EDMONTON - Ralph Krueger has not yet had a chance to coach in Rogers Place, the arena built for the Edmonton Oilers that opened in 2016. He did, however, have a hand in designing the home dressing room as head coach of the Oilers in 2012-13.
Krueger's path instead brought him to the visitors' dressing room Sunday morning, where he reflected fondly on his three seasons with the Oilers - two as an assistant coach, one as head coach - and the experiences that prepared him to lead the Buffalo Sabres today.
"I had so much growth when I was here in Edmonton," Krueger said. "Those three years opened my coaching to the National Hockey League and what it takes to be successful here, and the accountability you need to bring up, and the game intelligence you need to have as a head coach here to function on the day-to-day basis. So, I'm really grateful for that.
"I wouldn't be standing here today as head coach of the Buffalo Sabres without that experience. … I'm nothing but grateful for the time I had here."
Video: PREGAME: Krueger
During the lockout shortened 2012-13 season, Krueger coached a young Oilers team he felt was on the verge of contending. He maintains positive relationships with players from those teams today, be it Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Jordan Eberle (now with the Islanders), or Taylor Hall (now with the Devils).
Yet the forward-thinking coach wasted little time looking back upon parting ways with the Oilers. Within 48 hours, he had received calls from Steve Yzerman and Mike Babcock to serve as an advisor for Team Canada at the 2014 Olympic Games, with whom he won a gold medal.
Between that experience and his time at the helm of Team Europe during the 2016 World Cup of Hockey, Krueger spent the next six years tapping into some of hockey's best minds, lessons that helped craft the identity the Sabres are building today.
In a way, he feels he's picked up where he left off.
"It's actually pretty similar where I stepped into the Sabres from where I left the Oilers," he said. "… It always - when you have high-end players coming in at 18, 19 - takes them a few years really to open their minds to what it takes and what it needs.
"I feel that we were just getting there when I left Edmonton and I've been able to step into the Sabres at an advanced stage where we're close and on the cusp of becoming a competitive team. We are already competitive on a nightly basis but to stay in the race through the season, we all know it's a marathon."
The Sabres sit third in the Atlantic Division with 32 points coming off an overtime loss in Vancouver on Friday. They've managed to remain in the race while learning to develop habits within the framework of their coach's plan.
"It's a simple plan, but it's one that the players are embracing and understand," Krueger said. "A little timeout sometimes just helps you to organize all those thoughts in a better way and I felt extremely comfortable coming into the Sabres world.
"We need to prove it on the ice, that it's the right way to go. But it feels right at the moment."
Linus Ullmark will start in net. The rest of the lineup will be announced at game time.
Scouting the Oilers
Any conversation about the Oilers starts with the dynamic duo of Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid, who lead the NHL with 53 and 52 points, respectively. The last Oilers to record 50 or more points in the first 30 games of a season: Wayne Gretzky and Jari Kurri.
"When you look at McDavid and Draisaitl, what they're doing in Edmonton, it's an exciting entertainment value but also they're winning games and they're finding ways to win so they're also maturing in a good way and understanding what it takes to finish the games," Krueger said.
"It will be an excellent clash here, I'm sure."
The Oilers will see Nugent-Hopkins and fellow forward Zack Kassian return from absences of six and three games, respectively.
Coverage on MSG begins at 7:30 p.m., or you can listen to the game on WGR 550. Puck drop is scheduled for 8.