When training camp started Dallas Eakins very clearly outlined the three forward spots that were up for grabs; two centre spots and the right wing slot on the 4th line. With only two preseason games remaining to impress the coaches, the battles for those spots have intensified.
Leon Draisaitl has made a strong case for one of the centre positions, but the other two slots are wide open.
Steve Pinizzotto and Jesse Joensuu teamed up for a pair of goals last night, with Pinizzotto assisting on both Joensuu tallies. They had a strong game, and both have been consistent thus far. Tyler Pitlick had a solid game as well, but he wasn’t as noticeable as those two.
Marc Arcobello played his best game last night, while Bogdan Yakimov gets back in the lineup tonight, hoping to continue his strong preseason. I still feel Yakimov will start the season in the AHL, but he has looked very good and once he gets more comfortable with the pace of the AHL/NHL game I think he will be a solid NHL centre.
The battle for the blueline continues as well, with Martin Marincin, Oscar Klefbom and Darnell Nurse battling for the #6 spot and Keith Aulie and Brad Hunt fighting over the #7 spot.
Yakupov gets a great opportunity to get going offensively skating beside the Oilers’ two best forwards. Nugent-Hopkins and Hall have both played very well this pre-seaons, and Yakupov should get a big boost of offensive confidence alongside them.
Draisaitl is the only centre playing back-to-back and after playing the most minutes of any forward last night, Eakins wants to see how his body reacts tonight. Can Draisaitl’s pace remain as high as it was last night?
Purcell was better last night, but his ES play remains a concern. He has excellent hands and will be on the 2nd PP unit when the regular season starts, but I’d like to see a bit more urgency in his game.
Pitlick has played well, but he needs to produce some points and he should create some chances beside Yakimov.
Pinizzotto played excellent last night. We know he plays with an edge, but he showed he has some decent hands as well.
Hunt struggled last night. He will need to rebound or he likely losses the #7 spot to Aulie. Aulie has improved, but considering how horrendous he was in the first preseason game, the only direction he could go was up, so that isn’t saying much. Marincin played much better last night, and he looked like a guy who is prepared to hold onto his spot on the roster. Nurse made some great plays, but also some “junior” decisions. I like his game and I think he will be a very good D-man in the future, but I believe he will be back in junior next week.
Eddie Lack starts in goal.
The Sedins and Radim Vrbata will not play tonight, while Brad Richardson, Frank Corrado and Zach Kassian will sit out due to injuries.
The Canucks will play a veteran lineup. They only have 17 forwards, 8 D-men and 2 goalies remaining in camp.
This will be the most the most experienced lineup the Oilers have faced so far, and it will be a great way to gauge the players on the bubble.
- Joensuu, Draisaitl, Purcell, Pitlick, Pinizzoto, Marincin, Hunt, Aulie and Nurse are all playing back-to-back. Eakins wants to see who has a drop off in their game and who can maintain the same pace.
- Watch for Hall and RNH to cycle the puck at ES, while Yakupov tries to find an open shooting lane. The major difference playing with a left shot on the right wing is that Yakupov has to receive most of his passes on the rush on his backhand, so RNH and Hall will take a bit off the passes. Hall is most dangerous off the rush, so I’m curious to see how Yakupov fits in with those two. If they have good chemistry, it sounds like there is a chance they could start the regular season together.
- Perron injured his ribs last night, but Eakins said this morning he doesn’t think it is anything serious. “David has made our team, so we don’t have to push him.”
- Jeff Petry wants to play Saturday, but the medical staff will decide that morning. Andrew Ference could play tonight according to Eakins, but they elected to give him another few days of rest.
- Luke Gazdic, Ryan Hamilton and Brandon Davidson look like they will start the year on the IR. Davidson has a sports hernia, Gazdic is waiting for clearance for his shoulder, while Hamilton has an oblique injury. Hamilton and Davidson will go to OKC the second they are cleared, while Gazdic likely stays in Edmonton.
- The Oilers re-assigned Laurent Brossoit and David Musil to OKC this morning. Eakins said they want Musil to get out of his comfort zone as a steady, stay-at-home-defender, and become more engaged in the rush. They want him to work on that in OKC. Brossoit will split goaltending duties with Richard Bachman in OKC, as long as he plays well. The Oilers want him to get some quality playing time.
- Excluding the three injured players, the Oilers have 19 forwards, 10 D-men and three goalies left in camp. They need to make eight cuts. Eakins said they haven’t decided if they will keep 14 forwards and 7 D-men, or 13 forwards and 8 D-men yet.
The obvious cuts, for me, before next Tuesday’s deadline, are Bachman, Acton, Khaira, Westgarth (PTO release) and Hunt. That leaves four more. I see Nurse going to junior and Yakimov to OKC and I think Klefbom goes down as well, mainly because it is better he plays than sit in pressbox as the #7. If an injury occurs, then I’d recall him and insert him into the lineup ahead of Aulie.
That leaves one cut. Right now I think it is between Pitlick, Joensuu and Lander. Lander has shown the least to this point, but he is a centre and he’s only played two games. All three are waiver eligible, but I doubt anyone would claim Joensuu. Lander and Pitlick would only get picked up due to their age, however, I still think it is a long shot that either one gets claimed when every team will be trimming their rosters. I remember when no one claimed Rob Schremp. I think it would be the same with any of these three.
GAME DAY PREDICTION: Expect a fiesty affair, with some players on both teams playing for a roster spot. The Oilers end their preseason home record a perfect 4-0 after a 4-2 victory.
OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: It is the first televised game of the year, so the Nation will be packed with post-game thoughts on who should be cut. The debate over Pitlick, Lander or Joensuu will be a hot topic.
NOT-SO-OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: Pinizzotto fought on Monday, had two assists last night and he gets a Gordie Howe hat-trick over four days when he scores in the second period.
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