THE TEAM TODAY

THE TEAM TODAY: Follow the Leaders

Oilers name new alternate captains; work on breakouts, power-play at practice

Tuesday, 15.01.2013 / 5:00 PM / The Team Today
By Ryan Dittrick  - edmontonoilers.com
   TUESDAY, JANUARY 15

FOLLOW THE LEADERS

EDMONTON - Dedicating much of the hour-and-a-half-long practice to breakouts and special teams play, Head Coach Ralph Krueger continued to push the pace on Day 3 at Oilers Training Camp.

The starting rotation on D remained the same (Ladislav Smid and Jeff Petry, Nick Schultz and Justin Schultz, Ryan Whitney and Corey Potter), while Colten Teubert and Taylor Fedun rotated in and out with newcomer Mark Fistric.

Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Jordan Eberle, Teemu Hartikainen and Justin Schultz, as well as Sam Gagner, Ryan Smyth, Ales Hemsky, Nail Yakupov and Ryan Whitney made up the power-play units.

"It's great," Gagner said of Krueger's upbeat practices. "You want to make practices as game-like as possible. He's making sure they're up-tempo. They're not that long, which is great. It forces guys to go hard."

Gagner, 22, spent the lockout playing with Klagenfurt of the EBEL in Austria. In 21 games, he collected 10 goals, 20 points and played the point on the power-play alongside Norris Trophy candidate Tyler Myers.

Gagner didn't get a chance on the point during Tuesday's practice, but did slide up near the blue line to distribute passes to the snipers down low. Close enough, for now.

"I like to pass more than shoot," Gagner said, "but that's an element I've tried to work on in my game -- getting pucks to the net, because you can create a lot by keeping it simple and shooting the puck. That's something I have to bring on a consistent basis and I know that I'm ready for the challenge. As power-play units, we want to push each other for more ice time

"We have a lot skill to run with, so it should be fun."

ALTERNATES NAMED - READ THE PRESS RELEASE

Post-practice, Krueger announced that Jordan Eberle, Taylor Hall and Nick Schultz would support captain Shawn Horcoff by wearing A's this year.

"We're constantly an evolving team as far as leadership is concerned," he said. "We feel that it's a good time for Jordan and Taylor to step up; Nick has a lot of leadership experience in his past in the National Hockey League."

Eberle will be an alternate on a permanent basis, but Schultz and Hall will rotate the 'A' in each game.

"It's an honour to be named a captain. The great thing about this team is that everyone's a leader," said Eberle, the former alternate captain of Canada's National Junior Team, the WHL's Regina Pats and, most recently, the AHL's Oklahoma City Barons.

"It's exciting -- a true honour to wear a letter with the Oilers," added Hall, agreeing with Eberle's sentiment. "The Oilers have had a lot of great leaders here in the past. Just watching (Horcoff) in the room and how he conducts himself, it's been awesome. We're going to lead by committee this year. Everyone's going to be all-in or we're not going to do well."

"They're obviously great leaders," said Gagner. "With Taylor and Jordan, we know what they bring -- they bring a contagious passion to the ice where they're ready to go every night. It should help us going forward here.

"And with Nick, you look at what he's done in Minnesota and there's not a single person in that organization that has had a bad thing to say about him. He came in here last year and really brought a strong attitude and is such a great leader."

Schultz, 30, captained the Wild for the 2000-01 season and served as an alternate as well.

"It's a step for Ebs and Hallsy to have letters," he said. "They're two cornerstones of this team and are going to be here for a long time. They're great players and now that's another role for them to be looked upon. For me, it's very exciting to be a part of this group."

Gagner entered the NHL at 18 when Ethan Moreau was the captain in 2007-08. Noting that the Oilers have always had a strong leadership group, he believes the decision to make Horcoff captain back on Oct. 6, 2010 was the right one then and still is today.

"I don't think there should ever be a discussion," said Gagner. "Horc is a guy who brings those leadership attributes every day -- he works hard every day and he prepares the right way. It's absolutely the right decision to have him remain as captain."

FEDUN BACK AT CAMP

The Oilers recalled defenceman Taylor Fedun from the Barons Monday afternoon. The 24-year-old played 35 AHL games this season, posting two goals, nine points and a -3 rating. He admitted that the call up came as a surprise considering the other farmhands were shipped up a day earlier.

"I certainly didn't expect it," Fedun laughed. "But no matter what, it's great to be back in Edmonton. It's been so long and I'm obviously thrilled to be back in the Oilers locker room."

The 6-foot-0, 200-pound Edmonton product was stellar in Training Camp last season and was on the cusp of a roster spot with the Oilers. But on Sept. 30 in a pre-season game against the Minnesota Wild at the Xcel Energy Center, Fedun was run recklessly into the end-boards and suffered a complex fracture in his right femur. He missed the entire 2011-12 season, but made a miraculous recovery and is back to where he was a season ago.

The Princeton University graduate is excited to be back and is eager to show the Oilers that he hasn't missed a step.

"I'm trying to give them a good look at where my game's at right now," he said. "I've been feeling really comfortable down in the American League this season. I want [the Oilers] to see that this is a pace I can play at and get them on board with it."

Paired with Mark Fistric on defence, Fedun felt at home alongside another Edmonton native.

"Mark said he was a little bit tired, but getting out there and moving the puck around with him, it was great," Fedun said of Fistric's pro knowledge and veteran savvy. "He's a very good player, he's been around the NHL for a while, so it's nice to have a guy that has that kind of experience. That's something we lacked on the back end in OKC this year. It's nice to be sitting beside a guy like that and to be able to pick his brain a little bit."

-- Ryan Dittrick, edmontonoilers.com | Follow me on Twitter @ryandittrick
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