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FIVE THINGS: Day 3 of camp

by Chris Wescott / Edmonton Oilers

Saturday meant another day on the ice for the Oilers in Leduc. This time, we got our first game-like evaluation of the team as Group A and Group B scrimmaged each other for over an hour. Here are five observations from Saturday.

1. NUGE LEAVES PRACTICE EARLY

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins was supposed to centre Team Blue’s top line, flanked by Benoit Pouliot and Jordan Eberle. However, in Group B’s pre-scrimmage practice, a clearing attempt by goaltender Cam Talbot caught the centre in the face. He left the ice before the end of the skate.

Nugent-Hopkins did not return for the scrimmage, but the injury doesn’t seem serious.

“No laceration, but a nice welt,” said Head Coach Todd McLellan. “Just kept him out the rest of the day. We’ll see how he is in the morning, but we don’t anticipate any issues.”

2. McDAVID & HALL HAVE EARLY CHEMISTRY

It’s hard not to watch the combination of Connor McDavid and Taylor Hall when they’re on the ice. The two have the kind of game-breaking skills that could provide the Oilers with relentless scoring chances and major momentum swings.

Although it’s been just two on-ice days at camp, and there’s still a long way to go, the pair seems like it's on the same page. In Saturday’s scrimmage they generated a handful of chances, played a lot of minutes and hooked up for a couple goals.

McDavid sprung Teddy Purcell up the right wing four minutes into the scrimmage. Purcell then fed Hall down the left side and the 2010 first-overall pick sniped far post. McDavid started that play.

Hall redirected a McDavid shot in a few minutes later. The two had a few other nice plays. It seems like McDavid thinks the game so well that he puts the puck where it’s supposed to be, ahead of the player getting there, and Hall is a player who can get there.

McLellan said Friday that a big reason he put those two together was because of their chemistry. That is starting to show, although it’s very early.

3. MAKINGS OF DANGEROUS LINE

As I noted on Friday, McLellan seems to like the potential of Anton Lander, Leon Draisaitl and Nail Yakupov together. A solid, responsible forward with a third-overall pick up the middle who is a prolific passer and a number-one overall pick who can really shoot the puck does give some reason for optimism.

“I think on paper, it’s a very good fit,” said Draisaitl. “The line looks very good, but I think we have to bring it out on the ice first and that’s what we’re working on right now.”

An interesting thing with this line is McLellan flat out said he doesn't just hope for, but expects them to be successful together. Talking with each of the forwards, McLellan’s belief in them goes a long way.

It’s early, and they’re young, but they are a line to continue to keep an eye on.

4. SCHULTZ RECOGNIZES BIG YEAR AHEAD

Justin Schultz’s potential has never been in question but he’s looking to live up to it. The Oilers defenceman says he worked hard this summer to get stronger, more powerful and he’s talked in the past about playing with more of an edge.

When Schultz looks around the room and sees the competition brought in, he knows he need to take the next step.

“This is a huge year. It’s the biggest year of my career,” said Schultz.

McLellan believes in Schultz’s abilities and hopes he and the staff can help the 25-year-old have a big season.

“I do know that it’s an important year for all of us and he’s a big part of the team,” said McLellan. “We know he can have a lot of success. We know it’s our responsibility as a staff to help him as much as we can and we want him to succeed. We need him to succeed.

5. TOO EARLY TO JUDGE DEFENCE

In McLellan’s mind, it’s far too early to begin judging the performance of the defencemen competing for roster spots. In addition to pairings being shuffled in practice and during Saturday’s scrimmage, there hasn’t been much of a legitimate evaluation opportunity so far.

For a young player like Darnell Nurse, he can’t show his best attributes in these skates. The pre-season games are where he hopes to separate himself. His physicality becomes much more visible against the opposition when they aren’t your teammates.

“A big part of my game is battling, getting in corners and winning battles. That’s a lot more in games. With that being said, you’ve got to go out every day and work hard. You’ve got to impress in those game sessions as well,” said Nurse.

So don’t put too much stock into the defensive competition yet. It will hit a new level starting Monday.

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