EDMONTON - There’s one reason, more than any other, hockey fans in Edmonton — and all over the hockey world, for that matter — should be hoping the Oilers choose Nail Yakupov No. 1 in the draft Friday.
For the good of the game.
Today’s over-coaching of defensive hockey is squeezing the life out of the world’s fastest, yet all-too-often lately, inexplicably boring, game.
Bring back “Oilers Hockey!”
Bring back “Firewagon Hockey!”
Craig MacTavish made an interesting statement last week when he was introduced as VP of hockey operations of the Oilers.
“You ultimately win on offence. Prolific offence is always going to win out over defensive-minded teams. From that standpoint the skill set of the team has changed. So it’s going to be a more dynamic team.”
You don’t often hear that from coaches.
Especially these days.
But a couple of Montreal Canadiens dynasties proved it.
And so did the most recent dynasty in NHL history.
MacTavish was part of it, a guy winning faceoffs and minding the defensive game as a player in the Stanley Cup era, when the Oilers featured Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier, Jari Kurri and Glenn Anderson as staples on the top two lines.
Nobody is ever likely to be the second coming of Gretzky and there aren’t likely to be too many reasonable facsimiles of Messier, Kurri or Anderson to come along.
Quietly, a few of us have made lower-case references to it during the last couple of years because to label any of these guys the second coming of four Hall of Famers is almost blasphemy.
But there are lower-case comparisons there.
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is Gretzky.
Taylor Hall is Messier.
Jordan Eberle is Kurri.
They have the same M.O. The same DNA.
And if you were casting for players to play the roles for a modern-day remake, Nail Yakupov, of all the young players out there right now, would win the role of Anderson. He plays the same kind of game.
How can you trade down from a chance to put that piece of the jigsaw puzzle in place?
How can you pass over that to draft for need and take a defenceman instead?
It was like last year with Nugent-Hopkins, the kid who the organization had earmarked to send back to Red Deer for another year in junior while he added a bit more size but tonight may be the first player in Oilers history to win the Calder as the NHL rookie of the year on the same night Eberle could win his first Lady Byng? Either one wins and it’s the first major NHL Award to an Oiler since Mark Messier won the Hart in 1989-90. Neither wins and it’s just a matter of time before the next batch.
Remember the stunning quote supplied by Central scouting’s Peter Sullivan halfway through the season last year?
“A couple people high up in the Oilers organization — and I’m not naming names — said Nugent-Hopkins has the best vision on the ice since No. 99. That’s the highest compliment you can get.”
Sullivan had further comment.
“Another thing is the way Ryan competes. He never takes a night off and he works as hard in his own end as he does in the offensive zone. It takes a special player with special skill to do that,” he said.
Special. That word kept coming up.
“The top four or five players are all very good and are all going to be great. But give me the guy who is going to be special,” said GM Steve Tambellini the morning before heading to the draft last year.
“That’s what Taylor Hall brought — something we haven’t seen here for a long time, the way he plays the game, the aggressiveness, the north, south, the fearlessness, the passion ...”
I wrote it heading into the draft last year:
“Taylor Hall isn’t Mark Messier. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins isn’t going to be Wayne Gretzky. But they both have a chance to be special in Messier and Gretzky ways.
“The Oilers had to pick Hall. And now they have to take Nugent-Hopkins.”
Now they have to pick Yakupov.
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