Oilers Notebook: Mattias Ekholm faces former team for first time, Jack Campbell starts against Predators
Photo credit:James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports
By Cam Lewis1 month ago
Tuesday night’s game between the Oilers and Predators in Nashville will be a homecoming for Mattias Ekholm.
The Predators drafted Ekholm in the fourth round of the 2009 draft and he broke through as a full-time NHL defenceman during the 2013-14 season. Nashville missed the playoffs that year but then proceeded to make it in each of the next eight seasons, highlighted by a run to the Stanley Cup Final in 2016-17 and a Presidents’ Trophy in 2017-18.
The Preds missed the playoffs in 2022-23 and trading Ekholm was part of them leaning into a retooling phase.
The veteran defenceman was moved to Edmonton ahead of last season’s trade deadline as the Preds were looking to get younger and the Oilers badly needed help on their blueline. Ekholm was no stranger to seeing his name in the rumour miss but he didn’t expect to be moved after signing a four-year extension early in the 2021-22 season with a $6.25 million cap hit.
“Surprised was probably not the right word. Was I expecting it? No. But that’s the business side of it, right?” Ekholm told Daniel Nugent-Bowman of The Athletic. “When that happens for so long and you never get traded, you just feel that it’s inevitably that you’re never going to be traded. You’re going to stay, and that’s fine. Then it happened. We had two guys get traded that week, so I knew something could happen. If something were to happen, that was probably the time to do it.
When Ekholm made his Oilers debut, the team had a pedestrian 32-21-8 record, a disappointing first three-quarters of the season for a team that had been to the Western Conference Final the previous spring. The Oilers beat the Toronto Maple Leafs by a score of 5-2 in Ekholm’s first game and they proceeded to go 18-2-1 after the trade.
The Oilers’ playoff run came up short as they lost to the eventual Stanley Cup champions in the second round but the Ekholm trade has been a win for both the player and the team. Though things are going well in Edmonton, Ekholm said returning to Nashville will give him closure on the move.
“The more I think about it, I’m sure it’s going to be emotional,” Ekholm said. “I’m sure it’s going to be very weird and strange. But I’m happy it’s happening early in the year just to get some closure on it. It’s so quick when you get traded. There’s no saying goodbye to the people you want to say goodbye to.”
Ekholm played 719 games with the Preds over parts of 12 seasons, which ranks fifth in team history. Nashville general manager and former head coach Barry Trotz said that it was difficult to trade Ekholm but they “wanted to give him an opportunity to play on a team that’s one of the favourites to win a Cup in the next couple of years.”
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Jack Campbell starts against Predators, looking to rebound after being pulled in season opener
Though it won’t be made official into closer to game time, it appears as though Jack Campbell will get the start for the Oilers in Nashville.
Campbell put up excellent results during the pre-season and was given the nod when the Oilers made their 2023-24 season debut against the Vancouver Canucks last week. He allowed four goals on 16 shots and was pulled in favour of Stuart Skinner, who also allowed four goals on 16 shots in what wound up being a shocking 8-1 loss.
The Oilers are heading into Nashville with a 0-2 record on the season. They played much better in the second leg of the home-and-home with Vancouver but lost by a score of 4-3 as Skinner again allowed four goals on 16 shots. The team’s defence certainly shoulders some blame as well but the Oilers need better than a .750 save percentage.
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