For Oilers first-rounder Dylan Holloway, 'the future is definitely bright'

Canada's Dylan Holloway (10) checks United States' Brett Berard (21) during third period IIHF World Junior Hockey Championship gold medal game action. (Jason Franson/CP)

EDMONTON — There were two positives at the Edmonton Oilers practice Friday, which these days is usually a bad thing.

In Edmonton’s case, yes, one positive was bestowed upon Kailer Yamamoto, who was pulled off the practice ice before the drills started when his rapid test came back positive for COVID-19. The team would learn later in the day if he was going to be entered into COVID protocol, from which Connor McDavid, Tyson Barrie and Derek Ryan hope to be sprung in time for Monday’s game against Ottawa.

The other positive came when head coach Dave Tippett looked across the ice to young Dylan Holloway, and told him to take Yamamoto’s spot at practice.

“He was an excited kid out there today. Especially when Yamo got pulled and he went straight to Draisaitl’s line,” Tippett said, chuckling.

You’ll recall that 2020 first-rounder Holloway has spent the season recovering from a second scaphoid surgery on his left wrist, an injury suffered in the spring while finishing his career at the University of Wisconsin. He has yet to play a pro game, but the 20-year-old may still get the chance to play AHL games this season. And maybe — just maybe — he becomes part of the answer on the Oilers left side late in the season.

“His skating is elite. Even (skating coach) David Pelletier — Pelts was treating him like a son for a while there — he loves him so much. He’s a really good prospect,” said Tippett.

Holloway is 6-foot-1, 203 pounds, and was touted as a player physically ready for NHL hockey when he left the NCAA. Now, having not played a game in nearly 10 months changes that somewhat, but if he could get some games in at the AHL level, could Holloway be a contributor as a middle-6 winger before this season is complete?

Especially if the season gets stretched out because of all the postponements?

“If he goes down to Bakersfield and gets eight or 10 games in, we’ll get a gauge,” Tippett said. “You can tell, he’s got size and talent that look like they’re going to be NHL (calibre) at some point. We just don’t know when.

“He sees the doctor again on Monday, and hopefully that’s the last step he needs to get full clearance.”

The best news of all would be if Holloway can put this scaphoid injury behind him once and for all. That is a bone that is very slow to heal because of very little blood flow. For hockey players, it has proven to be an injury that can be hard to shake. Sheldon Souray busted his early in his career and battled with it all the way until the end.

The Oilers will be careful to make sure Holloway is properly healed up. Even if he doesn’t help this season, the big left winger looks like a player who will play next to either Connor McDavid or Leon Draisaitl one day.

“He’s always in the gym, working extremely hard with our skating coach,” said winger Zack Kassian. “It’s nice to see him finally take in a practice. He’s a big, strong kid. The future is definitely bright for him.”

Fragile: Do Not Drop

The Oilers have had a six-game losing streak already this season, and take a five-game skid into Monday’s game against the Senators. After that, due to postponements, they won’t play again for 10 days, when the Florida Panthers come to town.

To say the Ottawa game is a must-win is an understatement, but what really has to get rectified in Edmonton is the fragility of this team. How does a team have losing streaks of six and five games? Why can’t they put the brakes on their poor play in the big picture, or in a smaller picture, inside games when things start to get away from them?

“We’ve talked about game management,” Tippett admitted. “When you’re in a tight, 2-2 game, you’ve got to make sure the little plays get made. You can make the simple play to push the game along. (Don’t) take risky chances, or put yourself in a position where you have to make a mistake.”

In short, don’t panic. But when a team loses its collective confidence — or its confidence in its goaltending, like in Edmonton with Mikko Koskinen — they tend to panic. You can’t play the long game when you have no confidence that your goaltending will hold you in a hockey game.

There’s always a reason to try to win the game right now. Which most often boomerangs on you.

“When you’re losing, ... mentally it starts to wear on you. It’s more so a mental break that’s going to help us get out of this funk,” Kassian said of the coming break. “If you’re working hard, playing the right way, more often than not you’ll create your own bounces. Things are going to go your way.

“We knew there was going to be highs and lows. No team rolls through the years without any adversity,” he continued. “We’re kind of at the bottom of the pit right now, but a lot of this game is confidence. You win a couple of games in a row, get your swagger and confidence back, you get healthy — the rest is history. But we’ve got to find a way to win the first one and get rolling.”

On the injury front, Tippett said Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (lower-body) is about a week away from being back on the ice, defenceman William Lagesson has a bruised foot and could start to skate this weekend, and defenceman Kris Russell is about a week away from being healthy.

Theoretically, and assuming no more players are lost to COVID, the Oilers should come out of their break with the entire roster at their disposal.

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