SUN Hockey Pool

Oilers' training wheels are off

Oilers head coach Tom Renney says he expects more maturity on the team in the coming season. (TOM...

Oilers head coach Tom Renney says he expects more maturity on the team in the coming season. (TOM BRAID/QMI Agency file photo)

TERRY JONES, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 3:45 AM ET

EDMONTON - The training wheels are off.

That’s the difference between the Edmonton Oilers going to training camp this year and last year.

“Last year there was one caveat. Rebuild!” said head coach Tom Renney.

It’s a different deal now.

“Some people’s expectations were 30th place. That’s exactly where we ended up. This year there’s more expectations. Starting on Oct. 9th the expectation is to be a better team on the ice every night.”

Kindergarten is over.

Now you have to pass to move on with the class.

“The objective is a playoff spot. That will be my objective every day. Nothing but that,” said Renney

Thursday in anticipation of taking the team to training camp for a morning of medicals and testing the day before taking to the ice Saturday.

Those lazy, hazy, crazy ‘It’s OK To Finish Dead Last And Get A First Round Draft Choice’ days are done.

The end of that unofficial team policy came July 1 when general manager Steve Tambellini, after two years of having obvious needs to improve the defence, team toughness and ability to win faceoffs, remarkably had no problem finding veteran free agents to improve those areas on the very first day of free agency.

There are expectations on the very first day with the fitness testing, said Renney.

“We need improvement on our fitness from a year ago. I’m not saying our team was out of shape but they didn’t have the fitness to play the way I want them to play.

“We put them through a lot of tests but there are three special tests I look at. I’m not telling you which ones they are, but I’ll be having a very close look at those three tests.”

It’s ridiculous to look at the Oilers as a veteran team now. But they won’t be doing a contra deal with Pampers or Huggies this year.

“The difference is that we’ll be more experienced on the ice, whether it’s Magnus Paajarvi or Andy Sutton.”

Renney isn’t going to tell you how he thinks this training camp is going to turn out and who he expects to be on the team when the bus heads to Jasper October 3-6 for a special this-is-our-team training, team-building and bonding session before opening against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Hockey Night In Canada at Rexall Place.

But you get the idea that at the end of it, something like Ryan Nugent-Hopkins staying up for the first nine games while Anton Lander starts in Oklahoma City might quite possibly be the extent of it.

When it comes to recently drafted talent, there might only be a single player to step up to the big team, which added veteran experience the likes of Ryan Smyth, Eric Belanger, Andy Sutton, Cam Barker and Ben Eager over the summer.

“This is Year 2 of redefining our team,” said Renney.

And there’s a little more toughness in his tone.

“We’ll have a lot of young players coming back very comfortable with the system. How uncomfortable they’ll be if they don’t do it right is another thing.”

It’s going to be a season with different expectations, right from the start of training camp, he said.

“The expectations with me for the returning players this year were all voiced at our exit meetings.

“We have a lot of young players who have a year under their belts. We finished where a lot of people might have expected us to finish. We made the rink a destination where they wanted to be. This year we want them to come to the rink expecting way more of each other.

“This year we’re going to make sure they know where we draw the line. If you are going to start winning you have to stop losing. we can’t beat ourselves. This year this team has to start to mature, to start winning one-goal games, to bounce back from a bad game ....

“The master plan is not to saturate our team with new faces every year, to start developing people through the minor league system. It’s a process. People are going to get tired of hearing it, but that’s where we’re headed now.

“If you were a really good young player a year ago, you were probably going to get your chance. Going forward the process is going to take care of these people.”

Follow me on Twitter.com/sunterryjones

terry.jones@sunmedia.ca


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