The Edmonton Oilers host one of the NHL’s best tonight when the Anaheim Ducks come to Rexall Place. For the Oilers, it’s a learning opportunity as they’ll head down a stretch of the schedule that contains quite a few playoff bound opponents. Edmonton is working towards finishing on a strong note and learning what it takes to get to the level of teams like the Ducks.
“I think it’s fun for us to see what it takes as a team, where we need to get to and those teams are really gearing up for playoffs at this time and we all know Anaheim will be in,” Oilers forward David Perron said. “But other teams are going to either try to knock them down a little bit or try and prevent them from being in there but it is what it is. I think it’s fun for us to see the level of play that we need to get to and if we get success then we can build on something.”
The Oilers are looking to use teams like the Ducks as a measuring stick to help provide a model for future success as an organization.
“They’re the best team in the league and they have a chance to win the Stanley Cup so it’s a good opportunity for us to show what we’ve got and build some confidence for the rest of the year and next year,” Oilers defenceman Justin Schultz said.
Including tonight’s game, the Oilers and Ducks will play each other three times in 10 days. Schultz says it’s important to set the tone tonight that they will not back down to their opponent.
“We want to let them know early that we’re not one of those easy teams that are just going to give them points and it’s going to be a challenge for them,” he said. “We’ve got to come out hard and establish our play for the next couple of games that we play them.”
Nail Yakupov took to the ice this morning after missing the previous four games due to an ankle injury.
“I feel pretty good actually,” the winger said. “It feels better and I did a couple of skates so I’ve got to get used to it, keep skating, keep working hard and be ready for a game.”
Despite the positive signs, there is not immediate timetable for Yakupov’s return and he will miss tonight’s game against the Ducks.
“I don’t know, we’ll see,” he said when asked when he’ll play again. “It’s all about my trainers and that’s all I can say.”
Anton Belov will return to the Oilers lineup tonight. The defenceman’s last game was on February 27. The return of Belov has also ushered in a changing of the guard with Edmonton’s top pairing as 20-year-old rookie Oscar Klefbom will move up the depth chart and be paired with Justin Schultz.
Klefbom has been playing on the right side, despite being better suited on the left, due to a necessity with injuries. Although Klefbom has performed well on the right, it’s time to move him to his strong side to get a better look at the former 19th overall pick in 2011.
“Number one, (Belov) has worked extremely hard to get ready and be ready and we want to reward that and get him back in so he’s feeling part of the group,” Oilers Head Coach Dallas Eakins said. “He’s got a history on the right side which helps us. But we’re going to put Oscar with (Schultz). It hasn’t been tough on Oscar, but I don’t love throwing a kid who hasn’t played 10 games yet over on his off side. But it was out of necessity. He did fine over there but we’re going to get him over on his strong side. You want to set those young guys up for success. So that will help him.”
Eakins also says the move is due to a trust in Schultz as the 23 year-old appears ready to help out another young defenceman.
“The second part of this is, and I said this to Justin Schultz this morning, you’ve come such a long way this year and you’ve come such a long way that we’re putting a very inexperienced defenceman with you because we know you can bring him along and I think it says volumes because the first 20 or 25 games I would have never, ever thought of doing that with Justin. He was learning lessons but Justin’s game has come along very nicely that I have no concerns about the pairings at all.”