With only six days and two pre-season contests remaining for the Oilers before the puck is dropped on the NHL regular season, Head Coach Dave Tippett and his coaching staff are left mulling over a number of big line-up calls in the coming days.
Tonight's road tune-up against the Winnipeg Jets is serving as a proving ground for those players who find themselves on the fringe of securing a spot on the club's opening-night roster.
"There's (Joakim) Nygard, there's (Anton) Burdasov, there's (Gaëtan) Haas, so there are good opportunities," Tippett said Thursday morning. "That competition is still open. We went in with the plan that I make sure the veterans got their first look, but we're open to someone stealing a job also."
Captain Connor McDavid is set to centre the top line with another big trialist for a spot in winger Tomas Jurco in his second pre-season game after making his debut at Rogers Place in Tuesday's 4-2 loss to the Arizona Coyotes.
"We wanted to put it in his court," Tippett said. "'How much do you want to play?' He felt good yesterday coming out of the game, felt like he could play a lot better, and wanted to get back into this game to get himself up and running. We'll re-evaluate after this game and see where he's at."
Jurco has worked his way back from two back surgeries in the last three seasons to earn an opportunity at Camp with the Oilers and impress further on the top line tonight with McDavid and James Neal.
"Jurco's done it a little bit before, I've actually seen spurts in the camp where Jurco's looked really good, and then he's got a couple of bumps and bruises that push him back. It's a big game for him tonight, especially playing with Connor."
The 26-year-old winger is electing to focus on his game and not the pressures of making the team that's shared by a number of players.
"It's huge. Obviously Connor is one of, if not the best, players in the world, so it's a great chance for me and I'm excited for it," Jurco said. "I'm not putting pressure, but just trying to not think about it. Just go out there and play my game and work hard.
"Hopefully if I play my game and work hard, it's going to be enough to convince them."
It's been an ongoing evaluation of a handful of players for Tippett since Camp opened just over two weeks ago, but the bench boss has assembled tonight's lineup against the Jets with the goal of offering the likes of Haas, Nygard, and Burdasov more of a look.
Nygard and Burdasov will flank Leon Draisaitl on the second line, with the German centring the pair away from his regular partner McDavid despite Tippett saying both will still see time with one another tonight.
"I want to see how they react in certain situations, especially with Burdasov," Tippett said. "We have to see how much he's grabbing the structure we want to play with. He's got good skill, he's worked hard in practice, but we need to see where he's at the next couple of games just in how we want to play."
"Between Burdasov, Jurco, Nygard, and even Haas to an extent, we want to see some skill level and how they bring it to an NHL game."
Outside of Jurco, the group is limited in NHL experience and has needed time to adjust to a new ice surface and a new league. But Tippett has been noticing an evolution from the players as they become more and more accustomed to their new surroundings.
"Haas to me looks like he's coming on," Tippett said. "The first couple of games you can tell he struggled with the pace of the game and maybe the size of the rink and players, but in practice he's come on a little bit. I'm interested to see how he goes."
The Swiss centre, expected to centre a line with Jujhar Khaira and Josh Archibald tonight, has seen improvements in his own game with every opportunity received.
"I had a feeling that the second game was way better than the first, and I keep working every day to improve my game and get a feeling for the small ice," Haas said. "I get the feeling it's coming, but I need to play. I have to concentrate on the right thing, like playing solid in the d-zone because that's what they want from me."
This morning's optional skate didn't provide a full picture of Tippett's lineup, but the coach is expecting goaltender Mike Smith to play the full 60 minutes in goal tonight as he continues to get up to game speed after missing much of Main Camp with illness and getting his first game action on Tuesday against Arizona.