EDMONTON, AB - Oilers Head Coach Dave Tippett was a guest on 630 CHED's Oilers Now with Bob Stauffer on Tuesday, speaking at length about the Oilers roster for the 2019-20 season.
Tippett was asked about how he plans on deploying certain players on the roster, his thoughts on Edmonton's acquisitions this off-season as well as how he will ensure his group remains well-rested for a long and difficult 82-game campaign.
Read or listen to Tippett's comments below.
On the acquisition of James Neal:
"The trade was probably, I've talked to Brad Treliving and I've talked to Ken (Holland) about it, hopefully, it's a good trade for both teams and both players. I think both players needed a change. First of all, you hope the enthusiasm of those players changes. In our case, Neal coming in here, he's enthused, he wants to have a rebound year, he self-admittedly struggled last year and really had an off-year. I've talked to him a couple different times and I'm going to have dinner with him here next week. He's excited to come to Edmonton and he's excited for the opportunity to put that last year behind him. That's a good first step. He wants to come in here, he wants to be part of the solution.
"As far as how we're going to play him, I've already told him we're going to give him lots of opportunity in Training Camp and exhibition. We'll see how the rest of the lineup filters out and where the best spot for him and best fit is. He plays well with good players. He plays well with people that can get him the puck; good passers because he's a shooter. The funny thing about James, I shouldn't say funny, but when we drafted him in Dallas, his M.O. was going to be a third-line checking centre. He got to Dallas, started scoring goals and never looked back. He's a big, strong guy and I think he'll find his knack around the net again. We're going to play him with some good players and see where it all filters out in the end."
On Neal's deployment and how the lineup could be devised:
"You never know. There are things that can happen. People come in and push up the lineup and they can push people down. You get chemistry with one group and it can re-rack things. It's too early to say. I'm not a guy to say, 'These are set in stone, these are set in stone.' Right now, I like to look at pairs. Right now, you're looking at (Connor) McDavid and (Leon) Draisaitl possibly, I think you look at Neal and (Ryan) Nugent-Hopkins and then it goes down from there. Pairs of penalty killing guys and pairs of people you think can complement each other. There's a lot of different variables that go into it but until you get on the ice, see what's going up and down, who complements each other, it's hard to put them in stone. That's where I'm at right now."
On who will play third line centre:
"I think we're going to look at some different people. I think the young (Gaëtan) Haas kid from Switzerland is going to get a look there, I think JJ (Jujhar Khaira) will get a bit of a look there. I talked to him quite a few times this summer and he's got some centre in his background. He would like the opportunity to play there a little more. There will be some options there that we'll have a look at."
On the possibility of using Sam Gagner as a third line centre:
"I like him better on the wing. I know him a little better than the other guys just because I had him in Arizona before. He's a good complement player. He's a smart player and he's got good skill. He'll jump around your lineup and complement some people. Where he ends up, I'm not sure, but that will be determined in Training Camp. He's another guy that we'll jump around a little bit until we find a fit for him."
On free agent signings Markus Granlund and Josh Archibald:
"(They have the) speed, smarts and the ability to play against top players, shut down top players and the ability to help your penalty kill. Those are all factors. It's no secret our goals against has to go down. Penalty killing will be part of that and having some players that can take those roles. I would like to see McDavid and Draisaitl kill fewer penalties this year. Not that they're not going to kill at all, but see them kill less. So, we need some people that can do that job and both those guys will be key in that penalty kill role. Just smart players, tenacious players with speed that can play the game smart. Those are, from a coaching standpoint, the players that you can put on the ice in a lot of different situations and get the job done."
On how centres develop in the faceoff circle:
"I think that's true to a certain extent (players get better over time) but you've got to be willing to get better. That's an area of concern for me and we're going to put a real emphasis on that. I've already talked to (Assistant Coach) Brian Wiseman about some faceoff stuff. It's not just the player taking the faceoff, it's the reaction of all the players around it. That's going to be a focus from our coaching staff and we'll try to improve that stat right throughout our lineup with everybody. Not just the faceoff part of it but how we react after that will be a big point of emphasis for us."
On some Bakersfield prospects hoping to make the Oilers lineup:
"I'm hoping that some of them do. Tyler Benson is one of those guys. I watched a lot of Bakersfield and there are some good players down there. Tyler is a great example. He could come in here and find a niche and push somebody out or push somebody down in the lineup. I'm hoping we have situations like that because that makes your team better. We have great competition, for lack of a better way to put it, in those bottom-six spots. There's going to be phenomenal competition for them. Some of the young guys, then you've got Nygard, Jurco. There are players coming in that all want a shot at making our team. The more players you have like that, the better off you're going to be. You've got better depth and then you've got people that are going to push other people out of the lineup because they're better. That makes your team better."
On how the defence prospects and pairings could look:
"I've thought about them. We've got a few of them. I've always been big on the left shot, right shot scenario on the D. There's more left shots that can play right, I don't know why that is but it just seems like it over time, and there are a few guys that can do it. It's all their skate positioning and the way they open up. But there's a lot of guys that are more comfortable on their forehands. I'd like to get to that situation. I've watched (Kris) Russell play on both sides and I'd like him better on the left side. We'll see how things pan out. I think some of those young guys are going to push hard not to just make the team but be in the top six."
On goaltender Mike Smith and the Oilers goalie scenario:
"I see them both (Smith and Mikko Koskinen) as number ones. I think we have an unbelievable situation where you're going to have both guys that are capable of winning a game at any time, both of them will always be fresh. The one thing when you look at Koskinen is he looked tired down the stretch. He played a lot of games in a row but there's mentally and physically tired. Smith is 37 although he's a phenomenal athlete for that age. I think we have the ability to make sure that whenever they play, they're rested mentally and physically. Both guys can do the job. It's going to be good competition. I'm all for, if one guy gets hot, to let him go for a little bit but we're going to have two goalies that we feel very comfortable with. In the NHL today, unless you have a Carey Price or something like that, those are the goaltending tandems that have played well together, the ones that share the duties."
On the Western Conference travel schedule and load management:
"I'm big on rest, recovery and workloads. Sports science has come so far now where you can manage those workloads. We'll be very cognizant of that. I met with Chad Drummond, our Strength and Conditioning Coach today, and we talked about getting some different base levels on some guys. All that stuff is all stuff that I've been very involved in for a long time. You manage your players. Ultimately, if you want them to play well in games, you have to give them the capabilities of doing that. If they're tired, you're not going to get the best athlete. We have to manage that.
"With our schedule, it seems like we play every second night for long stretches. I'm big on having one practice in between. So, if you don't practice the day after a game, you have a light skate. Or if you do have a practice between games, then you stay off for morning skate. I'm big on conserving energy. It's about winning hockey games and the only way to win is to play your best. If we can get our athletes to play their best more times than not, I think it will bode well for our team."