THE TEAM TODAY

THE TEAM TODAY: The Home Stretch

Oil practice in Leduc before boarding a flight for Minnesota as pre-season nears end

Thursday, 29.09.2011 / 3:25 PM / The Team Today
By Marc Ciampa  - edmontonoilers.com
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THE TEAM TODAY: The Home Stretch

THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 29

THE HOME STRETCH

Following another round of cuts, 32 players remain at Oilers Training Camp as Antti Tyrvainen and Colten Teubert were assigned to Oklahoma City (AHL) while goaltender Yann Danis was placed on waivers for the purposes of being assigned to OKC.

30 of those players practiced Thursday morning at the Leduc Recreation Centre prior to boarding a flight for Minneapolis/St. Paul. Sam Gagner and Ben Eager will remain in Edmonton, though Eager did skate before the main group took the ice. 

"I don't know for sure," said Renney about whether Eager might get into one of the final two pre-season games. "He won't play tomorrow for sure in Minnesota. I think it's doubtful in Vancouver. I want to be prudent here. I'm worried about his fitness more than anything else.

"If he's medically cleared, that's one thing but he's also got to be fit because you put a player in a dangerous situation otherwise."

Renney also talked about the potential final cuts looming and how waivers may or may not affect his decisions when getting down to 23.

"It's not fatal, that's the most important thing," Renney said of whether a player who doesn't have to clear waivers might be more likely to be sent down. "We are not making any decisions based on those guys before we play these two games.

"The bottom line is that there will be a point in time where I'm hoping that I get the team on the bench and on the ice that I want. Naturally, we have to maneouvre things and that's managing and that's how you manage a roster and coach a roster. I'm the coach, so whatever's in front of me, that's what I work with."

LINE THEM UP

The Oilers had 18 forwards on the ice Thursday which made for a challenging practice. The club rolled with six unique line combinations giving a bit of a sneak peek into what fans might expect this weekend in Minnesota and Vancouver:

Paajarvi - Belanger - Hemsky
Petrell - Lander - Omark
Hartikainen - Brule - Keller
Hordichuk - O'Marra - Jones
Smyth - RNH - Eberle
Hall - Horcoff - Green

Magnus Paajarvi was lined up with Eric Belanger at centre and Ales Hemsky on the opposite wing for the second straight day.

"That's two veterans that really know the game of hockey," Paajarvi began. "They're really skilled - especially Hemmer, he's really skilled offensively."

Paajarvi also discussed his pivot.

"I don't know as much about Belanger as I know about Hemsky but I know Belanger has been playing in the League for awhile. I'm really excited to be on the same line with them."

For Belanger - a player who would normally find himself in a defensive role - it was an opportunity to skate with some players with offensive flair.

"Those guys are fast, they're skilled hockey players. I've played with a lot of good players in my career, so I'm looking forward to the opportunity to be skating in a game with those guys," Belanger said. "I need to stick with what I've been doing throughout my career, be good defensively, give them the puck on the wings and hopefully we can click."

Josh Green was another who was enjoying a turn on a top offensive line. Normally a centre, Green played on the wing with Shawn Horcoff and Taylor Hall.

"It's great practicing with those guys. I'm not sure if it's going to be a line in the regular season but it's fun to be out there," Green chuckled. "You kind of have to raise your level of play when you're playing with players like that."

Very likely to see action in at least one of the two games, Green is looking to make a final impression.

"Just do the same things I've been doing. Work hard and play well defensively," he stated. "I've been penalty killing a little bit, so make sure you're not on the ice for any goals against and if I can, add a physical element to my game and maybe chip in offensively as well."

-- Marc Ciampa, edmontonoilers.com
WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 28

EARNING A SPOT

35 players remain at Oilers Training Camp and, minus Sam Gagner and Ben Eager, each and every one took to the ice for a lunch-time skate at Rexall Place.

