THE TEAM TODAY: Preparation Day
VandeVelde, Eager & Potter all comment following Oilers practice at Rexall Place
18 hours removed from the annual Joey Moss Cup at Rexall Place, Teams A, B and C convened at the rink once more, practicing in preparation for the 2011 pre-season schedule.
TEAM B - VANDEVELDE RISING
Team B hit the ice at 8:15am, led by the group’s dynamic top line, Ryan Smyth, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jordan Eberle.
Head Coach Tom Renney pushed the pace, preaching communication and awareness and all three zones.
Chris VandeVelde stood out this morning, skating with gusto and working as hard as he ever has to impress coaches and management. With Nugent-Hopkins, Tyler Pitlick, Anton Lander, Ryan O’Marra, Ryan Martindale and others vying to make an impact, VandeVelde’s task has become that much more arduous.
“I think the biggest thing is to be reliable out there,” he said when asked about standing out in a crowded roster. “I need to be solid in my own end, and when I get a chance up-ice to score, I’ll make good.
“I’ve always thought I’m a good two-way player, so I’m going to focus on that primarily. I’ve got some touch around the net, but I want to show the coaches that I can handle almost anything they assign me to.
“When I do that, I know I’ll have given them an honest look. That will provide me with the best shot; and even if I get sent down, I’ll have more to work with to help develop my game. No matter what, I make sure that each skate is a learning experience.”
VandeVelde isn’t oblivious to the team’s abundance of up-and-coming middlemen, either. But that certainly doesn’t change his approach as Training Camp rolls along.
“I can’t really worry about other guys,” he said. “I need to focus on my own game, obviously. I know there’s a lot of competition out there, so my job is to keep working hard, do the things I need to do to be successful, and the rest will follow.”
Even so, there’s no reason he can’t capture management’s eye. VandeVelde began the 2010-11 season with the AHL’s Oklahoma City Barons, posting 12 goals and 16 points in 67 regular-season games. Circumstances allowed him to be called-up to Edmonton, where he amassed two assists in 12 games with the Oilers.
Following the season, he was returned to OKC to play in the Barons’ inaugural post-season quest. It was a season driven by change, experience and pro success; and the 24-year-old believes he’s a better, more complete player now than he ever has been.
When pressed to comment on what he learned during his 12-game Oilers audition, VandeVelde said he was taught “so, so much.”
“Coach Renney always preaches hard work, and that’s an area that I can control on my own, and I always do. If you work hard and do what you’re supposed to do, you can make plays from there.
“I learned to play my role. That's what they’d like me to do and that's what I'm striving to succeed at. I know what I need to do.”
TEAM C - EAGER FOR MORE
Team C got to sleep in Monday morning, meaning energy was high and the physical play was certainly rampant. Ben Eager in particular looked good and was the story following the weekend's intrasquad match.
In Sunday’s Joey Moss Cup, Jul. 1 signee Ben Eager took an unsuspecting hit by camp invite Kirill Tulupov. The end-glass rippled, sending shockwaves around Rexall, both in the crowd and in Eager’s temper.
No. 55 skated to the bench and chirped the young Russian. Today at practice, Eager laughed it off and said he was partially to blame.
“It's one of those things,” he said. “I wasn't really expecting it, and I let up a bit on him. It's the way it goes some times and you've got to be ready for it. Even in an intrasquad game, you’ve got to be ready.”
And, really, it’s something Eager will bring nightly, so he’s not totally sour on physical play. In fact, it’s one of the reasons he chose to sign in Edmonton, noting that the Oilers have lacked in this department for a couple years now.
“Just bring my style of play, which is physical, aggressive and hard on the puck,” he said when asked about his style. “I played in quite a few playoff games in the past few years, and hopefully I can bring some kind of leadership to the dressing room as well.
“Lead by example, work hard every day at practice and be a tough guy to play against. It’s something I take a lot of pride in.”
He’ll bring more than a solid physical presence, of course. Eager scored seven goals and 17 points in 68 games last season, halved between the Atlanta Thrashers and San Jose Sharks. That came in addition to 120 penalty minutes, which certainly helped highlight his rough-and-tumble 2010-11 campaign.
Perhaps most importantly, he became quite a menace for the Oilers’ rivals, most notably the Vancouver Canucks in the post-season.
Yes, he’ll blend with this locker room nicely.
“They've been great,” he said. “Every since I got here last week, everything has been high-class. Everyone is excited to get going and they're trying to build to get to the next level. I'm thrilled to be part of things.
“The practices have been pretty high-tempo, too. As they go on here, the passes are getting crisper and guys are getting back into the routine. It's been great.”
TEAM A - POTTER AIMS FOR OPENING NIGHT
Other than Ryan Whitney (and Andy Sutton when he reports), Team A's blueline is highlighted by players battling tooth-and-nail for an opportunity, and one veteran in particular looked especially calm and collected at today's practice. There's no question that there's room along the Oilers' blueline for new names to emerge.
With Kurtis Foster having been shipped out during the summer, Cam Barker, Jeff Petry, Taylor Chorney, Colten Teubert (when he returns to action) and Corey Potter will all be dodging for ice-time. Kirill Tulupov and Alex Plante are also in the mix from Team A's squad, but to a lesser degree.
