EDMONTON -- After a nine-month sabbatical, the Edmonton Oilers were finally back in business on Sunday with the entire team showing up at Rexall Place for Medicals and Fitness Testing in advance of Monday's first day on the ice.
With the team's first game of the season a week from today, Oilers head coach Ralph Krueger stressed the importance of trying to get the players into a regular routine as quickly as possible.
"We find it extremely important that we go through the normal process so that we can individualize the needs of the players coming from so many different environments, from so many different states," said Krueger. "We've got mid-season form to first-game form. We've got players coming from Europe and from Oklahoma City so it's all about finding out where everybody is physically and being able to react to that immediately tomorrow."
Although a number of the players have been skating elsewhere, Krueger felt it was important for everyone to go through the regular fitness routine.
"It will be an opportunity for us to look at players in mid-season form like a Jordan Eberle, seeing where he's at and what kind of values we get from him will help us to train better in the future if there's deficits or other things."
Krueger added that the first three days of practice will involve the entire group and the coaching staff will re-evaluate moving forward.
"We need to react with this stretch of six days to be ready for Vancouver. That's our initial preparation here. After three days of the group working as a whole, we will definitely be prepared to separate or add depending on the needs."
As for line combinations, the coaching staff will put some lines together for Monday and may do some minor tinkering throughout the week.
"We have to realize that we have a certain level of skill set. Interchanging those parts is something that's just naturally going to happen over time. There's going to be phases where we just keep pairs together and move players but we're trying to get ready for Vancouver so major adjustments on the way are only going to happen if we don't feel good about the way things develop. We're trying to get ourselves to where it's as if we're in-season already and put the lines in a certain form but maybe move them as the week goes on."
The one tidbit Krueger did offer was saying that Justin Schultz and Nick Schultz will be a likely defence pairing. He also added that the team's 23-man roster will likely consist of two goaltenders, seven defencemen and 14 forwards.
MINOR LEAGUE CALL-UPS
The team is going with a training camp of two goalies, eight defencemen and 15 forwards. To add to their current roster and get up to numbers, the Oilers recalled Chris VandeVelde, Magnus Paajarvi, Teemu Hartikainen and Colten Teubert from the Oklahoma City Barons this morning.
"Teubert for us is a penalty killing defenceman who has experience with us. We're trying to tap into that," Krueger began. "With Nail and Justin as the only new players into the group right now -- and Justin's been with us with the Oklahoma City Barons -- that experience is something we're tapping into with a shortened season. When you look at Chris VandeVelde, he has a lot of experience playing in a penalty killing role. He could give us flexibility with moving someone else on the wing, he can also play wing.
"He can be a complete player and a role player for us with the size that goes with it."
Another player Krueger was high on was Teemu Hartikainen. Hartikainen had 27 points (11g, 16a) in 37 games in OKC.
"Hartikainen has definitely earned this opportunity. He's been a consistent player for us and showed us the things we've asked him to do. If you look at the success of the (Barons) power play, number-one power play in the American League was in Oklahoma City. Everyone looks at the players with the puck but Hartikainen was the net-front player who created a lot of screens and a lot of retrievals that impressed us."
Paajarvi netted 20 points (4g, 16a) in 37 games for the Barons.
"Magnus Paajarvi has also had some penalty killing time down there now and had opportunity on the power play. A player on the wing who brings speed and size, these four we thought they augmented what we had here and also brought us depth in positions like penalty killing where we aren't as deep right now with the loss of Ryan Jones, of course."
Krueger added that the organization has been very happy with the progression of Anton Lander in OKC this season but felt he would be better served getting additional minutes on the AHL club.
"He hasn't been medically cleared but he gets a net on his own for training this week. We didn't want him to have to share the net and go through the process. With six days (until our first game) we can take three or four (days) and then react depending on how he responds to that kind of net time."
Oilers captain Shawn Horcoff made some remarks at the beginning of his media availability on Sunday.
"Excited. Apologetic to the fans and not just the fans but the people involved with the NHL, the workers who were either laid off or lost their jobs because of it," he said of his thoughts as the season finally gets underway. "I think it was a process that was unnecessary and unfortunate but that's in the past and we'll move forward and try to put a good product on the ice."
Horcoff added that he feels some excitement with the expectations that are on the team to make a move forward this season.
"I think it's good," he said. "With the guys that were able to go and play (in the AHL) they were able to prove that they're the cream of the crop of that league and did extremely well. It'll be a little different back in the big leagues but there's no doubt in our minds here that they're going to be able to make that next step and for us the biggest thing is that it's a short camp. You can to try and find some chemistry with whoever you're playing with in a little bit of time here."
The captain talked about having Ralph Krueger as head coach and said he feels he will work well with the team as the bench boss.
"I have a lot of faith in Ralph. He's a guy that comes well-prepared, he's very experienced -- not as a head coach in the NHL but his world experience and what he's done overseas. He's been coaching for a long time," Horcoff began. "His philosophy suits our style. He preaches 'Oilers Hockey' which is what the fans have been accustomed to here. We're looking forward to going out there and using our youth, our depth and our speed to try and create some offence and win some hockey games.
"It's nice to be in the playoff (race) in January," Horcoff joked. "We're tied for first so technically we're in a good spot."
Horcoff said that the schedule at first glance looks like a really tough one but he also feels that it has its advantages.
"We have the 17-day 'road trip from hell' or whatever it us. I think we play a third of our road games in one trip which is a little bit different but in a lot of ways it can be good. You don't want to be going back and forth a lot. You look at Detroit, they're going back and forth, coast-to-coast quite often," he said, adding that every team is in the same boat and it's good that Western Conference teams don't play Eastern Conference teams this season as they undoubtedly have much easier schedules.
Goaltender Devan Dubnyk was taken aback by the schedule which includes four-game weeks for the foreseeable future to kick things off.
"I took a look and said 'wow'. I knew it was going to be packed and that certainly is the case," he said. "I think it'll be fun. We're going to have to take care of ourselves. The rest is going to be extremely important in between and really maintaining. Injuries are going to become a little bit of a factor when you're playing this much. We've got some young legs that are ready to fly around out there."
SHINNY AT HAWRELAK PARK
The entire Oilers team will be at Hawrelak Park today (Sunday) at 4:00 p.m. to take part in a game of shinny. The event will be open to fans as spectators with free hot chocolate offered.
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