EDMONTON - Five days. No pre-season games. That's all the bubble boys have to work with as they look to crack the 2012-13 edition of the Edmonton Oilers.
In a unique situation few would prefer, Oilers prospects Colten Teubert, Chris VandeVelde, Magnus Paajarvi and Teemu Hartikainen aren't blind to the challenge. As the first practice of an abbreviated training camp wrapped up at Rexall Place, expectations from within were high.
"It's all about showing that you belong and making sure you don't get noticed for making bad plays," laughed Teubert, who's entering his third season with the Oilers organization. "I need to be a good team guy and I'm fully aware that I'm going to have to crack this roster as a bottom pairing guy."
Teubert's task got all the more difficult Monday as the Oilers pulled off a trade with the Dallas Stars, acquiring stay-at-home blueliner Mark Fistric in exchange for a third-round pick in 2013.
"A lot of managers are looking for the same kind of addition to their roster, so we wanted to be proactive. A player like this might not be available in a week from now," said Oilers General Manager Steve Tambellini. "I'm thinking about what our depth chart looks like right now. Fistric is going to be a great addition -- he's a smart defensive defenceman and that's what we need."
"We need specialists to make this a winning process, and Fistric is definitely a specialist in what he does," added Head Coach Ralph Krueger. "He's a big body who plays a tough game, is difficult to play against and he's a great penalty killer."
Teubert, intrigued by the news of the trade, didn't sulk. He appreciates the challenge and is ready to give it his all in an effort to stick.
"That's part of hockey. It's a business and teams are going to pick up players that can play," he said. If you can't play, you're not going to be here. I've got to continue to do I've done to get to this point. It's about going out, playing my best and showing the coaches that I belong.
"In order to make it in the NHL, you have to beat out a bunch of other guys. I'm still excited to be here and get to the opportunity to do it."
During Monday's press conference, Krueger said the call-ups were brought in to fill specific roles. In Teubert's case, it was to provide toughness. For 25-year-old VandeVelde, a fourth-year pro, it was to help fill the gap left by injured forward Ryan Jones in a depth position and on the penalty kill.
"Jones is going to be out for quite a while and of course I took a look at the depth chart to see where I might slot in," said the Moorhead, MN product. "It's a huge opportunity for me and other guys as well, so it's crucial that I make the most of this chance."
VandeVelde suited up in five games with the Oilers last season. He scored his first career NHL goal in his first game up on Mar. 25 in Columbus.
"Be sharp in practice and don't mess up any drills," laughed VandeVelde when asked what he needed to do to get himself noticed. "I need to do what I do best, which is to play simple and as hard as I possibly can every shift. We might get an opportunity to scrimmage a little bit later in the week, so that will be a good chance for me and the other bubble guys to make an impression."
Jones' absence, untimely as it may be, has opened the door for others to step in. A native of Norrkoping, Sweden, Paajarvi is among those battling for the spot. The 21-year-old started the 2011-12 season in Edmonton, but struggled to produce and found himself in the minors by mid-December.
"I've been playing quite a bit on the PK in Oklahoma City and I'm actually enjoying it a lot because it gets me in the game more," he said. "If I can play on the PK and get some time at even strength on the third line, I'm playing a lot. Playing a big role like that would be big for me and I'm going to do whatever it takes to make the team.
"Last year didn't go as planned. I went down to develop and that's the way it goes. You really need to go and take that as a good learning opportunity. I believe I did, because it was a great learning opportunity."
In 37 games with the Barons this season, Paajarvi scored four goals and added 16 assists. As arduous as his journey has been over the past calendar year, he remains focused and isn't at all deterred by frustration.
"No," he deadpanned. "I've been in [this position] before. My mindset is to keep going no matter what."
"Ryan Jones has a certain skill-set. Magnus Paajarvi has a certain skill-set. For both, an excellent one in what they're capable of doing," Krueger added. "If you think about Jonsey last year, he jumped into the power-play, played on the penalty kill and was hard to play against in front of the net. [Magnus is] someone, I believe, that can play up in the lineup eventually, but in the meantime could give us some time on the penalty kill. That's what we're working on with him. We're trying to broaden his horizons, because he came from a very offensive past with Timra in the Swedish Elite League. You often will have players that need time to evolve."
Evolution in Paajarvi's case means identifying a new role, such as the one left by Jones. Hartikainen, on the other hand, doesn't have to worry about that. He's been told to stay the course.
"I hope (I can make the team)," he said. "I really have nothing left to prove in the AHL."
Last season, Hartikainen appeared in 17 games with the Oilers, collecting two goals in five points. In 2012-13 with the Barons, he was easily one of the team's most dangerous and effective forwards, as his 11-goal, 27-point output would suggest.
"I've been doing good and I feel like I've had a good two-and-a-half years that I've been there. I feel I'm ready to make the jump to the NHL. The Oilers want me to play the same game up here that I've been playing in the AHL. For me it's all about being physical, forechecking hard and getting to the net. If I continue to do it here, I'll have success."
"He's a big body in front of the net," Krueger noted. "If you look at guys like Horcoff and Smyth, Hartikainen gives up depth in that position -- particularly on the power-play."
Here are the line combinations Head Coach Ralph Krueger rolled with throughout the brisk, hour-and-a-half skate at Rexall Place:
The Oilers will be back on the ice Tuesday at 11:00AM.
-- Ryan Dittrick, edmontonoilers | Follow me on Twitter @ryandittrick
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