When the Oilers take to the ice for their third pre-season game tonight in a rematch with the Vancouver Canucks at Rogers Place, the club's centres will be waging a war of their own.
"If you want to watch one interesting thing, it's the centre icemen tonight," Oilers Head Coach Dave Tippett said.
Competition is high as players of all positions jockey for the bench boss' favour in their bids to lock down a roster spot on opening night against these very same Canucks who handed the Oilers a 4-2 defeat back on Tuesday.
As of now, for Tippett, there's no frontrunner who's emerged at centre behind regulars Connor McDavid and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. On the wing, much of the same applies.
"We got McLeod, Marody, Haas and Malone. These are guys who are all fighting for jobs," Tippett said of the middlemen. "Our centre ice is fighting for jobs tonight and it's no different than the wingers. We got Benson, Nygard, and Jurco on the left wing and then Granlund is playing his second game tonight. But all those people are fighting. It's competition for jobs. It's competition for playing time and competition to see where you fit in the lineup.
"Nobody's really separated themselves yet, and it's a big game for all those players."
"I'm looking forward to seeing (Nygard) tonight," Tippett said. "His first game I thought there were a couple of guys, he was one of them, who did too much thinking and not enough playing. He's had some good practices now to get comfortable and go out and play, show what you can do. He had a couple of bursts in that first game, but I'm looking forward to seeing what he can do.
"McLeod played really well the other night. He's a smart, good player, moves the puck well, so we'll see where he gets with Neal on there."
Neal looks to piggyback off the pair's elevated levels of play this evening and be a calming voice for both of the NHL rookies in what's being billed by the Oilers bench boss as a defining game. The 32-year-old winger has plenty of personal experience to pass on in that area.
"I just talked to (Nygard) this morning. As a young guy, I think that was the easiest way," Neal said. "When an older guy came up to you and just said to have fun and play the way you normally play… it made you feel a bit more comfortable to just play your game. They're looking to make a good impression and I'm sure they will."
The 26-year-old's tally in his first appearance for his new club is helping justify a long summer of training in a bid to return to regular NHL time after toiling in the AHL and winning a Calder Cup last campaign.
"It was one game, but I just have to keep doing my thing and keep working hard."
Neal, a player brought in exclusively to be a goal scorer for his new Oilers team, echoed those sentiments after experiencing a down year last campaign as a member of the Calgary Flames and notching a debut pre-season goal against the Winnipeg Jets on Monday.
"It felt really good," Neal said. "As I said before, obviously it's pre-season and they don't matter, but internally they do matter to feel confident. It goes a long way. I felt good after scoring that goal and I kind of settled in and felt like myself again, so it was a really good feeling. I think with the work I put in this summer to be ready for camp is starting to pay off, and I feel really good out there."
Goaltender Mikko Koskinen makes his first appearance of the pre-season tonight when he starts in goal for the Oilers before giving way to Shane Starrett at the midway point of the second period.
Defenceman Keegan Lowe, forward Alex Chiasson and the aforementioned Koskinen are the Oilers making their pre-season debut tonight.