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THE TEAM TODAY

THE TEAM TODAY: Friday Files

Hemsky & Whitney updates, Petrell's early impression & more at Friday's practice

Friday, 23.09.2011 / 6:15 PM / The Team Today
By Ryan Dittrick  - edmontonoilers.com
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THE TEAM TODAY: Friday Files

FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 23

FRIDAY FILES

GROUP 1

Ales Hemsky hasn't seen any action in the Oilers' pre-season schedule, but the 28-year-old right-winger is inching closer to his chance.

Skating with Teemu Hartikainen and Eric Belanger at 10:45am this morning, Hemsky remarked that he had been cleared for contact during a post-practice media scrum.

“I got cleared today in the morning by doctors so I can take contact and do everything,” he said. “I skated in the last week and I did everything anyway, but it feels great and it's up to the coaches to see which games I’ll play.”

Hemsky, who’s never been a huge proponent of exhibition action, says he’ll keep his schedule light in preparation for Oct. 9’s home opener vs. Pittsburgh at Rexall Place.

“I would like to play two [pre-season games],” he explained. “In the past I never played more than three games, so I think I'm used to that; I want to get into it a little bit. I need to be conscious about it a little bit, too.”

The veteran winger has played in only 69 games over the past two seasons (22 in 2009-10 and 47 in 2010-11). Having been abused by his opponents in those injury-shortened campaigns, Hemsky is excited about adding some protection this year.

“Those guys are good,” he said. “Eager and Hordichuk can play, too. It's great for us.

“I'd much rather have those guys on our side than having to play against them. ”

FINDING CHEMISTRY

“We didn’t have any chemistry,” the Oilers’ captain declared following his team’s 2-1 loss to the Vancouver Canucks one night ago.

It’s not surprising, mind you. With 47 players remaining camp and six pre-season games still on the schedule, combinations will be examined as Head Coach Tom Renney searches for the proper mixture.

Ryan Jones
With that in mind, Ryan Jones was seeing action with a new group Friday morning, skating alongside Anton Lander and Ryan Keller.

“You get used to guys when you practice with them,” he said. “You pick up your linemates’ tendencies, but the drills are really intended to get your feet moving and to help you pick up on the systems.”

“It's hard to build chemistry this quick, but you tend to see it a little bit. Smyth, Nugent-Hopkins and Eberle have been together all through camp and they're doing well together.”

Seven players were assigned today, so expect more moves to come in the next few days.

Practice Notes: Taylor Fedun returned to practice today, donning the infamous red, non-contact sweater. Following a dirty hit to the numbers in Tuesday’s contest vs. the Minnesota Wild, Fedun and the training staff have chosen to be cautious.

The 23-year-old passed the ‘concussion test,’ so other than a mild contusion, he’s been given a clean bill of health.

GROUP 2

Among those who were invited to Oilers Training Camp, none have made the impression that Lennart Petrell has. The 27-year-old centre has been tagged as one of Europe’s most impressive penalty killers, and is looking to bring his gritty game to the Oilers this year.

“Although these are exhibition games and we're not necessarily matching up against NHL teams, I'd have to concur,” said Renney.

“I like the way he plays. His teammates love the effort that he plays with. He's a smart player, he's got a great wingspan and I think that he's got some subtle offence that might not be coming really apparent yet, but I think will over time.

“I'll look at the body of work of everyone of who makes it down to the last little bit, and I certainly see him doing that, at the very least.”

Petrell was pleased to hear that he’s already caught the eye of coaches and management, but wants to make sure he continues his strong start as the pre-season schedule continues.

“I'm showing them how I can play and so far it's been good,” he said. “It takes a while to get to know the guys you're playing with and, of course, we play on a smaller rink in North America. The game is a little quicker than it is back in Europe, too. I've had a good start and when I get more games, it's going to be a good place to build on.”

Lennart Petrell
The 6’3”, 209-pound Helsinki native agreed that his ability on the PK is a strong suit, but also that he brings a loaded toolbox ripe with NHL-ready attributes.

“[Penalty-killing is] one of my strengths but I can also play a solid, two-way game,” Petrell said. “It's about balancing that; playing solid defensively and being productive offensively as well.”

