The Edmonton Oilers will unofficially begin their 2021 season tomorrow with an optional skate with no coaches on the ice at 2:30 p.m. MT at the NAIT arena. Training camp will then officially begin Monday, January 4th and the Oilers will have 23 forwards, 12 defenceman and five goalies on the roster. But not all of them will be on the ice for opening day.
Courtesy of some text messages and looking at the NHL.com site, the following players should be on the training camp roster.
23 Forwards: **These are not lines, just the players**
Left Wingers Centres: Right Wingers
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins Connor McDavid Zack Kassian
Dominik Kahun Leon Draisaitl Kailer Yamamoto
Tyler Ennis Kyle Turris Jesse Puljujarvi
James Neal Jujhar Khaira Josh Archibald
Joakim Nygard Gaetan Haas Alex Chiasson
Tyler Benson Devin Shore (PTO) Patrick Russell
Seth Griffith Ryan McLeod Adam Cracknell
Cooper Marody Adam Quine
12 Defencemen: **Not D pairs.**
Left Defence Right Defence
Darnell Nurse Ethan Bear
Caleb Jones Tyson Barrie
Kris Russell Adam Larsson
Slater Koekkoek Evan Bouchard
William Lagesson Theodor Lennstrom
Marcus Niemelainen Ryan Stanton (PTO)
When you see the forwards listed, it illustrates how much competition there will be for spots. Not just to make the opening night roster, but where and with who players will play. Dave Tippett outlined in yesterday’s article his views on the competitions, and he made it clear many jobs are up for grabs.
We know Gaetan Haas will not be on the ice for opening day of camp, as he will still need a few more days of negative tests after arriving in late December from a quarantine in Switzerland, but according to a source Haas might not be the only one missing on day one. He wouldn’t confirm if that was due to injury or COVID related.
Missing any sort of time will be a detriment to a player because the Oilers only have a maximum of eight on-ice days during camp before the season-opener on January 13th against Vancouver. They will have one mandatory off-day per the CBA agreement.
BATTLES TO WATCH…
Who plays left wing? RNH will either play with McDavid or Draisaitl. I’m leaning towards him starting with McDavid, so that leaves Neal, Kahun, Ennis and Nygard to battle for the other three spots. The prized spot is on Draisaitl’s left wing. Whichever winger is lucky enough to slot beside the reigning Hart, Art Ross and Ted Lindsay trophy winner will have the best opportunity to produce offence.
On the right side, one of Jesse Puljujarvi, Josh Archibald or Alex Chiasson will likely not be in the opening night lineup. I have Kassian and Yamamoto in. Archibald plays the PK, so I expect him to make it, and many have Puljujarvi starting the season with Turris, but he needs to make a good impression on Tippett. Chiasson is a proven veteran.
Haas or Khaira as the 4th line centre. Both can PK, and Khaira needs to be involved from day one if he wants to maintain the spot he had in the playoffs. He played quite well in the postseason on a line with Neal and Chiasson, but inconsistency has been his biggest enemy thus far in his career. He needs to show Tippett he will be engaged in every game, and that starts in training camp.
On the blueline, Bouchard will push Bear, Barrie and Larsson, but unless one is injured I don’t see them not starting game one. The addition of Koekkoek makes the left side battle much more interesting between Jones, Russell and Koekkoek. I think Jones is ready for an expanded role, but he needs a much better camp than he had last season, when he was sent down early.
The three goalies are set, but who starts opening night between Koskinen and Smith is up for grabs. With the Oilers playing on the 13th and 14th, both will play right away, but how even of a rotation will we see? Last year Smith started 37 games while Koskinen started 34. It might be a similar split this season, (29-27, 30-26, 31-25) or something like that. Assuming both remain healthy of course.
With six consecutive two-game mini-series to start the season against Vancouver, Montreal, Toronto, Winnipeg, Toronto and Ottawa I’m curious to see how Tippett rotates his goalies.
The Oilers playing in the new Canadian division complete with 19 two-game sets, 3 three-game sets and 12 sets of back-to-back games makes this season unlike any we’ve ever seen. I haven’t been this intrigued and excited about an NHL regular season in a long time. Bring it on.
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