Thoughts On Oilers Orientation (I Prefer Acclimation)

When the roster, dates, and global positions of the Edmonton Oilers Rookie Orientation Camp were published I gazed at the list, briefly pondered the attendees, then quickly went about my business. For me, these camps that call themselves development camps are really nothing more than an opportunity for media, coaches, and fans to ogle a fresh crop of prospects. In turn what we get from this week-long event is nothing more than a few glances at young players in non-threatening environments where they aren’t ask to do much or be much, nor do we get an actual good looksee at what they bring to the table. In the end, Colten Tuebert looks fantastic, and the world continues to spin.

In other words, these dev camps feel like a waste of time. Until now…

The Edmonton Oilers, in a quick ‘we changed our minds’ sort of blog post, made a return on their previous trumpet blowing by claiming a new type of orientation camp was taking place in Jasper for the Oilers prospects. Honestly, the idea is a smart one.

Per the Oilers website:

The Oilers have made some changes to their July Rookie Development Camp. It has switched over from a camp for learning and on-ice tutoring to more of an orientation camp where the young future of the Oilers get to know one another and learn what it takes to be a pro.

“We don’t do as much of the on ice curriculum that we have followed in the past,” Oilers Sr. Director of Player Development Rick Carriere said. “It’s more of the culture of the Oilers and the things that we feel are really important to have going away from the camp. That’s 2-3 fundamentals and some cultural things that we feel are really important.”

Carriere added, “We’re downsizing the on-ice part a little bit and emphasize the team building. We’re going to do some activities there. We have a golf tournament, we’re going to be biking around Jasper together and the guys are going to enjoy their time there. Part of the real focus off the ice is strength and conditioning this year.”

There is also a smattering of player comments that backstop this idea as well. They say things like “more fun”, and “not evaluation, but orientation”, and that has me hopeful for the future of these things.

Head coach Dallas Eakins made it very clear that the goal of camp was vastly different from years gone by, and he gave good reasons why (Note: Todd Nelson ran on-ice drills on Wednesday, Eakins did not).

“I like that we’ve pulled back and they’re not on the ice every day,” Eakins said. “Some of these guys have been off the ice for a long time and it is unfair to judge them on the ice right now because some of them haven’t skated at all. For me, it’s more to come in and start those relationships with these players. Not all of these guys will make the NHL but hopefully a lot of them do. I think it’s important for me to be around and, more or less, it’s about me talking and getting to know them and starting those relationships because hopefully these are going to be very fruitful ones down the road.”

I like the idea of giving players, especially new ones, the slow jog towards becoming an Edmonton Oiler rather than the 50 yard sprint. Imagine if you were a pharmaceutical sales rep for the Northern half of the Great Plains. You traveled tirelessly, gave all that you had, sacrificed even more, and then suddenly you were called in to manage accounts for Southern California. You might be doing the same job, but the span and reach of the responsibility is far greater. There is likely an acclimation period. Acclimation Camp, I like that.

So many of these young fellas know that they have eyes watching them. Many deal with that well, still many do not. The temptation is to throw them into the deep end of the ocean, demand that they swim, and tell them they are likely going to be feasted upon by a herd (pack? galleon?) of Great White sharks. Scary, unpredictable, impossible to evaluate – that’s what you get. I believe the Oilers are taking a step in the right direction with this, and if the players lives on Instagram (I see you, Jujhar, in those mountainous pics) are an indication – I think it is working. There will be a time, a place, a moment for you to work on your hockey skills as an Oiler. Now just isn’t that moment, and that’s okay.

More thoughts on camp in the coming days. Thanks for watchin’.