Early indicators on Edmonton Oilers centre Gaetan Haas trending up – Edmonton Journal

Early indicators on Edmonton Oilers centre Gaetan Haas trending up - Edmonton Journal
NHL Game Notes: Edmonton Oilers at New York Islanders
No surprise in net. Mike Smith is 37 and he’s not going to be able to play the 60-plus games he handled in his prime. Last year he played 42 in Calgary. The Oilers are going to need to get some strong games out of Mikko Koskinen, who was very hot and very cold last year, starting out like the Second Coming of Ken Dryden and finishing up like the Second Coming of Jason LaBarbera. So we’ll see which Koskinen we get tonight.

Michaels reports that we’ll likely see Haas with Granlund and Nygard, and Sheahan with Khaira and Patrick Russell.

Gaetan Haas a player? A real NHL player? We’re seeing signs of that which as any long time fan of the Edmonton Oilers knows is almost too much to hope for.

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Edmonton Oilers & Mikko Koskinen Can Ill Afford Slow Start

In the Decade of Darkness-plus, the team struck out repeatedly with forwards of European origin, both ones coming out of the draft (Magnus Paajarvi, Bogdan Yakimov, Anton Slepyshev, Teemu Hartikainen, Anton Lander, Nail Yakupov and now Jesse Puljujarvi), ones coming from other NHL organizations (Robert Nilsson, Pontus Aberg, Jussi Jokinen, Tobias Rieder, Ales Kotalik, Lauri Korpikoski) and those coming over from European leagues as more veterans players (Patrick Thoresen, Linus Omark, Lennart Petrell, Jesse Joensuu, Iiro Pakarinen).

New York and Edmonton Face off for Non-Conference Battle

Yet the early indicators on both Joakim Nygard from Sweden and Gaetan Haas from Switzerland are encouraging.

For one thing, both players have excellent wheels. Nygard had a rep for being the fastest forward in the Swedish Elite League. Haas’ quickness is more unexpected, as reports on him were more mixed and less clear. But the player can fly, certainly compared to some of the plodding skaters Edmonton populated its Bottom 6 forward group with during the Chiarelli era. It’s been some time since we’ve seen a bottom line centre rocket up the middle of the ice with the puck on his stick, but that’s precisely what we’ve seen from Haas now and then.

eval(ez_write_tag([[580,400],thehockeywriters_com-medrectangle-4,ezslot_1,628,0,0]));Though neither of those should have been viewed as sure bets, if things work out in their favour, no one can point to either one as being a big surprise. The development that has been so refreshing is how much Joakim Nygard has improved. We saw flashes as the Oilers pre-season moved along and after a so-so debut, the talented Swede looked even more comfortable against the Kings and scored his first NHL goal to boot.

The question now comes as to what will happen to Haas with centre Riley Sheahan returning to the line-up? If Sheahan had not been injured in the first place, the insider buzz around the team suggested that Haas would have been sent down a week ago to Bakersfield of the AHL.

eval(ez_write_tag([[300,250],thehockeywriters_com-box-3,ezslot_4,625,0,0]));With a goal and four assists each through a couple of games, both Draisaitl and McDavid appear poised to put up numbers that will approach or eclipse their totals from a season ago. And that should surprise no one. However, the most intriguing part to the start of the Oilers season has been just how many players have managed to find their way onto the scoresheet.

Centre Colby Cave, a hard-worker but one lacking abundant speed, has had his defensive struggles in the first two games, most notably getting beat to the net by his check on a Los Angeles goal in the third period of Edmonton’s 6-5 win. A moment later Haas put the puck on net off a nifty face off play, with Nygard pounding it in for a goal.

With that said, make no mistake, the Edmonton Oilers will only go as far as Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and their goaltending can take them. That wont change at any point this season but if the so-called extra pieces can find a way to help lighten the load on their top players, even if we are talking every three to four games, this team will have a shot at staying relevant in what is a truly underwhelming Pacific Division.

