HAPPY RETURNS On the same day the Edmonton Oilers assigned a dozen players to the Oklahoma City Barons and the Western Hockey League, the team also geared up to welcome one of their most influential forwards back to the lineup.
The Oilers sent 11 players to the AHL's Barons and one to the WHL on Monday, and also announced right-winger Ales Hemsky will most likely be in the lineup for Edmonton's final home pre-season game against the Phoenix Coyotes on Tuesday at 7:00pm at Rexall Place.
Hemsky recorded 42 points in 47 games during the 2010-11 NHL season before being shut down for the remainder of the campaign with a shoulder injury. The 2011 all-star selection is entering his ninth season with the Oilers and has scored 114 goals and 281 assists for 395 points in 490 regular season games.
"I think the shoulder should be fine, should be healed enough to take the hits," Hemsky said following Monday's practice, which only included Oilers who didn't play against the Flames on Sunday in Calgary. "I think I should be fine. We'll find out tomorrow in our next game. It's been a long time (since I've played), and I'm anxious to start the season and get in some games."
Oilers head coach Tom Renney confirmed Hemsky will almost certainly be in the lineup against the Coyotes on Tuesday and said he encourages the veteran winger to work hard to create opportunities for himself to score.
"He's got great vision and all kinds of courage," Renney said. "The big thing for him is to keep moving around and put himself in a position to receive passes for one-timers on the power play and on the rush. I want to see him locked in, tactically, to how we want to play since this will be his first game."
Hemsky skated with veteran left-winger and former linemate Ryan Smyth, as well as centre Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, at practice on Monday, a good indication the trio will be playing together on Tuesday against Phoenix.
"He's a really smart player, really skilled, so it's pretty fun to play with him," Hemsky said of skating with the 2011 first-overall pick Nugent-Hopkins. "I think we'll be playing together tomorrow so it should be fun. I think I'm the shooter on that line now."
Renney reiterated the notion that Hemsky will need to become more of a trigger man on Tuesday and throughout the season.
"We encourage him to shoot and he seems like he's more willing to," the coach said. "It's not necessarily a hard shot, but boy does he have accuracy. The goalie's going to have to make a save when he shoots it, so obviously we encourage that."
OILERS TRIM ROSTER BY 12
Forwards Philippe Cornet, Tanner House, Chris VandeVelde, Milan Kytnar, Curtis Hamilton, Ryan Martindale and Tyler Pitlick, as well defencemen Ryan Lowery, Alex Plante and Kirill Tulupov, and goalie Olivier Roy were assigned to the Barons on Monday, while defenceman Martin Marincin was sent to the WHL's Prince George Cougars. With the 12 assignments, the Oilers are now carrying 35 players on their roster.
"We want our guys in a situation where they're going to get the most ice time," Renney said. "There are some guys in these assignments who are very capable in the call-up position. They just have to play and continue to define themselves."
Monday's assignments mean Nugent-Hopkins is one more step closer to cracking the Oilers' roster as an 18-year-old rookie. After Tuesday's game, the team plays their final two pre-season games on the road this weekend in Minnesota and Vancouver.
"This gives me another opportunity to go out there and play the way I've been playing," the Red Deer Rebels WHL product said. "Hopefully I can get into the last three games of the exhibition season and see how it goes after that."
So far during the pre-season, Nugent-Hopkins has played on forward lines with Smyth, Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle. He said he's been fortunate to line up with such talented teammates and is excited about the prospect of playing with Smyth and Hemsky on Tuesday.
"I've had some really good linemates the past few games, and if I get to play with those guys tomorrow I'd definitely be happy," he said. "It helps me adjust to the game faster, playing with these veteran guys. They've been here before and know what it takes. It's great to learn from them."
WHITNEY AND TEUBERT GET CLOSER
Defencemen Ryan Whitney and Colten Teubert gave updates on their respective injuries following Monday's skate, which saw Whitney (ankle) participate fully and Teubert (concussion) skate with the red non-contact jersey.
Whitney said he's unsure whether he'll be able to make it into an exhibition game, though he said he'd very much like to do so before embarking on regular season action.
"Today was a good step for me, but it's got to continue that way," said Whitney, who continues to take anti-inflammatory medication to help with his recovery. "It's on my mind because I'm still feeling it physically. A little pain I can obviously play with. There's a difference between playing hurt and playing injured, and right now I still happen to be injured. There's some patience being tested, but we're still taking it day by day."
For Teubert, Monday was his fourth skate since he suffered his mild concussion and broken nose during the Young Stars Tournament in Penticton. He expected to be cleared to play following a doctor's appointment Monday afternoon.
"I felt good today. I feel ready and I'm just hoping to get into a game," Teubert said. "It's going to be up to the coaches, so whatever decision they make I'm going to respect it. I just want to get into the lineup and get back to my game."
-- Ryan Frankson | edmontonoilers.com