The Oilers elected to sit first-round picks Darnell Nurse and Oscar Klefbom for the season opener. Head Coach Dallas Eakins was asked after the game when the two youngsters will get an opportunity to play. He wasn’t quite ready to make a decision, but says he doesn’t want any player sitting out for long.
“We’ll have to discuss it,” Eakins said. “You really don’t want anybody sitting very long. It doesn’t matter what their age is, but certainly at that stage in their development you don’t want them missing a lot of games.”
Nail Yakupov will skate on a line with Benoit Pouliot and rookie first-round pick Leon Draisaitl. His role tonight will be to help Draisaitl along in his first NHL game, as the two of them developed a friendship over the summer.
Yakupov will also be expected to shoot the puck as much as possible, according to Head Coach Dallas Eakins.
“I talked to Nail this morning and he’s got to help Leon tonight,” Eakins said. “He’s got to help him through this. We’re looking to have him show some leadership there. Him and Leon have a great relationship so we’re looking for that. Nail has expanded his game. He understands where he’s supposed to be on the ice defensively now, he’s much better at it, I think he’s going to get the puck a lot more with Leon being able to distribute it. Leon is going to be constantly looking to that side because he’s a left-handed shot and Nail is on the right side. We want Nail to attack the net. Nail is always going to pay his best when he’s scoring, when he’s getting his points and when he’s getting his chances. That’s what he wants to do. We want energy, we want responsibility and we want him to be getting his chances. I certainly don’t want that player passing up any shots. He does not need to be nice to Pouliot and Leon. When he has the puck in a shooting area, put it at the net.”
Yakupov is eager to skate with his new linemates, particularly Draisaitil who is a playmaker and could benefit the scoring winger.
“He moves the puck quick,” Yakupov said of Draisaitl. “He doesn’t like to keep the puck all the time with him. He likes to see open players and open wingers. It’s my job to get open in the offensive zone and just make some shots. I think that’s really important… He’s just an unbelievable playmaker. He moves the puck really well and we’ll see what happens. I think we’re going to play really well.”
Defenceman Brad Hunt enters tonight’s lineup against the Calgary Flames, ahead of the first-round youngsters Darnell Nurse and Oscar Klefbom. Head Coach Dallas Eakins says the reasoning was that the Oilers need Hunt’s power play ability.
“His ability to move the puck and we need help on our power play,” Eakins said. “When you get down to certain decisions, it sometimes gets down to specialty players. He hasn’t hurt us defensively at all, he’s very smart, he’s not the biggest guy but he understands angles, he’s got a great stick. Again, he doesn’t defend a lot because he moves the puck so well. It goes back to why would you ever want to defend? Let’s have the puck, let’s make the plays so we’re not chasing it around. He certainly brings what we need on our power play. We need more of a ‘shot mentality’, we’ve given the guys the numbers on it, what our goals are every two minutes of a power play, and he brings that. He’s not looking to pass the puck first when he gets it at the point. His first thought is, ‘can I get it to that net?’ That’s why he’s here.”
Hunt will be paired with Justin Schultz against the Flames.
“He’s an excellent hockey player and he’s got a very bright future in this league so it’s an honour to be able to play with him. It’s going to be fun,” Hunt said.
Schultz has played with a lot of different partners in his young career. He hopes to one day find his long-term defensive partner, but for now he’s ready to see what they can do.
“It’s difficult to find that chemistry with a partner,” Schultz said. “With some guys, it happens right away. Obviously, I haven’t found that yet. I like playing with all the guys I’ve played with, it’s not a matter of that. Me and Hunt are together tonight, we’re both good offensively and hopefully we’ll have a good game out there.”
The 1983-84 Oilers hoisted the first Stanley Cup Championship in franchise history. But did they know they would go on to win three more in the next four years?
