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EDMONTON — Josh Archibald did not skate with his Edmonton Oilers teammates on Thursday as the club tried to quell the drama with players hitting the ice on Day 2 of training camp.
On Tuesday we learned that a recently vaccinated Duncan Keith would not participate in camp until next Friday, goalie Alex Stalock’s heart condition may cost him the entire season, Kris Russell (neck) isn’t ready to go, and Archibald is the only unvaccinated NHLer on a Canadian team. Archibald skated on his own before the groups Wednesday.
“He just came off a 14-day quarantine, no skating,” head coach Dave Tippett said. “Until he can get up to speed, he won’t be with the main group.”
Tippett and general manager Ken Holland were successful in getting Keith to the pharmacy — he went to the U.S. for a single dose vaccination and is serving a quarantine upon his return — but have not been able to persuade Archibald as of yet. The sense is, Holland will back off now and let the situation percolate, the way he did when Jesse Puljujarvi left the team and returned to Finland.
In the end, the Puljujarvi problem solved itself. They’re hoping Archibald’s vaccine hesitancy does likewise.
“There is still some time for him. People have different things they’re concerned about,” Tippett said. “You have to respect that concern, but ... vaccinations are part of the world now.
“We’ll get him up to speed, and then as an organization we’ll figure out where it’s going to go.”
Oilers captain Connor McDavid, who only this summer did some advocacy media for getting vaccinated, was asked about captaining a team with a vaccine holdout on the roster.
“The vaccine has become such a political thing. It’s become ... something a lot more than just a vaccine at this point,” McDavid said. “We want to do our best to protect one another, but ultimately it’s everyone’s choice to take it or not.
“If someone feels a need, or doesn’t want to get it, that’s their choice. And we move on and do what we can to still keep everyone safe and still put the best team on the ice.”
As we said in our Wednesday column, Archibald is a useful player who the Oilers would like to have on their team. But if he won’t roll up his sleeve, he’ll likely not be part of the Oilers come Opening Night.
Zach Hyman skated on McDavid’s left wing on the first day, along with Puljujarvi on the right side. That places the best player in hockey between two power forwards who can both score, the makings of a deadly top line in Edmonton.
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins was affixed next to Leon Draisaitl, with Kailer Yamamoto on right wing on Line 2.
Much like the Toronto Maple Leafs, it’s not about regular season success anymore in Edmonton. It’s about playoff wins, and this roster is still sour about being swept in Round 1 by Winnipeg last spring. The leaders here know that the habits formed through 82 games are going to make a difference when games get tight in the post-season.
“We lost one game on a faceoff, another on a turnover, and you could say we took a bad penalty (in another loss),” Tippett said. “All those things, they stick in your craw. You can’t put your finger on one of them, but all of them you have to do better all year.”
Edmonton fans don’t want to hear about a process. We get that. But in reality, this team has improved for two straight seasons, made the playoffs twice, and with the addition of three legit NHL forwards in Hyman, Warren Foegele and Derek Ryan, might now be ready to seriously contend.
“I believe there has been a huge change ... in the way this team has played over the past two seasons,” said goalie Mike Smith. “Last year we were finding ways to win close games, we were coming back in games, we were protecting leads. ... All stuff that helps you in the playoffs. It didn’t go quite the way we wanted in the playoffs, but we were in three overtime games that could have gone either way."
“Did we create our own breaks? Maybe not enough of them,” he continued. “But I think this group definitely learned from that, and that’s what it takes to be a better team the following year.
“I believe it’s a process. You don’t just acquire a team and you’re Stanley Cup contenders. Sometimes there are some heartaches, some bumps and bruises along the way. But that’s what is going to make it way sweeter in the end.”
Even though the core players were the backbone of this team two, three years ago, the difference now is that they are ready for that responsibility, where they may not have been before.
“I see it in Connor, Darnell (Nurse) and Leon,” Tippett said. “The difference from where they were two years ago when I came in, and now. It’s just maturity.
“Connor, the way he carries himself in the dressing room around his teammates, is different now than it was two years ago. Same with Leon. Darnell has taken a huge step there,” Tippett said. “That leadership group has a quiet confidence about them, but they know they have to get better if we are going to get to the place we want to get to. That confidence, it goes right through your team.”
On the back end, Tippett singled out his youngest D-man when asked about how his blue-line is going to deal with the departure of Adam Larsson to Seattle.
“The key to our blue-line this year is Evan Bouchard. To me he’s the X factor for our blue-line, to come out and say that we’re going to be better,” said Tippett.
Bouchard, 21, hung around all last season but played in just 14 games — none in the playoffs. But the time he spent around the team wasn’t wasted, said Tippett.
“He’s engaged with our group now, and the leadership embraces him. He got to spend a lot of time with (assistant coach) Jim Playfair and had a lot of time after practice,” the Oilers head coach said. “He’s gone from being a young player to, he looks like a man now.
“His maturity, the way he carries himself, his fitness levels are excellent. He carries himself like an NHL player now. We need him to take a step forward for us, and I have full confidence he’ll do that.”