EDMONTON, AB - The Oilers embark on their final exhibition game Saturday against the Vancouver Canucks.
Edmonton is 6-1-0 in the pre-season, having scored 31 goals for and allowing 18 against. Kailer Yamamoto has five goals and two assists in five games, matching Auston Matthews and nine others for the League-lead in goals. Oilers Captain Connor McDavid registered five assists and three goals for eight points in the four games he's dressed in.
All the statistics are meaningless but there are areas of the pre-season that benefitted the Oilers. In particular, losing 6-2 to the Carolina Hurricanes last Monday.
"Our first game against Carolina was maybe not an eye-opener, but maybe a bit of a good thing for us," said centre Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.
"It kind of reminded us what the regular season and middle of the season feel like."
Forward Anton Slepyshev will dress against the Canucks. The winger has been hampered by a right ankle injury he sustained while training, which limited his skating at camp.
"The plan is to get him into his first game," said Oilers Head Coach Todd McLellan. "He's going to need that to get a little bit of game experience under his belt."
No. 58's play grew over the course of the 2016-17 season. In 41 regular season games, the Russian compiled four goals and six assists. In the playoffs, he added three tallies in 12 games but injected the team with speed, effort and grit along the boards routinely.
"He really evolved and became an offensive threat," said McLellan. "He's hard on pucks and creates off the forecheck which our team needs to do a better job of. We think that he can fit in the top-nine and play there but we've got to get him up and running."
Seeing the 6-foot-2, 221-pound winger play will provide some clarity to McLellan and his staff in regards to the final roster.
"Once we do that, we can make some much more definitive decisions with our right wing position."
Slepyshev will skate on the fourth line alongside centre Mark Letestu and winger Jujhar Khaira.
There's quite the size difference on the Oilers second line. Nugent-Hopkins will pivot heavyweight Milan Lucic and 5-foot-8, 154-pounder Yamamoto.
The dynamic of the line should be just as startling as its complexion; Lucic plays a roughneck style of game by his ability to plant himself in the dirty areas of the ice without removal, while Yamamoto is slippery, disruptive and advantageous in-tight. Nugent-Hopkins' vision, release and defensive acumen could also complement the two wingers.
"A little different size proportions," said Nugent-Hopkins, "but I have experience playing with Looch, so I know a little bit about his game. And Yamo, he's definitely a tenacious guy. He plays bigger than he is, he doesn't play scared or anything."
Many doubted Yamamoto because of his size but the forward proved to the veterans within the dressing room that he deserves a shot with the club.
"It's funny," started Lucic. "When you draft a guy like that and you're talking to some people, you see his height and his weight and you're like, 'Oh, OK. Maybe this guy will be good four, five years from now. After two more years of junior and probably another year or two in the minors.' But I've been most impressed by his hockey sense and the structure in his game."
As the players have alluded to countless times this pre-season, the compact forward isn't afraid.
"For me, it's been more his ability to make plays, keep plays alive and his fearlessness to go into the corners," said Lucic.