ST. LOUIS, MO - Aside from Jordan Eberle (out 4-6 weeks with a shoulder injury), the Oilers head into the regular season opener healthy and ready to go. Benoit Pouliot, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Teddy Purcell will skate together on a line. Taylor Hall will skate on the left wing with a pair of players making their NHL debuts in Anton Slepyshev and Connor McDavid.
Lauri Korpikoski is with Anton Lander and Nail Yakupov on the third line, while Luke Gazdic, Mark Letestu and Matt Hendricks make up the rest of the forward combinations.
On defence, Oscar Klefbom and Justin Schultz are together as they have been for the majority of pre-season. Andrej Sekera and Mark Fayne make up another pair, while Griffin Reinhart and Eric Gryba round out the blueline.
Cam Talbot will start in net.
Eight players will make their Oilers debuts tonight as Edmonton is in St. Louis to open their 2015-16 season. Among those eight, three defencemen suit up in Oilers blue and orange for the first time. Among them is the 21-year-old blueliner, Reinhart.
“A lot of excitement,” said Reinhart. “I’ve got to be careful not to get too comfortable. I’ve got to still keep on pushing and try to get better every day, play with a little bit of attitude out there and go from there.”
Reinhart played his junior hockey in Edmonton and is no stranger to the Oilers organization, being around them for roughly five years. Although this will be his first season with the club, following a trade at the draft, Reinhart knows this is likely one of the more exciting seasons for Edmonton in a while.
“I’ve witnessed (the Oilers) from the outside in the past couple of years, except for last year. Being around them a lot coming into this season, I can’t exactly say what all the guys that were here were actually experiencing but I know that they’re excited for this year and hopefully it will be a good year.”
In addition to Slepyshev, McDavid is making his NHL debut tonight in St. Louis. The 18-year-old centre will play with the aforementioned Slepyshev and Hall. Today is the day he’s dreamt about for years.
“You only get to do this once,” said McDavid. “I’m certainly a little bit nervous, but I feel pretty good and just really excited to get going.”
Some nerves maybe, but McDavid didn’t toss and turn last night in anticipation.
“The days leading up, I wasn’t really thinking about it too much,” he said. “When I woke up this morning, that’s when it kind of hit me that I will be playing in my first NHL game. That’s when I first realized. Last night I had no problem sleeping. Nothing at all. I just woke up this morning and that’s kind of when it hit me.”
The Oilers haven’t had to give much in terms of advice to their 2015 first-overall pick. They haven’t had to give him any special treatment or treat him any different than the other players making their Oilers or NHL debut.
“We try to give him information that will allow him to have an opportunity to have success. But that’s no different than any of the other individuals,” said Head Coach Todd McLellan. “What I’ve found with him is he’s working really hard to just be himself and fit in. He doesn’t want to be special, he doesn’t want to be treated any differently, but he obviously is. He’s trying to adapt to that. He’s doing a very good job of it. Personally and collectively, I think our team has done a good job around him.”
The Blues playing style is no secret. They’ll hit you in the mouth. The heavy, hard, checking team will be a good test for the Oilers tonight.
“It’s a good place to start,” said McDavid. “Obviously, it’s a challenge and a good test for not only our team but myself. It’s going to be good.”
Reinhart, a 6-foot-4 defenceman, agrees that it will be a good night to shake the rust off.
“It should be a good first couple of minutes to get the legs moving again and get the nerves out of our systems,” said Reinhart. “After that, I think it’s going to be a hard game with a lot of hitting and good speed out there as well.”
McLellan has fought many battles against Ken Hitchcock and his Blues over the years. As coach of the San Jose Sharks, McLellan developed ways to combat the Blues. However, it’s different circumstances coming in with the Oilers.
“Our evolution of our team compared to San Jose is much different,” said McLellan. “We’re in diapers, we’re in the infancy stage, for lack of a better term. When we were with San Jose, our game was advanced more. We were a seven-year program where we could try and counter some of the things Hitch had in place for us. Right now, we’re trying to just establish our game and get our feet wet. It will be hard to get ahead of ourselves without fundamentals being in place. Sometimes a simple game is exactly what you need against a team like St. Louis.”
-- Chris Wescott, edmontonoilers.com
OILERS (0-0-0) at BLUES (0-0-0)
TV: SPORTSNET 360
Season series: The St. Louis Blues swept three games from the Edmonton Oilers in 2014-15, including a 2-1 victory at Edmonton in the most recent matchup on March 1. The Blues have won six straight against the Oilers and 11 of the past 12. The Blues outscored the Oilers 10-6 last season, and right wing Vladimir Tarasenko led St. Louis with two goals and two assists. The Blues won each game at Scottrade Center.
Oilers team scope: The Connor McDavid era begins for Edmonton when the No. 1 pick of the 2015 NHL Draft makes his professional debut. "I feel a little bit comfortable right now with the preseason and all that, but at the same time it's going to be different when the real thing happens," McDavid, 18, told the Edmonton Journal. "Obviously, it goes up a couple of notches." The Oilers head into a new season with new front-office leadership (Bob Nicholson as CEO and Peter Chiarelli as president of hockey operations and general manager) and a new coach (Todd McLellan). They will not have a captain but announced four alternates Wednesday: defenseman Andrew Ference, who wore the "C" last season, and forwards Jordan Eberle, Taylor Hall and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. Forward Matt Hendricks will wear an "A" in the absence of Eberle, who is sidelined 4-6 weeks because of a shoulder injury. … Cam Talbot, signed in the offseason to be the No. 1 goalie, gets the start.
Blues team scope: Left wing Robby Fabbri and defenseman Colton Parayko will make their NHL debut on Thursday, coach Ken Hitchcock said. It has not been determined if defenseman Joel Edmundson will make his NHL debut. Hitchcock said he's not opposed to playing Parayko and Edmundson together. "I kind of would like to see what the opponent brings forward, but the three guys that are in line for there are Parayko, Edmundson and [Robert] Bortuzzo," Hitchcock said. "I want to see what Edmonton brings forward." … The Blues signed veteran center Scott Gomez to a one-year, two-way contract worth $575,000 at the NHL level, $200,000 at the American Hockey League level. They placed center Patrik Berglund, who had shoulder surgery Aug. 25, on long-term injured reserve. He is not expected to play until January. … Hitchcock said goalie Brian Elliott will get the opening-night start; Jake Allen will play Saturday against the Minnesota Wild.