The pre-season has come to a close and the games from here on out count toward the standings. It’s that time of year when teams finalize their rosters, and the Oilers wasted no time in announcing theirs, a day ahead of Tuesday’s 3 p.m. MT deadline set by the NHL. Here are five observations of the team Edmonton will ice against St. Louis on Thursday to open the season.
1. DRAISAITL HEADS TO AHL
|Photo by Marissa Baecker |
Leon Draisaitl was no mortal lock to make the Oilers out of camp, but he had a very good chance. The 2014 third-overall pick flashed his playmaking ability this off-season, as far back as Rookie Camp and at the Young Stars Classic in Penticton, B.C.
As pre-season wore on and with Jordan Eberle going down 4-6 weeks with a shoulder injury, Draisaitl’s odds of making the roster increased. He began skating higher up the pecking order in the exhibition games, earning time with Taylor Hall and Connor McDavid. Head Coach Todd McLellan said even if Eberle had stayed healthy, Draisaitl was earning long looks from the organization with his play.
However, development with top prospects is key to the future of the club. An organization like the Detroit Red Wings prefers to let their prospects marinate in the American Hockey League for multiple seasons before they become full-time NHL players. This is something McLellan has mentioned before. The Oilers are used to having their top picks make the jump right away, but giving Draisaitl time in the AHL, along with Darnell Nurse, doesn’t hurt their careers. This could, in fact, pay dividends down the line.
Both players could be back in the NHL soon enough.
2. SLEPYSHEV STICKS
Anton Slepyshev has been one of the major storylines for the Oilers these last few weeks. He’s not only managed to hang around through the cuts, but has flat-out made the team. Eberle’s injury opened up a spot, but Slepyshev’s play forced the team’s hand, from the standpoint of legitimately considering him as a viable roster option to open the season in the NHL.
Slepyshev was taken in the third round, 88th overall, of the 2013 NHL Draft. He’s spent his entire career overseas, playing in Russia. Last season in the KHL, Slepyshev posted career highs in games played (58), goals (15), assists (10) and points (25).
The winger showed versatility in his game, being able to play at a heavier, more checking-style pace or being able to fill in higher up the lineup with more skilled players. Slepyshev also has a strong shot and crashes the net.
Slepyshev finished the pre-season with two goals and two assists in seven games for the Oilers.
3. NEW 'TENDER TANDEM
The Oilers will open the season with two new goaltenders, each acquired via trades in the off-season by General Manager Peter Chiarelli.
The team placed goaltender Ben Scrivens on waivers on Sunday, he cleared Monday morning and was assigned to the AHL’s Bakersfield Condors.
That roster move paves the way for Cam Talbot and Anders Nilsson to begin the year as the Oilers duo between the pipes. Talbot was acquired on June 27 from the New York Rangers. After backing up Henrik Lundqvist, Talbot will try to establish himself as a number one goaltender in the NHL. Last season, the netminder played 36 games for the Rangers and had a 2.21 goals-against average and .926 save percentage.
Anders Nilsson showed he can play at a high enough level to earn a spot this pre-season, stopping all 53 shots he faced in exhibition. Nilsson came over from Chicago in a trade on July 6. He spent last season in the KHL, posting a 1.71 GAA and .936 save percentage in 38 games.
4. DAVIDSON REMAINS
Brandon Davidson managed to make the Oilers after facing plenty of adversity in his career. The defenceman was diagnosed with cancer in November of 2012. He not only overcame that to make a full recovery, he played hockey again that very season and continued to develop into one of the Oklahoma City Barons better defencemen in the AHL.
Davidson was a positive story when he reached the NHL last season, playing his first 12 games in the League. He earned those games, and eyed a roster spot out of camp this year.
The defenceman would have to clear waivers if the team sent him down and the Oilers, obviously, weren’t willing to risk that while setting their roster for opening day.
The team currently has eight defencemen on the roster.
5. FIRST LOOK AT LINEUP
The Oilers hit the ice for their first practice as a finalized roster on Monday. This gave the media a first glimpse at how McLellan may see things working out as far as line combinations and defensive pairings.
|Photo by Getty Images |
The Oilers rotated wingers on the third line with Anton Lander and Nail Yakupov; however, Lauri Korpikoski took the first rushes with them early in practice.
Benoit Pouliot, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Teddy Purcell were together as a trio. Slepyshev was on the right wing with Hall and McDavid.
The fourth line saw a rotation of wingers between Luke Gazdic, Rob Klinkammer and Hendricks with centre Mark Letestu.
On defence, Andrej Sekera and Mark Fayne were together. Oscar Klefbom and Justin Schultz remain the top pairing. Griffin Reinhart and Eric Gryba were a pair, as were Andrew Ference and Davidson.