EDMONTON — It’s been eight seasons since the Edmonton Oilers last made the NHL playoffs, so coach Dallas Eakins wasn’t talking much about expectations when the players reported for medicals on Thursday.
Instead he was focusing on the “process.”
While he and most of the players were quietly expressing optimism that the team is much improved over last season, Eakins said he wanted the team to “be modest.
“We want to have no regrets for the past and no anxieties for the future,” he said. “It’s what are we doing today and that’s it.
“It’s all about the process. How are we going to get better today? What did I do today to get better and did I gain any respect today? That’s how we want to go after it and everything else looks after itself.”
At the same time he admitted the club is excited about the off-season changes and the adjustments to his coaching staff. Gone are assistants Steve Smith and Kelly Buchberger, replaced by Craig Ramsay and Keith Acton.
The team added some much needed size with the addition of veteran forwards Kevin Westgarth, Teddy Purcell and Benoit Pouliot. All three stand six-foot-three or taller.
“We’re not going to come in and save the day but I think we’re going to add some good depth,” Purcell said.
Equally important, they upgraded a defence that gave up 270 goals last season, the most in the NHL. The team added Mark Fayne from New Jersey, Nikita Nikitin from Columbus and Keith Aulie from Tampa Bay to support returning veterans Jeff Petry, Andrew Ference and Justin Schultz.
Expected to battle for spots on the backend will be David Musil, Martin Marincin, who played 44 games in Edmonton last year, Oscar Kiefbom, who had 17 games with the Oilers, and perhaps Darnell Nurse, the team’s first-round draft pick two years ago.
“Obviously we’re going to have some battles on defence,” Eakins said. “We’re upgraded our D with what I call full-time NHL defencemen so there will be some battles going on there.”
There’s also going to battles down the middle. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins should be their No. 1 centre but the rest of the spots are up for grabs.
“We have two NHL centremen right now (Nugent-Hopkins and Boyd Gordon)and I have no idea who the other ones will be,” Eakins said. “And there will be a spot or two open on the wing.”
Goaltending was also an issue last season after Devan Dubnyk couldn’t handle the starting job. The Oilers have eight goaltenders in camp, but between them there’s only 55 games of NHL experience, 40 of that by Ben Scrivens.
Obtained late last season, Scrivens and Viktor Fasth, who had five starts in Anaheim and seven in Edmonton, should shoulder the load in net.
“I expect those two to push each other very hard for who will get the minutes,” Eakins said. “The great thing about them is they are both very good people, they’re very supportive of each other already. We have two men who are high in character, highly competitive and highly supportive of each other and that’s a real encouraging sign for me.”
Scrivens said he and Fasth have to “make sure our games are in order to give our team the chance to win. Vik and I are going to have people nipping at our heels, no question, and that’s going to force us to play better, which is going to help the team.”
The Oilers hope to benefit from a more seasoned Eakins as well. One of the biggest lessons Eakins said he learned in his first season as an NHL head coach was dealing with the media in a tough NHL city.
“I don’t want to ever turn into a coach who’s just going to give you that, yeah lets work hard today and give 100 per cent,” he said. “But I did find out about how people can shorten your message and turn it into something else.
“I learned many lessons, but my one lesson about bringing up everything that I learned last year is I’m worried how it would be twisted so I learned not to speak so much.”
Last season Edmonton finished 28th in the 30-team league with a 29-44-9 record.