Four games into his Oilers career, winger Zack Kassian is settling in with his new squad and starting to produce.
Kassian, acquired from Montreal in exchange for goalie Ben Scrivens on Dec. 28, scored his first points with the Oilers on Tuesday night during their 6-4 road loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning.
The 6-foot-3, 213-pound power forward battled his way to the net and banged home a rebound from a shot by Iiro Pakarinen for Edmonton’s first goal of the game. Kassian then picked up the second assist on Leon Draisaitl’s third-period tally, as he passed the puck to Taylor Hall in the neutral zone before Hall fed Draisaitl on a two-on-one rush.
While Kassian would have rather had his first Oilers points come in a victory, he was pleased to get on the scoresheet.
“It’s always nice to get the first one out of the way, but it feels a lot better when you come back in with a win,” he said post-game. “Personally, it feels good. Obviously, I’ve been through a lot, but my main goal now is to just try to get wins.”
“Been through a lot” was a reference to his rocky start to the season, as he was acquired by the Canadiens from Vancouver in exchange for Brandon Prust on July 1, but never ended up playing for the Habs. Kassian entered the NHL/NHLPA Substance Abuse and Behavioral Health Program after he was involved in a motor vehicle collision in October.
He’s embraced his fresh start with the Oilers, averaging between 14:23 and 16:07 TOI in his four games, accumulating 18 hits and eight SOG.
“I feel good,” Kassian said. “It’s just a matter of making smart plays and continuing to do what I’m doing.”
The Oilers coaches have noticed him getting more comfortable, and they’re quickly seeing his value in their lineup.
“Zack’s a pretty honest player,” Todd McLellan said. “He wants to do things well. He wants to do things right. His ability to power his way through and play physical is important. It was nice to see him get rewarded with a goal… As time goes on here, I can see myself and the coaching staff trusting him more and more.”
Klinkhammer has one goal in 13 games with the Oilers this season. In three games down in Bakersfield, he has three goals and an assist.
Nugent-Hopkins injured his hand last night in the Oilers 4-2 win over the Florida Panthers. The centre is expected to miss 6-8 weeks, per Head Coach Todd McLellan.
On Monday night in Sunrise, the Oilers lost one of their top forwards as Ryan Nugent-Hopkins suffered a hand injury while blocking a Panthers point shot with his glove.
On Tuesday morning in Tampa, Head Coach Todd McLellan announced the centremen had returned to Edmonton for examination and will be sidelined six to eight weeks.
RNH’s unfortunate injury has flared up the debate around shot-blocking, from its purpose, to its technique, to which players should be doing it.
“It’s an occupational hazard of how young players block shots now,” Coach McLellan said. “You have to give every one of them credit for wanting to be in the lane and establishing the fact that they’re willing to do it. But the way young players block shots now, they lower their hands to the ice and in that range. We’re going to see more and more hand injuries. Not just the Oilers, the whole league.”
The bench boss said shot-blocking used to be a horizontal body approach, rather than vertical.
“Players used to come out, lay down and line their shin pads up,” he said. “Now, you come out and go down to one knee and you open up your hands. Players are putting themselves in that situation, but you’ve got to give them credit for wanting to block them.”
The coach added RNH was a victim of circumstance in a way. His injury occurred during an Oilers penalty kill, while he was filling in for Lauri Korpikoski, who, ironically enough, blocked a shot on Saturday vs. Calgary and injured his foot. Korpikoski won’t play on Tuesday in Tampa Bay either but could return Thursday in Dallas.
READ IT AGAIN: Check out our in-depth piece on the hazards, as well as rewards of blocking shots from earlier this month
Cam Talbot has played just 83 NHL games in his career, but the Oilers felt confident with that sample size to ink the netminder to a three-year extension.
Talbot, who was acquired at the draft in a trade with the New York Rangers, has gotten hot as of late. He has started 10 of the Oilers last 12 games, and has a .949 save percentage in his last five. Signing him to an extension was not based solely on his performance as of late, which is only one of the factors in determining that course of action.
