Lowetide: Jay Woodcroft is the right man at the right time in Edmonton

On the day Edmonton Oilers coach Jay Woodcroft traveled to California to introduce himself as head coach for the AHL Bakersfield Condors, the minor league system ran into some problems.

The organization had a few well-meaning prospects landing at Bakersfield, due to a combination of circulating draft picks and raising first-round picks straight to the NHL.

In the season prior to Woodcroft’s arrival, there were only two 20-year-old signed rookies (Caleb Jones and Ethan Bear) who played at the mansion. The two defenders had almost professional appearances, and Jones was bleeding equal goals (30-54, minus 24) and lost time through injury. Bear did well enough to receive an NHL call-up, but there were things to work on and there is no guarantee that the NHL will succeed.

Woodcroft and assistant coach Dave Manson turned around for the young players the following season. The results, even after these years and with both defenders out of the organization, provided a hint about what Woodcroft and Manson could do with the young players.

Bear’s on-ice goal difference on ice with strength (60 per cent) is up nearly 20 per cent from last year while Jones has gone from 36 to 62 per cent with the new coaching staff.

In their time with Bakersfield, the two coaches have had tremendous success helping players improve under their tutelage. The list that started with Bear and Jones has grown to include Kailer Yamamoto, Evan Bouchard, Ryan McLeod, Stuart Skinner, Markus Niemelainen and more.

It’s safe to say that the stint just ended at Bakersfield (when both men were promoted to the Oilers crew) is the most productive in Edmonton’s minor league system since Claude Julien coached the Hamilton Bulldogs over 20 years ago.

Despite its late-season success and outstanding playoff, some fans are still convinced the organization didn’t do enough over the summer. The argument goes that General Manager Ken Holland brought back Evander Kane, Brett Colak, and others, but he didn’t make enough qualitative additions. Goalkeeper Jack Campbell and winger Mathias Janmark are upgrades, but there’s a tense atmosphere about the roster in some circles.

One area that might be overlooked over the summer is Woodcroft, his fantastic work with young players in the AHL and NHL, and potential improvement from the team’s youth. How much can Woodcroft help Edmonton’s young players?

Fortunately, the hockey world has taken a look at the performance of the younger players under the new coaching staff. It was wonderful and worth remembering on the long summer days. All numbers are five by five and numbers are via Natural Stat Trick.


Leon Drysitl and Kyler Yamamoto (Sergey Belsky / USA TODAY)

Killer Yamamoto

Yamamoto has benefited greatly from the change of coach, which is reflected in his new contract. With a two-year deal capped at $3.1 million, Yamamoto struggled early in the 2021-22 season, before rising when Woodcroft arrived.

Fitness Trainer Toy 60 points Share the goal
Dave Tibet

14:26

1.23

43.6

Jay Woodcroft

14:33

1.78

53.7

Yamamoto’s key in the second half of the year was time spent in lane #1 (with Conor McDavid and new winger Kane). The trio outperformed their opponents by 61 percent under Woodcroft, and Yamamoto stayed long with the group due to injuries to other options.

Yamamoto will be in the mix for a No. 1 right-wing job this fall, despite Woodcroft’s success with the nuclear option during the postseason. When placing McDavid and Kane with Leon Draisaitl, Edmonton had an 82% advantage in goal share. This will be a temptation for the coach in 2022-23.

Jesse Poliogarvi

If you want to win a bet with an Oilers fan, Jesse Puljujarvi’s second half in 2021-22 is still largely misunderstood. Despite losing in goals (he scored six with Tippett, and only three with Woodcroft as coach), scoring numbers and overall goals soared with Woodcroft.

Fitness Trainer TOI . game 60 points Share the goal
Dave Tibet

14:25

1.49

55.6

Jay Woodcroft

14:01

1.86

84

Puljujarvi played fewer matches in the second half and really struggled with the puck. It was announced after the season that the young Finn would need 4-6 weeks to recover from a shoulder injury, which certainly affected his playing.

Woodcroft found a way to use Puljujarvi effectively, and the player responded despite the trying times due to his inability to achieve monetary goals in key situations. During the Tippett games, JP played most often with McDavid and Hyman (56 percent of goal share, five out of five). Under Woodcroft, his most common companions were MacDavid and Kane. Goal difference with this line? 91 percent (10-1 goals) and an exceptional advantage in 160 minutes of playing five-on-five.

This trio should see plenty of time together during the 2022-23 season.

