The Oilers won their game last night against the Arizona Coyotes, but their rest is short-lived as they host the Vancouver Canucks tonight. The Oilers will dress nine skaters, not including the goalies, who played last night. Some of those players are young and inexperienced with playing back-to-back games at an NHL pace.
Oilers Head Coach Dallas Eakins expects the young players to step up and play at the same level they did last night.
“I do expect it, it has to be expected,” Eakins said. “If we’re going to be a team that’s ok with not being up to speed in the back-to-back game, then we shouldn’t even play it. You have to be able to, in this league now with a number of back-to-backs, be able to perform and get the points. It can’t just be a gimme for the other team. That’s going to be a challenge for inexperienced players. I know they do it in junior and in the American Hockey League. This is how it goes in the AHL right now. Four in five nights or five in seven, that’s your challenge in that league. But in this league, it’s a hard thing to do with the travel. We’ve got the luxury of going back-to-back at home but this is where, if you played last night, you want to shine. You don’t want to send them a message that your play falls off because you’re playing back-to-back.”
WILL ON THE WING
Oilers forward Will Acton has traditionally played centre. It hasn’t been since his college days at Lake Superior State University that Acton has skated on the wing. That changes tonight as he is on the left side of a line with Bogdan Yakimov at centre and Tyler Pitlick on the right.
“The last time I played wing was a few years ago,” Acton said. “I played wing in college and when I was out there this morning and found out I was playing wing, I tried to find some familiar situations and tried to get that thought process back. It shouldn’t be too big of an adjustment. I’m looking forward to getting in there.”
Playing on the wing tonight gives Acton an opportunity to show that he’s versatile, which could come in handy for the Oilers down the road.
“I think if you’re in a situation like mine, you want to be versatile a little bit. Anything you can add to your value, there’s a lot of us in that spot. It’s an opportunity to show I can be versatile and maybe add a different dimension or be useful in a different way. Hopefully I can make the most of it.”
EXPECTATIONS FOR JESSE
Jesse Joensuu scored three goals and an assist in five pre-season games last year. The performance was expected to be a good sign of things to come for the Finnish forward in 2013-14. However, injuries were a factor in holding Joensuu back in his first season with the Oilers. He finished the tar with five points (3-2-5) in 42 games. Joensuu is once again off to a good pre-season. He scored two goals in last night’s win over the Coyotes.
Eakins said this morning that if Joensuu can stay healthy, he could really contribute to the Oilers this season.
“Last year, I thought Jesse started really well,” Eakins said. “Then it turned into an injury factor. He’s been plagued by things that either hold him back when he’s playing injured or it takes him right out of the lineup. I think that if he can keep healthy, and he’s done a ton of work this summer on his body, he can be a real contributor for us.”
UP FRONT: Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Nail Yakupov will be the Oilers top line against the Canucks. Joensuu, who scored two goals last night, will play on a line with Leon Draisaitl and Teddy Purcell. Will Acton moves from centre to wing on a line with Bogdan Yakimov and Tyler Pitlick. Rounding out the forward group will be Kevin Westgarth, Anton Lander and Steve Pinizzotto.
ON THE BLUE LINE: A few young players will get an opportunity on the blueline tonight. Darnell Nurse will be paired once again with Brad Hunt. Martin Marincin skated with Keith Aulie on Thursday morning and Nikita Nikitin and Mark Fayne provide a veteran presence as a pairing. Oscar Klefbom also skated with the group.
BETWEEN THE PIPES: Ben Scrivens and Viktor Fasth are the two Oilers goaltenders against Vancouver. Fasth is expected to start.
KEEP AN EYE ON: Anton Lander and Bogdan Yakimov are both competiting for a centre spot with the Oilers. Lander has NHL experience, but Yakimov is a 6-5, 232-pound player who has shown some offensive skills so far in camp. Another battle to watch will be the one for a winger spot on the Oilers fourth line. Joensuu, Pinizzotto and Pitlick all had solid games against Arizona on Wednesday night. They all get another opportunity to shine against the Canucks. Thirdly, watch the chemistry between Taylor Hall and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. The two connected twice in the Oilers win over Winnipeg last week and looked like they were in regular season form already.