Krueger quick to allay fears

Oilers general manager Steve Tambellini (left) and head coach Ralph Krueger pose at Millenium Place...

Oilers general manager Steve Tambellini (left) and head coach Ralph Krueger pose at Millenium Place in Sherwood Park, Alta., June, 26 2012. (PERRY MAH/QMI Agency)

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 7:19 PM ET

EDMONTON - Ralph Krueger can smell fear — or, at the very least, read about it online.

He knows that Edmonton Oilers fans have two alarming concerns about putting him charge of their hockey team.

1) That he will do to Edmonton what he did to Switzerland — lock them in defensive shackles for 60 minutes a night, handcuffing the best collection of talent the Oilers have assembled in 20 years.

2) That he isn’t tough enough, or doesn’t have will enough, to snap some of Edmonton’s complacent veterans out of their comfort zones.

So, at the news conference introducing Krueger as Edmonton’s new head coach, the 52-year-old didn’t wait to be asked.

He addressed both concerns on his own, assuring everyone that the Oilers will play an attacking style built around their fast and dynamic youth and that he will accept nothing less than everything from everyone, regardless of age or experience.

“We have skill in our room that’s so exciting,” he told a packed room at Millennium Place. “I need to find ways that their instincts can play freely, that we don’t block them in the coaching processes, that the natural ability leads us to winning.

“We will want to attack on a very aggressive basis and we have the tools to do that, at the same time always building on a strong team defensive core.”

He wants the Oilers to get back to being a team the city “can totally embrace and be excited about watching on a daily basis.”

And, a week after taking Nail, did Edmonton add the Hammer?

Krueger is such a mild-mannered and easygoing person outside of the dressing room it’s difficult to imagine him being a hard-liner, but that’s the word. Those who know him and have played for him say he is iron-willed and has a spine to match.

“If they feel you’re consistent and you’re fair to everybody, you can bring that toughness to the decision-making process, whether it’s benching a player during a game or changing a line or taking somebody out of specialty teams,” he said. “I will be the first to make sure everybody is accountable for the principles that we establish. My record, wherever I have coached, is very, very clear on that.”

Whether that’s a rookie or a veteran.

“One of the things for me as a coach that is very important is that age is actually irrelevant in regards to attitude. We need every single player, no matter the age, to want to get better. Possibly your role will change as you get older, possibly you need to get better at something you haven’t had to be good at. It’s important, dealing with experienced players, to have them understand that.”

Under Krueger, the best players will play the most, and that’s that.

“What every player, even the older ones, need to understand, is it’s going to be the ones who are working hard who are going to get the opportunity. Whether it’s power play, penalty kill, five-on-five, closing a game. I’m not interested in age, I’m interested in the passion and the work ethic.”

It all sounds good. On paper, Krueger is everything the Oilers need: a great teacher, a great communicator, a great mind for the game and a no-nonsense leader in case there needs to be some law laid down.

All that remains to be seen, as is the case with all rookies, is whether those tools will translate to the NHL level.

Can he get Ben Eager to play at full speed all season? Can he coax full potential from Ales Hemsky, in an environment where the 28-year-old Czech might be playing a secondary or even tertiary role? Can he help Taylor Hall, Ryan-Nugent Hopkins, Jordan Eberle and now Nail Yakupov become bona-fide multi-dimensional NHL superstars?

Can he make Edmonton a playoff team?

“We’ve all heard the word potential here for so many seasons,” said Keuger. “I need to find, as a leader, the path that every player can take to his potential, and then the group, automatically, will find its potential.”

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ROBERT.TYCHKOWSKI@Sunmedia.ca


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