On merit, Haas earned this next game, tonight at 5 p.m. MST against the New York Islanders. He’ll be on a line with Granlund and Nygard, and we’ll see if it get more time than the Riley Sheahan line with Jujhar Khaira and P. Russell. I bet the Haas line is used as a third line, as these players have the speed to get the job done.

In other words, scoring depth will still be an issue for this lineup but we have already seen some positive signs. One being the aforementioned production of the complementary wingers playing on the Oilers top two lines. Neal has made a career of scoring goals when playing with elite linemates and Kassian appears to have found a home playing alongside one or both of Draisaitl and McDavid.   

As for the Oilers overall, they’ve got to play better team defence if they’re going to continue to win. In the first two games, Vancouver out chanced the Oilers 14-7 on Grade A chances, while Los Angeles out chanced them 14-12. The positive news is that Edmonton trended up game to game, but Los Angeles didn’t look strong in that second game.

The Islanders won the Jennings Trophy for the fewest goals against in the league last season and that defensive mentality has carried over this season. Against Winnipeg, New York got some offense and kept the Jets in check to get the victory. The Islanders were outshot 15-9 in the opening period of the contest but the teams skated to the dressing room scoreless thanks to solid goaltending. In the second period, New York owned a 19-9 edge in shots and a 3-1 edge on the scoreboard to take that two-goal lead to the dressing room. Josh Bailey opened the scoring at the 1:51 mark with his first of the season, on the power play, with assists going to Anthony Beauvillier and Devon Toews. Brock Nelson doubled the Islanders’ advantage at 4:38 with his first of the season: Bailey and Ryan Pulock drew the assists. Anders Lee made it a 3-0 game with his first of the season at 15:55 off assists from Scott Mayfield and Mathew Barzal. Winnipeg got one back before the period was over to cut the lead. In the third period, the Islanders were outshot 12-5 but scored the lone goal to seal the victory. Beauvillier scored his first of the year at 1:25 off assists from Derick Brassard and Leo Komarov to make it a 4-1 game. Thomas Greiss made it stand up, recording 35 saves for the Islanders, who were outshot 36-33 in the game.

The mistakes aren’t just coming from Edmonton’s defence, but from Edmonton’s forwards as well, not to mention a few spectacular bloopers from goalie Mike Smith, who has been stellar when he’s actually in the net.

The Oilers cranked up their offense against the Kings and they needed every one of their goals to get the win Saturday night. Edmonton held a 10-8 edge in shots in the opening period but trailed Los Angeles 3-2 after a wild 20 minutes. Connor McDavid opened the scoring with his second goal of the season 53 seconds into the game. Leon Draisaitl and Oscar Klefbom drew the assists on the goal. After falling behind 2-1, James Neal evened the score with his first of the year, on the power play, at 10:23 of the period off assists from McDavid and Klefbom. The Kings answered again to go to the dressing room with a one-goal advantage. In the second period, Edmonton had a 14-11 edge in shots and they netted the lone goal of the period to tie the game after 40 minutes. Zack Kassian scored his second goal of the season at 4:51 of the period with Draisaitl and McDavid drawing the assists. That merely set the stage for a wild third period.

Be it tonight against the New York Islanders or in a couple of days from now when the Edmonton Oilers pay a visit to the New Jersey Devils, Mikko Koskinen will get a chance to start his first game of the 2019-20 campaign. No matter which one he winds up playing, it is apparent the towering guardian is going to have to hit the ground running in order to win over Dave Tippetts trust and earn regular playing time.

eval(ez_write_tag([[300,250],thehockeywriters_com-box-3,ezslot_1,625,0,0]));Despite looking shaky throughout and giving away two goals against the Los Angeles Kings in what turned out to be a 6-5 Oilers win, Mike Smith was given a chance to finish his previous start. In most cases, a goaltender would have been pulled after what was a disastrous opening twenty minutes and yet the head coach appeared to have not even entertained the notion of making a change between the pipes.

