EDMONTON, AB - Two separate groups of Oilers players hit the ice for morning skate ahead of their first pre-season matchup of the 2017-18 season. In what has become somewhat of a tradition, the Oilers will square off against the Calgary Flames in a split-squad matchup with half the team heading to Calgary and the other half staying for action at Rogers Place.
Heading up the squad making the trip down the highway will be the top line of Milan Lucic, Leon Draisaitl and Drake Caggiula.
On the backend, there will be a familiar pair anchoring the defence as Swedes Adam Larsson and Oscar Klefbom will pick up where they left off last season as the Oilers top D pairing.
Both d-men are looking to build off the chemistry they were able to develop throughout the 2016-17 campaign and hope some familiarity will help their cause.
"It feels good right from the start when we have the opportunity to play with each other for a long time… The chemistry is just getting better and better with time. We just want to build off that and get a good start because that's huge," said Klefbom.
His fellow Swede shared a similar sentiment.
"Me and Oscar had a lot of chemistry last year but it's a new season, the page has turned and we have to continue where we left off… Even though it's pre-season we have to have that clicking before the season starts," said Larsson.
Oilers 2017 first-round draft pick Kailer Yamamoto will get his first taste of NHL pre-season action as he joins the Oilers group going to Calgary, flanking PTO centreman Chris Kelly along with Jujhar Khaira on the left side as the Oilers second line.
The young shifty winger is relishing the opportunity as he looks to continue making the most of his first pro training camp.
"The last few days (of camp) have almost been surreal… Working the hardest I can is the one thing I know I can bring to the table every day," said Yamamoto.
Heading into his first pre-season action with linemates with different degrees of experience is also something Yamamoto hopes will boost his play.
"I think it's going to help me. (Chris Kelly) is definitely a veteran who's going to teach me the ropes. I think Jujhar (Khaira) and him will cool my nerves a little bit before the game."
Getting the nod between the pipes for the Oilers in Calgary will be Laurent Brossoit. The 6-foot-3, 200-pound goaltender made eight regular-season appearances last season compiling a 4-1 record to go along with a .928 save percentage and 1.99 goals against average and looks to further bolster his role as backup to Cam Talbot in 2017-18. Slotting in as backup will be 2016 college free-agent signing Nick Ellis who solidified a starter role with the Oilers AHL affiliate Bakersfield Condors in the second half of the 2016-17 season.
The Flames lineup will feature plenty of NHL regulars with the likes of Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, Micheal Ferland, Mark Giordano, TJ Brodie, Travis Hamonic and Mike Smith all suiting up for Calgary at the Saddledome to make for a strong test for the young Oilers squad. -- Cait MacPhail, EdmontonOilers.com
Projected Oilers lineup based on the morning skate:
Giordano - Hamilton Brodie - Hamonic Valimaki - Kylington
MORNING SKATE REPORT - FLAMES AT OILERS
EDMONTON, AB - Among the Oilers playing in Edmonton are Connor McDavid, Ryan Strome, Patrick Maroon, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Darnell Nurse. Other skaters surely to get a look from management include Jesse Puljujarvi - a trigger on Nugent-Hopkins' line - Caleb Jones, Ethan Bear and William Lagesson. Bear and Jones will pair up together, Lagesson will skate with Mark Fayne and Nurse and Eric Gryba will headline the top pairing.
"We want to play some players and give them an opportunity early here to get their feet wet," said Oilers Head Coach Todd McLellan. "Give them an idea of what it's going to feel like as we move forward and find out if they deserve to move forward. Everybody's going to get an opportunity to perform and to show us their stuff."
Acquired over the summer was Strome, who will skate with McDavid and Maroon on the top line Monday in Edmonton. "I got nerves this morning and that's a good thing; it means I'm excited and ready to go," Strome said following the pre-game skate.
"I've never worn the (Oilers) jersey in a game and little things like that mean a lot to players no matter how old you are or how many games you've played."
The newcomer hasn't had much experience with his linemates just yet but did get some reps with them during the few scrimmages the team held in training camp - even sniping a goal after he was fed a pass by McDavid.
"It's not even fair after two 50-minute straight time games with a complete mix of first-year junior players and NHL players to evaluate where he's at and the chemistry that they have," McLellan said. "He's figuring things out as we go and we had one day where he scored a goal in a scrimmage and that was great, but we won't be able to answer those questions until we really get going."
The former New York Islander joins the club with a mandate of shooting more, something McLellan stressed when he was first welcomed to the team.
"It's definitely hard not to be focused on getting one guy the puck but that's part of the learning process and something I kind of learned with Johnny (John Tavares) a little bit," Strome said. "You have to make your own plays."
McDavid's high-octane game and sheer speed is something his teammates have become familiar with. For Strome, his adjustment will be twofold: practical and mental.
"Putting the puck in an area and keeping your mind up to his speed," he said when asked what he needs to do to complement his centreman. "Little adjustments but each day's getting a lot more comfortable. The main thing for me is getting your own game to where you think it has to be for the regular season and the combinations and the chemistry will take care of itself."
Nugent-Hopkins will pivot his good friend Joey Laleggia and 2016 fourth-overall selection Puljujarvi. Laleggia is a converted left winger, having previously been a defenceman for the majority of his collegiate and professional career, while Puljujarvi will show the strides he's made after spending time with the Bakersfield Condors last season.
"The way that he was going yesterday was really good to see," Nugent-Hopkins said of Puljujarvi. "He was flying every time he got the puck. He's got that speed, he's got a good shot so whenever I see him going, I'm going to move it to him."
Nugent-Hopkins said the language barrier with Puljujarvi won't be a limiting factor. Communication is key and Nugent-Hopkins plans on being vocal with his linemate.
"I'm talking to him more and more and trying to get him comfortable with me - comfortable speaking and asking questions," the centre said. "I know it's tough when there is that barrier there."
Cam Talbot is expected to make the start and Eddie Pasquale could swap in at some point. Grayson Downing will dress and Josh Currie will not play.
-- Paul Gazzola, EdmontonOilers.com
Projected Oilers lineup based on the morning skate:
Maroon - McDavid - Strome Laleggia - RNH - Puljujarvi Pakarinen - Letestu - Kassian Hamilton - Currie/Downing - Russell
Nurse - Gryba Jones - Bear Lagesson - Fayne
Projected Flames lineup based on the morning skate: