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MAIN CAMP: Potential pairings, connections forming early at Camp

Players throughout the roster are finding chemistry in their positions, but their spots are still set to be contested in the coming practices and Pre-Season

by Jamie Umbach /

EDMONTON, AB - Joel Persson arrived in Edmonton for his first NHL training camp only to find his name scribbled beside Oscar Klefbom on the first defensive pairing of Head Coach Dave Tippett's whiteboard.

The Swedish blueliner, a former Physical Education teacher turned Le Mat Trophy-winner as an '18-19 SHL Champion with the Växjö Lakers, lined up beside his countryman for the first on-ice session of Oilers Main Camp on Friday as one of many first looks into how Head Coach Dave Tippett is assembling his roster.

"Oscar is a good two-way defenceman," Persson, who signed a one-year contract with the Oilers back in January, said. "He's experienced and played in this league for a few years now, so it's been a great help for me since I got here. Hopefully we can fit together and play well together."

The 25-year-old originally signed as a free agent with the Oilers in May of 2018 before returning on loan to Växjö in order to better round out his game for his biggest opportunity yet after toiling around semi-professional hockey in Sweden for an extended period of his career.

Video: OILERS TODAY | First Look 09.13.19

"I played two years back home in pro," he said. "I came two years ago from a pretty low level back home, so why I stayed home last year was because I think I needed to calm down and put the pieces together even more before I went over. I really feel like I'm a better player now than I was a year ago.

"I try to play smart and quickly with offence in mind, but not cheating on the defensive side either. I've played in an offensive role back home and hopefully I can fit that role here too."

For Tippett, the best way to test out the blueliner in his new role and on the smaller ice surface will be to provide him as much exposure to it as possible in the coming skates and Pre-Season games.

"The first part is you play the heck out of him and give him lots of opportunities," Tippett said. "We've talked to him about that. If you look at him, he's a really smart player - goes back, makes plays out of his own end, finds the middle guy a lot. The biggest adjustment for him is going to be the size of the rink. He never played a lot in a North American rink. Things happen quickly, players are on you really quick, so those are adjustments he's going to have to make."

Video: MAIN CAMP | Joel Persson 09.13.19

Persson hasn't been the only one thrust into a new role, with Klefbom's regular partner Adam Larsson auditioning as one of two pillars of a shutdown pairing with Darnell Nurse early in Camp.

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins looks to have found a regular partner in James Neal up front, with the pair occupying two of the three spots on a line during the afternoon practice session.

"For Nuge, he's just an all-around great player," Neal said. "I've watched him for a number of years playing against him. He's a guy that can shoot the puck, but he's a guy that can make plays all over the ice. He's dangerous all over, and for me that's great. He's a left-handed shot and moves the puck really well."

The 32-year-old and Nugent-Hopkins, the club's longest-tenured player coming off a career year with 28 goals and 41 helpers, have already traded ideas in the hopes that their connection becomes an extended one.

Video: MAIN CAMP | James Neal 09.13.19

"He's a gifted goal scorer. Already I can see it out here," Nugent-Hopkins said. "We did a little drill at the end there and every puck you give him in the high slot, he'll put it in.

"We've already talked a bit on rushes and stuff, so we're getting familiar with each other, what each other's tendencies are, and what we like in-zone and off the rush. It'll take a little bit of time, but so far it looks good."

But whiteboards are erasable for a reason, and players like Persson and Neal will have to prove themselves to find early consistency.

"He knows we're going to start Neal with him, but what you've got to do to find consistent wingers is that you have to find people who play well there and have some chemistry there. That'll be what we're looking for," Tippett said.

"If we can find that, he'll have consistent wingers for a while, but it's all about finding success with it and not just names on a whiteboard."

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