To say there was excitement over Jay Woodcroft taking over for Dave Tippett would be a tremendous understatement.
So far, so good for the former Bakersfield Condors bench boss, with the team recording three wins in a row to start the tenure.
It’s early but things are turning around under his leadership. Here are some key takeaways early in Woodcroft’s reign:
Structural changes have started to show results
One of the more noticeable things with Woodcroft has been his lineup deployment. As opposed to the usual 12 forwards, six defencemen unit, Woodcroft has gone with a group of 11 + 7. The approach has shown positive results so far, with more minutes being spread out among those on the ice.
Secondary scoring has also seen a bit of a jump. In the win against the San Jose Sharks, nine players recorded at least one point.
The new trio of Warren Foegele, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, and Derek Ryan produced five points on the California swing, and Foegele gave praise to his new coach for the quick changes he has made.
“With Woody here, there is a huge amount of direction and detail and it makes a huge difference when everyone knows what we are doing,” Foegele said.
Bakersfield products are getting their time to shine
Condors grads have been allowed to spread their wings in the early days of the Woodcroft era – pun very much intended.
Tyler Benson was inserted back into the lineup for the games against the Islanders and Sharks after sitting for seven straight games.
Benson has shown offensive touch before in the AHL, and while he’s still looking for his first goal in the NHL, letting him get regular minutes to try and generate chances and get his confidence is better than having just sitting around and waiting.
Markus Niemeläinen has been a strong physical presence on the fourth while helping to tighten up opponent zone entries, something that was a glaring problem earlier in the season.
Could a Cooper Marody or Seth Griffith call-up be on the way? Griffith and Marody are 1-2 in Condors scoring and would be depth additions.
Working to limit opponent’s zone entries
Did I mention zone entries? Yes, I did.
It was a topic of concern earlier this season, as opposing teams were able to enter Edmonton’s zone a little too often. There’s a clear change as players are stepping up at the blueline to deny entries and they’ve been forcing turnovers. Being aggressive on the puck is a welcome change to turning away chances.
Getting the power play out of the recent slump
For the positive elements that Woodcroft and new assistant coach Dave Manson have brought to Edmonton, addressing the effectiveness on the man advantage is something that has to be solved.
To the surprise of no one, we knew Edmonton’s power play would cool off after starting the season at a historic pace. But did anyone think it would hit a mid-season bump like this?
Edmonton still sits third in power-play percentage but lately, the scoring on the man advantage has had its troubles. Jesse Puljujärvi’s goal against the Islanders on Feb. 11 was only the third goal on the man advantage in their last 10 games.
Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl are still there and can be dangerous, but getting the man advantage back on track is essential as the season continues.
A lot can still change for the Oilers. But so far, Jay Woodcroft has been a breath of fresh air and has brought a coaching style that has resonated with this team so far.