PREVIEW: Barons vs. Houston
Barons open pre-season against the Aeros as Schultz & Fedun slide into the lineup
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PUCK DROP: 6:05 p.m. MDT
AT THE MORNING SKATEOKLAHOMA CITY - The Oklahoma City Barons open their brief two-game pre-season schedule tonight with a game against the Houston Aeros at the Cox Convention Center in downtown OKC.
Jordan Eberle and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins will not play tonight as with 34 players remaining in camp. head coach Todd Nelson wants to get a look at the players truly competing for a spot on the roster.
"I want to see how they apply system work. I want to see how they play. I want to see who wants it," said Nelson. "We have decisions that have to be made. Jobs are there to be taken and jobs are there to be lost. It's up to the guys to go out there and perform."
The head coach added that the team will make some cuts after the game tonight and try and get down to their opening-night roster following Saturday night's game.
"We might move some guys tonight after the game and after tomorrow night's game we want to get down to numbers so it's a pretty important couple days here for these guys."
Veteran Mark Arcobello recognizes the tough competition for spots this year. With no NHL exhibition games, the Barons playing pre-season contests is a rarity. Prior to this season, the team had only played one in their prior two seasons combined.
"With these games, we're trying to get to know each other a little better," said Arcobello of the team's new recruits. "Also, get back into system play and back into a regular-season mentality."
Arcobello added that with 19 forwards competing for 13 or 14 spots, nobody can take their job for granted.
"It's everyone's responsibility to get their games back in shape. We've got a lot of forwards here so nobody's spot is safe," he continued. "It's always good to have depth on a team. There's going to be a lot of competition for spots and that's always a good thing."
SCHULTZ DEBUTS TONIGHT
The blue line is not quite as crowded with 9 rearguards competing for 7 spots but one player who will likely be on that roster is Justin Schultz.
Edmonton's prized free-agent acquisition this past off-season, Schultz gets his first taste of pro action tonight.
"It's arguably his first pro game. We'll see how he adapts and see how he applies his game at the pro level. He looks fantastic out there and I think he's a very strong hockey player so I'm very excited to see watch him play tonight," Nelson remarked.
Schultz added that he's chomping at the bit for a chance to get out and show what he can do.
"It's been a long time coming. A lot of talk about me in the off-season which got to be a little much but I'm excited it's finally here and can't wait to step out onto the ice," Schultz began. "I'm going to go out there and try to create some offence from the back-end so we'll see how it goes."
After a week of training camp and a pair of scrimmages, Schultz stated that there's a noticeable increase in tempo at the pro level.
"The guys are a lot stronger, a lot faster. There's some adjustments you have to make. I'm sure I'll get used to it during tonight's game but it's getting better and better as the days go on so I'm excited."
FEDUN FINALLY READY
It was just over a year ago when defenceman Taylor Fedun broke his femur in an injury against the Minnesota Wild in a pre-season game. 12 months of rehab later and he plays his first game against the Wild's AHL affiliate in Houston.
"Really good," said Fedun when asked how he feels. "I'm really excited about this. It's been a full 12 months since I've last been able to do it. I've been waiting for this moment for a very long time so I'm excited about it."
Coach Nelson added that he has been impressed with Fedun's progress.
"What a great story. A year ago he had a horrible accident when he was on the ice but he looks really good in camp. He scored a goal in one of the scrimmages and I'm very excited to watch him play as well," he began. "He's a very smart player. I like the way he moves the puck."
Nelson talked about Fedun's strong character being as impressive as his physical ability to bounce back.
"Based on what he had to go through from recovering from that injury, it talks a lot about his character. Something like that is very tough to overcome. The way he applied himself and worked very hard to get back in shape -- basically learning how to skate again. It's a tremendous effort on his part."
The bench boss remarked that Fedun's playing style is perfect for the club moving forward.
"I like the way he jumps into the play. With the way he's going, he's only going to get better and better."
Talking about his ability to move the puck, Fedun talked about what he needs to concentrate on during the game.
"The focus is just to get back to what I was doing 12 months ago and hopefully do it with just as much strength and conviction as I was at the time. For me that's getting back to pucks fast and moving them up the ice. Play it fast and play it smart."
Nelson said he was encouraged by Fedun's play in scrimmages the past couple of days.
"There's a drop-off but that's natural. I think the biggest thing for him is to try and get his foot speed back up. He's definitely still smart, can move the puck very well, but has to get his foot speed and the intensity of his game has to rise.
"He lost a year. That's hard to overcome but I was very happy with the way he scrimmaged."
Fedun, who scored a goal in one of the scrimmages, said he felt good in the competition.
"It was nice to get into the scrimmages last couple of days. It was a nice stepping stone into the event tonight."
The 24-year-old defenceman added that his injury is the furthest thing from his mind as a necessity.
"The minute I stop and think about that, that's an extra half second or second that you just can't waste out there. I've got to make sure that's not on my mind."
-- Marc Ciampa, edmontonoilers.com
LAST 10: Houston 0-1-0-0; Oklahoma City 0-0-0-0
Season Series: The Barons had Houston's number last season. In the eight regular season meetings, OKC picked up at least a point in every game with seven wins and a shootout loss. The two sides also met in the Calder Cup Playoffs last April with the Barons winning the best-of-five series three games to one.
Big Story: Oklahoma City opens its short pre-season schedule tonight with the first of two games at home.
Aeros: The Houston Aeros visit Oklahoma City after dropping a 7-2 decision on Wednesday against the Texas Stars in Austin. Carson McMillan and Nick Petersen had the goals.
Houston comes into the game with some high-level prospects. The club has 14 players who skated for the Minnesota Wild last season: Goaltender Matt Hackett, Defencemen Marco Scandella, Kris Fredheim, Steven Kampfer, Chay Genoway, Tyler Cuma, Forwards Kris Foucalt, Jason Zucker, Brett Bulmer, Chad Rau, David McIntyre, Carson McMillan and Nick Palmeiri.
The Aeros also have two top prospects who were looking to make the jump to the NHL in Charlie Coyle and Mikael Granlund.
Barons: Philippe Cornet, Ryan Martindale and Teemu Hartikainen will make up the Barons' top line tonight. Curtis Hamilton, Anton Lander and former Oil King Kristians Pelss are on line two. Antti Tyrvainen, Mark Arcobello and Justin Maylan make up the third unit and Toni Rajala, Eric Hunter and Cameron Abney round out the forwards.
On defence, Dan Ringwald is paired up with Justin Schultz, Teigan Zahn and Taylor Fedun are the second D-pairing and Brandon Davidson and Colten Teubert make up the third set.
Olivier Roy and Tyler Bunz will split the game in goal.
Injury Report: Martin Marincin (shoulder) wore a non-contact jersey on Wednesday but did participate in Thursday's scrimmage. He won't play tonight, however.
Puck Drop: Tonight marks the first game for the Barons since they were eliminated in the post-season by Toronto last May. Head coach Todd Nelson is looking forward to getting this season underway.
"I thought about it all summer. With the way the series went, what we could have done better. When I look back on it, our guys played hard. (Marlies netminder) Ben Scrivens played outstanding. He was the difference in the series. Maybe with an extra goal here and there things could have changed but that's over and done with. We're trying to build off of what happened last year and we have unfinished business to attend to."
- Marc Ciampa, edmontonoilers.com