EDMONTON, AB - The boys are back in town.
The Oilers players descended upon Rogers Place Thursday, for the opening of training camp. The players participated in medicals and fitness testing, while meeting with the media to discuss a number of topics.
Oilers Head Coach Todd McLellan was also on hand and gave some good insight on the roster heading into camp. Here are three things - three storylines - to take from Thursday.
1. THE INJURY SITUATION
The Oilers were able to remain relatively healthy last season, but enter this year's training camp with two injuries that stand out. Veteran Andrej Sekera tore his ACL in Game 5 versus the Anaheim Ducks in the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
As expected, Sekera will not start training camp with the team or participate on the ice until "quite a way into the season."
"There's still that timeframe of early November-January," said McLellan. "It's that broad right now and obviously we're going to have to compensate for his loss but early in the year that gives some young players an opportunity."
McLellan also provided an update on Anton Slepyshev, who is dealing with a much less serious ankle injury.
"Slepyshev is looking like he's improving a lot," said McLellan. "I still don't expect him to skate tomorrow but I would qualify him as day-to-day."
2. WHAT'S GOING ON WITH THE RIGHT SIDE?
Speaking of Slepyshev's injury, McLellan mentioned the state of flux on the right side for Edmonton. With Slepyshev being out, the arrival of Ryan Strome and exit of Jordan Eberle raises some questions on who will play where on the right side.
Video: RAW | McLellan on Camp Day 1
"Our unknown, in my opinion, comes on the right side right now, especially with Slepyshev out and injured and Strome coming in as a new player," said McLellan. "We've got to where he fits and how he gels with different linemates so the right side in my opinion is the 'wildcard' position on our team right now."
McLellan says the club will try Drake Caggiula on the right side to start camp.
"(It) is where he ended up in the playoffs for a little bit," McLellan said. "We're going to try him there and see how he handles that job throughout training camp and some exhibition games but those pieces are moving all the time in my opinion and they still need to be sorted out."
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It's not always about fitting specific players in specific spots for McLellan. He more often than not focuses on pairs than individuals. The right side is what will mostly be interchangeable.
"We tend to have pairs - left and centre," he said. "We'll go with - I don't want to call it 'comfort' because I don't think there's anything that's easy - but the familiarity of pairs helps early in the season, that's why you'll see Patty Maroon and Connor (McDavid) together, and Leon (Draisaitl) and (Milan Lucic). (Ryan Nugent-Hopkins) won't have that comfort but he's a very bright player and he'll be able to adjust with his new linemates.
Another wildcard in all this is Jesse Puljujarvi and where he fits in year two, and whether or not he's ready for that full-time role with the team.
3. RISING TO THE EXPECTATIONS
This is a storyline that will be covered throughout the season. How will this team - these young players - deal with expectations? So far, they're saying all the right things. McDavid, for example, said during the informal skates that nothing has changed for him and the team, even since his rookie year. High expectations, low expectations: it doesn't matter.
McLellan gave a very good quote on the high expectations for his team this year and rising to them.
"I think it's an honour to have expectations put on a team," he said. "That means you've earned a right to be classified in that group. I think we've worked hard to get to where we are. The key will be to remember how hard it is to win and that's up to the team and the group of guys. I will caution everybody, each year is its own monster and takes on its own personality and has its own set of circumstances."
This 2017-18 monster is sure to bring its challenges. It is also expected, by McLellan, to be a more challenging year. Last season, the team was healthy and got breakthrough campaigns from key players. That's not always a guarantee. The road will be tougher.
"Absolutely. I don't think there's any question about it," he said. "When you look at the number of players that set personal bests, that doesn't happen very often. That alone is going to be a hard thing to repeat. When you look at the fact that we were fairly healthy in comparison to the year prior, that doesn't happen very often. So we will go through, and we're already starting with Sekera, we will go through those periods.
"The expectations that are put on his create a whole new challenge for us internally. We're going to have some pretty darn good nights. We're also going to have some down times and periods because the season ebs and flows. How we behave, how we act and how we carry ourselves through those times will be a big challenge for us now."
Edmonton will break down their roster into groups and skate the next three days at Rogers Place. Sunday's practice is open to the public, and Monday marks the start of their pre-season schedule with a split-squad game against the Calgary Flames.