Petrell spent 2010-11 with HIFK Helsinki, scoring 13 goals and 35 points in 65 regular season games. He was originally selected by the Columbus Blue Jackets 190th overall in 2004, but was unable to crack the Jackets’ squad.

With an NHL dream still within reach, he’s driven to snatch this opportunity.

“I've heard the stories of guys who have played here in the past, but it's something else to experience it on your own,” he explained. “It's been amazing. I want to do my job and start my own journey with the Oilers. That’s the goal.

“There's more to go,” he added. “I've had a good start and I'm really happy to be here.”

WHITNEY FRUSTRATED

Based on today’s session, Ryan Whitney can now complete a practice without having to leave midway through. It appears as though he’s making strides, but the Oilers’ No. 1 blueliner is still struggling to heal.

The 28-year-old missed the remaining 47 games last season and is becoming more and more irritated with the slow curing process.

“10 out of 10,” he deadpanned when asked about his frustration level.

“It's still pretty much where it was, so that's a little frustrating. I planned all summer to be ready for camp. It's still improving, but it's taking longer than I thought.

"I'll get there. It’s about when.”

Whitney added that he wouldn’t push to return too soon.

“No,” he said. “I'm not going to play injured.”

THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 22

OILERS VS. CANUCKS
AT THE MORNING SKATE


With the enemy Vancouver Canucks setting up on the south-side of Rexall Place, the Oilers assembled for a quick 20-minute morning skate in preparation for the team’s third pre-season contest.

Edmonton has composed a veteran-laden squad, combining the rosters from Tuesday’s split-squad action, with some minor changes:

94 Smyth - 93 Nugent-Hopkins - 14 Eberle
4 Hall - 89 Gagner - 68 Pitlick
91 Paajarvi - 10 Horcoff - 23 Omark
16 Hordichuk - 60 House – 37 Petrell

5 Smid - 77 Gilbert
24 Peckham - 58 Petry
41 Chorney - 48 Plante

The Oilers’ Swedish sensations combined to record two goals and three assists in the team’s 4-3 setback to the Minnesota Wild Tuesday night, but will be broken up (somewhat) tonight vs. Vancouver.

INTO ACTION

Replacing Anton Lander on the team’s second line will be the captain, who's looking forward to getting back at it.

“Well, I never worry about it,” Horcoff said of his ankle, which forced him to miss the remaining 35 games last season. “If I was blowing shoulders or pulling hamstrings due to over-training or lack of training, then I'd be concerned and would change things.

“[The ankle] is good. It’s ready to go.

“I played with Maggie (Magnus Paajarvi) a little bit last season, but not together with Omark. It will be fun tonight.”

Sam Gagner, who did not play in Sunday’s Joey Moss Cup or in either of the Oilers’ two pre-season games earlier this week, will also be getting an opportunity this evening.

The 22-year-old centre was limited to only 68 games in 2010-11, but has been given a clean bill of health from his coach and the team’s medical crew.

“We have guys that are now healthy that need to get playing,” Head Coach Tom Renney said. “Horcoff and Gagner were not necessarily penciled in to be playing right now; I was a couple games away from using them. I didn't want to wait any longer to get them in.

“Sam's too smart a player and too good a player not to grow into something much bigger than what he has been. I see great potential in Sam. He looks a little leaner and certainly watching him skate, he looks quicker. Since Training Camp started to this date, I do look at him as being a quicker player.

“Dougie Gilmour comes to mind.”

Gagner agreed, adding that a boatload of summer training has helped him prepare as best as he possibly could for the 2011-12 campaign.

“I think towards the end of the year last season I started feeling better and better,” he said. “I want to find that level of consistency where I can bring it every night of the year. There's a lot that goes into that and I feel like I've grown a lot as a pro.

“Part of being consistent is knowing when to be hard on yourself and knowing when to relax. At this time of year, you have to make sure that you're doing the right things and creating the right habits for when the season starts. I want to continue that throughout the pre-season and make sure I'm sharp going into the regular season.”

