Sunday’s Oilers practice at Agganis Arena was a homecoming for defenceman Eric Gryba, who played four NCAA seasons with the Boston University Terriers.
Following a strong campaign with the USHL’s Green Bay Gamblers in 2005-06 (15 points, +13 in 56 games) that resulted in a third-round NHL selection by the Ottawa Senators, the Saskatoon native accepted a scholarship to BU and took his career further east.
Gryba played 153 games for the Terriers, accumulating six goals and 16 assists during his tenure. The highlight of his college career came in 2009 as BU captured the national championship with a roster that featured several other future NHLers like Nick Bonino, Kevin Shattenkirk and Colin Wilson. The Terriers edged out Vermont 5-4 in the semifinal and beat Miami (Ohio) 4-3 in overtime to capture the national title.
“It's the first time I’ve gotten to skate on this ice since leaving school, and it brings back a lot of good memories and a lot of good times,” said Gryba, who even skipped the bus ride from the team hotel to the rink so he could return to the BU campus early and go for breakfast at one of his old favourite spots, T Anthony’s.
“Having such a rich history of great players and great athletes at a great school, it was everything I could’ve asked for in a collegiate experience. I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything.”
Gryba is +2 with three assists in 26 games this season, logging 19+ minutes in three of the last four games, including 22:35 vs. Dallas, his second-tightest TOI this season. He’s currently paired with a fellow Canadian prairie boy, Taber native Brandon Davidson.
The Oilers have hit the ice for practice at Boston University’s Agganis Arena.
Klinkhammer, Nikitin and Pouliot are also skating.
In the words of Lauri Korpikoski, “It was one of those ’80s games.”
A battle of will and determination saw the Oilers and New York Rangers vying for the lead, with Edmonton stealing the 7-5 win and securing a five-plus game homestand sweep, an accomplishment that hadn’t been achieved since 1987.
Prior to puck-drop, Rexall Place saw it’s last banner raised to honour legendary and former Oilers Head Coach and General Manager Glen Sather, achieving five Stanley Cups during his tenure.
“They’re a team that moved the puck really well,” said Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist. “They find openings, obviously we need to understand where goals are scored, and that’s in front of the net but again it’s my responsibility too to make sure I come up with that extra save.”
|Photo by Andy Devlin.
Less than four minutes into the third period, Rangers goaltender Antti Raanta was subbed in after Oilers defenceman Darnell Nurse fired a shot past Lundqvist to give Edmonton a 5-3 lead.
Though it was a tough night for the Rangers goaltender, Lundqvist said the team just needs to regroup, and can certainly do so in 24 hours, as they head to Calgary for a back-to-back game against the Flames.
“We can definitely turn it around,” he said. “The difference between winning and losing is so small in this league and it comes down to some decisions that I make that our team makes — we just need to be better, bottom line. We have to push each other here to find our best.”
BLOG POSTS & FEATURES
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- BLOG: Pouliot on the mend
- BLOG: Thursday practice updates
- BLOG: Nikitin recalled
- BLOG: Khaira needs to believe in himself
- FUTURE WATCH: Trail-blazer Simpson focused on paving his own way
- BLOG: Draisaitl's work in off-season paying off
- THE PANEL | Presented by Sport Chek
- INJURY UPDATE | Benoit Pouliot
- PRACTICE RAW | Jordan Eberle
- PRACTICE RAW | Todd McLellan
The player the Oilers have this year in Leon Draisaitl is different than the wide-eyed rookie they drafted third overall in 2014.
Now Draisaitl has Oilers fans opening their eyes wide with some of the plays he has been making on the ice in his second season. Draisaitl has 22 points in 19 games when he had only nine in 37 last season.
A lot of his on-ice improvements this season boil down to his training this summer and what he did to ready himself for NHL competition.
“I think we’re seeing more of (his playmaking and speed) as the year goes on because he’s more confident,” said Oilers Head Coach Todd McLellan. “I remember coming to the summer camp and watching some of the scrimmages. I think Connor (McDavid) has six or seven points in a summer scrimmage and Leon was doing this or that, and I remember making the comment ‘Leon spent a lot of time bent over, resting.’ I don’t see that anymore. I don’t see it in practice, I don’t see it in games, but I did see it in the summer. I did send him a couple texts throughout the summer and told him to think about the end of a shift. Not just the beginning of a shift, but what are you doing at the 35-45 second mark. Train like that. I think he’s done a good job of that.”
