When Bogdan Yakimov came to Edmonton from Russia, all he could think about was training camp and competing for a spot with the Oilers. That day has finally come as the team reports to camp tomorrow and takes the ice Friday.
“I can’t wait. I’ve waited three months, I’ve practiced three months and all summer. It was such a hard time for me. Just a couple more days and camp starts. I’m so excited,” he said.
The Oilers third round pick (83rd overall) in 2013, had three goals in all three games he played this week with the Oilers Rookies. He scored against the Vancouver Canucks and Calgary Flames prospects at the Young Stars Tournament in Penticton, B.C. He added a goal tonight against the Golden Bears.
“Three goals is good? Three goals is good yes, but I need to keep going up and I hope I can keep scoring every game,” Yakimov said.
Oilers Rookies Head Coach Todd Nelson was impressed with Yakimov’s skill level. Match that with his size (6-foot-5, 232 pounds) and he makes for an intriguing centre prospect to watch.
“I think he’s going to have a good training camp,” Nelson said. “I think it’s really interesting for everybody to see how he does against against NHL players. What he showed me over these games that he played was that he’s more skilled than I expected. I knew he had skill but I never saw it at Orientation Camp this past summer in Jasper and also the year before. But I saw it these last two games and it is nice to see a big guy who has some skill to him.”
Yakimov is also ready to see how he matches up with NHL players. He seemed to match up well against the competition he’s already faced.
“I want to see (what it’s like to play against) NHL players,” he said. “The speed, the strength, the smarts. These are the best players in the world. I want to feel the NHL game.”
The Oilers drafted Kellen Jones in the seventh round of the 2010 draft. Both he and his twin brother Connor are signed to Standard Player Contracts.
Kellen got a goal tonight for the Oilers Rookies against the University of Alberta Golden Bears. His brother Connor chipped in in his own way by blocking shots, without his stick, on a penalty kill in the third period.
“Both of those guys are hard not to like, sacrificing their bodies in an exhibition games shows how much heart they have and that they’re tremendous workers,” Oilers Rookies Head Coach Todd Nelson said. “They never quit and for Connor to put himself on the line, he’s an unselfish guy and his brother is the same way. They’re very likeable because of how they work so hard and how they sacrifice.”
Connor say he and his brother do what it takes to win and tonight, that meant one of the brothers taking a couple of pucks to the body to prevent a goal.
“I’ve only got one gear. I play to win, I work hard every shift and that’s one thing me and Kellen try to do in every practice and every game,” Connor Jones said. “I just wanted to win. If blocking shots is what it took to win tonight, you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do to win the game and it just so happened I got hit by those pucks tonight.”
Oilers Owner Daryl Katz was on Oilers Now with Bob Stauffer on Wednesday and discussed various topics including Rogers Place Arena construction and the state of the Oilers.
As not only the owner, but as a fan of the team, Katz offered his thoughts on the franchise and the direction they’re headed.
“I’m like any other fan Bob, I live and die by the team,” Katz said. “I’m really pleased with our management team with Kevin Lowe, Bob Nicholson and of course, Craig MacTavish. I can see the makings of progress. You could see from this tournament we were in with our prospects the last few days that anyone who watched the games can see the potential out there on the ice. I’m optimistic that we will be improved over last year. Other than that, I’ll leave it to MacTavish and his management team.”
Katz understands the frustrations pertaining to the team’s lack of on-ice success in the last several years. He had good things to say about the fans and their patience and understanding of the rebuild process.
“Without our fans we wouldn’t be in business and nobody would have jobs,” he said. “I’m one of those fans and the past years have been as tough on me as on anybody. But I have to say that when we decided that we wanted to rebuild the organization and do it right, I said many times that a lot of markets wouldn’t support a rebuild and we’re fortunate enough to be in a market where our fans are sophisticated and understood what we wanted to do.”
Katz continued, “Now, every fan as their own opinion and could take exception relative to some of the decisions that were made. Some will turn out to be good decisions and some have turned out to be bad decisions. But from the outset, we had a plan and we had an objective and the objective was you had to rebuild this team in the spirit of trying to create a team that could compete year-in and year-out and win championships. That’s still our objective and I know everybody from top to bottom of our organization is pursuing that objective. I like the way the team is shaping up and I love to hear fan opinions on (Oilers Now) as to what’s happening with the team and I’ve never been more excited about a season. Hopefully we’ll be able to make everybody proud about being Oilers fans.”
Oilers Owner Daryl Katz was on Oilers Now with Bob Stauffer on Wednesday and gave a progress update on the construction of Rogers Place.
“The construction, as you can see from our website, is going very well,” Katz said. “I’ve been told that we’re actually a bit ahead of schedule and that’s really great. Relative to the arena and the design itself, I think that if you have been to other arenas throughout North America and even throughout the world it is pretty safe to say that there is no other arena like this anywhere.”
Katz is convinced that there will be “nothing that compares anywhere to what we’re building” when it comes to the new arena and its surrounding district.
“From the outset, it was our vision to design an iconic structure in downtown Edmonton and that’s exactly what we’re building. It is pretty exciting to see it coming out of the ground.”
The Oilers Rookies game against the University of Alberta Golden Bears tonight is Darnell Nurse’s final tuneup before the club meets for main camp. The seventh-overall pick in 2013 is expected to make a push to make the Oilers roster. He is pleased thus far with his performance in Rookie Camp.
“It was a good start,” Nurse said. “The pace was a lot more manageable this year with knowing what to expect and having that year under my belt. I feel good with where I am at right now, it’s just continuing the pace and building on that on a daily basis.”
Nurse is well aware that training camp is right around the corner, but he is focused on tonight.
