Gulutzan talks boosting Oilers’ speed, Lucic’s redemption potential

Connor McDavid spoke about the Edmonton Oilers off-season, and why he is excited for the 2018-19 season.

EDMONTON — Who has had a better vantage point than Glen Gulutzan of the anomaly that is the Edmonton Oilers?

From a record-breaking decade out of the playoffs, to 103 points, to 78 points and a playoff miss last season, Gulutzan has schemed against Edmonton from behind the bench in Dallas, Vancouver and, for the past two seasons, on the opposite end of the Battle of Alberta.

Fired by the Calgary Flames, this summer he was recruited as Todd McLellan’s assistant coach in Edmonton. So was Trent Yawney, who spent the past four seasons as an assistant coach in Anaheim.

It’s a Made in Alberta twist on the old saying: If you can’t beat ‘em, get them to join you.

“If we can cut down on our goals-against, there is enough fire power here, from an opposing coach’s point of view,” Gulutzan began. “The game we got shut down the most all season last year was Game 1 right here in Edmonton (a 3-0 loss). We didn’t get a sniff. It’s a reminder for Edmonton: Those (chances-against) have to come down in order to have success.”

That season opener, as we look back, was nearly perfect for Edmonton. Connor McDavid scored all three goals and goalie Cam Talbot had perhaps three tough saves all night.

In the end, however, it helped to create the perfect storm, contributing to a feeling among the Oilers that another 100-plus-point season was preordained — that it would be easy to repeat what they’d accomplished the previous season.

Gulutzan said the coaching staff has already met this summer, including new assistant Emanuel Viveiros, and planned some changes.

“The biggest thing you’ll see is in pace of play,” Gulutzan said. “We’ve put in a couple of adjustments, but one we think will take — for lack of a better term — some of the thinking out of some of our schemes. That will allow us to play a little bit quicker.

“When you have skill players like we do … they just need some more arbitrary bounces, some loose pucks that they can make road hockey plays with. We’re looking to create a few more of those opportunities. Pace of play is going to change is some of our attacking formations.”

Acquiring speedy winger Tobias Rieder will help the Oilers’ team speed, but other than him, the team did not up its team speed this summer. However, you can play fast without acquiring faster skaters, Gulutzan says.

“North-south. Shorter passes. More support to the puck. Less D-to-D passes. More quick-ups. Cleaner breakouts. Different forechecks,” he listed. “You can play quicker, rather than just playing that traditional style. We’ve gone over every one of those things and identified three areas where we want to change.

“Pace of play, overall, is what the people in the seats will be able to say, ‘Hey, they look quicker.’”

What about specific players?

As a guy who has spent much of the past decade figuring out how to beat the Oilers, Gulutzan can’t wait to get his coaching hands on Milan Lucic.

“For Trent and I, coming from Anaheim and Calgary, we still think he is one of the most feared players in the league. There are two guys in the league who get a lot of room because of their presence. One is a fourth-line guy in (Ryan) Reaves, and the other is Looch. I know teams are leery to play against him.

“Everyone here knew that. But I don’t know to the extent that they knew it had an effect on other teams. I think we have to tap into that, and Trent thinks that too. Looch wields a pretty big stick in this league, as far as room and presence.”

As a player whose reputation was forged partially on the back of his fighting ability, Lucic has to reap those same benefits in an era when the gloves stay on more often than before.

“But, their bark is effective too. That resonates with guys, and can give you a little more time and space,” Gulutzan points out. “I can say, from the other side, it certainly does.”

Lucic is just one of many Oilers looking to bounce back after off-years in 2017-18. From Talbot to Oscar Klefbom, to Andrej Sekera, to Zack Kassian — who Gulutzan has a special bond with from their time in Vancouver — this coaching staff’s job will be to get this group back to the level they were at two seasons ago.

“Less video, more communication,” Gulutzan said. “The one thing we sometimes undervalue as coaches is confidence. At this high level, a lot of it is mental, and sometimes it’s about clearing guys’ plates and letting them focus in on certain areas. And building their game up.

“When I say less video, I’m saying it’s more on the mental side. ‘Let’s not worry about this. Let’s just focus on this.’”

Fresh eyes and an opponent’s perspective. If you can’t beat ‘em…

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