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THE TEAM TODAY

THE TEAM TODAY: Mixing it up

Oilers skate in two practice sessions prior to tomorrow's game vs. Vancouver

Saturday, 25.09.2010 / 11:45 AM / The Team Today
By Marc Ciampa  - edmontonoilers.com
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THE TEAM TODAY: Mixing it up
 
Saturday, September 25


MIXING IT UP

Likely in preparation for the next two exhibition games, the Oilers did some mixing and matching of its two squads for  a pair of practices Saturday at Rexall Place.

The second group, including starting goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin, will play against the Canucks on Sunday night.

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GROUP 1

The first group consisted of a mixed-up squad compared with what the Oilers were rolling with the past few days as the team got ready for their final four exhibition games.

Immediately noticeable was a dynamic top line consisting of Magnus Paajarvi, Sam Gagner and Ales Hemsky.

Liam Reddox skated on an energy line with Colin Fraser and Brad Moran while Ryan Jones looked back and healthy as he played alongside Ryan O'Marra and Steve MacIntyre.

Another player who skated a regular shift  is J-F Jacques. He skated on what looked to be the second line with Gregory Stewart and Andrew Cogliano.

After the skate, Jacques said he's probably still a few weeks away from game action.

"I'm not cleared yet," said Jacques. "It's only my first week of practice. I'm still progressing. Nothing's holding me back right now. I feel pretty good."

Jacques remarked that the plan is to get a few weeks of practice in before he plays in an actual game. 

"We're really trying to make things right this time. That's what I've been trying to do all summer by coming back slowly and making sure everything was working well."

J-F Jacques (right) battles for the puck.
(photo: Andy Devlin / Edmonton Oilers Hockey Club)

Closer to returning, and also on the ice, was Jones who remarked that he could play tomorrow if called upon.

"I took a crosscheck in one of the first couple practices. Took a couple days off. Skated yesterday and again today," said Jones. "If they want me in there tomorrow, I'll be ready to go.

The defence pairings for this group were Ladislav Smid with Kurtis Foster, Tom Gilbert and Richard Petiot plus Shawn Belle and Alex Plante with Taylor Chorney rotating through along with Jake Taylor.

The two goaltenders for this group were Devan Dubnyk and Jeff Deslauriers.

After about 45 minutes of drills, the two sides squared off for some five-on-five scrimmage type drills. Once again, Associate Coach Ralph Krueger was the tactician. Following the five-on-five the players did some more work on the finer points of the game before some hard skating.   

GROUP 2

Associate Coach Ralph Krueger chats with Nikolai Khabibulin (photo by Andy Devlin / Edmonton Oilers Hockey Club)

The goaltenders from this group were Martin Gerber and Nikolai Khabibulin, with Khabibulin slated to get the start tomorrow.

"I'm going to start tomorrow and just go from there," said Khabibulin after practice. "It's almost like I forgot what it's going to be like."

The second group - the game group for Sunday - saw some familiar line combinations as well as some new ones. Taylor Hall was playing with Shawn Horcoff and Jordan Eberle as that line from the first few sessions of training camp was reunited.

Linus Omark finally saw himself in the top six, playing with Dustin Penner and Gilbert Brule.

"It's a really good chance for me to show my best," said Omark. "Penner's a big guy, one of the best in the league at what he does. Brule's a sniper with good hands. It's great."

Camp tryout Jared Aulin saw himself on a unit with Ben Ondrus and Alex Giroux as he looked ready to play in his first pre-season game tomorrow night.

"I can only think of it as a positive," Ondrus said of him being in the lineup tomorrow. "You want to play every game. We were fortunate enough to play well in the first game and we'll do everything we can (tomorrow) to stick around."

The fourth line for this group was Teemu Hartikainen and Zack Stortini on the wings with Chris Vande Velde down the middle.

The Oilers had some interesting defence pairings in the second unit. Ryan Whitney was teamed up with Jeff Petry, Jim Vandermeer with Theo Peckham and Jason Strudwick with Johan Motin.

For Petry and Peckham tomorrow is another opportunity to show what they need to do in order to stick with the NHL club.

"I just stick to what I do best. I'm a physical player. I'm not going to make this team trying to go end-to-end with the puck," said Peckham, noting that he's 100% healthy this year at camp - something he couldn't have said last year at this time.

