For most of us anything related to the term "splits" means painful or impossible, or in the case of the above photo, freakish. However, tonight the Oilers will ice two split squads, one at home v. the Minnesota Wild and another in Saskatoon to face the Chicago Blackhawks, and Oiler fans couldn’t be happier. It’s been 163 days since the Oilers last played a hockey game, and tonight you get your first chance to see if a long-season has helped them improve.
If you are going to Rexall you will see 2nd round picks, Anton Lander, Tyler Pitlick, Martin Marincin and David Musil, and a host of other players for the first time. You’ll also see some kid named Taylor Hall.
Hall – Belanger – Jones
Paajarvi – Lander – Omark
Tyrvainen – Pitlick – Keller
Hordichuk – House – Abney
Barker – Gilbert
Marincin – Tulupov
Musil – Fedun
Bunz (play 2nd half)
Ralph Krueger, Steve Smith, Rocky Thompson and Gerry Fleming will run the bench.
The Wild have dressed a physical lineup so I’m not surprised Hordichuk and Abney are dressed. Matt Kassian was the final cut last year for the Wild and according to reports he’s been very physical in camp. Look for the Edmonton product to show up physically tonight.
Guillaume Latendresse-Matt Cullen-Pierre-Marc Bouchard
Darroll Powe-Kyle Brodziak-Cal Clutterbuck
Brett Bulmer-Warren Peters-Jed Ortmeyer
Matt Kassian-David McIntyre-Jarod Palmer
Jordan Hendry-Mike Lundin
Clayton Stoner-Jared Spurgeon
Justin Falk-Nate Prosser
I’m curious to see the the Oilers’ Swedish connection, and I won’t be surprised if Lander has a solid game. He has looked comfortable from the beginning of rookie camp, and by slotting him between two countrymen his first NHL preseason game should be much smoother.
I’ll be watching Tulupov closely. He is here without a contract and he needs, and wants, to make an impression. His english is very good, and he’s very intent on making an impact. He has a heavy shot, moves the puck well and he’ll be looking to land a few big hits like the one he had on Ben Eager in the Joey Moss Cup.
Ryan Jones admitted he wants to prove the naysayers who think he’s a one-hit wonder wrong, and he talked about needing to get off to a good start. It won’t hurt playing alongside Hall. Speaking of Hall he told me this is the longest stretch he has gone without playing a game, and he’s expecting a bit of rust, but admitted he was "pumped" to finally play again.
With four inexperienced D-men, Khabibulin should get a good test. I’m curious to see how Musil plays. He has looked very steady, but tonight is a big step up from the JM Cup and rookie camp. There are no guarantees with any prospect, but I’ll be shocked if he isn’t an NHLer down the road. The question is whether he can become a bonafide top-three D-man or not.
The great part about preseason is watching how the young kids play. Sure they will make mistakes, but it’s how they react on the subsequent shifts that intrigues me. It’s interesting to see who stays composed and who lets their nerves get the best of them.
SMYTH SEES SASKATOON
I have an inkling that the Internet hits for the Chic/Oil game will be higher than the Minny/Oil game tonight, because the fans who aren’t at Rexall will want to see Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. The first overall pick in 2011 will centre former first rounders, Ryan Smyth (6th, 1994) and Jordan Eberle (22nd, 2008), and he’ll get the chance to square off against another top-five pick inJonathon Toews (3rd, 2006).
Smyth – Nugent-Hopkins – Eberle
Petrell – Brule – Tremblay
Hamilton – O’Marra – Green
Martindale – Vande Velde – Hartikainen
Smid – Peckham
Petry – Chorney
Davidson – Potter
Roy (likely plays 2nd half)
Tom Renney, Kelly Buchberger and Todd Nelson will be on the bench.
The Hawks will dress Jonathon Toews and Renney said he’d like to see how Nugent-Hopkins plays against him. The Hawks are the home team, so Renney won’t control that, but he will give the kid a few shifts against one of the best centremen in the league if possible.
Smid and Peckham are an interesting pair. Both normally play the left side, but Peckham will try the right side tonight. Smid doesn’t like the right side, so if Peckham can make the switch, Renney is considering using them as a pair. It is early, but he wants to see how Peckham adapts to the other side.
I haven’t seen any set Hawks lines, but here is their roster for tonight. (Not lines, just roster)
STALBERG – J. TOEWS – BEACH
SAAD- McNEILL – OLESZ
DANAULT- HAYES – KRUGER
MAYERS – SMITH – D. TOEWS
FAHEY – LAVIN
LEDDY – EPISTO
MONTADOR – SCOTT
- Sam Gagner and Shawn Horcoff will likely on Thursday. Renney said both have a clean bill of health and should play on Thursday.
- Ben Eager was scheduled to play, but he has a minor tweak that will keep him out. Renney said he needed to speak with T.D Forss (head athletic therapist) to get an exact timeline, but it doesn’t look serious. I wonder if the Tulupov hit caused the injury?
- Andy Sutton will skate tomorrow and Renney said he expects him to be ready for the Calgary game. He didn’t specify on which one, so Sutton will play sometime this weekend; either at home v. the Flames on Saturday or in Calgary on Sunday.
- Devan Dubnyk is hoping to play at least 2 1/2 games. He’ll play half tonight, and then ideally one this weekend and one the following weekend. He expects to be on the team, so he is more focused on making little tweaks/changes after allowing a goal, rather than fret about it costing him a job like he did the past few camps.
- Look for the Oilers to make another round of cuts tomorrow and get down around 40-45 players.