Edmonton Oilers coach Dave Tippett holds forth on Puljujarvi, Turris, Barrie, Smith and more

Edmonton Oilers coach Dave Tippett holds forth on Puljujarvi, Turris, Barrie, Smith and more

Author of the article:

Bruce McCurdy  •  Edmonton Journal

Publishing date:

Oct 21, 2020  •   •  9 minute read

Edmonton Oilers head coach Dave Tippett speaks to the press during training camp at Rogers Place on Sept. 18, 2019. Photo by Ian Kucerak /Postmedia, file

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Some ten weeks after his team was eliminated early in the NHL’s extended Stanley Cup playoffs, Edmonton Oilers head coach Dave Tippett has resurfaced for some welcome commentary on his team. Tippett was Tuesday’s featured guest on the popular local radio show Oilers Now on 630 CHED. His extended interview with host Bob Stauffer is well worth the listen in its entirety, touching on both the team’s performance last season and expectations for next. We’ve extracted some extended sound bites, slightly edited for clarity, on four recent key signings.

On the 2019-20 season

  • “In the regular season before the shutdown, we really made strides. You go into a new situation, whether you’re a new GM or a new coach, you’re trying to figure out what you have. I thought we made some good progress through the year. A couple of dips here and there, but you learn about people. Founds some strengths of our team, recognized some weaknesses.  I thought we were going the right direction when it got stopped in the spring, we’d tweaked a few things and felt like we had a pretty good handle on our team. And we came back and it was disappointing. Our mindset, our focus that first game was disappointing, we got down early and chased the game. The rest of the series we played well enough to win it. I didn’t like the way we defended at times. I thought our goaltending was very good in the regular season and very average in the play-in, and we just made too many critical mistakes at wrong times that cost us the series against Chicago.  

    “[In the regular season] I liked our special teams. To get to the next level, we have to be a better 5 on 5 team and we have to be a better defending teams at 5 on 5.”

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No argument on that last part, and the results back up all of the coach’s main points. The Oilers were dominant on both special teams last year, outscoring their opposition by a net 21 goals, the best in the NHL. However, at 5v5 the club had a goal differential of -16, and their Goals For Percentage of just 47.3% ranked 25th in the league. They were 18th in Goals For /60 and a lowly 26th in Goals Against. That latter area in particular needs attention and improvement, and the coach is keenly aware of that fact.

On Jesse Puljujarvi

  • “I’m just going on hearsay, I didn’t know Jesse at all. We started having conversations in the middle of the year last year between Ken Holland, myself, his agent, Jesse, just to get to know him. As those conversations moved on, we got more comfortable with each other. I’ve watched most of Jesse’s games this year, he’s playing very well.

    “Having a chance to talk to him a little bit, he’s an interesting guy. I don’t know what happened before. I’ve heard stories, but he’s taken a lot of responsibility for that himself. He knows he came over, he was a young guy, didn’t know the language, lots of things to learn and not just on the ice, but lots of things to learn off the ice. It overwhelmed him a little bit. 

    “So, he’s gone home. You watch him play now, he’s a different player. He’s just a dominant player in the Finnish League right now. He’s taken responsibility, his English is good, he’s anxious to come over and prove that he can be a good player in the best league in the world. He’s willing to play anywhere we want him to play, play any role we want him to play. He just wants to come over and fit in and be a good player for the Edmonton Oilers. Right now, watching him in Finland, he’s a top power play guy, top five-on-five guy, they’ve even got him killing penalties. He’s a much more well-rounded player. That happens. That’s just maturity in a player. For him, it’s maturity as a hockey player and maturity as a person. I think we’ll get a much better player coming in here this time.”

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Seems like a measured, forward-looking approach, with Tippett at least talking the talk of a clean slate for the oft-maligned youngster.

How maligned? It was interesting to compare Tippett’s take with that of long-time Sportsnet analyst Drew Remenda, interviewed by Stauffer later on the same program. Unlike the coach, Remenda was very familiar with Puljujarvi’s first stint in Edmonton, and had some strong words which likely reflect the general opinion of the mythical “200 Hockey Men”.

