Bright and early Friday morning, the Oilers Rookies were bussed to Rexall Place, rolling deep as the team prepares to begin the 2011-12 season at the second annual Young Stars Tournament in Penticton, BC.
Yes, hockey is back.
In a two-hour circuit that saw the crew dart from station to station, medical exams were completed, roster photos were snapped, and a new challenge was emphatically presented. They’re Oilers, and they’ll be representing the team’s orange and royal blue colours against NHL rivals over the next week.
“It's good to see the young fellas back in here,” said a chipper Tom Renney. “It's been a while since Development Camp and some of them we haven't seen at all, so it makes for an exciting week.”
Following a 30th place standing last season, Renney is eager to turn things around in his second season as the team's head coach.
“You can't help but get excited about the Oilers' situation in general,” he smiled. “We were excited last year at this time for making a decision to take a certain path.
"To continue on with that, you see more very good young players in the mix. It’s exciting.”
Over the summer, the Oilers made several moves to acquire seasoned veterans. Ryan Smyth, Andy Sutton and Eric Belanger helped accomplish that, and it appears to be a theme carrying over the team’s already loaded prospect pool as well.
Heading into Penticton, Edmonton boasts an impressive mix of newcomers and those with pro experience. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, naturally, is among the wide-eyed group, looking to make a strong first impression. On the other side, rugged blueliner Colten Teubert has already played 77 pro games across the ECHL and AHL.
The veteran leadership, Renney says, is “invaluable.”
|Head Coach Tom Renney will attend the Young Stars Tournament this week. |
“I think it's critical,” he said of building harmony. “I'm a big fan of team chemistry, obviously. This is a team.
"We're going to Penticton and, sure, everyone's going to get a chance to play hockey and play a couple games at the very least, but I'd like to go win.
“In order to do that, we've got to have leadership from those people that are capable of offering that up and strong, solid, honest participation from others along the way. That's how you evaluate what you have. We hope that every single guy that puts the jersey on over the next week is desperate to win.”
Teubert will be counted on to provide that veteran presence, but he’ll also be a ruthless opponent for the Flames, Canucks and Jets. In his mind, the goal is to play simple and not overexpose any weaknesses by taking chances.
“If you're doing too much and getting noticed for the wrong reasons, then you're in the doghouse for sure,” he explained. “Under the radar, unless it's a big hit and you’re good.
“I need to play my normal game, play physical. Everyone’s running around at 100mph trying to make an impression, so you can’t be too flashy.
“I'm going to play solid, be consistent and help these young guys out.”
All eyes will, naturally, be on the team’s No. 1 overall pick. Nugent-Hopkins has had a busy summer, making a sparkling introduction at July’s Development Camp at Millennium Place. Since then, he’s had the opportunity to rest up and continue his path of building strength, stamina and other NHL attributes.
“I’m going to do everything I can to make an impression and stand out to the coaches," he said. "I’m going to go there and play my game, play as well as I can.
“I watched all the [Young Stars] highlights last year and I saw how well some of the guys did. I’m very excited and I think we should do pretty well there.”
“He's a superior kid in every way,” Renney said of Nugent-Hopkins. “It's about strength; and not physical strength, it's about the mental strength and being able to assert your will when you need to.
“My impression of him early is that he has that capacity, but only time will tell. This is quite a process that he's involved in, too, and we're going to respect that.”
Supported by a staff of willing coaches and keen teammates, Nugent-Hopkins is ready to step up and become an NHL player.
He’s almost there.
“[I feel like an Oiler] more and more,” he said. “I’ve watched the Battle of Alberta so much over the years, so I’m really excited to actually play in it next week. It’s going to be awesome.”
The challenge for Nugent-Hopkins and the others begins tomorrow when the team will charter to the interior, practice in Kelowna and settle that night in Penticton before the Young Stars quest commences.
All games will be streamed LIVE on edmontonoilers.com.
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