In Potter’s case, it’s a unique circumstance that has allowed the 27-year-old to land in Edmonton, potentially earning a spot on the team’s opening night roster. He signed as a free agent on Jul. 1, presumably to help stock the Oklahoma City Barons’ lineup, but he’s impressed in three short days at Oilers Training Camp.
“It’s been really good so far and I’m having so much fun,” he said Monday at Rexall Place. “Everyone is excited to get the season underway, and we're thrilled to get back to work.
“We're getting along great, too. This is a really close group and I'm so happy to be a part of this team right now. Not only do the Oilers look good now and in the future, but this is an excellent opportunity for me, personally.”
Potter spent last season with the AHL’s Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, posting seven goals and 37 points in 75 games. He’s had the opportunity to skate in nine NHL games, scoring one goal and two points, but he’s become a minor-league regular over the course of six AHL seasons.
Now he’s poised to bounce back and make a return to the NHL.
“I need to continue to play the game that I play,” he said. “That means moving the puck up quick, being physical and trying to contribute up-ice a little bit as well.
“If there’s an opportunity up-ice, I love to hop up on the rush. I think I play both sides well and can be known as a solid, reliable D-man in almost every situation.
“I want to show the coaches, management and everyone else that I belong in the NHL and that I should be part of the Oilers’ future.”
Potter spent four seasons at Michigan State University from 2002-2006, a school that has churned out a near-record number of NHL players over the years. He couldn’t say enough about the school’s heralded program, which helped him get to where he is today.
“I think in the four years I was there, there were about six, seven or eight guys that are in the NHL right now,” he explained.
That doesn’t count current NHLers Shawn Horcoff (1996-2000) and Jeff Petry (2007-2010), both of whom are represented in Oilers silks, along with Potter, at Rexall Place.
“It's a tribute to the coaching staff and recruiting that they do. It's a pretty prestigious program they have there. They've had a tough time over the past few years but they're turning it around right now.
“Seeing a couple other MSU alumni skating on the same NHL ice is really cool. I think we’re all proud to have played there.”
BLUE 5 - WHITE 3
Ryan Keller, Lennart Petrell and Antti Tyrvainen each scored in the third period, pushing Team Blue to a well-earned 5-3 victory over Team White at Sunday's Joey Moss Cup.
Blue's Olivier Roy and David LeNeveu combined to stop 18 shots, while White's Yann Danis and Tyler Bunz turned aside 24.
Less than four minutes into today's contest, Team White got on the board when Ryan Martindale passed to a streaking Jeff Petry in the slot. The 23-year-old wasted no time, snapping a wrister by David LeNeveu to put his squad up 1-0.
Team Blue looked to respond, peppering Yann Danis with several high-quality chances moments later. At 15:42, Blue equalled the score when Magnus Paajarvi's behind-the-net centering pass was pushed in by White's Ryan Lowery.
54 seconds later, Blue's late-period push put them in the lead. Danis was unable to corral a point shot and, with help from Gilbert Brule, the rebound try was hammered home by Philippe Cornet.
With 45 seconds to play in the period, White's Jordan Eberle scooped a Blue turnover, sending him in alone on a breakaway. His backhand effort beat LeNeveu, but the puck rang off the crossbar.
As time expired, Blue continued to lead 2-1, but White carried an 8-7 edge in shots.
White pulled even at 12:08 when Teemu Hartikainen went inside-out on Blue rearguard Martin Gernat, potting the puck upstairs on LeNeveu on his team's 12th attempt.
With under 10 minutes to play in the period, Olivier Roy replaced LeNeveu between the pipes, and White's Danis was replaced with Tyler Bunz.
Moments later, White was put on the power-play when Kirill Tulupov hauled down Taylor Hall on what appeared to be a promising rush. White was unable to generate much and the two-minute opportunity passed without incident.
With 40 minutes expired, the teams remained in a 2-2 score, while White advanced to a 16-14 shot advantage.
1:04 into the period, White was put on the power-play once more, as Darcy Hordichuk pulled down Hall on another high-speed rush. Much like their earlier opportunity, White was unable to cash.
Blue regained the lead at 7:50 when Ryan Keller evaded the check of Chris VandeVelde, picking up the loose puck and popping it over Bunz at the goal-mouth.
At the other end, Roy was putting on a show. A creative three-way passing play orchestrated by White's Eberle was bluntly turned away with a quick pad save.
Roy couldn't stop them all, however. Moments later, White's Tanner House came speeding down the wing, snapping a shot glove-side to pull his team even once more at 13:25.
Just as quickly, Blue pulled ahead 4-3. Lennart Petrell picked up a pass from Ryan O'Marra, cocked his weapon and released a bullet blocker-side on Bunz.
With under two minutes to play in the period, down 4-3, White was given a power-play chance when O'Marra was charged for tripping. Bunz was also pulled, establishing a two-man, late-period advantage. Chances came, but Roy stepped up to preserve his team's lead.
Antti Tyrvainen scored into the empty cage, sealing a 5-3 score with 13.2 seconds to play.
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