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Dallas Eakins Talks Puck Possession, Camp Auditions, and Winning Formulas

Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Dallas Eakins gave an interview before the last game of the Young Goons tournament, some of which I thought was pretty darn interesting. I've transcribed three sections that caught my interest. The first is Eakins talking about some of the basic principles he hopes to instill in the Oilers this season:

We will be very, very aggressive in our defensive zone, we will have a definite plan in the neutral zone when we don't have the puck, we will have a definite plan when we don't have the puck in the offensive zone; but the biggest thing I want this group to do is have the puck. We are not going to give it up, and if we do, we are going to have a quick and immediate plan to get it back.

The first part of this is about how Eakins wants the Oilers to play, and it's a pretty interesting comment. Tom Benjamin wrote an excellent article about eight years ago that I remember every time I hear someone talking about puck possession. He wrote about hockey being a game of territory, and that often when people talk about puck possession (who has the puck), they're really talking about puck position (where the puck is). We do this when we describe shot attempt differential (i.e., Corsi) as a "possession" statistic even though we're using it as a proxy for zone time (i.e., puck position). It's possible that puck position is actually what Eakins is talking about here.

That said, Eric Tulsky has done some fantastic work on the virtues of maintaining puck possession, particularly during zone entries where he has found that maintaining possession while entering the zone results in far more shot attempts when compared to the dump-and-chase strategy. It's possible that Eakins has this kind of thing in mind. With Jonathan Willis and Bruce McCurdy tracking zone entries for the Oilers both last season and this season, I'll be interested to see whether or not there's a shift in strategy towards maintaining possession while entering the zone. I don't know how much preseason hockey I'll be able to watch, but in the games I'm watching, that's definitely something I'll be looking for.

The next thing I wanted to highlight were Eakins' comments about the competition for jobs on the blueline:

Well, listen, I think we have nine guys with NHL experience -- eight guys with NHL experience and then a highly touted European player coming over from the KHL, which I believe makes the nine that are really going to compete for the jobs at camp. Now, for Nurse and Marincin and Klefbom, just to mention those three (and there's others), they've got a lot of work ahead. It's hard to go knock an NHL player out of a job and I think they're going to get their eyes opened up very quickly at training camp at not only how good some of our defensemen are but how good NHL forwards are. You know, a lot of these players, I like their swagger and I like their confidence, but there's a big, big difference from playing in junior or over in Europe and stepping into the NHL and that's part of their learning process.

It's pretty blunt, but it's also great news. Eakins is focused on results. If a young player is getting results and a veteran isn't, the young guy is going to play, but if Corey Potter outperforms Oscar Klefbom, well then Corey Potter keeps his job. Great, great news for fans who want to see the Oilers win games (and for Potter). It also struck me as a particularly interesting comment from a guy who spent sixteen years playing pro hockey, all of which was spent trying (and mostly failing) to knock an NHL player out of a job so that he could have one himself.

Finally, I wanted to touch on Eakins' comments about winning:

Everybody thinks that there's this great secret ingredient to winning, and it's this wisdom, well I don't buy that. I think it's simple hard work, dedication, commitment, being a good teammate, and if you've got a whole bunch of guys like that on your team then it all comes together. If you've got a separation or a divide in your dressing room, then it's not going to happen.

Eakins hilariously leaves out "being good at hockey" from his winning formula, but other than that, this is totally on point. I'm also looking forward to coming back to this comment if the Oilers trade for a terrible player who's won a Stanley Cup at the trade deadline.

Training camp! Woooooooo!