PENTICTON, B.C. – Tonight, the Oilers Rookies look to open their 2015 Young Stars Tournament schedule with a win against the Vancouver Canucks. Edmonton will suit up all three of their biggest stars.
2015 first-overall pick Connor McDavid makes his game debut in full Oilers uniform, while Darnell Nurse and Leon Draisaitl return to a tournament they’re familiar with.
CHOOSING MCDAVID’S ‘MATES
Obviously, McDavid’s high-end skill is well-documented and finding him two linemates for this tournament who could complement him was a task. For tonight, McDavid will centre an Oilers top line featuring Mitch Moroz and Greg Chase.
Moroz was selected 32nd overall in 2012, while Greg Chase, despite some high-end skill of his own, slipped to the seventh round in 2013. Chase has proven he can play at a high level, recording 44 points (18-26-44) in 46 games last season in Victoria. Moroz is an experienced forward and Memorial Cup champion who spent all last season in the American Hockey League.
“We talked about it with management. I felt it was important (McDavid) played with guys that have a little bit of pro experience and both guys tonight have some pro experience. That was our thinking on that,” said Bakersfield Condors Head Coach Gerry Fleming, who will lead the Oilers Rookies this weekend.
While Moroz spent the whole season in Oklahoma City, Chase joined the Oilers affiliate in time for the playoffs at the close of his junior year. The two will likely complement McDavid’s talent in their own ways. Chase is an agitator who can score, while Moroz brings the muscle and net-front presence.
The rest of the lineup is projected to be as follows:
Joey LaLeggia-Darnell Nurse Ben Betker-Ethan Bear Colton Waltz-Loik Leveille
LAURIKAINEN GETS THE START
Eetu Laurikainen signed a two-year entry-level contract with the Oilers this off-season. The Finnish goaltender is about to begin his task of showing the Oilers he deserves a spot in their pro system. He will get the start tonight in net for the Oilers.
He’s excited to suit up in Oilers colours for the first time.
“Oh yeah, absolutely. It’s my first game in a long time,” he said. “The last game I played was in April, so I’m excited to go.”
Laurikainen spent last season in Finland’s Liiga where he recorded a 2.10 goals-against average and a .933 save percentage. Prior to that, he spent two years in the WHL playing for Swift Current.
The Oilers have been interested in Laurikainen since his playing days in North America, so he’s a player to watch.
AN UNKNOWN TAKES THE ICE
Anton Slepyshev’s name continues to come up when running through the Oilers prospect pool. He signed his three-year entry level contract in May, signalling he was ready to leave Russia for North America this season. After playing for Ufa Salavat in the KHL for three years, the Russian winger saw his best production in his most recent season.
In 2014-15, Slepyshev scored 15 goals. He added 10 assists for 25 points in 58 games. He also led Ufa in scoring at the Spengler Cup with two goals and three assists in five games.
The Oilers believe he’s very skilled and very talented, but there hasn’t been much up-close observing of this prospect, who the organization took 88th overall in 2013.
Slepyshev coming to North America provides the Oilers with an opportunity to evaluate what they have in the big winger.
“Really good hands, really quick, really a nice, personable guy,” said Fleming. “A little bit of language barrier there obviously. He’s asked good questions on the ice, he seems engaging and he put in a lot of energy out there this morning. We’ll see how it goes as camp goes on here.”
-- Chris Wescott, edmontonoilers.com
OILERS (0-0-0) at CANUCKS (0-0-0)
RADIO: 630 CHED
OILERS TO WATCH: Fans will have their eyes on three Oilers rookies in particular for this one. First, Connor McDavid, the number-one overall selection in the NHL Draft this past year who had 44 goals in 47 games with the OHL's Erie Otters and added another 21 in 20 playoff games for good measure. He takes the ice for the first time in an Oilers uniform. ... Darnell Nurse makes his third appearance at this tournament after suiting up for the Oilers in 2013 and 2014. Nurse had two assists and six PIM last year and the year before that he had no points but still managed six penalty minutes. ... Leon Draisaitl plays in his second Young Stars tournament. He had a pair of assists last year. The 2014 Memorial Cup MVP also has the most NHL experience out of anyone participating in this tournament with 37 games for the Oilers last season.
CANUCKS TO WATCH: Several high draft picks will be leading the way for the Canucks, with four first rounders in their lineup: Jake Virtanen (6th overall in 2014), Jared McCann (24th overall in 2014), Hunter Shinkaruk (24th overall in 2013), and Brendan Gaunce (26th overall in 2012). ... Another interesting match-up to look at will be Cole Cassels up against Edmonton's Connor McDavid. Cassels, son of former NHLer Andrew Cassels, helped lead the Oshawa Generals to the OHL Championship in part by going up against McDavid but also by putting up some offence of his own with 10 goals and 31 points in 21 playoff games.