@Connor McDavid will make his preseason debut tonight and you shouldn’t watch the game with any sort of trepidation worrying if he is going to get injured again. He isn’t concerned. He is ready to go. He won’t change his game.
“No, I’ve been doing that for a long time,” said McDavid. “You hit the post, you hit it the wrong way, and that happens. But I’ve gone flying into the net before and had nothing happen at all. Things happen. It’s part of the game.”
“Originally we thought hopefully one (pre-season game), maybe none. This is probably a little bit earlier (than expected),” said McDavid. “I just want to get out there, see how the puck feels again.”
His blazing speed has been noticeable in training camp and practice. He looks just as fast, if not quicker, than last season. He will play beside @Leon Draisaitl and @Zack Kassian and McDavid is excited to get going and is hopeful this team will succeed under new head coach Dave Tippett. The captain noticed a few differences in how they will play.
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“Hopefully faster. And more attention to detail defensively, I think that’s the main thing. We’ve got to find a way to keep pucks out of our net,” he said.
Tippett has hammered on goals against from day one, and his quest to reduce goals against improves when the captain, the most dangerous offensive player in the NHL, is talking about defensive zone play.

FEW SURPRISES…

There is a very good chance the Edmonton Oilers’ opening night roster will not have many surprises. But what the roster is on October 2nd against the Vancouver Canucks will very likely not tell the story of how the 2019/2020 season will unfold.
We all know Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl will be the offensive catalysts of the team, but if the Oilers are going to be in the playoff hunt then the production from the supporting cast will play a major role.
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The Oilers have to make seven cuts to get to the 23-man roster — three forwards, three defenceman and a goalie — but tonight’s lineup suggests — to me, at least — that much of the opening night is set.
Goalie Shane Starrett will be going to Bakersfield later this week. I suspect Evan Bouchard and Ethan Bear will as well, because they won’t be sitting in the pressbox for game one, while William Lagesson and Brandon Manning will battle for the #7 job.
@Joel Persson has been paired with @Oscar Klefbom since day one of camp. He is getting a look on the first unit PP tonight. They have skated together in every practice and for two preseason games. Unless Persson completely soils the sheets this week, expect him to start the season with Klefbom. How long he remains there will depend on his play. He is an NHL player from the centre line in, but this week, against more NHL-laden lineups, we will see how he defends NHL players.
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@Matt Benning and @Kris Russell will be a pair while Darnell Nurse and Adam Larsson will likely face the toughest minutes early this season. How the right side evolves during the season will be very interesting. Can Persson succeed? Will Bear or Bouchard come up. Will Benning move up or down?
From my perch it looks like the 13th and 14th forward jobs are up for grabs. The lines for opening night seem set with Draisaitl-McDavid-Kassian, then Gagner-RNH-Neal followed by Khaira-Sheahan-Archibald. @Markus Granlund is banged up and won’t play tonight so @Patrick Russell takes his spot with @Colby Cave and @Alex Chiasson.
I think Joakim Nygard is the 13th forward, and he will work his way into the lineup as he gets more comfortable to the smaller ice and quicker game.
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So Tomas Jurco, Patrick Russell, Gaetan Haas and Anton Burdasov (needs a contract) are pushing for one spot.
Sending Haas to Bakersfield and getting him some playing time makes sense. The Oilers will find out if he can play or not. Burdasov is in the same boat, although he looked better in his first preseason game on Friday than Haas did. We’ll see them both again tonight.
Russell and Jurco are very different players. Jurco is more offensive while Russell is a bottom six forward who will kill penalties. Which one stays might depend if Dave Tippett wants two similar forwards, Nygard and Jurco, or if he wants Nygard and then Russell, who fills another role. Russell has had a very strong camp, and has grabbed Tippett’s attention.

LINEUP…

Oilers

Draisaitl-McDavid-Kassian
Gagner-RNH-Neal
P.Russell-Cave-Chiasson
Khaira-Sheahan-Archibald
Nurse-Larsson
Klefbom-Persson
K. Russell-Benning
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Smith
Mike Smith makes his first appearance of the preseason. He was sick last week, so sick in fact they kept him away from the team until he flew to Kelowna Friday night. He practised the past two days and I suspect he will make two of the three starts this week, but Mikko Koskinen, unless he struggles mightily against Winnipeg on Thursday, will start opening night. Smith will play 40 minutes tonight according to Tippett.

Coyotes

**This has been updated and this is the lineup for tonight..**
Keller-Stepan-Kessel
Grabner-Richardson-Hinostroza
Crouse-Hayton-Fischer
Bunting-Chaput-Pederson
Ekman-Larsson/Demers
Capobianco-Hjalmarsson
Chychrun-Gross
Hill

QUICK HITS…

1. I wouldn’t get too focused on who is in the lineup on opening night. I think this roster will have many players in and out during the season. And at least three of them will be coming up from Bakersfield at some point. Would you be shocked if Nygard isn’t in the opening lineup, but by December is playing a decent role on the team? Remember last season Alex Chiasson was a healthy scratch for the first five games. He only played 7:28 in his first game, but then scored twice in his second game (only 10 min of TOI), then played 17 in his third game, where he scored again, and made himself a regular in the lineup and finished with 22 goals.
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2. I could see Nygard, and a few of the young kids from Bakersfield helping the team in the second half of the season.
3. Persson will be on the first unit PP with McDavid, Draisaitl, RNH and Chiasson, while Klefbom, Nurse, Gagner, Neal and Kassian were the second unit. “I want to see how he works the powerplay,” said Tippett. “He is one of the guys were are looking at in that spot.”
4. The penalty kill has been a black hole for three years. You will likely see many new forwards on the PK this season. Riley Sheahan, Josh Archibald, Markus Granlund and potentially Patrick Russell along with Colby Cave (26 min last year) and Jujhar Khaira (69 min last year, sixth among Oilers forwards) will be the ones starting on the PK. Tippett has made it clear from day one he wants those guys to feel like the PK is their responsibility and to own it. Nugent-Hopkins could see some time, possibly in the third unit, but that will depend on how the PK is doing. If they excel, Tippett will try to limit the PK time for his skilled forwards. But if there is a game where the Oilers are in penalty trouble, I’m sure we will see RNH, Draisaitl and McDavid at times, to keep them in the game.
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5. Nygard, Haas, Burdasov, Jurco, Bouchard, Bear, Lagesson and Manning will likely see some action in Winnipeg on Thursday. Granlund is a bit banged up, so his availability is up in the air.

TONIGHT…

Photoshop: Tom Kostiuk
GAME DAY PREDICTION: Oilers dress close to a full NHL lineup and unsurprisingly skate away with a 4-2 victory.
OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: McDavid picks up two points in his first preseason game. There is no rust on his wheels.
NOT-SO-OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: Mike Smith gets an assist and many wonder if he will break his career-high of three assists this season.

BEST PIZZA…

Who has the best pizza in Edmonton an area? Tell your favourite pizzeria to enter and get your tickets today for the 1st annual Pizza Pigout in support of KidSport. We only have 100 tickets remaining. If you like pizza, and a cold beverage, come join us where you can try pizza from over 25 pizzerias and chat with some Edmonton Sports athletes.
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