EDMONTON, AB - One thing is for certain - everyone will know where they stand.
Heading into tonight's final pre-season tilt for the Oilers in a Battle of Alberta against the Calgary Flames, Head Coach Dave Tippett is left sorting out what he believes to be the final one or two roster spots still in flux ahead of the Oilers regular-season kickoff on October 2.
"There's still a couple of job situations that we're trying to sort out there," Tippett said pre-game. "Basically it's the same mindset as the start of Camp where there are jobs that are there to be won, roles are there to be won, and ice time to earn. It's our last look at players before we kind of mould our group together and get ready for game one."
Tippett can count on one hand the number of players who will be vying to lock down one of those available spots, with the bench boss not being the type of coach to leave that type of information up for interpretation in the locker room.
"They all know," Tippett added. "They don't get to the last game here without knowing where they stand. We've got about five guys in there trying to do whatever they can to make the team. I have conversations with everybody, but the guys that know their still bubble guys or guys that want more ice time, they'll go into this game with the mindset of proving what they can do."
Internally between teammates, walking the balance between comradery and competition is a reality in hockey that comes with the job.
"I think everyone knows how it is in the NHL," Markus Granlund, who will play his first game tonight since being sidelined with a groin injury suffered on September 19, said. "You're still trying to be a teammate, but you're still trying to fight for a spot. I think everyone knows how it is."
For other established veterans on the roster like Darnell Nurse, the final pre-season game is a chance for them to play as close as they can to perfection and prove to themselves, and the coaching staff, that they can put new concepts into place against a close rival.
"Every time you get to the last pre-season game, obviously it's the last opportunity to kind of fine tune the game and be as close to perfect as possible," Nurse said. "We've talked about it throughout Camp - the start in each and every game is so important, so this last game is a big tune-up. You work on the things over Camp, whether it's systems wise or personal, to get to a point where you're feeling good about yourself going into the season.
"This is the final chance to do it."
PRE-HEATING THE BATTLE
Tonight's second Battle of Alberta of the pre-season for the Oilers will be their final introductory look at a provincial rival they'll see five times in the regular season before waiting almost three months to the day for their first meaningful clash against one another on December 27.
It'll also be their first look at former teammates Milan Lucic, Tobias Rieder and Cam Talbot in opposing colours, with the former being a key piece in a trade that brought forward James Neal to Edmonton back in July.
"We loved having him as a teammate," Nurse said of Lucic. "He's a great guy and I still talked to him over the course of the summer. But you put on different jerseys and you become opponents, and when you get on the ice for that 60 minutes, you're enemies."
Lucic's inclusion in the lineup, along with Matthew Tkachuk making his pre-season debut, hints towards a physical test that the Oilers will be ready to meet head on as extra proof of they're readiness for the rigours of the regular season.
"Obviously they have some physical guys and they brought in some guys to be more of a force, but we have the same amount of guys on this side that can handle that part of the game," Nurse said. "You don't really look into it to be honest. The way the game's played today - you have to have that hard, physical element.
"I think it's shown in the teams that've won, but at the same time you've got to be able to play the game. For us, no matter what physical element, every team is well equipped."
With the pre-season set to come to a fiery close, players are seeing the light at the end of the tunnel on a long Main Camp and are ready to release themselves on real game action next week when meaningful matches begin.
"Going through Camp, you learn a new system and get accustomed to new coaches, new terminology. I think we've done a really good job to this point," Nurse said.
"So far it's been pretty good and it's exciting to see the finish line here for Camp and pre-season knowing that next week, each and every game and each and every shift matters."
Goaltender Mikko Koskinen will play the full 60 minutes in between the pipes tonight for the Oilers as per Tippett, with Granlund returning to action after having a groin injury hamper his pre-season.
"Obviously when you're not skating and you're not playing, it's not fun," Granlund said. "It's not easy to watch those games, but now I'm feeling good and it's good to be back. It's the last game and now it's a good opportunity for me to show what I got."
The Oilers also announced the release of forward Anton Burdasov from his professional tryout Saturday morning, with Tippett explaining the tough task of solidifying his roster and giving certain players more opportunity in pre-season.
"It's a fine line getting our team up and going, and he didn't get enough time here and it's going to take some time for him to adapt here," Tippett said. "He's a big guy, he's got some talent, but right now we don't have the time to say 'Okay, hang around for a month or so and see how it goes.'"
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins practiced Friday afternoon after coming down with a leg injury in Tuesday's win over the Arizona Coyotes but will not suit up tonight for the Oilers at the Scotiabank Saddledome. Tippett said the club withheld the centre from competiting tonight due to precautionary reasons and believes he'll be more than ready for opening night.