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MAIN CAMP: Role players for Oilers emerging as Camp progresses

Players like Patrick Russell and Colby Cave have found their niche on the penalty kill, further helping their case for opening-night roster spots

by Jamie Umbach /

EDMONTON, AB - The blueprint for assembling Head Coach Dave Tippett's opening-night roster isn't the same one he started with, but that's by design.

The bench boss put together the pieces of his ideal Oilers lineup freely in the off-season, but more information on personnel, pairings, and roles during Main Camp and pre-season games has quickly pulled the plug on some of that early speculation.

Tippett alluded to his early assembly after Wednesday's practice, mentioning that much of his early-season plans have been thrown to the wayside with certain players coming more into his thinking after outperforming early expectations.

"Coming in, there are two sides to it. You get to know people well and I've obviously watched a lot of the players to see how they play, but part of it is getting to know them through your own eyes," Tippett said.

"It's easy to put names on a whiteboard in the summer and say this is going to work, but as you go through exhibition, you start to get a feel for players. You start to get a feel for how they fit into the lineup, you get a feel for the energy they bring on the bench, their attributes they bring to the game, and who might work with each other."

Video: RAW | Dave Tippett 09.25.19

Players including Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and Oscar Klefbom knew well ahead of Camp their expectations for deployment, but others like forwards Patrick Russell and Colby Cave have had to specialize their roles to gain a further foothold in the lineup.

"Ultimately, it comes down to when they get on the ice, they have to play to their strengths," Tippett said. "If they do that and give themselves the best chance to be successful, it's the coaches job to put them in situations where they can be successful to take advantage of the opportunity."

Both Cave and Russell played a team-high 4:14 of ice time for a flawless 5-for-5 Oilers penalty kill against the Arizona Coyotes on Tuesday night, filling a necessary role for the team that could bring the pair more regular success.

"As a player, you've got to know what type of player you are and try to fit into a role that goes well with the team and gives it a chance to win," Russell said. "That's me on the PK, and I like it. I take big pride in it. Everybody wants to make the team here, so we're just trying to work our way into the lineup and keep it simple and outwork the other team."

Both forwards also relish their opportunities in the club's bottom-six, helping wear down opposition to create more opportunities for scorers while also supplementing that offence with a bit of their own.

 Video: RAW | Colby Cave 09.25.19

"I think it's up to us to simplify the game a bit, wear the other team down, and when these guys get back on the ice for another shift they can really do the damage," Cave said. "We just want to contribute any way we can, chip in a couple of goals, and create momentum any way we can. I think the bottom-six has done a great job of that so far at Camp."

Camp is in its final week before the regular season begins at Rogers Place on October 2 against the Vancouver Canucks, and much is still left to play out with two pre-season games remaining on the docket for players to impress and earn roster spots.

"The evaluation process goes every day, and as we get into the games here it's going to get deeper and deeper," Tippett said.

"That's what we're looking for - people that are good enough to make us a better team."

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