"It's a challenge. Every day you've got to be on your toes. Right now, it's tough. You can't think about it," Peckham said of the challenge of making the squad with so many blueliners poised to make that step.

One of those defencemen is Jeff Petry.

"From day one they said there's an opportunity so I'm just going to try and bring my game every day, do everything I can to impress them and earn that one spot," Petry said.


ONE-ON-ONE

Shawn Horcoff
In another edition of our fan question series, Shaun Pekrul of Regina asks a question for forward Shawn Horcoff:

Shaun: We heard a lot about how the rookies are training hard during the off-season but didnt hear much about you. What did you do to prepare yourself for this year? You look a lot better on the ice!

Shawn: I changed a lot of things in the off-season. Personally, I wasn't happy with the way things went. I re-evaluated where I was at as a player and where I needed to improve and hopefully went out there and met those goals.


Fill out the form on the right to submit a question for one of the Oilers. We will ask one of the submitted questions after the next practice and will post the answer in the next Team Today.

Author: Marc Ciampa | edmontonoilers.com, with files from Tom Gazzola

Friday, September 24


BACK TO WORK

Following an impressive 5-2 victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning one night ago, which included the dramatic introduction of a new era in Oil Country, the Oilers are back on the ice today at Rexall Place for practice as they continue through Training Camp and the 2010 pre-season schedule.

The team skated in two groups this morning. Those who skated in the early morning session were the players that didn't play last night, while the afternoon group had everyone from last night's lineup take to the ice.

View full camp roster

GROUP 1

Associate Coach Ralph Krueger was once again running the practice today, and with the amount of practice and game time the team has been getting over the past few days, time at the whiteboard was almost non-existent. The pace was high and the energy was palpable on the ice this morning and the first group set the bar for expectations and effort. With more roster assignments looming, it was perhaps one last chance for some players to show what they’ve got.

The better part of the practice was spent on individual drills. Plenty of passing, skating, and one-on-ones with the goaltenders dominated the agenda. The final part of the practice ended with line rushes and in-zone offensive systems, which brought out the pace and physicality that suited the style of the many players looking to earn a job.

Shawn Horcoff, Alexandre Giroux, and Jordan Eberle continued on the top forward unit and showed excellent chemistry in the offensive zone. Eberle and Horcoff in particular were exceptionally strong as they made smart decisions with the puck and capitalized on their many chances. Horcoff commented after practice about the mentor role he's undertaken and the pressure that some of the young players may be feeling.

Jordan Eberle, Taylor Hall & Shawn Horcoff (photo by Andy Devlin / Edmonton Oilers Hockey Club)
"I think the biggest thing is that - you hit the nail on the head - we're just preaching fun. We want to let them come in and I think when you're having fun, pressure's not existent. It's when things get down a little bit and you start pressing and trying too hard where the pressure can get to you. So for these guys, it's too early for them to start worrying about expectations and results."

Both Horcoff and Giroux have provided an excellent learning environment that has proven to be welcoming for the younger players. Jordan Eberle in particular says the veteran leadership has been beneficial for him.

"With those two guys - you know, the veteran presence that they have - you can ask Shawn anything. It's really a priviledge to play with those guys."

Eberle also commented on the pressure that Horcoff alluded to, but laughed it off as the adjustment has been easier when other young players in the organization are in a similar position.

"It's fun to have a little competitive rivalry against one another."

Goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin got the bulk of the action as he shared the ice with Martin Gerber. Khabibulin was positionally strong and the improvement in his conditioning is evident with increased quickness and lateral mobility being the most notable standouts of his game since day one of camp. Khabibulin hopes to get into his first pre-season test, and first game against NHL competition since last November, very soon.

"I wouldn't mind to play maybe three games, but it's always up to the coaches. Pre-season is always for them to see other players too. Whatever it is, it is. If I end up playing less games I'll just work a little bit more in practice on the technical stuff. It's all good."

Although the pace and energy was high, the coaching staff ended the session with a hard skate that pushed the conditioning of everyone on the ice. 

GROUP 2

Group two’s session began the same as the earlier group. High intensity, lots of energy, and a skating pace that put a tremendous workout into each player. The group participated in the same drills and saw newest Oil Country hero Magnus Paajarvi dominate once again during the practice. The theme of the day seemed to be chemistry, as the players began showing it more consistently on the ice, as well as reflecting on it off the ice. Paajarvi noted that the familiarity developing between his linemates has been a real positive for both him personally and for the team.

