The Oilers Rookies try to avenge last season’s 4-3 loss to the University of Alberta Golden Bears at Clare Drake Arena at 7 p.m. MT. They’ll be facing the 2014 CIS National Champions. The Oilers prospects are 10-13 all-time against the Golden Bears.
Here are five things to watch in this year’s rematch.
1. THE RUSSIAN SENSATION
Undrafted free agent Vladimir Tkachev was invited to Oilers Rookie Camp and skated with the prospects in Penticton, B.C. at the Young Stars Tournament. From the opening puck drop, Tkachev impressed despite his small size (5-foot-9, 141 pounds).
Tkachev finished the tournament with three assists. He was dynamic, creative, he back-checked and showed an ability to avoid the hits that would normally be a concern for a player of his stature. Oilers General Manager Craig MacTavish called Tkachev “dominant” over the weekend.
“He was a dominant player here,” MacTavish said. “I’ve seen him play a few times and every time you see him play he is a dominant player. You want to continue to give him the opportunity and that definitely has caught everybody’s attention and interest at this point.”
Will the Oilers sign him to an entry-level contract? He has an opportunity to continue to showcase his talents should he play tonight and in the pre-season.
2. CHASING VICTORY
Greg Chase has been a pleasant surprise for the Oilers. The seventh-round pick in 2013 is coming off a season in which he scored 85 points (35-50-85) in 70 games. He added nine points (4-5-9) in six playoff games for the Calgary Hitmen. Chase is an agitator. He shows a knack for getting under the opposing players’ skins. He had 83 penalty minutes last season.
Chase finished the 2014 Young Stars Tournament with two assists. It will be interesting to see if he can continue to make a good impression.
In last year’s showdown with the Golden Bears, Chase scored a goal.
3. UPGRADED TALENT
The Oilers Rookie roster this year is arguably much more skilled with more size than last year’s team. The Oilers are expected to ice two first rounders tonight; Leon Draisaitl and Darnell Nurse.
Nurse, taken seventh overall in 2013, is a big, aggressive defenceman. This will be Nurse’s second time to face the Golden Bears. Last year, Nurse had six penalty minutes and two shots on goal against the Bears.
Draisaitl was selected third overall in this year’s draft. The big centre is offensively gifted, having scored 105 points (38-67-105) in 64 games last season.
MacTavish was impressed with his performance in this past weekend’s tournament.
“He did what he needed to do,” the general manager said. “He showed an elite understanding of the game and an elite sense and you would expect a player of that pedigree to be a dominant player at this level. So we can check off the first box in terms of what he needs to accomplish to stay with us.”
Alongside the two first-round picks, the Oilers are expected to ice talents such as Laurent Brossoit, Jujhar Khaira, Mitch Moroz, Marco Roy, Martin Gernat and the two Russians; Tkachev and Bogdan Yakimov.
For the eight returning Oilers skaters who played against the Golden Bears last year, another season of experience will make them that much tougher to play against.
4. “FORMER OILER”
Golden Bears goaltender Kurtis Mucha is very familiar with the Oilers. Following Edmonton’s trading of Ilya Bryzgalov last season, the team needed an emergency backup for their game against the Ottawa Senators on March 4.
Mucha got that call and sat on the bench during an NHL game. Now, Mucha may have the opportunity to play against the Oilers Rookies, after the organization gave him a night to remember.
“Really special,” Mucha said that night after the game. “I just kind of, soaked it all in. These guys got a game to win so you just kind of stay out of their way and not to get to be too much of a distraction and let them do their job. But I tried to interact with them as well and kind of help on the bench and keep them alert and stuff like that.”
Mucha played 16 games for the Golden Bears last season, posting a GAA of 1.87 and a .909 save percentage.
5. EXPERIENCED FOES
The Golden Bears return nine of their top-11 forwards from last season’s championship team. They have plenty of experience with several fourth and fifth year players.
That list includes Johnny Lazo, who tallied four assists in last year’s game against the Oilers (tied with Sean Ringrose to lead all scoring, Ringrose had three goals and an assist). In 28 games last year, Lazo scored 34 points (9-25-34) in 28 games.
The Bears have won the last two games of this series, with the Oilers prospects winning two of three before that.