“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.”
The AHL made a major announcement today at 1:30 p.m. MST and it was streamed live on edmontonoilers.com.
WATCH: Draisaitl Interview | READ: Gene Principe blogs on Draisaitl
Oilers prospect Leon Draisaitl makes his return to Rexall Place tonight when his new team, the Kelowna Rockets, takes on the Edmonton Oil Kings.
Prior to the game, Draisiatl met with the local media to talk about his time with the Rockets.
“It is an adjustment, of course," Draisaitl said about going back to Major Junior. "It’s a total different game in my opinion. You have more time, more room and obviously don’t really feel the pace as it is in the NHL. It’s definitely a slight adjustment.”
After six points in his first five games with the Rockets, Draisaitl has put up six more in his last three and has a +4 rating in those three games. Overall, Draisaitl has four goals and 12 points in eight games with an even plus/minus.
“It’s never easy to just join a brand new team and try to fit in. But all the guys, the staff, the coaches, they made it really easy on me and I’m thankful for that,” he said. “So far it’s been a lot of fun.”
The Rockets sit in first place in the entire league with 37 wins and 77 points in 48 games.
“We have three, almost four, lines that can all be scoring and be reliable out there. That’s really important for a long playoff run,” Draisaitl stated, noting that he's been happy to be honing his skills in the WHL at the moment.
“It’s definitely not a bad move. For me personally, it was (for) the best. I can work on my skill, develop as a player and work on all the little things,” he continued. “I’m definitely happy that it worked out that way.”
Draisaitl still keeps in touch with Oilers management, players and coaches.
“I’ve talked to the management, I’ve talked to the coaches and all that stuff. We have a plan on what I’ll be working on, what my expectations are and what I’m trying to follow,” he said, adding what those items of his game are that he is expected to be working on.
“The complete game, face-offs, the little things. My skating, my total skill. It’s just something I want to improve and get better at.”
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Taylor Hall was absent from Oilers practice on Wednesday after missing Tuesday’s morning skate and game against the Minnesota Wild as well.
The left-winger took a shot off the lower leg right above the skate during Monday’s practice. The injury will continue to be evaluated each day.
“He’s still day-to-day,” Coach Todd Nelson said. “It’s a bone bruise, and we’ll see how it reacts for him tomorrow.”
Hall is in a three-way tie for the Oilers scoring lead with linemates Jordan Eberle and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, accumulating 11 goals and 18 assists for 29 points in 41 games. Hall missed six games earlier this season with a sprained MCL.