DALLAS, TX - The cavalry has arrived. The Oilers will get three new players in the lineup tonight as Matt Hendricks, Drake Caggiula and Kris Russell will all return from injury and suit up against the Dallas Stars.
Hendricks and Caggiula will be making their season debuts after suffering lower-body injuries during exhibition play, while Russell will be back in the lineup after missing seven games with a lower-body ailment of his own. It'll also be Caggiula's first NHL game after signing with the Oilers out of the University of North Dakota.
Head Coach Todd McLellan hopes the fresh bodies can provide his team with a spark as they look to snap their five-game losing skid and bring a win home with them after losses in Anaheim and Los Angeles.
"We're looking for those three to come in and give our team a boost in energy, a boost in excitement level," McLellan said. "To expect them to carry us through to that winning wonderland I think is very unfair to the three of them, but I think they can have an impact on the game, because they are fresh and probably very excited to play."
THE DRAKE DEBUTS
The 22-year-old Caggiula burst onto the scene with an impressive preseason but suffered a hip injury when he was hauled down on a breakaway Oct. 6 against the Winnipeg Jets. He actually took the ensuing penalty shot but exited the game shortly thereafter and has spent the past month and a half recovering.
Though his NHL debut will come a bit later than he wanted, the delay doesn't take anything away from the milestone.
"It'll be a dream come true," said the Pickering, Ont. native. "You dream about playing in the National Hockey League as a young kid and grow up watching Hockey Night In Canada. I'm really excited about it, and I know my family, friends and all the people that have supported me are super excited as well. It's going to be a special moment."
The speedy, feisty forward, who models his game after Brad Marchand of the Boston Bruins, was the second-leading scorer and an alternate captain for the UND squad that captured the national championship this past spring. Caggiula scored 25 goals and 26 assists in 39 games during his stellar senior season.
Those stats made the undrafted player a highly-coveted free agent as he was set to turn pro, and he ultimately decided to sign with Edmonton on May 7. The Oilers are, of course, eager to see how Caggiula can perform at the NHL level, but Coach McLellan won't be putting a ton of pressure on the rookie right off the bat.
"We have very high expectations for him down the road, but to put those expectations into play tonight and evaluate him on that won't be fair," he said. "We'll ease him in, but we think he's quick, we think he has a shot, he reads the play well and can make our team faster."
McLellan added Caggiula will play centre tonight vs. Dallas, though his wingers were not declared during the team's pre-game media availability. Caggiula is looking forward to shaking off the rust early and picking up where he left off in preseason.
"It's going to be a bit of an adjustment," he said. "Any time you miss five or six weeks, regardless of if you've been playing in the league or you haven't, the game won't be as polished as I'd like. But you've got to make sure you go out there and contribute the most ways you can and try to do all the little things."
In addition to Caggiula, the Oilers will have Hendricks back in the forward fold against the Stars. He was injured during Edmonton's Oct. 4 preseason matchup with the Ducks and has been chomping at the bit to return to game action.
"I'm real happy, excited to try to put a little energy into the team here and get back to playing," Hendricks said. "It seems like just a long off-season for me."
The 35-year-old forward has played 479 regular season games and 34 more in the playoffs over his lengthy NHL career, including 172 with the Oilers after he was acquired from the Nashville Predators.
As a veteran leader, Hendricks said sitting out during both the team's hot start and their recent struggles has been difficult.
"Coming out of the gates, we were playing really well and it was fun to watch, but at the same time, not going to lie, you want to be playing," he said. "And now things have slipped a little bit so I'm excited to get back in and help right the ship."
After getting the night off on Thursday in Los Angeles, Cam Talbot is expected to make his 17th start in net for the Oilers tonight. He stopped 27 of 30 shots during Edmonton's 3-2 loss to the Stars on Nov. 11.
Up front, Benoit Pouliot will not be in the lineup, and one other forward will also have to come out to make room for Hendricks and Caggiula. That decision will be made following pre-game warmup. The line combinations will also be solidified at that time, but look for Patrick Maroon, Connor McDavid and Jesse Puljujärvi as one trio.
And on the back end, Eric Gryba won't play tonight in lieu of Russell getting back in the lineup, though Coach McLellan did not divulge the D pairings during his pre-game comments.
-- Ryan Frankson, edmontonoilers.com
OILERS (9-8-1) at STARS (7-6-5)
TV: 5:00 p.m. MST; Televised on City TV
Today's game marks the second of three meetings between the Oilers and Stars this season and the lone game in Dallas. The next time these teams will faceoff is March 14th in Edmonton.
The last time these teams met was on November 11th in Edmonton, where the Stars won by a score of 3-2. Patrick Maroon and Tyler Pitlick each notched goals for Edmonton.
Connor McDavid has recorded four points (1G, 3A) in three games against Central Division opponents this season. He has also posted 13 points (5G, 8A) in the Oilers nine wins this season.
Oilers team scope:
The Oilers are tied for 8th in the NHL with 48 goals.
Connor McDavid ranks fifth in NHL scoring, with 19 points (5G, 14A) trailing the NHL's two top scorers by two points. Winnipeg's Mark Scheifele (10G, 11A) and Tampa Bay's Nikita Kucherov (8G, 13A) currently lead the NHL in scoring with 21 points. McDavid leads the NHL with 14 assists through Nov. 15.
Mark Letestu is one of five NHL players who already have two shorthanded goals. Both of Letestu's shorthanded goals were also game-winning goals.
Forward Jordan Eberle leads the team with 51 shots on net, which through games on Nov. 15, placed him 19th place in the NHL.
Through Nov. 17, goaltender Cam Talbot leads the NHL in both shots against (489) and saves (447).
Stars team scope:
Stars forward Patrick Eaves potted a goal against Colorado on Thursday night and now has goals in four-consecutive games and 10 points (7 goals) over his last nine contests. Eaves' four-game goal streak is the longest of his NHL career and marks his longest point streak since last season, when he recorded points in five consecutive games from Feb. 4 - 13, 2016. The forward is tied for second on the club with 14 points (8G, 6A) in 17 games this season.
Stars forward Tyler Seguin recorded an assist on Thursday night against the Colorado Avalanche and now has 14 points (3G 11A) in his 10 games during the month of November. Seguin ranks third in NHL with 21 points (7G, 14A) in 18 games this season and is tied for the League-lead with 14 assists.
Forward Jason Spezza notched an assist vs. Colorado on Thursday night and recorded his first point since returning from injury. The forward returned to the lineup on Nov. 15 vs. New Jersey after missing the previous five contests with a lower body injury.