"It's really good to play with Penner and Cogliano. They create so much space for you and you just have to be at the right time in the spot and you're going to get your chances. We succeeded at that yesterday, so it was a good team effort."

Dustin Penner & Sam Gagner (photo by Andy Devlin / EOHC)
Sam Gagner and Ales Hemsky continued to develop their camp chemistry as the pair was skating, passing and shooting with pin-point precision. Along with Taylor Hall and Dustin Penner, group two's top offensive players were looking much more smooth and refined during today's session than they have all through camp so far.

Early in the session, Taylor Hall and Kurtis Foster got tangled during a one-on-one drill and both went heavily into the end-boards. The pair stayed down for a moment as they collected themselves, but they got up, dusted the snow from their jerseys, and showed no ill effects. Hall and Foster were back right in the next play at their usual speed, this time without colliding. While the incident turned out to be minor, players and media alike went silent before realizing they were not injured.

Creative offensive forward Linus Omark also joined the fray in the one-on-one drills, but was a notable standout for different reasons than Foster and Hall. While Omark was softly criticized earlier in the week by Head Coach Tom Renney for not shooting the puck enough, his deking efforts were certainly on display this afternoon. Much to the dismay of the Oilers defencemen, he was able to work around them several times and either get a quality chance or a highlight reel goal.

Not to be lost in the shuffle of the offensive showcase, Richard Petiot continued his strong showing from last night into today's practice. Petiot has quietly been improving throughout camp and was a reliable defender for the Oilers last night en route to victory. During the one-on-one drills early in the session, Petiot proved to be the most difficult defenceman to beat. A large frame, active stick, and excellent awareness have continued to make him a reliable player for the Oilers at this point in camp.


ONE-ON-ONE

Jordan Eberle
In another edition of our fan question series, Barbara of Edmonton asks a question for forward Jordan Eberle:

Barbara: "Can you cook yourself a meal?  If so, what do you like to cook?"

Jordan: "Yeah, I love to cook actually! I think my favourite meal to cook is salmon. I can do it on the barbeque and in the oven too. The oven's a little quicker and easier. I started cooking at a young age - my mom made me. I guess I started that stuff and my laundry when I was like 12 or 13. I'm pretty independent for the most part."


Fill out the form on the right to submit a question for one of the Oilers. We will ask one of the submitted questions after the next practice and will post the answer in the next Team Today.

Author: Ryan Dittrick | edmontonoilers.com, with files from Bob Stauffer & Tom Gazzola

Thursday, September 23


OILERS VS. LIGHTNING

AT THE MORNING SKATE


After coming away with an inspired effort and solid 3-2 victory last night in Vancouver, Edmonton comes into tonight's game looking to continue the hot start in a game against the dynamic Lightning offence.

"It's nice to get the first one out of the way," Penner said before his pre-season debut. "We've got a lot of youth on this team and it's going to be exciting to see how they perform in their first NHL camp and pre-season game."

The Oilers dressed a more inexperienced lineup last night in Vancouver and therefore will be countering with a more veteran heavy squad tonight; however after much fanfare since their arrival in Oil Country, talented young forwards Taylor Hall and Magnus Paajarvi will be making their debuts against NHL competition as well. Oilers fans will be entertained with a great mix of skill, youth, and experience as the team opens up the 2010 home schedule.

"I've been looking forward to this for a while and I wasn't in the line-up last night but certainly tonight's going to be a lot of fun playing at home," Hall said after the morning skate.

"I'm sure Taylor's ready for it," Sam Gagner added. "It's one of those things where you work hard all summer to get a chance to do this, and he seems ready for the challenge."

Gagner will be centering Hall and Ales Hemsky on Edmonton's top line, while Paajarvi, Andrew Cogliano and Dustin Penner will skate together on the second line. Both trios come loaded with plenty of firepower, speed and skill, but Head Coach Tom Renney emphasized that he wants to see a complete game from all his players.

I've been looking forward to this for a while and I wasn't in the line-up last night but certainly tonight's going to be a lot of fun playing at home. - Taylor Hall
"It seems that the teams that are most successful in this league, regardless of what the system is, their best players are completely dedicated to 200 by 85," he explained. "We want to make sure that our guys are able to pull that off too.

