The Oilers continue to make roster cuts as they get closer to what will be the makeup of their team on opening night. Surviving the roster reductions so far, 20-year-old Jujhar Khaira is happy he’s stuck around. As he watches the number of bodies in camp go down, Khaira says he’s always nervous he might be next. But, that hasn’t happened yet.
“There are definitely nerves and stuff,” Khaira said. “My expectations are that I want to make this club. Every time there are people gone, I’m thankful it’s not me but it’s exciting to see what happens.”
Khaira is pleased with his progression in camp so far.
“I don’t know what the expectations were but I think I’ve been doing pretty well in practice here. I’ve been working hard and I think day by day I am improving and getting faster out there. I feel good, I feel confident for tonight.”
Another player excited to still be in camp is defenceman Brad Hunt.
“I’m fortunate enough to still be in the battle for a spot and that’s a dream come true,” Hunt said. “I want to make the team and that’s why you come here and that’s why you put in work during the summer. We’re all competitive people and no one wants to lose to each other. We’re all teammates, but at the same time we’re all fighting for positions. This is a great spot to be in. It’s a battle every day and that’s what you ask for.”
THE BATTLE RAGES ON
At the start of camp, Oilers Head Coach Dallas Eakins said he only had two NHL centres on the roster and the rest of the spots were open to competition. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Boyd Gordon are entrenched in their places, and the battle for the remaining spots is open to players like Leon Draisaitl, Mark Arcobello, Anton Lander, Jujhar Khaira and Bogdan Yakimov.
Eakins says he is still hoping to see players separate themselves.
“The battle is still on,” Eakins said. “For me, we have two and then there’s a whole bunch of mud after that. That’s why these games are so important to those other centremen. Nuge and Gordo are totally safe obviously. The other guys are going to have to find a way to separate themselves.”
DRAISAITL WORKING ON HIS GAME
The Oilers third-overall pick Leon Draisaitl is pleased with his first NHL training camp so far.
“I think so far I have been doing pretty well,” he said. “There are some things I need to get better at and things I have to improve, but that’s what I’m here for. I want to get better every day. I think so far I’ve been doing a good job.”
That being said, Draisaitl says he knows he still has things to work on to be the player he wants to be in his rookie year.
“I want to be better in my own zone for sure and maybe shoot the puck a little more, take the puck to the net a little more by myself instead of always looking to pass it. Those are the things where I have to get better.”
A QUICKENING PACE
The pre-season presses on and with it, the pace of the games and intensity of camp battles is picking up. That’s been a noticeable thing for Oilers defenceman Darnell Nurse.
“The pace gets a lot faster,” Nurse said. “People are going to be playing a lot harder so you just go out there, work as hard as you can, keep up that pace and have fun with it.”
Nurse was selected seventh overall in 2013. His fellow first-round pick Draisaitl has also noticed that thinks are starting to heat up.
“The season is getting closer, all of the teams are starting to really play their top guys so the pace is getting up and it’s getting way faster,” Draisaitl said.
Both players are locked in battles for roster spots.
UP FRONT: Leon Draisaitl centres the top line with David Perron and Jordan Eberle. Benoit Pouliot, Boyd Gordon and Teddy Purcell makeup the Oilers second line. Jesse Joensuu, Mark Arcobello and Teddy Purcell will play on the third line and Matt Hendricks, Jujhar Khaira and Tyler Pitlick round out the forward combinations.
ON THE BLUE LINE: Oscar Klefbom and Justin Schultz figure to be the Oilers top pairing. Darnell Nurse and Brad Hunt are paired together, like they were in the Oilers 3-1 win over Winnipeg on Monday. Martin Marincin and Keith Aulie round out the defensive pairings.
BETWEEN THE PIPES: Ben Scrivens and Viktor Fasth are the two Oilers goaltenders against Arizona.
KEEP AN EYE ON: The fourth-line winger battle for the Oilers continues to heat up. Two of the players competing for a spot on the Oilers, presumably on the wing of the fourth line, Jesse Joensuu and Tyler Pitlick will play against the Coyotes. Pitlick was in action Monday against the Jets and played well in the eyes of his coach. Joensuu played well in Saskatoon against Chicago last week as well. This camp battle continues against Arizona. Leon Draisaitl has a great opportunity to show off his offensive skills in this game. The third-overall pick in this year's draft will centre a line with David Perron and Jordan Eberle. Eberle and Perron each scored 28 goals last season, finishing second and third on the team in scoring respectively.