“I’m ready to get that going and I’m really excited to get on the ice with the big club at main camp. I’m looking forward to it but you’ve got to take it one day at a time and tonight comes first.”
Last year the Edmonton Oilers Rookie game against the University of Alberta Golden Bears got a little chippy.
Although intensity is something both teams want out of this friendly tune-up game, staying disciplined is going to be of importance.
“That was my first experience with the game last year, because we didn’t do it the previous years,” Oilers Rookies Head Coach Todd Nelson said. “It was kind of an eye-opener because I didn’t realize how intense it was going to be. I expect something very similar. I know after the game last year that (U of A Head Coach Ian Herbers) and I talked and we had wanted a spirited affair but we didn’t want it really chippy. Him and I were a bit concerned after the game that our players handled themselves that way. But boys will be boys and they are all competitive. It will be interesting to see what happens but I know Ian mentioned to me that he wasn’t very impressed with the way that things went on in the first couple of periods but things settled down as the game went on.”
Oilers defenceman Darnell Nurse played in last year’s game against the Golden Bears and remembers how intense the atmosphere was in Clare Drake Arena.
“It was pretty heated, a lot more heated than I thought it was going to get,” Nurse said. “It’s a fun environment to go play in. I don’t even know if anyone was cheering for us last year. It’s a fun game to be a part of.”
As an agitator, Oilers winger Greg Chase enjoys that type of game.
“I think it’s definitely fun,” he said. “Obviously, they can’t fight (per the rules) so it makes it “scrummier” and it gets heated after whistles when that happens. It’s definitely fun to play in those games and stir stuff up.”
Nurse says the intensity is good, but winning this game would put a stamp on what has been a much more successful Rookie Camp than last year.
“It would be nice to win this game and keep that intensity up. I think it’s a lot of fun when we’re playing with that type of intensity and pace. We’ll see how it goes tonight.”
The Oilers Rookies know what to expect when they hit the ice tonight at Clare Drake Arena for a showdown with the 2014 CIS National Champion University of Alberta Golden Bears.
The Oilers are returning a handful of prospects that played in last year’s game.
“We all know that they are a fast and skilled hockey team,” said Greg Chase, who scored a goal in this game last year. “From what I’ve heard, I know I’ve only played against them once and I think I watched them once last year in Calgary, we know they are a really disciplined hockey team and they get a lot of pucks on net. They’ve got good goaltending. They’re a good all around team. I think this year we are a little more prepared with a lot of guys knowing what to expect coming back from last camp. It will be a fun game to be a part of.”
Travis Ewanyk is also impressed with the team he’ll face tonight.
“We’re definitely not going to take them lightly,” Ewanyk said. “Personally, I know from living here that the culture and the history that team has. You look up and you see the banners and you know what that team has done. They’re well-coached, they play together and they are a bunch of guys who could be in pro camps, they’ve played through the Western Hockey League and they are going to play a hard game.”
The Oilers know the Golden Bears will show up to play, as this is their opportunity to showcase to the city and the fans how they match up against NHL prospects. Likewise, the Oilers players know everyone is watching them as well.
“Any time you come on the ice, people are watching,” Ewanyk. “I think you would be ignorant not to notice that whether you were in their position or this position. They have a lot of guys who move on each year and they’ve got some really good players over there so I’m sure they’re out there to make an impression as well.”
This weekend’s Young Stars Tournament was the first chance for the Oilers to get a look at their third-overall pick in game action since he was drafted. Leon Draisaitl made an impression on General Manager Craig MacTavish, who was in attendance in Penticton, B.C.
“He did what he needed to do,” MacTavish said. “He showed an elite understanding of the game and an elite sense and you would expect a player of that pedigree to be a dominant player at this level. So we can check off the first box in terms of what he needs to accomplish to stay with us.”
Draisaitl had two assists on Monday in the team’s third and final game of the tournament. His passes were indications of what kind of player he could be in the NHL.
“That’s my game. I am a playmaker more than a finisher,” Draisaitl said.
MacTavish says his two assists were examples of the elite hockey sense that made him a top-five pick in the draft.
“He knows what he’s going to do with the puck before he gets it. That’s a pretty good indicator of elite hockey sense and he finds people just effortlessly on the rush. When players on the ice are finding players that you’re not seeing while watching the game, you know that that’s pretty special talent.”
The Oilers acquired Kale Kessy from the Phoenix Coyotes in a trade in March of 2013. He was the 111th pick, in the fourth round, of the 2011 NHL Draft.
Kessy is one of several players that General Manager Craig MacTavish says has shown improvement since last year’s tournament.
“Kessy definitely played well, did what he needed to do and showed a willingness to be a physical factor,” MacTavish said. “He made a lot more plays than he did last year, which he needed to do. He’s really come a long ways in a year.”
Kessy spent the 2013-14 season with the Oklahoma City Barons in the American Hockey League. He had six points (2-4-6) in 54 games, and had 88 penalty minutes.
The Oilers selected Jujhar Khaira in the third round of the 2012 draft. This year, he showed up for the Young Stars Tournament bigger and better than a year ago.
Oilers General Manager Craig MacTavish says that after a slow start to his first game of the tournament, Khaira showed flashes of the big, physical player he could be.
“I think his first game, he started slowly and today he seemed to get better as the game wore on,” MacTavish said. “I can’t really remember that much of him last year but the things that do stand out when you’re talking about Jujhar are his strength on the puck and his character. He answered the bell physically today. There are some things that obviously he’s going to have to continue to work at but he’s an exciting prospect.”
Khaira had a goal, an assist and a fight in his final game of the tournament.