EDMONTON — It takes a village to raise a high draft pick.
And so the Edmonton Oilers, in search of a veteran third-line centre and a player to help Jesse Puljujarvi find his NHL legs, landed on Kyle Turris, a former No. 3 overall draft pick who knows exactly what Puljujarvi is going through — because he lived it.
A year ago, GM Ken Holland told me that he’d like to put Puljujarvi beside a smart, veteran centreman for an entire season, giving the young Finn a chance to learn the things he’s struggled with through his young NHL career. Puljujarvi ended up in Finland instead, but the wily GM hung on to the asset, and now we’ll watch his plan play out, with Puljujarvi returning to Edmonton on a two-year deal.
He has spent every minute of this training camp beside the 31-year-old Turris, a sneaky-good signing who is getting $1.65 annually from the Oilers — and another $2 million from his buy-out by Nashville.
“It really reminds me of myself when I was younger,” said Turris, who is all-in on playing mentor to the lanky Finn, paying back the hockey world for all the help he had when he arrived in Phoenix a decade ago. “I didn’t have a great start to my career, and you do things to try and put yourself into positions where you think you’re going to have success. And when it doesn’t go your way you get frustrated and down on yourself.
“Just having that second opportunity, in my case it was career-changing.”
Truth be told, it won’t just be Turris who gets the credit if Puljujarvi becomes a player. The 22-year-old will hear a bunch of voices this year through his centreman, most notably the Hall of Fame Ottawa Senator, Daniel Alfredsson.
“I had a bunch of guys (who helped),” Turris said, starting with current Oilers head coach Dave Tippett. “Tipp played a big role in helping me when I was young. He was honest with me and helped me work on what I had to get better at. Shane Doan helped me. When I got to Ottawa, Jason Spezza was great. But the one guy who really helped me out a ton was Daniel Alfredsson.
“The way he would talk to me and walk me through things — just his perspective on things — really helped me as a person and a player, helping me to have the kind of career that I wanted to have.”
Tippett recalls Turris joining a bankrupt Phoenix Coyotes team where the instructions were to play the veterans and try to win some games. There was no money, and not much of a plan.
“He was a young player, a high draft pick, big expectations, and the mindset was to go with more experienced guys,” Tippett said. “The young players kind of took a step back.”
It’s ironic that the two would reunite in Edmonton, and that the student would become the teacher.
“I look at Kyle now, the maturity and leadership he brings to a team… It’s amazing,” marvelled Tippett. “He’s kind of taken Jesse under his wing a bit, and it’s great to see.”
Turris is confident that he can help polish the diamond that is Puljujarvi, a true specimen who just needs to learn the NHL game.
“He’s a great player. Big, strong, fast, great shot… He looks to make plays,” Turris said. “He’s very humble. A down-to-earth and happy kid. He’s got to keep that confidence, and I’m going to help him do that.”
A few lineup shifts for Thursday’s scrimmage, with Dominik Kahun taking the left wing spot next to Leon Draisaitl for the first time.
Tyler Ennis stayed on a potential fourth line with Jujhar Khaira and Alex Chiasson, while Evan Bouchard and Tyson Barrie swapped D partners.
As for the rest of camp, here’s how Tippett sees it shaking down: “We’ll do a special teams day (Saturday), take Sunday off, and then we’ll come in and do two normal practices like you would before a game on Monday and Tuesday.”
The Vancouver Canucks visit on Wednesday and Thursday, with Montreal coming for games Saturday and Monday.
We hear that old hockey cliché about trying to get better every day from player after player. But how does Connor McDavid try to get better?
We asked him for some specifics.
“Offensively, I think I check off most of the boxes there. Defensively is where it’s at,” McDavid said. “It’s the little things: stopping on pucks; winning battles; hounding pucks on the forecheck; getting involved in battles; winning faceoffs.”
McDavid has been lethal at this camp, with two goals on Thursday and another one Friday.
Friday filth from Captain Connor. pic.twitter.com/HHbfARfN8w
— Edmonton Oilers (@EdmontonOilers) January 8, 2021
There was never any doubt that McDavid would eventually focus down on the finer defensive elements of the game at some point in his career, the way Sidney Crosby did, and Steve Yzerman before him. McDavid appears to be there now, and we’ll predict that he’ll approach the 50 per cent mark in the faceoff circle this season.
Last season was McDavid’s best at 47.8 per cent in the circle, but his career mark is 44 per cent.
“I’ve liked in the last couple of scrimmages — beside (Turris) and his foot move — where my faceoffs have been. I can’t seem to figure him out, but I’m just bearing down and rounding out my game,” said McDavid. “The speed’s always going to be there, the offensive instincts.
“(It’s about) rounding out that game and being solid all over the ice.”