EDMONTON - From the outset of camp, Head Coach Ralph Krueger had a pretty good idea of what he'd be starting the season with.
The smart money was on Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jordan Eberle to lead the way. As a group, they were dominant at the AHL level early in 2012, combining to score over 100 points in only 79 games. And despite spending the past week in Edmonton at Oilers camp, Eberle still leads the American Hockey League scoring race by 11 points over Springfield's Jonathan Audy-Marchessault.
Two-thirds of this line assumed a leadership role earlier this week, as Krueger announced that Hall and Eberle would be sporting A's this year as alternate captains to Shawn Horcoff.
On the second line, Krueger's mixed assembly sees a passer (Ales Hemsky) play alongside a sniper (Nail Yakupov), centered by a hybrid (Sam Gagner). All three played meaningful regular-season games in various European leagues throughout the NHL's 119-day lockout.
"I've been able to check in previous years," said Smyth, 36, greatly accepting of his new role as a checking/energy player. "I've been fortunate enough to have had played with Horc for numerous years. He's a high-intensity guy and I know what his work ethic is. Hartikainen, with his strengths, I'm sure we can come together, gel quickly and be an asset for the team.
"Whatever situation the coaches put me in, I'll do it to the best of my ability."
Smyth had a blistering start to the 2011-12 season, scoring 26 of his 46 points in the first quarter alone. However, the winger collected only 20 in the remaining 56 games to close out the campaign. Because of that, Horcoff is especially supportive of their line's role in helping distribute the workload, slowing any drop-off and showcasing their depth.
"Instead of playing over 21 (minutes) and change, we're going to have minutes spread out," he said. "That's the evolution of this team and you want that. Especially now, we're going to need depth and have guys playing lots and in important situations. Twenty-plus minutes in 48 (games) in 98 (days) is next to impossible; it doesn't matter how young you are. For us it's about getting as many lines out there as often as possible and trying to score with numbers. On the third and fourth line, we'll try to take some pressure off those Top 2 lines."
Horcoff, Smyth and Hartikainen will do their part, but the fourth line's role will be of equal importance. Particularly with the loss of Ryan Jones, the Oilers' depth forwards will be relied upon to contribute in a variety of roles. Lennart Petrell is at the head of that discussion considering the 28-year-old's penchant on the penalty kill.
Petrell spent the lockout playing back home in Finland, for HIFK Helsinki in the Finnish League (SM-liiga). In a strange statistical note, Petrell collected 11 goals and no assists in 26 games.
"I don't know. I really don't know how you can go that long, score as many goals as I did and not get any apples," he laughed.
"I had a good start to the season but had a couple minor injuries that kept me out every other week, it seemed. I battled those and in the last week I was in Finland, I was as healthy as I'd been all year and felt very good about my game."
Petrell was re-signed to a one-year, $825,000 deal back on Jun. 19, 2012 on the heels of a four-goal, nine-point rookie campaign a year ago.
"The NHL is the best league in the world, and of course I wanted to be back in Edmonton. It's a great city, great team and I like it here," Petrell said. "Playing over in Finland was a good opportunity to get back in shape for the NHL season. The game is pretty similar -- I mean, there are a couple differences but the fundamentals of the game don't change. I actually think the Finnish League is the closest to the NHL because the rinks are a little smaller than they are in other leagues around Europe. It's a more physical game, too, which worked in my favour. It was a great way to prepare.
"Even though I've played (this season), I needed to get up to speed and adjust to the clock again. It's a little tougher coming in for a camp that's so short. But I know how things work this year in my second NHL season I know everyone around here, I know the team and I know the city quite well."
Petrell was a little late in getting to the rink for Thursday's workout. He and his wife, Tiina, are expecting their second child any minute now.
"I had to stay at home as long I could," he laughed. "I'm going to hurry up and go back now."
DANIS UP, OTHERS SENT DOWN
Head Coach Ralph Krueger announced that the Oilers have recalled goaltender Yann Danis, while Chris VandeVelde, Colten Teubert and Taylor Fedun have been sent back to Oklahoma City. As Krueger explains, Danis was recalled because Nikolai Khabibulin has yet to be medically cleared.
"We want Yann to come in here, experience camp and get comfortable in case Khabby isn't good to go for Sunday."
-- Ryan Dittrick, edmontonoilers.com | Follow me on Twitter @ryandittrick
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