Oilers winger Taylor Hall skated with the team Saturday morning in Calgary for the first time since he took a shot off the leg during Monday’s practice, forcing him to miss the last two games.
Despite taking to the ice for morning skate, Hall will not return to action for Saturday night’s Battle of Alberta but hopes to return against the Sharks on Monday. On top of skating, he also discussed the injury with the media for the first time on Saturday morning, saying the practice puck struck him in an unlucky spot.
“I took a shot right where there’s no protection right above the boot,” he said. “It’s just an unfortunate thing, it hit right on the bone, right on the fibula and bruised it pretty bad. It’s always tough to tell with foot injuries. When you get hit with a puck, sometimes it hurts really bad and goes away 30 seconds later. But this one hung around and I realized I wasn’t going to be able to practice and eventually wasn’t going to be able to play.”
Whereas he admitted he may have rushed himself back into the Oilers lineup a bit following his knee injury earlier this season, Hall said he wants to give his leg ample time to heal completely before he returns.
“There was a lot of pain on the day I hurt it, and there’s still pain today,” Hall said. “I just want to get it to a point where it’s not going to get worse. I can play through a little bit of pain, but you don’t want it to be so bad that it keeps getting worse and then you’re out of the lineup again.”
The last game Tyler Pitlick played was on New Years Eve in Calgary. Now a month later, the Oilers return to Calgary but Pitlick remains out due to a lacerated spleen. Oilers Interim Coach Todd Nelson gave an update on Pitlick after morning skate.
“I just saw him for the first time a couple days ago,” Nelson said. “He says he’s feeling better. He’s starting to do more things, obviously he’s not going to be on the ice, but he’s able to do some things with our trainers to help his injury out. Obviously, he’s still out a while.”
Nikita Nikitin injured his shoulder in the third period of the Oilers game against Buffalo on Thursday night. With Nikitin out, Keith Aulie will play in Calgary. Nelson provided an update on the defenceman, who is out indefinitely but does not need surgery at this time.
“At this point, he does not,” Nelson said. “We’re looking at 4-6 weeks for him. There’s no surgery with him, it’s just more or less trying to get better.”
Taylor Hall (leg) is on the ice for morning skate in Calgary. However, he took a line rush with Matt Hendricks and Rob Klinkhammer, which may indicate he’s not ready to return yet. Stay tuned for more from Interim Coach Todd Nelson.
Keith Aulie will play his first game since New Years Eve against Calgary.
The lines at morning skate are as follows:
- PRACTICE | Friday in Leduc
- PRACTICE RAW | Keith Aulie
- PRACTICE RAW | Matt Hendricks
- PRACTICE RAW | Ryan Nugent-Hopkins
- PRACTICE RAW | Todd Nelson
“We’ll just put him in the slot where Niki (Nikitin) was. He played with Fayne before so that’s what we’re doing,” said Oilers coach Todd Nelson, adding that Aulie can't change the way he's plays despite his last game being one where he received a game misconduct and subsequent suspension.
“He has to play that style. That’s what got him here to the National Hockey League and that’s what’s going to keep him here,” Nelson continued. “He plays an aggressive style. He has to keep things simple out there and just play a good defensive game. In the last game he played, he was playing very well and he’s been working extremely hard in practice. I think his puck skills have definitely improved in the last month or so.”
Aulie said he's excited to get back into the lineup.
"I've been working hard every day to stay ready," he stated. "As a player you want to play but you can only control what you can control. Come to the rink every day with a hard-working attitude and just be ready for your opportunity."
The Oilers return to Calgary for the first time since December 31. Oilers head coach Todd Nelson talked about the team's growth since then.
“We’ve grown since that time as a team. Every day we’re trying to make ourselves better and I think we’re improving in certain aspects. We talked about going hard to the net, shooting the puck more, competing harder. We’re seeing improvements with that. We’re striving to have our team do it for 60 minutes consistently. That’s our goal.”
The Oilers have picked up points in three of its last four games.
“Everyone’s excited to play Saturday night in Calgary. It’s always a fun time. We’re ready to try to keep things going. We’re on a bit of a run here, collected a few points over the last four or five games. It’s a good test for our hockey team.”
Matt Hendricks talked about how the team's better practice habits have helped contribute to their upswing.
“I think our practice habits have improved dramatically in terms of the work ethic. The attitude at practice every day is much improved. I think we’re seeing some results on the ice,” Hendricks began. “We wanted to be a team that outworked (other teams) and it just hasn’t worked out. Nelly’s put us in a position for practice where if you don’t do it you’ll be left behind.”
Forward lines are the same as last game:
The Oilers were part of a major announcement involving the American Hockey League on Thursday in San Jose, CA. As part of a “monumental shift in geography” five teams well relocate to California, forming a Pacific Division.
Anaheim will purchase the Norfolk Admirals AHL franchise and move them to San Diego. Calgary’s affiliate will move from Glens Falls, NY to Stockton. The Los Angeles Kings will relocate Manchester to Ontario, CA while the Sharks will bring Worcester home to San Jose. The Oilers will move their Oklahoma City franchise to Bakersfield.