  • “I didn’t think he was smart enough, I thought his hockey IQ was low. I didn’t think he had good work ethic. I didn’t think he was putting as much into his game, investing into his craft, like we saw Leon, like we saw Connor. I always thought to myself, ‘you know, Jesse, if you would just look at those two guys and at how hard they practice and put that into your game, you’d be a helluva lot better’.  I always thought he was an entitled player. I’ve never been a fan of the guy.”

Whoa.

When considering J.P.’s return and possible future, however, Remenda’s tone softened considerably.

  • “I hope he’s grown up. You go from 18 in a strange country without a language, I understand there’d be that shyness, that reclusiveness, that awkwardness in trying to fit in. I get that at 18 years old. Now he’s 22, he’ll be more mature, he’ll be a little bit more confident because he did play in a good league and had success. This will be, I hope, a more confident Jesse Puljujarvi coming in. He’s got the tools, I hope this little experience is getting added to the toolbox.”  

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On that last, forward-looking part, it seems both coach and critic are on the same page. The conclusion of both men — time for a fresh start — is a viewpoint that one hopes will resonate with the fan base and especially with the player himself. Four years out from his draft day, Puljujarvi remains an intriguing if enigmatic prospect who still has “the toolbox” and a bright future.

On Kyle Turris

  • “The NHL has gone to a Top 9 forwards and then a role-playing fourth line, whether it’s an energy line or penalty killers. We were a Top 6 and Bottom 6 last year. With bringing in Kyle [Turris] and with the addition of Puljujarvi, we’ll feel more comfortable with a Top Nine in offensive situations and 5 on 5 situations. The centreman is really the key to that because he can drive a line.

    “I had Turris as a young player in Arizona, then I had him in the World Championships in Belarus about four or five years ago. He played in the exact role that I envision him playing in with our team in that tournament, and he was excellent. We used him as a veteran centreman, faceoffs on the right side, and he added some offence, but he also was a real smart player in all situations.

    “I see him touching both sides of special teams… When I had him in the World Championships he was a good penalty-killer. Situational stuff, he just hasn’t been put in that situation [in Nashville] but that’s something we’re going to rely on… Our powerplay was really good and I don’t anticipate a lot of changes in the forward positions. But I think the second unit will get more time with a legitimate centreman.  When you have a powerplay like ours that has so much zone time they’re in there a long time, your next line coming out has the opportunity to be a second powerplay unit, but if they don’t get a lot of time you need a line on the ice that can be ready for the other team’s top line coming out, and those are things that Turris can do. He’s going to be a nice fit for us.”

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Those are welcome words about a Top 9. In this recent post I wrote of how last year’s Top 6/Bottom 6 devolved into “two first lines, two fourth lines” with the bottom of the order producing next to nothing offensively and ultimately relinquishing, and then some, the edge provided by the Draisaitl and McDavid lines at even strength. It was obviously Holland’s objective to pump some much-needed offensive clout into the third line, and Tippett is clearly on board with the new approach.

On Tyson Barrie

  • “I think he’s a good two-way player. At 5 on 5 we didn’t play with the puck enough, so we ended up defending too much.  He may not be the best defender in the league, but he doesn’t defend [as much] as the other guys do because he moves the puck well and can move out of our end. With Klefbom a question mark, he’ll come in and give our powerplay a little different look with a right-hander instead of a left-hander, yet is very adept at running a powerplay. I think he’s a great fit for us.” 

Two first-time Oilers, two “great fits”. Tippett’s opening comment of Barrie being a good two-way player is a bit of an eyebrow-raiser, but his clarification of a guy who’ll relieve the pressure by getting the puck moving in the right direction is on point. For sure he has the track record of being an offensive threat both on the powerplay and at even strength.

On Mike Smith

  • “[Goaltending] is an area we thought if we could find somebody younger that would go with Koskinen that’s an option we would look at if the right person came along. That right person wasn’t out there, so we went with a guy that we knew. Our goaltending during the regular season was OK. We need to be a better defending team 5 on 5 in front of those goaltenders.

    “The tandem and Koskinen and Smith… Koskinen is a quiet, very reserved guy, just goes about his business. Smitty has got some fire. And our dressing room needs some fire. Whether he’s playing or not, he’s one of those veterans that come in the room and he’ll hold people accountable, whether it’s himself or other people.

    “Don’t forget that we signed [Anton] Forsberg too, who is a legit #3 in the NHL. He’s a guy that’s had some action before. That was a real good signing.” 

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