PENTICTON, BC -- The Oilers rookies are in Penticton, BC for the annual Young Stars Classic, set to face off against the Calgary Flames rookies at the South Okanagan Events Centre.
Each new edition of the tournament presents an opportunity for the players to show the fruits of their off-season labour and make a name for themselves with Oilers management.
"The motivation comes from within," said Head Coach Gerry Fleming. "This is an opportunity for guys to really shine and to showcase what they do well - that's the focus."
For some of the players, this is the first Young Stars Classic they're appearing in and while there may be some jitters, the coaches simply want the players to play their game.
"There's a little bit of nerves, obviously," said Fleming. "It's the first real opportunity that they're really getting evaluated with an Oilers jersey on. The focus is to do what you do best; if you're a physical player, then be physical. If you're a skill guy, then make plays. Don't try to be a player that you're not.
"Do the things you do well in a positive way to get noticed."
TOP LINE SHINE
The Oilers top line will feature Joseph Gambardella, 2017 first-rounder Kailer Yamamoto, and 2017 fourth-rounder Ostap Safin. Gambardella and Yamamoto have already formed chemistry together after pairing up at Oilers Development Camp in July.
"Coming off Jasper me and Joe have really good chemistry," said Yamamoto. "I think Safin just adds to that. He's a great player. We were feeling each other on the ice and I think it's going to be good tonight."
Gambardella and Yamamoto played together on Team Gretzky in the Billy Moores Cup at Development Camp. Safin skated for Team Messier. The three will unite for the first time tonight.
"It seemed like the chemistry just clicked right away," said Gambardella, who finished last season in the American Hockey League with the Bakersfield Condors. "This morning in our pre-game, Safin joined us and he fit right in. Hopefully, we can bring that chemistry into tonight's game and throughout the weekend."
GEARING UP FOR THE JUMP
On the backend, the Oilers contain a few defencemen expected to make the jump up to the professional ranks. That includes Caleb Jones, Ethan Bear, Ryan Mantha and Ziyat Paigin, who will dress as Edmonton's top-four defencemen.
"Obviously Jonesy and Bearsy know each other from playing in the Dub (WHL) and I'm an OHL guy coming in, so it's nice to get to know them," said Mantha. "I'm playing with Jonesy tonight so it'll be good to get some chemistry with him going."
Jones, the Oilers 2015 fourth-rounder, will be playing in his third Young Stars Classic. Given his experience at the tournament, he noted he does feel like a leader among the defensive nucleus, able to share any information or advice should the others ask.
"Me and Ethan both, this is our third year," Jones said, referencing who he looked up to when he made his first Young Stars Classic appearance.
"When we first came here, there was Darnell (Nurse) and it was his third year and he was kind of the guy that was the leader," he said. "I want to set the tone, play physical and try to get into the game early.
"I think I'll be to be a leader on the back for sure this year."