EDMONTON, AB - Tonight, the Oilers host the Arizona Coyotes and are dressing an intriguing lineup that includes a lot of their potential roster for the regular season, as well as some bubble players trying to make a good impression.
The line of Benoit Pouliot, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jordan Eberle remains intact, while the Oilers are experimenting with their other top line. With Teddy Purcell still nursing an injury, Anton Slepyshev will skate on the right wing with Connor McDavid at centre and Taylor Hall on the left.
“I think (Slepyshev) has earned an opportunity to play in that situation… Slep can play left side or right side. He seems to be getting more comfortable with the game and the pace,” said Oilers Head Coach Todd McLellan. “He still struggles a little bit with language, so he’s got a couple players here that have done a tremendous job in showing leadership to help him get through those moments. But overall, if we didn’t like his game he wouldn’t be here right now. We would already be moving on. He’s done a very admirable job and we hope that can continue.”
Slepyshev has a good shot and that’s what McLellan wants from the winger opposite Hall on that line.
“t’s somebody that’s got to be able to shoot the puck,” said McLellan. “I think there’s a tremendous amount of speed through the middle and on the left side so somebody has to be smart, somebody has to read, somebody has to arrive at the right time. They have to be prepared to play on the inside and then be responsible defensively.”
Slepyshev has goals (both one-timers) in back-to-back pre-season games and played with McDavid in Saskatoon on Saturday night as the Oilers beat Minnesota 3-0.
The rest of the Oilers lineup looks like the following, based on morning skate:
Anders Nilsson will start in net tonight and Ben Scrivens will come into the game later.
A NEW PAIRING
For much of the pre-season and training camp, two defensive pairings were a common sight. Griffin Reinhart has often times been paired with Eric Gryba. Mark Fayne has logged a lot of time with Andrej Sekera. Tonight against the Coyotes, Fayne and Reinhart will play together.
“We’re a little bit similar,” said Reinhart. “We’re both simple defencemen. (We’re not) going to go for those home run plays. I think that’s going to work well. Hopefully we can shutdown the other team’s lines.”
Reinhart is the younger of the two and he’s in the thick of a competition for a roster spot. Fayne has been a part of camp battles before and can help his partner in that regard.
“For me, the guys who really helped me the most were the guys who kept me calm on the bench, helped me keep my composure and really play within myself,” said Fayne. “I know early on in your career you’re trying to find your spot, you’re trying to find your niche and you might be doing too much. Really, if you just play your game and focus on what the coaches are asking for and just get your rhythm down, it helps you a lot.”
Fayne likes what he sees from Reinhart so far in the pre-season.
“Real big size. Good mobility,” said Fayne. “He’s a real smart guy out there too. He makes the right plays, the simple plays. From what it looks like, he likes to bomb the puck from the point. I think those are all good things.”
Reinhart has talked in the past couple of weeks how playing with Gryba has helped him perform well in camp and pre-season. When it comes to building chemistry, it would be nice to stick with one partner but Reinhart known the swapping is a part of pre-season evaluation.
“Obviously, it’s good to get some chemistry but everybody here is a good defenceman,” said Reinhart. “It wouldn’t take too long to adjust to playing with anybody. In an ideal world, you would want to set your partners right away but it doesn’t work like that in training camp. People still have to make teams. Some people have to go into the lineups, some people have to go out. It’s a tough situation to be in but I think that we make the best of it.”
ON THE BUBBLE
Brandon Davidson has made a lot of strides in his development over the years in the Oilers system. The 24-year-old, 2010 sixth-round pick is out to show that this year is the one where he becomes a full-time NHL player.
The seventh defenceman spot is likely the one Davidson fits into, but he’s got competition.
“I think I can stick around,” said Davidson. “I know there’s a little bit of a logjam on the backend. I can see that, but I’ve been around for the last five years trying to make this team and there comes a time when you have to say ‘no’ and just go out there and play. I think I’m starting to enjoy it a lot more now and I think that’s why my play has come a long way as well.”
In order to make it very hard for the Oilers to say “no” to Davidson, he needs to keep doing what he did last season that gave him an opportunity to play his first 12 NHL games.
“I think for me, it’s just keeping my game simple,” he said. “I make the simple, first play. I think that’s what they’re looking for. As long as I can do that and play physical that’s all I need to do.”
Davidson will be paired with Nikita Nikitin tonight.
-- Chris Wescott, edmontonoilers.com
OILERS (5-0-0) at COYOTES (0-3-1)
TV: Streamed live on edmontonoilers.com within the Oilers region (Alberta/Saskatchewan/NWT)
Could we see a meeting between two high-profile ex-teammates when the Oilers host the Arizona Coyotes in pre-season play?
Once tearing up the Ontario Hockey League together as Erie Otters teammates, now Connor McDavid and Dylan Strome suit up for two different teams at the NHL level. McDavid was taken by the Oilers first overall in the 2015 NHL Draft, and Strome went two picks later to the Coyotes.
McDavid is expected to play the remainder of the season for the Oilers, and should he and Strome both be in their teams’ lineups, they’ll be a storyline to watch.
The two were teammates in Erie each of the last two seasons. With McDavid missing time due to injury, Strome took the OHL scoring title this past season with 129 points (45-84-129) in 68 games. McDavid was two places behind at third with 120 (44-76-120) in just 47 games.
The two prolific offensive players are good friends and could be a fun matchup for years to come at the NHL level.
Edmonton is trying to make it six-straight wins this pre-season with a victory over Arizona. The Oilers beat the Calgary Flames both at home and on the road in a pair of split-squad games and then took down the Winnipeg Jets at home 3-2. In two straight road games this weekend, the Oilers beat the Jets in comeback fashion 4-3 in overtime and then shutout Minnesota 3-0 in Saskatoon, SK.
McDavid leads all Oilers with four points (0-4-4) in two pre-season games. Justin Schultz, Rob Klinkhammer, Anton Lander and Anton Slepyshev each have two goals this pre-season. 14 different players have at least two points.
In net, Anders Nilsson has been perfect with 42 saves on 42 shots faced in one full game and part of another. Ben Scrivens has stopped 43 of 47 shots, while Cam Talbot has made 43 saves on 46.
The Coyotes have a record of 0-4-0 this pre-season. Two of those losses came from Los Angeles and one each from San Jose and Vancouver. They lost to the Canucks, on the road, 1-0 last night. Coyotes Captain Shane Doan made his pre-season debut in Vancouver.
Lineups will be posted after they are announced by the team.