With the team preparing to go head-to-head vs. the Minnesota Wild and Vancouver Canucks this weekend in a brisk, back-to-back road sequence, Edmonton will need all hands to help conclude the 2011 pre-season schedule on a high note.

Among those still free of the GM and Head Coach’s cuts list is Taylor Fedun. The 23-year-old blueliner received a scare earlier in camp, but has returned in emphatic fashion.

In three pre-season contests since bearing a facial contusion, Fedun has recorded three assists, four attempts on goal and a solid, second-best +2 rating.

“It’s starting to [sink in],” he said when asked about his chance to crack the squad. “We’re all on the ice at the same time now; we're not splitting into two groups anymore. It's getting down to the wire here and it's really exciting.”

Fedun came into camp under unique circumstances. The 6’0”, 190-pound rearguard inked a two-year deal on Mar. 8 as a college free agent. He’d spent the past four seasons with the ECAC’s Princeton Tigers, scoring 10 goals and 22 points during the 2010-11 campaign.

In recent times, the Oilers have looked down the college pipeline, signing players with high-level experience in the NCAA’s top tier. Fedun is one and Tanner House, a University of Maine graduate, was another late-season addition in last year (now with the AHL’s Oklahoma City Barons).

Fedun, an Edmonton-born bleeder of orange and blue, believes there are certain edges to this seemingly non-traditional route.

“I don't think, as far as skill development goes, you think that you should be at a higher level than those that played in Jr.,” he said. “I think, personally, four years playing in college allowed me to mature a lot more than I did when I was 20 years old, like I would have been coming out of Jr. 

“In that sense, I'd say I've had the chance to mature, so I might be further along there, but I wouldn't say that, skill-wise, I'm further ahead.”

The smooth-skating, puck-moving D man has dominated at times, pushing his limits as a responsible, two-way player via intelligence and derived composure across the ice.

Once again, a four-year program at the college level has helped him prepare.

“College does, at least mentally, make you feel that you can jump right into it; that you don't necessarily need a year playing against bigger guys [in the minors]. You're playing against 22, 23-year-old guys that are bigger and stronger when you're in college.

“You're only playing on the weekends, so it leaves a lot more practice time and a lot more time in the gym. Guys are able to physically get further along in that sense.”

Fedun has done that, wowing coaches, managers and media with his wrapped and bowed, pro-game understanding.

“I think at this level, quick, smart plays are really important,” he explained. “That's something that I'm going to do: get to pucks fast, make smart outlet passes, be a puck-mover and jump in on the power-play; get an opportunity there and make some things happen. That's the way to get noticed.”

Perhaps it was his degree in Mechanical Engineering that helped teach such poise under extreme circumstances, but Fedun certainly doesn’t show any on-ice reservation.

“Absolutely,” he laughed. “There have been nerves pretty much the whole way through. It seems like each day it gets a little more intense. It's another step closer to the ultimate goal. I honestly feel like, during the games, there are nerves at the beginning, but I don't think it takes too long for those to be put to the weigh-side.

“I sincerely didn't know what to expect [at camp]. I’m focused on making an impression and showing the coaches and managers that I’m serious about being here.

“Just take it day-by-day and that's what I've been doing.”

COLTEN CLEARED

Colten Teubert also carved the sheet at Rexall Place this morning, wearing a regular white sweater in place of the red, non-contact variety he’s been donning all through camp so far.

“I've been cleared by the doctor and I passed my concussion test, so I'm looking forward to getting on the ice and playing a game,” he said.

With only two pre-season matches remaining on the schedule, Teubert is naturally eager to get back into game action.

“I'm obviously hoping to get into the games, but assuming I do get sent down, I'm going to stay positive, go down to Oklahoma City and work hard. We're going to see what happens.”

-- Follow me on Twitter | @ryandittrick
TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 27

OILERS VS. COYOTES
AT THE MORNING SKATE


From success in 2006 to a new era in 2011, pre-season or not, the Oilers’ new line combos at this morning’s 20-minute pre-game skate were the story.

