 blocked shots. The 31-year-old Visnovsky had eight goals and 33 assists with the Kings and averaged 26 shifts and nearly 23 minutes of ice time per game last season. In seven NHL seasons, he has scored 70 goals, 209 assists and 140 power-play points (31 goals) in 499 regular-season games. It wouldn't be surprising to see Visnovsky paired with 10-season veteran Sheldon Souray along the Oilers' blue line this winter.
Souray, who played in only 26 games in his first season with Edmonton in 2007-08 after undergoing arthroscopic surgery on his left shoulder in January, is looking forward to getting back. He played seven seasons with Montreal before signing a five-year contract with Edmonton last year.
"The shoulder feels real good," Souray told NHL.com. "I'm looking forward to starting the season healthy next year. It's a tough situation going to a new team with a new contract and getting hurt, but now I have a little something to prove."
MacTavish likes his options on the back end.
"We've made some good moves and that always speaks to the depth of your organization and your ability to make a trade where you can trade really good players like a Jarret Stoll and a Matt Greene for a defenseman the caliber of Visnovsky," MacTavish said. "We've always been the type of team that would trade one guy for two players and prospects and it's nice to turn it around where we're getting, in our minds, the best player (Visnovsky) in the deal according to a lot of people. So it speaks volumes to the overall depth of the team. We've accumulated a lot of young assets for a long time and now they're developing and teams want them, so we're able to make these trades to strengthen our team."
Acquiring Visnovsky was critical because it allowed the Oilers to trade defenseman Joni Pitkanen to Carolina for Cole. Cole had 22 goals and 51 points in 71 games last season and, looking forward, playing alongside center Shawn Horcoff
and right wing Ales Hemsky
, could return to the 30-goal, 65-point plateau. Cole last scored 30 goals in 2005-06 when Carolina defeated Edmonton in a thrilling seven-game series for the Stanley Cup.
Oilers captain Ethan Moreau remembers Cole well.
"He made a big difference in the Finals against us (in 2006)," Moreau told Oilers.com. "When he was healthy a few years ago, he was probably the premier power forward in the League. He brings some physical play which well help out a lot and he does that on a consistent level. He's one of those guys that gives you instant credibility as a team."
The offseason makeover also included 21-year-old wing Brule, who came over from the Columbus Blue Jackets in exchange for gritty Raffi Torres. MacTavish and Oilers General Manager Kevin Lowe hope a change in scenery will boost Brule's scoring touch. In 146 career games with Columbus, Brule had produced just 12 goals and 32 points.
We've got as good a group of young players as any team in the League. Chicago gets a lot of attention for the quality of their young group, as does Phoenix and I feel we have a good base of young players. But we're really excited after the way our players performed, particularly our younger guys, at the end of (2007-08). - Craig MacTavish
"We've got as good a group of young players as any team in the League," MacTavish said. "Chicago gets a lot of attention for the quality of their young group, as does Phoenix and I feel we have a good base of young players. But we're really excited after the way our players performed, particularly our younger guys, at the end of (2007-08)."
Potulny, who was acquired from Philadelphia in exchange for defenseman Danny Syvret, is a promising 23-year-old center who could become a nice complement for Brule on a third or fourth line. Potulny scored 21 goals and 47 points in 58 games for the AHL's Philadelphia Phantoms last season.
MacTavish also expects some competition in goal where projected starter Mathieu Garon will be challenged by veteran Dwayne Roloson and 24-year-old Jeff Deslauriers, a second-round draft pick (31st overall) in 2002.
"Jeff's been developing ever since we drafted him to the point where he had an exceptional year last season in the AHL," MacTavish said. "Now, he's in the mix with that group of three. Based on the way Mathieu played last year, he's the No. 1 guy going into training camp, but Rollie has a very high game level and if he's able to reach that level, then he's certainly capable of challenging for that No. 1 position, as is Deslauriers."
In 57 games with the AHL's Springfield Falcons last season, Deslauriers went 26-20-8 with a 2.90 goals-against average and .912 save percentage. Garon (26-18-1, 2.66 GAA, .913 save percentage) was the top shootout goalie in the NHL in 2007-08, stopping 30 of 32 attempts for a perfect 10-0 mark. Roloson, meanwhile, finished 15-17-5 with a 3.05 GAA and .901 save percentage.