The battle is on to be the Edmonton Oilers’ number one goalie.
“They know there’s a competition,” head coach Dave Tippett said. “They’ve already started in practices. I know Smitty well. I’ve watched a lot of Koskinen on tape.
“I told them both: ‘I hope you play 41 games really well.’ If we do that, we’ll be fine.”
Mikko Koskinen, 31, is coming off his first NHL season, an up-and-down campaign with the Oilers.
Mike Smith, 37, was with the Calgary Flames last season and signed with the Oilers as a free agent in the summer. Before Jan. 31, he looked like he was at the tail end of this career, posting a save percentage of just .888.
After Jan. 31, Smith looked like the goalie who was one of the league’s best over the last decade. His regular save percentage was .912. Then, in the playoffs, he checked in at .917, though the Flames were eliminated in five games by Colorado.
“I think I played some of my best hockey and the end of last season and in the playoffs,” said Smith.
“Coming into this year, I just want to be a good veteran player for this group, be a good leader in the locker room on and off the ice.”
One advantage for Smith in the duel for the Oilers crease is his familiarity with Tippett. He had Tippett as his head coach in Dallas and Arizona.
“I think I’ve spent more than half of my career with Tip,” said Smith. “I really have a lot of respect for the way he coaches and the way he treats his players.”
Another edge for Smith is his ability to move the puck. He doesn’t hesitate to leave the crease to play the puck and pass it up ice. Smith made puck-handling a priority while playing behind Marty Turco from 2006-08.
“I knew that if I was going to play in Dallas, I had to handle the puck at least half as good as him,” Smith said.
“Just watching him for the first year and a little bit of my career in the NHL, I think makes you better. You’re kind of a sponge at that age, just taking everything in. It’s something I worked hard on after that. I understood it took the pressure off our D.”
Smith and the Oilers open training camp at Rogers Place on Thursday.