The 20-year-old has been out since Nov. 28 with a lingering shoulder problem, missing seven games while the orange and blue racked up a disappointing 2-4-1 record; sitting in 10th spot in the NHL's Western Conference with 31 points, the Oilers have a chance to leap back into a post-season spot with a win tonight.
No. 4 will help; so, too, will Corey Potter
. The 6'3", 206-pound rearguard came into training camp looking to establish his footing as the Oilers' newest surprise, ultimately battling for the seventh spot on the depth chart but showing, night-in and night-out, that he deserved more.
Potter was on pace to register a 40-point season, having produced two goals and eight points through 16 games, but his hobbled ankle said otherwise, causing the 27-year-old to miss the Oilers' next 12.
"He's good all-around," said Ryan Whitney
, who attempted to pinpoint Potter's all encompassing skill-set. "He's got a great shot and he makes those quick, simple passes to get the forwards out of the zone. He makes the easy play and he does it consistently, so he's pretty impressive."
"He's easy to play with," No. 6 added, noting that he'll be paired with Potter in tonight's game." He makes an excellent breakout pass and has a really good understanding of the game, so he's a guy that's very valuable and he'll help out for sure. I'm excited to have him back, because he was such an integral component to our success early on."
As even he would agree, Potter came into the season as an unknown. But he was no stranger to pro hockey, having played four full seasons in the AHL following a four-year stint with Michigan State University when he blossomed into a puck-moving blueliner.
Fellow MSU alum Shawn Horcoff
agreed with Whitney's assessment that there isn't much to critique in No. 44's game.
"He was playing great for us before he got hurt, too," the captain said. "He's a guy that moves the puck very well, he's good on the power-play and solid in his own end. There's not too much that he struggles with; the kid's good in all areas."
"It helps our look," added Head Coach Tom Renney, who couldn't hide his enthusiasm. "[We'll have] a little more experience out there; part of our early-season success equation, but we'll keep our expectations realistic since they haven't played in a while."
While Potter was relegated to dry-land training for a portion of his 2-4 week recovery period, Hall was back on the ice almost immediately. While it was a battle with discomfort, the skilled sophomore was lucky not to have had it worse as he returns with a pain-free, strong and equally as skilled shoulder.
"It's gotten to the point where, when I practice or shoot, I don't feel it anymore," he said. "It's almost like it's not even there. I worked hard to rehab it well to get back as strong and as quick as possible.
"I'm going to go into the corners like always and try to play with a lot of heart and a lot of battle," Hall added. "I don't think anything is going to change. The shoulder's strong and it will hold up very well."
It was only seven games, but Hall is well known for his gritty and competitive nature. Having scored seven goals and 18 points on the year, it's a mere blip on the radar; he's ready to return, score a bunch and make up for what has been a challenging period for the orange and blue.
"It's not fun being out of the lineup," he said. "The team didn't do too great and I think that makes it even tougher sitting out. I'm going to have to limit my expectations a little bit and make sure that I'm playing a good team game out there."
SCHEDULING A WIN
November was rough with a road-heavy slate, but December hasn't been much better to this point. The Oilers have amassed a 2-4-0 record and are, once again, staring down many more miles on the team's upcoming cross-national, seven-game road swing.
It all starts here, mind you; and the Oilers are still only two points removed from a post-season spot, making the weeks and games leading up all the more vital.
"We've got to suppress these guys," Renney said of the Coyotes. "These are teams we really have to battle with in order to get our post-season spot. We have to be equal to the challenge tonight; make sure we play a complete game and, at least, play a game that we can really build on."
The schedule has been a bit better leading up to tonight's game. The Oilers last played on Saturday, Dec. 10 in Calgary (a 3-0 loss), but have taken full advantage of the extended break with ample practice time over the past week.
"It's been really good," Renney explained. "We still haven't had the results we've wanted to through all that, mind you. We have to take more responsibility and ownership for the outcome of games and really work to improve ourselves every day. We're capable of that; we need to do that, and should we embrace that again like we have and have had success doing it, then we'll be good.
"We've certainly had an opportunity to regroup a bit, but now it's time to get back on the horse."
With Nikolai Khabibulin
still resting up – "Just tired. He's 38 or whatever he is, 138," laughed Renney – Devan Dubnyk
will get the nod in goal looking to improve on his 4-7-0 record, 3.02 goals-against average and .903 save percentage.
-- Ryan Dittrick, edmontonoilers.com
- Follow me on Twitter | @ryandittrick