BLUE JACKETS (3-6-2) VS. OILERS (4-4-3)
NATIONWIDE ARENA | 6 P.M. TODAY
TV: FOX SPORTS OHIO (HD) | RADIO: CD 102.5 FM & BLUEJACKETS.COM
There may not be a more talented team in the NHL than the Edmonton Oilers.
As Blue Jackets coach Todd Richards said yesterday, this is an organization that has gone through some dark times over the last few years and now the Oilers are reaping the benefits. With a trio of No. 1 overall picks in the last three years (Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Nail Yakupov), the Oilers have completely remodeled their lineup and have taken a mighty step forward with a roster full of young, dynamic players.
It’s not just the former top picks driving the bus, either; Jordan Eberle is another Edmonton first-round pick who’s been lighting it up this year (and was the top scorer in the American Hockey League before being recalled post-lockout), and the 22-year-old is one of the NHL’s most electric playmakers. Whenever Eberle has the puck in space, pay attention – you could witness something really special.
Many considered Edmonton's defense to be an area in need of an upgrade, so it was no surprise when the Oilers joined the pursuit of coveted free-agent prospect Justin Schultz this past summer. Originally drafted by the Anaheim Ducks, Schultz became a scoring machine on the blue line at Wisconsin and rather than sign with the Ducks, opted for free agency. Playing for a Canadian team was reportedly high on Schultz’s priority list and the Oilers were thrilled to land him.
They’re still a green group that’s searching for game-to-game consistency, but the Oilers have proven they can play with anyone. Ralph Kreuger, promoted to head coach after Edmonton parted ways with Tom Renney in May, has done a nice job assembling a balanced lineup that can score goals and play responsible hockey, the latter movement led by veterans like Ryan Smyth, Shawn Horcoff and Eric Belanger.
Goaltending has been a stabilizer, too, with promising youngster Devan Dubnyk coming into his own as the No. 1 goaltender in Edmonton. Nikolai Khabibulin, signed to a big free agent contract by the Oilers three years ago, has had a hard time getting starts because of Dubnyk’s stellar play, and it appears right now that the 6-foot-6 Dubynk has a bright future ahead of him.
Tonight’s game at Nationwide Arena is the second half of a back-to-back set for the Oilers, who arrived in Columbus shortly after dinner time last night. Edmonton lost a tight 2-1 game to the Detroit Red Wings in an afternoon matinee at Joe Louis Arena yesterday and got a strong performance in net from Khabibulin, but it’s expected that Dubnyk will start today against the Blue Jackets.
-The Blue Jackets outhit the Flames 22-19 on Thursday, improving their 2012-13 total to 266 and moving up into sixth place in the NHL in total team hits.
-Vinny Prospal and Mark Letestu each recorded 1-1-2 against Calgary, both players’ first multi-point game of the season.
-Fedor Tyutin logged a personal season-high and team game-high 29:13 on Thursday while his defense partner Nikita Nikitin, activated off of IR earlier in the day after missing three games with an upper body injury, recorded 27:53 TOI in his return to action.
-Tim Erixon tallied an assist for the 2nd straight game on Tuesday. He now has 0-2-2 in 4 appearances this season, the same total he recorded in 18 games played with NYR in 2011-12.
RW | #14
2013 STATS: 3-5-8, 11 GP
Eberle earned his reputation as a clutch scorer playing for the WHL’s Regina Pats, where he closed out a terrific junior career with a 106-point season in 2009-10. The Oilers selected the shifty winger in the first round (22nd overall) of the 2008 NHL Draft, and watched him gradually develop into a top-flight offensive player. He’s taken another step in his career this season, wearing an “A” for Krueger’s club and starting to show the ability to play in all situations.
COLUMBUS: Cam Atkinson (lower body, IR); Adrian Aucoin (lower body, IR); John Moore (lower body)
EDMONTON: Theo Peckham (hip); Eric Belanger (foot), Ryan Jones (eye), Mark Fistric (back), Ben Eager (concussion), Andy Sutton (knee), Shawn Horcoff (hand), Anton Lander (foot)