“I don’t think anyone can tell you you’ll continually win,” Ex-Oilers Head Coach Glen Sather said at Wednesday’s press conference. “There’s so much to go into the team, the spirit inside the team and how it functions, whether you’ve got the right trainers, the right doctors, the right owners, injuries, there’s 1,000 things that happen during the season. You can have the greatest talent in the world and, for some reason if something goes wrong, there’s no guarantee in hockey.
“This is a tough league in a tough sport and you can see by the look of all the guys here, how tough they are after going through what they’ve gone through. It takes a lot of hard work.”
The entire 1983-84 team is in town for Friday’s reunion ceremony, and they gathered on stage at Rexall Place Wednesday for a media availability. Wayne Gretzky, who scored 118 points that season and 35 in the playoffs, talked about his head coach’s influence on that team.
“He was probably harder on us than our parents were,” Gretzky said. “It’s kind of funny when I say to people, ‘When I was 19-years-old, he really pushed me.’”
Gretzky continued, “He pushed us. That’s the first thing he did, and we had a respect level for him because the very first phone call he ever made if something bad happened or something wasn’t right, if you called Glen he was going to take care of it. He really became like a father to us, especially the younger guys that were here at 18, 19 or 20.
“Then he had this ability to let us live. He had one rule when we were Edmonton Oilers and that was to never embarrass the team. We used to always kid about it because practice would start at around 11 o’clock, the bus would leave around 4 o’clock, those little things never bothered him. He also liked family around. So if your father was in a city, he wanted them on the bus. If your mom or dad were in a different city, he wanted them on the bus. He really made us understand that work ethic is important but family is real important. He was the catalyst of the organization and we wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for his foresight and his vision.”
The team finished 57-18-5 that year on their way to a Stanley Cup Championship. The 57 wins is still a franchise record.
When the idea to bring the entire 1984 Stanley Cup Champion Oilers together first came about, it might have seemed like a daunting task to reach out to all of the players and staff and convince them to come. But as Paul Coffey says, it was quite easy.
“It was a little bit of a no-brainer,” Coffey said. “It’s amazing how some things don’t change over the years. When Wayne asks for something, you usually do it. We were trained that way at an early age. Anytime you have your leader, that is your hardest worker, ask you to do something then you do it.”
That of course got a laugh from the players on stage and the media in the crowd at the press conference on Wednesday.
Gretzky gave credit to Kevin Lowe, his staff with the Oilers and the team’s equipment manager Barrie Stafford for accomplishing this task. But Gretzky’s influence was definitely there throughout the process.
“Gretz called, we’re here and it’s going to be a great time,” Coffey said.
Head Coach Dallas Eakins confirmed that the Oilers would start goaltender Ben Scrivens in the home opener against Calgary tomorrow night. The team will then turn around and give Viktor Fasth the start in game two.
“I’ve talked to both of our goalies,” Eakins said. “They fully understand that they are equals. I warned them that a lot of necessary thought from people not in our dressing goes into what this means. I told them that we are starting our best goalie in game one and we’re starting our best goalie in game two. Viktor is going to come right back in Vancouver.”
The Oilers are of the mindset that they have two quality NHL goaltenders. On Tuesday, Eakins said he would love to see both play so well that they split the games right down the middle.
Just because one of them starts the home opener, doesn’t mean it has any more significance than the next game.”
“We think that game one is of equal importance to game two, to game 12, to 13, to 72 or 80,” Eakins said. “They’re all worth the same. We have two goalies that can certainly handle any one of those 82 games.”
Some lineup notes for the Oilers ahead of tomorrow night’s home opener include the naming of the starting goaltender. Ben Scrivens will get the first start in net tomorrow against Calgary, while Viktor Fasth will start against Vancouver on Saturday.
Oilers Head Coach Dallas Eakins said that barring illness, everyone would play.
Benoit Pouliot’s (hip flexor) prognosis looks better. Pouliot skated Wednesday morning after missing practice on Tuesday, and says he feels good.