On the top unit, Ryan Smyth is reunited with captain Shawn Horcoff and all-star winger Ales Hemsky, and the trio couldn’t help but hide their collective excitement.

“It's going to be a lot of fun,” Smyth said. “We're going to re-hash some memories and hopefully we can get something going. We have a good read off each other pretty good.

“It's hard to read in practices, but [Hemsky] seems like himself,” he added. “He seems very comfortable with the puck, which is his specialty. He's a very creative player. Tonight is going to be a big test for him and hopefully we can give him some energy, too.”

Jordan Eberle, who was selected by Edmonton 22nd overall in 2008, is equally thrilled, having watched the trio’s success during the Oilers’ magical run to the Stanley Cup in 2006.

“Oh yeah, I watched them in 2006,” he smiled. “These three guys are veterans and they know how to play the game, and that's why they've had so much success in this league.

“It's great to see that they're going to get a chance tonight and be our leaders. I’m really looking forward to this one.”

The line certainly brings a sentimental touch, but Head Coach Tom Renney is keeping an open mind about long-term line assignments.

“It’s no audition,” he said. “I'm keeping everything wide open here. I know what I've got for a talent group and that includes many of those that you might think would be going to Oklahoma City.

“You've got to look at your entire team, the roster and who can deliver what. At some point in time, they need to know what's expected of them. I've got a plan for these guys. It doesn't necessarily include the trio together, but it's an option.”

Eberle, meanwhile, is excited about his line and the chance he has vs. Phoenix. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins will center the 21-year-old, while 2010 No. 1 overall pick Taylor Hall will play on his opposite wing.

“It should be good,” he said. “Me and Taylor played together last year and had some good chemistry. In the short couple games we've played together, I've had some chemistry with Hopkins as well.

“We've got a little bit of everything on the line. Hopkins can make plays, I’m the shooter and Hallsy's got a lot of speed; a lot of varying dynamics that should help us have success.”

Hall agreed, adding that he’s especially “pumped” to get this new opportunity.

“It's certainly pretty cool,” he said. “We're all under 21. We're all trying to make a name in this league. We've got a chance to do something tonight. I've played with Hopkins so far and he's a fun player to play with. I played with Ebs a lot last year, so I know what he's all about. I’m excited.”

Although it’s early in the pre-season, Eberle commented on his strive to build chemistry prior to the regular season's opening on Oct. 9.

“It's good to build chemistry,” he said. “I think that's a big reason for the pre-season. If you have chemistry with certain guys early, you can carry that into the regular season, work on it and build on it and you're that much further ahead when the season starts.”

BULIN’S BOUNCEBACK

Nikolai Khabibulin struggled in his pre-season opener, stopping only four shots on seven Wild attempts last Tuesday. He did, however, bounce back in emphatic fashion, turning aside 16 of 17 in a 2-1 Oilers victory over the Calgary Flames on Saturday night.

The 38-year-old veteran was pleased with his show-stopping outing, but believes there’s still plenty of room to improve.

“I feel a little bit better,” he said. “It's still early in the pre-season and there are few things that I need to improve and work on. It was a good game [vs. Calgary] and hopefully I can build on it and try to get even better as the pre-season continues.”

Having not played a regular season game since Apr. 10 vs. Colorado, Khabibulin is getting some more exhibition action this year than in previous seasons. The former Stanley Cup winner is happy about his increased opportunity to reclaim his role as the team’s No. 1 netminder.

“Usually in year's past, I played in about three games or something like that,” he said. “I think that's good that I’m getting a few more, to help me get back into the swing. This is as close as you can get to a regular season game. It's part of practice, but at the same time, it's almost like a test before you go into the season.”

Renney added: “If we’re going to win anything, we’re going to need both our goalies playing really well.” 


-- Follow me on Twitter | @ryandittrick
 

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