EDMONTON — Pat Quinn admits his first day of training camp as coach of the Edmonton Oilers won’t be as much about assessing players as getting to know names.
While that’s hardly unexpected, considering the 66-year-old Quinn has been out of the NHL coaching loop four years and is taking over a team guided by Craig MacTavish for eight straight seasons, he won’t waste a lot of time on introductions before getting down to business at Rexall Place on Sunday.
With the Oilers going into camp with largely the same roster that has missed the playoffs three straight seasons, Quinn, associate coach Tom Renney and assistant Kelly Buchberger can’t afford to take much time sorting things out.
“Almost like a hockey school, I’m going to ask them to put tape on their helmets, maybe,” Quinn said with a smile after the Oilers went through medicals and fitness testing Saturday.
With less than 72 hours from the first on-ice session to the drop of the puck against Calgary on Tuesday, Quinn doesn’t have a lot of time to figure out who’s who and where they fit.
That’ll make for some interesting battles for jobs, as Quinn, Renney and Buchberger assess much the same team that finished 11th in the Western Conference at 38-35-9, prompting the firing of MacTavish and assistants Charlie Huddy and Bill Moores.
“We need to change the attitude. We need to change our image,” Quinn said. “We are a bunch of players who seem to have some skill, but I know skill alone doesn’t win in this business. It never has and never will.
“You have to learn how to use that skill well. You have to be interdependent and really rely on each other to be better than just the individual skills. Then, you’ve got a chance to win.”
The only players gone from the 2008-09 team are goaltender Dwayne Roloson, deadline rental Ales Kotalik and fourth-liner Kyle Brodziak. The only new players penned into roster spots are Nikolai Khabibulin and Mike Comrie.
While most camps open with talk of clean slates, that’s seldom the case. For a core group that includes Ales Hemsky, Shawn Horcoff, Steve Staios and captain Ethan Moreau, the talk holds true.
“When you have a new coach you want to impress, regardless of how long you’ve played in the league,” Moreau said.
“You always have to prove yourself. If you don’t, you’re out of a job. With a new coaching staff, that’s even more the case. You want to show him how you play. You want to earn a spot on the team.”
Edmonton’s roster is laden with small, skilled forwards. Comrie, Andrew Cogliano, Sam Gagner, Robert Nilsson, Gilbert Brule and Patrick O’Sullivan are five-foot-something players in the running for roster spots.
“One thing it’ll do is it’ll make sure we’re ready to go for the start of the season,” Horcoff said.
“A lot of times when you come into camp and the years there’s not a lot of competition, guys might take it a little bit slow at the start and think, ‘I’ve got three or four weeks to get ready.’ When that’s not the case, it’s always a good thing.”
Quinn, who last coached in the NHL in 2005-06 with the Toronto Maple Leafs and has 657 career wins on his resume, favours a game featuring puck possession and pressure.
“Pat’s got a commanding presence,” Sheldon Souray said. “He’s coached a number of good players. In dealings with other players around the league who’ve had an opportunity to play for him, everybody was complimentary of him and his coaching style”.
“He’s a players’ coach, but he’s also got a stern hand. Players are going to have to have to be responsible. I think guys are eager for that change and that challenge. Change can be good.”
Considering the Oilers finished just six points behind eighth-place Anaheim, dropping out of a playoff down the stretch after losing Lubomir Visnovsky to injury, an argument can be made wholesale changes weren’t needed in player personnel.