Having all five teams geographically close to one another makes for easier travel and development gains, according to Vice Chair of Oilers Entertainment Group Kevin Lowe.
“We’re really excited,” Lowe said. “It’s been a few years coming. From a development standpoint, we had a good experience in Oklahoma City. Great city, great people. Not as many went to the game as we would have liked, but in terms of the location of Bakersfield it has the potential to be a great hockey market, a great American Hockey League market. It already has had great success in the ECHL. The geography of it and where it’s located, relative to the other franchises, is a big plus for us.”
Development is the primary objective, and it’s something Lowe feels will benefit under this new arrangement.
“It’s really going to enhance our development,” Lowe said. “The Canadian teams are a little further away. We won’t have the luxury of driving down the coast to see our American League team but we know that the players are really going to benefit from the proximity of the teams. Presently, we’re in Oklahoma City and it’s a wonderful city and we really enjoyed being there but our closest opponent was a six-hour bus ride away and the rest of the teams were pretty much a flight away so this is really going to enhance development for our players. The big thing in development in hockey, and I guess it’s the same in other sports, is to have practice time. When you’re flying around all the time across the country, you eliminate practice days. We anticipate possibly somewhere between 20-25 extra practice days, and in a season that’s roughly 180 days that’s a big percentage of time for the development of these young players.”
The Oilers organization feels they’ve build a solid foundation for development in OKC. They say their emphasis on that part of hockey operations remains firm in Bakersfield.
“I think the same recipe with a little extra spice,” Lowe said. “There’s no question we firmly believe drafting and developing will be our lifeblood and we really feel things have gone well in Oklahoma City in terms of the development part of it. We’re working on the drafting part. Simply the geography, at this point, we anticipate the players will have perhaps as many as 25 additional practice days that they didn’t have in Oklahoma City. That in itself is a huge bonus for the hockey club.”
Lowe told me there haven’t been additional hirings or moves involving personnel in Bakersfield or for development as of now.
“We’re just sorting all that out,” Lowe said. “It’s been in discussion for a long time in terms of us formally making a statement that we wouldn’t be going back to Oklahoma City. That just happened recently so now we’ve got to sort of get everything aligned. We have to find a place for our east coast team. We have ECHL coaches, American Hockey League coaches and staff so we have to figure all that out in the next little while.”
What can add to the success of minor league franchises is the availability of a nearby rival. With the American Hockey League’s new Pacific Division, five teams will enter California, giving the league some competitive battles looming in the future.
Three California NHL clubs, Anaheim, Los Angeles and San Jose, now have their affiliates in close enough proximity to help grow fan excitement. For the Oilers and Calgary Flames, it is also an opportunity to ignite a new Battle of Alberta— AHL edition.
“The fact that Calgary’s farm team (is close by), who we haven’t played a lot in recent years, our team will be playing them now,” Vice Chair of Oilers Entertainment Group Kevin Lowe said. “That’s going to benefit (the players) and you’re going to have a high-level rivalry with the three California teams who have been successful in the NHL. Usually, that means that they’ve had good success in terms of their player deployment and player development. We have our hands full but we’ll be ready for the challenge. Ultimately, it will benefit in terms of the improvement in our players.”
Lowe also spoke to the geographic proximity of the teams benefiting development, due to less practice days taken up by long travel.
The Bakersfield ECHL franchise has been featured across the internet and on national and international news outlets due to their unique promotions and in-game entertainment. From Gettysburg Address, Seinfeld or Hobbit themed jerseys to cemetery headstone giveaways, the Condors in the ECHL have been anything but mundane.
Throughout their relationship with the Oilers, having been purchased by the NHL club a year ago, Bakersfield has maintained autonomy when it comes to their unique entertainment.
“The Oilers have given us the autonomy to do things and the Oilers purchased us because of some of the things we do,” Bakersfield’s President Matthew Riley said.
Now that Bakersfield will house the Oilers AHL affiliate, as part of the league’s new Pacific Division, the antics don’t have to stop.
“We want to be able to continue to do what we’ve done in the past and now just do it at a higher level, just one step away,” Riley said. “I’ll just say now we’re going to have more fun.”
The Oilers hope it doesn’t change much either.
“We hope it doesn’t change,” Vice Chair of Oilers Entertainment Group Kevin Lowe said. “Matt Riley, who has been with the Condors and runs the business operations, has been there for 17 years. He’s a bright guy and really understands and respects the game of hockey. We’re going to encourage Matt to keep doing what he’s doing. Our fans who happen to be in California, Oilers fans, who want to see the American Hockey League team, go to Bakersfield. You never know what you’re going to see.”
In addition to providing family fun, Bakersfield will now see an increased emphasis on developing young future NHL players.
“We’re certainly focused on family entertainment and being involved in the community and those will remain our focuses and now bringing this accelerate level of play to the ice where nine out of 10 who play in the NHL played in the AHL,” Riley said. “Now the fans will get to connect and see those guys on TV and say, ‘Hey, I knew that player.’”
Riley couldn’t help but smile.
“It’s pretty thrilling.”