VETERAN EXPERIENCE

The Oilers’ bench boss is heading into the new season with an outlook that his club is tougher, more experienced and ready to challenge the league’s best.

“Last year was an investment in a lot of ways for returning players,” he explained. “We've added some muscle in our lineup that will help us compete harder, longer.”

Among those returning is Tom Gilbert, who’s heading into his sixth NHL season. The veteran, puck-moving rearguard is taking on a leadership role, with so many young guys battling for a position on the Oilers’ inexperienced blueline.

He believes that his past experience under similar circumstances will help enlighten his new teammates.

“I like it,” he said when asked about his role in mentorship. “As a young guy, they're thinking about what the roster is going to look like: 'Am I going to be on the team or not? Am I going to play here?' The more you think about that, the more it gets involved in your game.

“I try to tell them all the time and show it with the way I practice. Go out there and, when you have a chance to play, play your butt off.”

Gilbert will be paired with Ladislav Smid tonight and, pre-season or not, he’s excited to be going head-to-head with the team’s most-hated divisional counterpart.

“Regardless of who's in the lineup, this is a rivalry,” he said. “They're always physical games. We matched up okay against them last year, but we've got to start somewhere against these guys.

“We see them six times during the year, so regardless of if it's the pre-season, we've got to bring our 'A' game against them They're a fast team, they know their systems, and they're going to be pretty physical. I'm looking forward to it."

-- Ryan Dittrick, edmontonoilers.com

CANUCKS 2 - OILERS 1

Jordan Eberle scored late in the second period to draw the Oilers within one, but the Canucks' 2-1 advantage was too much to overcome, as Vancouver skates away with a hard-fought 2-1 victory over Edmonton Thursday night at Rexall Place.

READ MORE >>

 
Follow me on Twitter | @ryandittrick
WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 21

CAMP CHRONICLES

Following roster cuts to begin Day 6 at Oilers Training Camp, the 54 players remaining hit the ice at Millennium Place in Sherwood Park for a brisk, one-hour practice.

RELEASE: Oilers Trim Roster

Joining the squad was Andy Sutton, who made an appearance yesterday with the Black Aces, but skated in a more regular role today when his group took to the sheet at 10:45am.

“It was great to be back out there today and it's good to be back in competition mode and out of hospital mode,” he said.

Sutton had missed time early due to the birth of his daughter on Sep. 17, but is eager to be back battling with the team as the pre-season schedule rolls along.

The 6’6”, 245-pound rearguard spent 2010-11 with the Anaheim Ducks, playing in only 39 games and recording four assists and +1 rating.

“Probably the same as any other time,” he said when asked about the transition to a new team and new city. “Just take the extra time when you have it to try and figure out Edmonton a little bit.

“Same thing, try to spend a little extra time around the rink and get to know the guys a little bit and try to get a bit more comfortable.”

Sutton, 36, comes into this season with something to prove. As a physical, responsible and aggressive two-way blueliner, he’s driven to establish himself once more, both on the ice and in the locker room.

“I was always have high expectations for myself,” he explained. “I want to provide solid play for the team and be a good leader for the young guys.

“I haven't talked to Tom (Renney) yet. It's obviously his decision, but there hasn't been a discussion yet about when I’ll play.

“I'm still trying to get my legs under me. I'll be ready when he needs me.”

“There's no question he's an imposing man; he's a big guy, obviously,” Renney added. “He knows his way around an NHL rink, so he's got a great presence.

“Having coached against him in other situations around the league, I know what he looks like on the ice, and what kind of an impact he can have on a game.

“My hope is that he can do that for us and have a calming effect, too, by the nature of the way he approaches the game. He doesn't get too rattled and he keeps things simple.”

LATE ADDITION - HORDICHUK ON TUESDAY'S TILT

Darcy Hordichuk was originally slated to play in Saskatoon vs. the Chicago Blackhawks yesterday, but plans changed when the Wild revealed they would be playing tough-guy Matt Kassian at Rexall Place.
Darcy Hordichuk goes toe-to-toe with Minnesota's Matt Kassian.

It took only seven minutes for Hordichuk to make his mark. He lined up and crushed Minnesota’s Nate Prosser, causing Kassian to step in and challenge the Oilers’ enforcer.