Evan Bouchard

The Oilers under Dave Tippett have been slow to play for Bouchard during the 2020-21 season, but have been posted massively five against five since the start of 2021-22. Woodcroft backed off his icy time and played Bouchard against the soft show (easier minutes). The success was immediate.

Fitness Trainer TOI . game 60 points Share the goal

Dave Tibet

17:10

1.27

46.5

Jay Woodcroft

14:52

1.63

58

Woodcroft made life easier for Bouchard by reducing the number of minutes played against elites (via Puck IQ) from 5:12 per game under Tippett to a manageable 3:22 per night. The coaching staff also transferred Bouchard from the top (Darnell Nurse) pair and planted the youngster with veteran Duncan Keith.

Bouchard played 490 minutes with a nurse in the first half (42 per cent goal share) but moved on to Keith as a partner when the new coaching staff arrived. In 372 minutes together, Keith-Bouchard enjoyed 64 percent of goal share in playing easier minutes.

Bouchard is a great offensive player, and Woodcroft (slightly) increased his time in strong play, while decreasing penalty minutes. There is plenty of room for growth in this field and fans should expect Bouchard to play an increasing role in the field during 2022-23.

Ryan McLeod

McLeod’s post under Woodcroft is more interesting than the overall results.

In Tippett’s games, McLeod played 10:23 per game five-to-five, scoring 1.40 points per game and assisting in 47.8 percent of goals. He spent 33 seconds per game on strong play and was averaging nine seconds per night on a penalty kick.

Woodcroft used McLeod in a different way. He played 10:34 in five against five (1.19 points per game) and was on the ice with 48.3 percent of goals. He played 1:58 on the night in penalties at Edmonton, and also increased his strong playing time (1:02 per game, 7.57 points per game courtesy of 2-3-5 in just 40 minutes with the man advantage).

Woodcroft used McLeod’s greatest offensive advantage, his speed, to help the Oilers gain offensive territory in the club’s No. 2 power game. McLeod’s impressive footspeed is hard to defend, and Edmonton has plenty of offensive firepower once he’s in control of the area.

This same speed is effective in penalty kills. Woodcroft increased McLeod’s minutes from 11:22 a game to 13:58 on the night in all situations.

It is a unique publication. The Oilers invested more time playing the rookie by adding special team minutes and keeping their fives time at the same time. Woodcroft’s creativity as coach has resulted in some impressive tweaks to the roster, and nothing has been more innovative than McLeod.

Philip Broberg

Another overall pick for Edmonton’s Top 10 (and could stay that way for years) is Philip Broberg. He got a Bakersfield ticket for the entire season, and was called up on the first time due to injury and Covid issues among Oilers defences. The second summons, under Woodcroft, was more successful.

Fitness Trainer TOI . game 60 points Share the goal

Dave Tibet

15:34

0.48

15.4

Jay Woodcroft

12:20

0.65

44.4

The minutes slipped, and the competition was less difficult. This is identical to Bouchard’s handling and provides a roadmap for Broberg in 2022-23. He’s among many youngsters looking to replace Keith’s minutes, but Broberg, at this point in his career, is best suited for the third and lower minute duo. If he makes the team start in 2022-23, expect depth minutes for the first few months.

He said on Thursday that the Netherlands may not end, there are players still out there and available who may be of interest to the organization. He stated that interested players are “more in their mid-to-late twenties” and this could affect a player such as Bruberg’s opening destination.

Woodcroft and Condor graduates

Holland is convinced that Woodcroft is the right man for the job, emphasizing the point on Thursday: “I thought when he came, the team really responded to him. He can really connect with the players. He’s a young man with a lot of passion and a tremendous work ethic, and he’s ready for many years for this opportunity.” I think we have the right man at the right time in Edmonton.”

Fans are excited about the season, but some see a roster that looks a lot like the group from one season. These fans are convinced that a club that has lost four times in a row to the Colorado Avalanche needs a promotion.

The Netherlands is betting on young players who develop additional equipment. Woodcroft is essential for these players taking a huge step forward, and his communication skills, combined with his ability to see opportunities to deploy players like McLeod in unconventional ways, can be key.

Fans want to see improvement in the roster. Holland is betting they come from a new goal tandem, a full season of Kane and Kulak, as well as the Woodcroft youth movement he oversaw at Bakersfield ready to head up in Edmonton for the next several years.

There is reason to believe that it will succeed.

(Top photo: Sergey Belsky/USA Today)

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