"We're talking about certain highly talented people -- guys like Hemsky and Penner and Gagner, those types of people are like that. But we've got to play on our toes. We want to push forward and those guys have to contribute to that end too."

In what has already proven to be a busy training camp, the 45 players remaining in Edmonton have been working hard to secure a spot on the 2010-2011 Oilers roster. Drills, skating and system play have dominated the agenda at camp to this point, meaning the short time between games has been a positive for many of the players as they continue to adapt to the new structure and fight for a job in an incredibly competitive environment.

OILERS 5 - LIGHTNING 2

Magnus Paajarvi and Taylor Hall brought their elite skills to the table against NHL competition for the first time in their careers. Despite holding a shot margin throughout the game, the Lightning were unable to beat third star Devan Dubnyk to square the game once the Oilers gained the advantage.

Paajarvi scored a hat-trick and added an assist, while Taylor Hall also got involved in the action to lead the Oilers to a 5-2 victory.


Author: Ryan Dittrick & Jen Sharpe | edmontonoilers.com, with files from Tom Gazzola

Monday, September 20


UP TEMPO

The Edmonton Oilers were back at Rexall Place on Monday morning to continue with Main Training Camp as they prepare for a busy week ahead.

View full camp roster
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TEAM C

Head coach Tom Renney pushed the pace this morning as the staff put a tremendous emphasis on tempo. There was little time spent at the white board, as the players continued with drills that have been worked on over the past few days. Communication between players and coaches was higher than it has been so far through camp, as the staff again was emphasizing hard work, a quick pace, and making sure the players were doing the drills correctly. Renney was only briefly a part of the first session this morning, where he then handed the reigns to Associate Coach Ralph Krueger to work the practices for the rest of the day.

"He's going to teach a lot and it's going to be tough practices as you see today. It's going to be a lot of skating, but at the end of the day, it's going to make us all better players" noted new-arrival defenceman Kurtis Foster.

The first half of the session, much like what was done on the weekend, was spent working on drills, with the coaching staff showing particular attention to full-ice breakouts and line rushes. Each line was put through the paces, as the drill was repeated several times to give the players a good workout and to establish some chemistry with their linemates.

Hard-working veteran Shawn Horcoff was again a notable standout during the first session, as he continued his mentorship with young prospects Jordan Eberle and Taylor Hall. In addition, his goal-scoring touch continued to be in fine form as he was picking the corners on all three Team C netminders.

After the first hour, the ice was flooded and the group worked briefly on drills before being rewarded with a scrimmage; the first of Training Camp, as the team prepares for a busy week that includes the Joey Moss Cup and two pre-season games in three consecutive days that will begin Tuesday night at Rexall Place. The lone goals of the brief scrimmage came from Shawn Belle for navy after some excellent work down low by Linus Omark. Drew Czerwonka replied moments later for light blue when he cashed in a rebound following a Taylor Chorney point shot. The scrimmage ended in a 1-1 tie.

Martin Gerber
With roster moves expected to be made shortly, players are realizing that they need to be making the most of their opportunities. Goaltender Martin Gerber, who was very solid during today's session, commented on his opportunity and what he needs to do to earn a roster spot with the Oilers.

"You have to prove yourself every day. Hockey business goes so quick and there's so many good players out there, so you have to prove yourself every day and that's basically what I'm trying to do. I just try to look out for myself and make sure I put everything out there. I need to put my best out  there every day and see what happens."

TEAM A

The second group to hit the ice was Team A, led by the current top line of Sam GagnerAles Hemsky and Dustin Penner. The same furious pace that was set earlier in the day continued for Team A, as the drills were run with precision and tremendous energy.

Forward Zack Stortini noted the pace and commented on the system play that the coaching staff has been working on so far.

"I think it's great. It's a great experience out there. We've been going through a lot of systems stuff, and it's definitely no surprise. Tom's a great teacher. It's very competitive out there, guys are working hard. It's an intense camp; requires a lot of effort, a lot of hard work to go through all the drills and to get the job done out there."

While Gagner, Hemsky and Penner continued their strong showings, Tyler Pitlick was one of the standouts of this session. Pitlick has been strong throughout camp so far and his creative hands and blazing speed were on display, much to the dismay of goaltenders Bryan Pitton and Devan Dubnyk.

