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FEATURE: The team dynamic

Over social media, the Oilers have displayed how tight their group is heading into the 2017-18 season

by Paul Gazzola /

Whether defending a teammate on the ice or ribbing one on social media, there's little doubt that the Oilers have become a close team.

It started during the 2016-17 season when the club began piling wins and soaring up the National Hockey League standings. They did so as a collective but as players achieved milestones or individual accolades, teammates showed their support on every occasion - growing closer and closer with each congratulation.

Video: 1-ON-1 | Cam Talbot

It's a by-product of success; a team that wins together, stays together and it's extended into the off-season. Players have felt the need to continue communication with one another over the summer months, usually over social media for all to see.

"That really started to happen last season," said Oilers netminder Cam Talbot. "You could see there's some jabbing going on in the summertime. Guys are starting to respond to guys on social media."

This off-season, it began with a reply from Eric Gryba, who locked a two-year contract in June. After he saw defenceman Darnell Nurse post a workout video, he had to mess with his fellow defender.

Tweet from @grybes02: Hey @drtwofive if your not training on one leg, your not training at all! I expect your response soon.

It continued from there, with many members of the team demonstrating their training via Instagram or Twitter. Found at the bottom of the posts where comments can be left are replies from teammates - typically one-liners - invoking a laugh at the player's expense.

"I think we're a close group," said forward Mark Letestu. "At times, social media amplifies that for people outside the room because it gives a little bit of insight."

Although Letestu, a veteran NHLer with over 400 games of experience, won't be sharing his workouts on social media anytime soon. He views the platform as "poison," but confirms that seeing the players getting ready for next season only fuels his fire.

"They can share all their bicep curls and pool jumps and all that stuff," he joked, "I'm just going to work out and come to camp ready but it's good to see the guys are going.

"This is as committed a group as I've ever been around and with what's on the line, I wouldn't expect anything less from the guys being out there and going."

Defenceman Matt Benning opened up on the team dynamic. To him, it's all about balance within the dressing room. There are veterans, sophomores and rookies - focused players and flippant ones. The end result is a healthy dose of quirk and commitment.

Video: 1-ON-1 | Matt Benning

"I've been on a few winning teams and that's what it takes - a good mix of young and old guys, serious and funny guys," the 23-year-old said.

Oilers legend Wayne Gretzky - who understands the importance of a strong team connection after establishing it with the 1980s Oilers - travelled with the club last season and couldn't help but notice their relationship.

"There's really not one bad person in the whole group," Gretzky said. "They're just really good, responsible young men that are proud to be Oilers and so it makes everything very exciting."

Gretzky credits Oilers President of Hockey Operations and General Manager Peter Chiarelli with forming a squad that plays, builds and grows together.

"He loves the game and he loves this organization and he loves this team," Gretzky said of Chiarelli. "He's going to do everything he can to put the best opportunity for Todd (McLellan) to have a Stanley Cup champion and it's a close group of kids."

Off the ice, the team lets the chirps fly. On it, players are quick to defend one another, share celebrations or urge fellow teammates for more. 

"Guys go to battle for each other and the fun little ribbing on social media, I think that's just an extension of the friendships that have been made," said Letestu. 

"I'm happy for people outside the organization to get a chance to see what kind of group this is."

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