Draisaitl took his coach’s advice and challenge to heart and attacked it, making him into a much more dynamic player this season.
“I think it’s a reflection of his character, his passion for the game,” McLellan said of Draisaitl’s path for self-improvement. “They do it for themselves, first of all. They want to play in the NHL, they want to excel as individuals, but it’s also important for the team and he’s done it. I think he would have done it the year before too but he didn’t know. He came to training camp and he didn’t know how fast you have to be or how strong. He was junior strong. Now he knows.”
Jordan Eberle went through a six-game stretch without a point, but since then the Oilers winger has goals in three straight games, helping the Oilers to four straight wins.
“I feel good out there,” said Eberle. “I feel confident. I think, obviously, if you put the puck in the net, you feel a lot better. Just the little plays, I feel like I’m starting to make a lot more. It’s been fun here the last little bit of homestand, contributing and helping the guys win.”
Eberle began the season a bit behind his teammates as he sat out until November 6, with a shoulder injury. Now, Eberle feels like he’s finally getting up to speed.
“It was frustrating, and not something I’ve really been through,” said Eberle. “The experience I learned there will hopefully help me down the road. Hopefully, I don’t have to go through an injury again. I know the kind of player I can be. I can try to help the team win. It’s nice that it’s finally starting to come.”
Oilers winger Benoit Pouliot has been out of commission since the Oilers game in Toronto on November 30. He’s missed four games, but he is back on the ice with the team as Thursday was his first practice since the lower body injury occurred.
“Feeling pretty good,” said Pouliot. “Some days weren’t as good, but now the past two days have been very positive. That’s two days in a row I’ve been on the ice. I went on my own yesterday and I went today with the team and I felt very good. There’s still some stuff that I didn’t work on, on the ice, physical-wise, but I feel better.”
The injury happened when Pouliot was hit and fell awkwardly. He experienced some swelling and pain. Now he is cleared to practice and is working to get back some conditioning.
“You can do as much bike or things in the gym as much as you want, but once you get on the ice you feel way different than in the gym,” said Pouliot. “Conditioning wise, it’s not the same at all. You get hit out there, you stop and start and different stuff like that. I think I still need to work on that. I haven’t been on the ice as much… It’s a process. It’s a thing I need to work on. We go on the road, which is a pretty long road trip and I’ll have time to work on that for sure.”
The Oilers are on the ice for practice this morning at Rexall Place. Teddy Purcell is absent. Benoit Pouliot is back skating with the team, as is Andrew Ference. Nikita Nikitin, who was recalled this morning from Bakersfield, is not out there yet.
Stay tuned for more coverage later this morning, including video interviews.
Nikitin, 29, has appeared in 14 games with the Condors this season, posting nine points (1G, 8A).
The Omsk, Russia native has accumulated 75 points (17G, 58A) and 77 penalty minutes in 248 career National Hockey League games. He has also appeared in five playoff games.
Jujhar Khaira continues to get his chance to show the coaching staff what he’s all about. On Thursday night against San Jose, the 21-year-old forward recorded his second career NHL assist and displayed his toughness with his first NHL fight.
Khaira crushes Justin Braun with a clean, hard hit behind the net and then answered the bell by dropping the gloves with Brenden Dillon.
“I was just trying to be hard to play against,” said Khaira. “Behind the net, I had the opportunity to hit someone and I did. Like any good teammate, he’s going to stick up for his guy 100 percent of the time. I feel that anybody on our team would do the same. I thought the fight went well, it was fun. A couple bumps and bruises, but it was good.”
Khaira is just six games into his NHL career, but he has shown off size and physicality and has been able to play in a top-six role the last few contests. What the Oilers want now is to see just a little bit more and they want the young forward to believe in his own abilities, because the club believes in him.
“I like his physicality, his size, and I think there’s more there,” said Head Coach Todd McLellan. “I think he has to get his confidence up. We’re playing him like we really believe in him and he’s got to believe in himself a little bit more because I think there’s more there. He’ll learn situations a little bit better, but his size offset a little bit of their size tonight.”
Khaira’s assist was a nice pass out in front on Jordan Eberle’s game-tying goal at 8:21 of the third.