Dubnyk was pleased with the high intensity practice and is looking forward to getting some game action soon.

"It's a good practice. Obviously I haven't had the chance to get into game situations, but it's good to get out there and get a high intensity, structured practice. You get lots of young kids trying to show their stuff out there; everyone's flying around and it's fun to get out there and really get back to working on things."

Liam Reddox
Also on the board for standouts were forwards Zack Stortini and Liam Reddox, who were excellent in all the forechecking drills in bringing an enthusiastic attack which pressured some of the more inexperienced defenders. Reddox in particular was not only energetic as he usually is, but he also brought a degree of creativity to the offensive attack which seemed to please the Oilers coaching staff. Teemu Hartikainen, Reddox and Stortini's linemates, was not to be forgotten. He was the leader on the line in gaining the zone and finishing chances around the net. For all three, day four was an excellent showing.

Exactly like the morning session, Team A concluded their practice with a brief scrimmage which featured work with the powerplay. Jeremie Blain of navy scored the opening goal when he slapped home a rolling puck that fooled goaltender Devan Dubnyk. The top line for light blue which featured Gagner, Hemsky and Penner replied just moments later as they got their opportunity on the attack. Gagner and Penner both scored from nifty passes from Hemsky which ended the scrimmage session in a 2-1 win for light blue.

TEAM B


The third and final group to hit the ice today was Team B, who again continued to push the strong pace set by the earlier groups. Coach Krueger worked them hard as skating and neutral zone play continued to be the theme of the day. Forward Gilbert Brule thinks the fast pace set early will be a benefit to the team as we approach the regular season.

"I think if you look at our camp and the roster that we've got coming in here - and the team's not set yet - but we've got a lot of offensive guys here and a lot of young guys and a lot of speed . It's really good to see. It's going to have a fast hockey team."

Gilbert Brule
Magnus Paajarvi, Gilbert Brule and Colin McDonald were the session's standouts. All continued their strong showings from earlier sessions, but were much more refined today with a obvious emphasis on precision with their passing and shooting. All three have progressed nicely over the past three days have been developing some nice familiarity with their respective linemates.

Andrew Cogliano spoke of the chemistry and familiarity already developing between he and linemate Gilbert Brule.

"We have chemistry already, I think we played a good 20 games together last year at the end of the year and we had success. He's a guy that you can talk to and be comfortable playing with. I think there's a lot of opportunity this year with guys leaving, new guys coming in, and Tom establishing that guys will have the opportunity to take spots and play different positions."

In net, Nikolai Khabibulin looked better again today. Khabibulin struggled early on day one of on-ice sessions, but with increased ice-time due to the roster shuffle, he seems to be getting more and more comfortable in the crease.

When it came time to scrimmage, both the navy and light blue teams played the bulk of their brief game in the neutral zone. Much of the in-zone play was scrambled and was often dictated by board play. The lone goal came from Mike Thomas of the light blue team following a Tom Gilbert giveaway behind the net.

While the 3-on-3 portions were largely uneventful for the other two groups, Steve MacIntyre changed that for Team B when he scored a nifty backhand goal which incited a great reception from his teammates. 

ONE-ON-ONE

In another edition of our fan question series, Jason of Edmonton asks a question for forward Zack Stortini:

Zack Stortini
Jason: "Do you feel with the addition of the new trio, given their size and style, along with current key players like Sam and Andrew, that your role of toughness and protection will be drastically increased this season compared to previous?"

Zack:  "I think it's always an important role out there. I know what my role is and what I have to do out there and it's something I enjoy doing. It's a great part of the game. It's hard to do it each and every night, but I'm not alone doing it. We have a lot of good guys on the team that are able to carry that load. Jason Strudwick, we brought in Jim Vandermeer, Steve MacIntyre's back - just to name a few guys. I'm there for any teammate. Doesn't matter if they're young or old, small or big, doesn't matter. I'm there for anybody. We're all brothers in here, we're sticking together - doesn't matter who it is."



Fill out the form on the right to submit a question for one of the Oilers. We will ask one of the submitted questions after the next practice and will post the answer in the next Team Today.
 
Author: Ryan Dittrick | edmontonoilers.com, with files from Nyki Scheuerman & Tom Gazzola


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