This offseason, the Edmonton Oilers took a few chances on some European free agents signing Joakin Nygard and Gaetan Haas.
Combining those two with Oilers rookie Joel Persson, who also played last year in Europe, the team has three players brand new to the North American ice boasting a smaller rink than that across the pond.
And so far, it’s been a work in progress as they adjust to the smaller rinks.
“I’ve been on the ice a couple of times since I came here — the biggest difference I think so far is when you come into the corner,” Persson said on Friday. “It’s a little bit of a difference. I don’t really know yet, but so far I’m feeling pretty good.
“If you can play fast, if you can be quick and make plays… I think you can (be an offensive player) do it on both the small ice and big ice. I don’t think the size of the ice makes a difference in those ways.”
Nygard, too, said he’s having a bit easier time on the smaller surface as he looks to find a home in the Oilers forward corps.
“It’s a bit different when you come and play games — you feel the difference from the Europe size (rinks),” Nygard told reporters Sunday afternoon. “When you beat the guy in the corner (here), you almost have a scoring chance.
“When you beat the guy in the corner in Sweden, you have two guys more to dangle. In the offensive zone, I think it’s good for me. If I beat a guy, I have some scoring chances.”
Sunday was the first chance for the Europeans to get some true competition on the smaller rink as the team played an open scrimmage at their community rink.
There, Nygard said, he was able to get a true test of what that rink is like.
“You don’t really feel it in practice, but when you play a game it’s pretty hard to go backwards into the board,” he said. “It’s a big difference, but I think you get used to it pretty fast when you get into games.”
Oilers head coach Dave Tippett said the European’s are all ready to take the next step.
“They’ve stepped up. Nygard I thought yesterday was excellent in practice, was strong in the game today,” he said. “Persson, I just love the way he moves the puck. Haas got cut early, he missed a couple shifts early, but they’re older players and we need to see how they react in an NHL game, not a scrimmage.
“The evaluation process kind of continues with them, but so far so good on all three of them.”
Tippett said he was impressed with Evan Bouchard, who put up four points during Sunday’s scrimmage. Tippett said the next step for Bouchard will be to see what he can do in a game scenario.
He talked about how he told all the players to take the game seriously. His mindset was to have mainly younger, or fringe players playing, to see how they were able to respond.
“It’s just another way to evaluate, but you put them in an element where you hope to see the best of them,” he said.
Sounds like the backend is still up in the air for who plays with who. Tippett said they like the Nurse-Larsson pairing and are going to give them a good look, but they seem to want to keep all their options
The #Oilers have assigned forward Raphael Lavoie to Halifax (QMJHL) & goaltender Olivier Rodrigue to Moncton (QMJHL). The training camp roster has been reduced to 52 players – five goaltenders, 16 defencemen & 31 forwards.
— Edmonton Oilers (@EdmontonOilers) September 15, 2019
The Oilers cut two players Sunday night. Personally, would’ve liked to see Lavoie get at least a preseason game under his belt before reassignment.
The Oilers are now set to embark on their first preseason games this week.
Monday night the Oilers play host to the Winnipeg Jets for a 7 p.m. matchup in Edmonton (TSN3), then head for a quick turn around Tuesday against the Canucks in Vancouver (8 p.m., SN1).
Thursday Vancouver comes to Edmonton (7 p.m., SN1), before Edmonton heads a few hours south to square up with the Calgary Flames (7 p.m.).
Now, we’ll start to get a better look at the plethora of new bodies the Oilers have brought it, as well as a chance to see what new head coach Dave Tippett has up his sleeves.
On Twitter: @zjlaing