New York Islanders Look to Earn Back to Back Wins at HomeNew York bounced back from their disappointing loss in their home opener as they shut down a high-flying Winnipeg attack. The Islanders now try to make it back to back victories at home by prevailing here. New York is tied for 20th in the league by scoring 2.50 goals per game this season. The Islanders are tied for fourth in goals against by limiting opposing teams to 1.50 goals per contest. New York has converted an even 50 percent of their power play chances, leaving them tied for third in power play percentage this season. The Islanders are tied for 17th in penalty killing as they successfully get through 75 percent of their shorthanded situations on the season.

When one takes into consideration his previous history with the 37-year old, it should not have come as a complete shock to have seen him stick with his guy. However, when a netminder hands the opposition a pair of freebies in the fashion Smith did, it almost always leads to the hook coming out from behind the bench. That is not how it played out and in the end, the decision to not make a move worked out in the teams favour

With the club riding a modest two-game win streak to start the season, dont be surprised to see No. 41 get a third consecutive starting assignment. Lets not forget, most coaches are hesitant to go away from the so-called hot-hand. Though said tag could be argued when it comes to Smith, back-to-back wins are back-to-back wins and that may ultimately determine who gets the nod on Long Island.

If nothing else, that on its own should serve as enough of a wake-up call for Koskinen. His age, contract status, and salary suggest he should be the Oilers No. 1 goalie but in reality, nothing could be further from the truth. While the organization was and still is hoping for a return on their investment, there is a reason why they went out and signed Smith to the incentive laden deal they did.

It was also interesting to hear Holland discussing Gagners demotion and comparing his situation to Dan Cleary in Detroit — making mention that Cleary is now working in player development for the Red Wings. That last part was intriguing to me, almost suggesting that Gagner could follow a similar path to a player development role with the Oilers in the years to come. There could be some turnover in that department under Hollands watch and Gagner would be a great choice to mentor the future Oilers — on the ice for now and eventually off the ice.

eval(ez_write_tag([[580,400],thehockeywriters_com-medrectangle-4,ezslot_0,628,0,0]));Despite giving Koskinen a three-year, $13.5 million extension back in January, no one was sold on him being able to carry the load of a legit starting netminder. Add in a less than impressive showing during the pre-season and suddenly the doubt within the organizations front office has made its way over to the new bench boss. Its not as if Smith was on fire during his pre-season appearances either but that is almost secondary.

Even with the discrepancy in salary and being the goaltender that held the job for the Oilers over the back half of 2018-19, Koskinen found himself on the outside looking in on opening night against the Vancouver Canucks. As if coming off the uneven campaign he had endured last season wasnt challenging enough, the 31-year old now has to make an impression and do so in short order.

With the Oilers not scheduled to play back-to-back games until the end of October, a poor showing in his first start could lead to the Finnish netminder seeing limited action over the opening month of the season. Obviously, at his age and with the wear and tear on his body being what it is, Smith isnt capable of carrying a heavy workload over the course of an 82-game campaign. It is a point that simply cannot be argued.

However, if Koskinen continues to show he cant handle the pressure that comes with being an NHL starter, Smith will see the lions share of work early on and that will only prove to be problematic moving forward. Like it or not but in order for this set-up to have a shot at working, the Oilers are going to need both guys playing well, which is why it was a tad surprising to see Tippett go back to Smith against Kings.

eval(ez_write_tag([[580,400],thehockeywriters_com-box-4,ezslot_3,630,0,0]));The last game action Koskinen saw was back on September 28th, which means he has already sat for ten days between appearances. Again, by not having him play the Oilers are not doing him or themselves any favours and as previously mentioned, it could actually be setting him up to fail right out of the gate. An odd decision to be sure but its being made by a coach who clearly doesnt believe in what he has.  

Not an ideal situation by any means but at least during the earlier stages of the season, it is on Dave Tippett to ensure both his goaltenders receive enough opportunity to show what they can do while keeping both men fresh. With that being the case, the time to give Mikko Koskinen his rope and allow him the opportunity to sink or swim is at hand.

Founded in 2009, The Hockey Writers is a premier destination for news and information on everything hockey. Updated daily with news and features from over 130 writers worldwide. Over 2 million monthly readers now come to THW for their hockey fix.