Will “hockey sense” be the watchword of the Edmonton Oilers under Craig MacTavish?
Posted by Dean Holden at May 10th, 2013
by Jonathan Willis, 9 May 2013
According to head amateur scout Stu MacGregor, one of the changes that the Oilers’ new management group is pushing for is an increased focus on “hockey sense” in the draft.
Macgregor made the comment in a Tuesday, appearance on the Oilers Now radio show. He touched on a range of topics, from this year’s draft to the development of some of the Oilers drafted prospects, but that particular comment came in response to a question about the differences in working for new general manager Craig MacTavish as opposed to predecessor Steve Tambellini.
This is what MacGregor said:
Things are different [under MacTavish than they were under Tambellini]. Mac has a theory you need lots of skill and that you need skill to be able to make plays, but he also is saying ‘we need the passion of players to be able to compete’ which is something that we’ve tried to find. He believes that we’ve got to get a little bit bigger; these aren’t things that people would be surprised by. Mac has his theories and his ideas of what needs to be done; he followed us a lot during the season, I think he knows us pretty well. This is his first year-end meeting that he’s sat in on. He’s given us some ideas of things that he likes and wants. Part of that is discussion with us, myself and him and also within the group, just kind of the way he sees the world. Every GM sees things a little bit differently, and he works a little bit from a coaching standpoint in that guys have to be able to think, players have to be able to figure out what the coach is showing and teaching. He makes us think, and make sure that we’re trying to find those types of players that have that hockey sense and understanding of systems, playing within a group, being able to adapt to circumstances and things like that.
There is a lot in that statement, and plenty of room for interpretation. Boiling down the first comments, MacGregor’s seems essentially to be saying that MacTavish wants talent, character, and that size is better than a lack of size. None of this is surprising; this is what every team in the league wants.
Of more interest is the latter half of the comment, where MacGregor talks about MacTavish’s perspective being influenced by his history as a coach. MacTavish as a coach consistently emphasized the importance of two-way play in his press conferences, the need for players to generate more than they give up the other way.
That’s how the teams he coached during his most successful seasons played. The early-2000’s Oilers, were often short on talent but made up for it with a deep group of competent two-way players – guys like Todd Marchant and Mike Grier and Ethan Moreau and Shawn Horcoff and so on. The 2005-06 team that went to the Stanley Cup Finals maintained that kind of core, but was a superior team because they also had elite talent. Hockey sense was a big part of the makeup of those teams.
The Oilers built by Steve Tambellini are almost a mirror image of that early-2000’s group. The young talent is fully capable of driving play in the here and now, but the core behind them actually took a step backwards in 2013. What MacTavish needs to do is find the modern equivalents of the depth guys he had at his disposal back in his coaching days, to build the Oilers into a team that has more than one line capable of creating more than they give up.
One place to add those sorts of players is in the draft, and what MacGregor’s statement indicates is that insofar as there is a single hockey virtue the scouting group is going to emphasize from now on, that virtue will be ability to think the game, or hockey sense. As a core value for the team, it’s hard to think of a better one.