“I judge it not just over this last stretch, where he’s been very good, but from what I’ve seen before,” said Oilers GM Peter Chiarelli. “At the start of the year, he had a down stretch. What really impressed me about Cam was he was able to work through it. I saw his practices. I saw him working on a number of different things when he wasn’t playing. To be a number one goalie, you have to have the demeanour, you have to have the resiliency, the mental toughness to get through those gaps because you’re not going to be playing like a number one goalie all the time. Over a long period of time, you will. That really impressed me about Cam. Of course, he’s been playing terrific lately as well.”
Chiarelli concedes that some “pundits” may not believe Talbot’s sample size is big enough, but what he has shown to the Oilers and Chiarelli not just this season but the entirety of his career was enough to make a longer comittment to the previously pending UFA.
“Certainly, there are pundits that will say he’s only played x-number of games, but our job is to make decisions based on information we’ve had from the past and basically through experience and we felt comfortable with Cam, for one, acquiring him for two draft picks and two, signing him,” said Chiarelli. “There’s no magical sample size. I’ve had experience before with goalies with a lot less or in and around the same sample size, and committing to them. Tim Thomas is one. They’ve matured at a later age. That’s certainly a case with Cam and we feel confident. His character, his work ethic, the technical and athletic side of his game, all kind of fall into place for us. His win-loss record isn’t great, but I’m discounting that because I see other other areas of his game that have been very good.”
Oilers President of Hockey Operations and General Manager Peter Chiarelli has overhauled the franchise’s goalie depth. Both of the netminders, Cam Talbot and Anders Nilsson, who are playing for the Oilers currently were brought in by Chiarelli. Eetu Laurikainen down in the AHL was also brought in after Chiarelli signed on this past April.
“We’re slowly pecking away at it,” Chiarelli said of the club’s depth at the goalie position.
With Talbot playing well and signing a three-year extension on Sunday, Nilsson performing well during a stretch earlier this season and Laurent Brossoit having an All-Star season in the AHL, things are looking up at that position for the Oilers.
“I feel better about it by having Cam under contract,” said Chiarelli. “For a stretch there, Anders was carrying the mail for us. Laurent has had a terrific year in the American League, he’s in the All-Star Game. Laurikainen has been back and forth between Europe and here and he’s got to get his game going, but I feel better about it. It’s still a work in progress, but I feel better about it by having Cam under contract.”
The Edmonton Oilers announced today, they have recalled defenceman Brad Hunt from the American Hockey League's (AHL) Bakersfield Condors.
Hunt, 27, has appeared in six games with the Oilers this season, posting two penalty minutes.
The Maple Ridge, British Columbia native has 23 points (6G, 17A) and eight penalty minutes in 26 games with the Condors this season.
The Edmonton Oilers announced today, they have activated winger Nail Yakupov from Injured Reserve.
The Oilers have also assigned defenceman Brad Hunt to the American Hockey League’s Bakersfield Condors.
Hunt, 27, has 23 points (6G, 17A) and eight penalty minutes in 26 games with the Condors this season.
The Edmonton Oilers announced today, they have placed winger Rob Klinkhammer on waivers for the purpose of assignment.
Klinkhammer, 29, has appeared in 13 games with the Oilers this season, recording one goal and four penalty minutes.
BLOGS & FEATURES
- FUTURE WATCH: Kassian Recalled and Ready
- BLOG: Oilers hit the ice in San Jose
- BLOG: Kassian Recalled
- BLOG: Kassian Welcomed with Open Arms
- BLOG: Kassian is fit, but needs reps
- BLOG: Kassian could bring what Oilers are looking for
- BLOG: Yak is Back
- OILERS TODAY | Return Factor
- THE PANEL | Presented by Sport Chek
- MINORS MINUTE | Eetu Makes it Reign
- PRACTICE RAW | Zack Kassian
- PRACTICE RAW | Todd McLellan
Nail Yakupov is expected to make his return from an ankle injury tomorrow against San Jose. The Oilers winger has missed 21 games, sitting out since November 27.
“I expect him to play,” said Oilers Head Coach Todd McLellan. “That could certainly change when he comes off the ice or if things havent gone well medically, but all indications are he’s real close to playing.”