The Oilers travel to Winnipeg today to face the Jets tonight, and this one day trip is made even more difficult when you factor in the lack of an airport in Winnipeg. It is a long travel day, and it will be a good test for those players on the bubble to show Dave Tippett they can play well despite being a bit fatigued.
Some of those players on the bubble will be playing with quality players tonight, as Tippett is giving them an opportunity to succeed.
Tomas Jurco will play with @Connor McDavid and @James Neal. Jurco, who has had two back surgeries in the past three years, has had a solid camp. He has shown at various times in his career that he has NHL skill, but a lack of consistency early in his career, and the recent back surgeries have made it difficult to succeed. He has a great opportunity tonight to show Tippett he is an option in the top six.
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@Leon Draisaitl will centre @Joakim Nygard and @Anton Burdasov. Both wingers need to show the coach they can play with top-six forwards.
And Ethan Bear will be paired with Oscar Klefbom as Joel Persson is out with a shoulder injury for the next 7-10 days. As Tippett said to Bear yesterday, “Knock, knock, opportunity awaits.”
If I was a player, I’d love hearing that from my coach. Every player wants an opportunity to show the coach they can perform. Now it is up to them to go out and do it.
Bear is in a great position. Persson is not a proven veteran, who upon returning from an injury would automatically retain his spot in the lineup. Persson hasn’t played a regular season game. He’s played seven periods in the preseason. If Bear shows well tonight and Saturday he will be in the opening lineup next Wednesday. And if plays well again, it will be difficult for Persson to get back in. Not impossible, but more difficult than if Bear was replacing Adam Larsson, for instance.
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The majority of veteran players have earned the right to get their spot back. They have gained the trust of the coach. Right now Persson is someone the coaching staff liked, and they had put him in a good position alongside Klefbom from day one of training camp. However, part of that was due to the fact Tippett knew very little about him. He’d seen Bear and other young D-men before, but didn’t know much about Persson. Now he has some information on him, but Tippett expressed excitement in seeing what Bear can do.
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“He came in committed with one goal — to make this team,” said Tippett. “His attention to detail about what it takes to play in the NHL has been very good. He moves the puck well, he thinks the game well and now he has to make sure he is at the speed, and thinking, at an NHL level that allows you to win. There are times when young players try to make too much of a play, and they don’t realize a bail out is a good play for that situation. There are other times when he knows he has to dig in a little harder on the details of defending, details on structure of the game, but he is starting to get it. I’m looking forward to seeing him in the next couple of games.”

LINEUP…

Oilers

Jurco-McDavid-Neal
Nygard-Draisaitl-Burdasov
P.Russell-Haas-Kassian
Khaira-Cave-Archibald
Klefbom-Bear
K. Russell-Benning
Lagesson-Manning
Smith
The fact McDavid is willing to make the one day round trip to Winnipeg in preseason, which most veterans dislike, illustrates how badly he wants to play. He pushed for this according to Tippett. McDavid wants to sharpen his game for the regular season, and now that he has been cleared to play, he’s eager to. You have to love his drive and desire, and it is a reminder of what makes the greats so great. They always want to play and improve.
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Smith gets the start again. Tippett said he didn’t want Koskinen sitting too long, so he could get some time in Calgary on Saturday. I think the starting job is wide open. Tippett wanted to create a competition and he is doing that. If Smith plays well tonight, Koskinen has to match that on Saturday, or we could see Smith on opening night next Wednesday.

Jets

Ehlers-Schiefele-Roslovic
Perrault-Copp-Bourque
Appleton-Letestu-Vesalainen
Gustafsson-Luoto-Seuss
Kulikov-Pionk
Beaulieu-Poolman
Heinola-Bitetto
Hellebuyck
Lines are unofficial. I know those are the 18 skaters, but the lines and D pairs are a projection.

QUICK HITS…

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1. Today Tippett said two spots in the top-six are wide open. Only McDavid with Draisaitl and RNH with Neal are set. “The competition is still open. We went in with a plan where the veterans got the first look, but now we are open to somebody stealing a job also, ” said Tippett. Jurco, Nygard and Burdasov will get that chance tonight.
2. @Gaetan Haas is starting to look more comfortable in the eyes of his head coach. “He seems to me like he is coming on,” said Tippett. “The first two games he seemed to struggle with the pace and maybe the size of the rink and size of the players, but the past few days in practice he has come on. I’m interested to see how he plays tonight.”
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Haas only has a few games to impress. “I don’t have a lot of time. I need to show what I can do,” he said this morning. It is a very difficult situation to try and make an NHL roster out of training camp, when you’ve never played a game in the NHL or AHL.
3. @Ethan Bear has matured a lot the past few years. I’m not saying he was immature, simply that I have seen a big change in him physically, and also in his approach. He now knows what it takes to be an NHL player. There is so much work that occurs off the ice and away from the spotlight. It is a full-time job. “I had a lot of life lessons I needed to learn in Bakersfield. Watching Andrej Sekera when he came down to Bakersfield last year, just the way he conducted himself off the ice. His work ethic…I just kind of picked up on the little things he did well, with eating habits and always taking care of your body. That was a huge thing for me and I’m really happy I figured it out,” said Bear.
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I will admit I have a soft spot for Bear. Early in his pro career, he put a lot of pressure on himself to make it, more so for his community than for him. That is a lot to take on, and I think he’s figured out how to balance that. He is very proud of his heritage, but he’s learned to focus on him first. In my job there are certain players you find a soft spot for and cheer for. He is one of those for me. I’ve always liked his game going back to the Seattle Thunderbirds in the WHL. He is ready for the challenge and I’ll be watching how he performs.

TONIGHT…

Photoshop: Tom Kostiuk
GAME DAY PREDICTION: Oilers even up their pre-season record at 3-3 with a 4-1 victory.
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OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: After a rather quiet first preseason game, McDavid makes his presence known all over the ice.
NOT-SO-OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: Burdasov scores a goal and the debate and battle for two wing spots in the top-six intensifies.

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