Hordichuk, 6’1” and 211 pounds, gave up three inches and 21 pounds in the tilt. Even so, he hung on well and landed several shots, drawing even against one of the league’s toughest.

“You hope that you land at least one,” Hordichuk explained. “When those guys lock you out, they know how to use their reach. You watch some of [Kassian’s] fights, and he's beat up guys like Jody Shelley, guys that are the heavies in the league.

“Usually, assuming it was someone else, I'd stay in the pocket and try to switch up and take a couple. But I've got some respect for him, for what he's done against some of the other guys that I've fought.

“It's pre-season. Now the next time I fight him, I'll change things up a little bit.”

Hordichuk signed a one-year, $825,000 deal on Jul. 1, replacing and upgrading on the toughness of Zack Stortini, Steve MacIntyre and J-F Jacques. The 31-year-old winger inked in Edmonton because he knew the role he can provide was lacking and that he would get an excellent opportunity in the NHL’s Northwest Division.

“Every night I go in the lineup, I know there's always a tough guy on the other side,” he said. “It's a matter of me fighting for a reason. Every game I'm going to go out there and run around, and that's why every team has a heavyweight.

“It was a good job on [Kassian’s] part to try and slow me down, but at the end of the day, I still think I had six or seven hits.”

It’s unclear whether or not Hordichuk will get the opportunity play his former club tomorrow evening when the Oilers go head-to-head with the Vancouver Canucks, but there’s no question that he’d like to.

“It's going to be fun,” he laughed. “I'm glad to be in this division; to play teams like Vancouver and Calgary. I'm going to be out on the ice running around, and hopefully they have guys that are going to respond.

“There are no buddies out there. I've got the Oilers uniform on and I'm proud to be an Oiler right now. If I can punish somebody out there, that's what I'm going to do.”

BOTTOM-SIX BATTLE - BRULE VS. LANDER

Anton Lander began Training Camp as best as he possibly could. The 20-year-old centre scored three goals in two games at the 2011 Young Stars Tournament. One night ago, he responded by posting one goal and one assist, as well as being named the game’s first star in his pre-season debut.

“So far, so good.” Renney remarked. “He's a very intelligent player; he's a very responsible guy. I think he's one of those players who will drag his linemates along, in both ends of the rink, to do the right thing. That certainly bodes well and it speaks to his leadership.”

Perhaps lost in the discussion is the play of Gilbert Brule, who’s coming off a 2010-11 season in which injuries and illness limited him to only 41 games. Lander, Ryan O’Marra, and even Ryan Nugent-Hopkins to some extent, are pushing their way up the depth chart, challenging Brule for a full-time gig.

“I think that's great,” Brule said. “We need that healthy competition here, as long as we're pushing each other to get better and making the guys around us better.”

INJURY BUG - TEUBERT, EAGER & FEDUN UPDATES

Colten Teubert did not skate again today, but is making progress and could possibly be on the ice within a day or two.
Colten Teubert at July's Development Camp at Millennium Place.

“It depends on how I react to getting my heart rate up,” he said. “I feel pretty good; I rode the bike today. Tomorrow I might skate, so we'll see what happens.”

Having taken a punch square on the button by Adam Polasek during the Young Stars Tournament opener, Teubert has no qualms about taking the proper amount of time to recuperate.

“With all the recent stuff on concussions, if you take the safe route and be cautious with it, it's okay by me. It's frustrating to watch practice and games, but I'm going to stay positive, and when I'm healthy and ready to go, I'm going to bring it.”

Missing in action at today’s practice was Ben Eager, who was aggressively crunched by Kirill Tulupov in Sunday’s Joey Moss Cup.

“He does have a concussion,” Head Coach Tom Renney deadpanned. “It's not real severe and I think he's doing really well today. I don't know the timeline with all of that, but as of today he's doing real well.”

Taylor Fedun, who was smashed from behind in yesterday’s contest with the Minnesota Wild, was also absent. As Renney explains, the prognosis is much more positive.

“Not that I've been told,” he said when asked about a possible concussion. “We’ll call it day-to-day and will probably be okay tomorrow.”


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