The Oilers hit the ice in Leduc on Wednesday morning for one final tune-up before flying to St. Louis for their season opener on Thursday night against the Blues.
Head Coach Todd McLellan stressed the physicality he wants the team to bring as a whole to start the season, particularly against a notoriously heavy Blues squad.
The team’s most obvious physical presence, winger Luke Gazdic, will not dress, but McLellan said team toughness rests on everyone’s shoulders.
“It’s not about one, it’s about the group… Luke (Gazdic) is obviously a physical player and competes hard, and guys feel comfortable when he’s involved,” said McLellan. “But if he’s not in the game, I don’t expect our team to disappear and shrivel up.”
McLellan alluded to his experience as assistant coach of the 2008 Stanley Cup champion Detroit Red Wings, and why all-around team toughness can be a recipe for success.
“I watched great, young talent play hard in Detroit without the ‘enforcer’ game after game,” said McLellan. “Team toughness, team grit and doing the things they needed to do won them a Stanley Cup. It can be done, it’s a mindset and it’s everybody contributing… everybody has to pull on the rope.”
With Gazdic out of the lineup for Thursday’s game, Rob Klinkhammer will play left wing on the fourth line, along with Mark Letestu at centre and Matt Hendricks on the right.
The Oilers will start their season on a three-game road trip to St. Louis, Nashville and Dallas, before returning to Edmonton to open up their home schedule against the Blues on Thursday, Oct. 15.