News and notes from Oilers practice at Rogers Place on Tuesday where the players put in their final preparations for the start of the 2022-23 NHL campaign.
EDMONTON, AB – The home opener is always a game to circle on the calendar.
Between the raucous crowd and the excitement of finally being able enjoy the fruits of your off-season labour, it’s one of the top night’s of the year for both the fans and the players in the locker room.
“Outside of playoffs, it’s the most exciting game that you play in a season. I think everyone’s looking forward to it. A new team, you’re excited to see how you stack up next to other teams,” Leon Draisaitl said today after morning skate. “It’s always a special night and you can tell there’s a lot of excitement in the group. I think the people in the city are just as excited.”
The Oilers begin a new National Hockey League campaign draped in expectations after last season’s trip to the Western Conference Final. The team has a perfect path to a great start for the ’22-23 season, starting with six straight games in the friendly confines of Rogers Place.
“It is a long journey as you said. It’s 82 games to get to where you want to get to,” Draisaitl added. “With that being said, I think everyone knows how important the start to a season is. We saw that last season with the start we had. It gave us a little buffer and with six home games in a row here, we have a good chance to get off to a good start.”
The Oilers have already battled the Canucks twice in the preseason, picking up a 7-2 win at home and 5-4 loss in Abbotsford, but tonight will be the first that counts in the standings.
In that 7-2 victory, it was the hat-trick performance by rookie Dylan Holloway that helped propel Edmonton to their commanding home victory, and it’s one he is looking to get close to replicating tonight.
Holloway is ready to build off a dominating preseason it what will be his regular season NHL debut. The winger lit it up in his four exhibition games, notching four goals and two assists, making it nearly impossible for Head Coach Jay Woodcroft to leave him out of the opening night lineup.
The 21-year-old will have all the opportunity in the world to show why the Oilers made him the 14th-overall pick in the 2020 NHL Draft as he will line up next to former Hart Trophy winner Leon Draisaitl and three time 20-goal scorer Zach Hyman.
So far, his centre has liked what he’s seen from the rookie.
“I think he’s ready. He was ready in the preseason, the competition is going to ramp up here starting tonight, but he’s looking really good, really confident,” Draisaitl said. “I think he’s more than ready to go.”
Evander Kane has also been impressed by the rookie’s demeanour in training camp. There can be a lot of parallels drawn between Holloway and the now 30-year-old Oilers star who had a reputation coming into the league as a brash, fast, skilled winger with some power in his game.
Kane believes that confidence can only help the young Holloway in his goal to be a impact NHL forward.
“He’s looked really good through camp. I think he’s a confident kid, which is going to be really beneficial to him, especially early on here. I’m looking forward to seeing what he can do,” Kane said. “Like I said, he had a really good camp. He’s a really skilled guy. He’s confident with the puck and he should help our group.”
Holloway made his NHL debut last year against the Colorado Avalanche in Game 4 of the Western Conference Final, playing just 3: 27 in the elimination contest. Although it was just a taste, it was enough to help the rookie settle his nerves ahead of another debut.
“It’s definitely huge, hopefully I got all my nerves out in that game, but I guess we’ll see tonight,” Holloway said. “It was definitely exciting to be a part of that game last year, and it gave me a little bit of perspective seeing what it’s all about.”
Holloway is likely going to have a much larger role in tonight’s game than he did in the middle of a long playoff run, but the confident rookie is not making too big a deal of tonight’s home opener.
“Just treat it like every other game, but it’s definitely exciting,” Holloway said. “The biggest thing is to not think about it too much, I’ve played a million games in my life and I just have to treat it like any other game.”
Facing off against the Oilers will be a Vancouver team that has a lot of the same reasons for optimism that have Edmonton fans so excited for the season. Vancouver had the same midseason coaching change last year as the Oilers, replacing Travis Green with veteran bench boss Bruce Boudreau, with similar results.
Vancouver went 32-15-10 after their coaching switch, going from last place in the Pacific Division to fighting for a playoff spot until the last week or so of the season. With a lot of young offensive firepower and an arrow pointing up, the Canucks are not a team to take lightly.
“Vancouver is a team with a lot of high-end skill. They have a lot of players that can hurt you offensively, they have some D-men that are very mobile back there,” Kane said. “We have to stay out of the box as much as we can. When it comes to our powerplay and their penalty kill, puck movement is going to be a big thing.”
“They’re always a dangerous team, always hard to play against. Usually very tight games when we go up against them,” Draisaitl said. “They’ve obviously improved their team a little bit and I’m sure they’ll be ready to go tonight. We have to make sure we’re matching that.”
Up front, the Canucks are lead by JT Miller who is coming off a career season that saw the forward record 99 points (32G, 67A), after which he was rewarded with a long-term contract extension by the club. He’ll be joined by dynamic former top-10 draft picks in Elias Pettersson and Quinn Hughes, who both finished last season with 68 points.
The Canucks also have the luxury of deploying a young and ascending goaltender between the pipes in Thatcher Demko. The 26-year-old is coming off back-to-back season with a solid 0.915 save-percentage, while winning 33 of his 64 starts in ’21-22. The 6-foot-4 goaltender’s mix of size and athleticism makes him a difficult proposition for an offensively-loaded Oilers squad.
“He’s big, he moves really well,” Draisaitl said. “He’s a good goalie, there’s lots of good goalies in this league, but he’s definitely developed into a pretty solid goalie.”
— Michael Arcuri, EdmontonOilers.com
OILERS vs. CANUCKS
STREAM: 8: 00 p.m. MT; televised on Sportsnet
Oilers Team Scope
The Edmonton Oilers begin their regular season at Rogers Place on Wednesday night with the first game of a six-game homestand following a three-week training camp and eight-game exhibition schedule.
“It’s been a great camp,” goaltender Jack Campbell said. “I think we’ve worked on a lot of great things and I’m just excited to go out there with the guys and compete for real in the regular season. We’re ready to get it going.”
An extended camp and preseason may have felt like forever, but it gave veterans like Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and Darnell Nurse ample time to find their stride for the upcoming year while providing some younger standouts, like Dylan Holloway, the chance to impress and earn his place in the Oilers opening day roster.
During their pre-season meeting back on Oct. 3 in Edmonton, Holloway impressed with a hat trick and Campbell made 28 saves in a 7-2 victory.
Head Coach Jay Woodcroft built on the foundation he helped establish with Dave Manson and the rest of his coaching staff during his first training camp as a head coach since arriving in Edmonton from Bakersfield in mid-February, and there’s a strong feeling of cohesiveness in the Oilers locker room heading into a season with high expectations.
“From a team side of things, those eight games that we played in the preseason allowed us as a coaching staff to monitor where the team game was at; how some of the things that we wanted to be implemented were looking in live-fire game action against another team,” Woodcroft said.
“We’re pleased with the amount of work that was put in. We thought we got a lot of things done and we’ve worked hard to prepare for the test, but the race begins in earnest (Wednesday) when we begin our NHL regular season.”
Forwards Warren Foegele and Kailer Yamaoto will be game-time decisions and Campbell is slated to make his official Oilers debut after signing a five-year contract in the offseason with Edmonton and taking the last month to adjust to his new surroundings, teammates and organization.
“I just feel great. We’ve really gelled on the ice, off the ice, and it’s just a fun group to compete with and hang out with,” Campbell added. “I think it’s been a smooth transition and tomorrow we’re playing in front of our home fans. It’s just really exciting and we want to get off to a strong start. We had a great camp and now it’s the fun time. We get to go battle.”
Canucks Team Scope
The Vancouver Canucks look to return to the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time since reaching the Western Conference Finals in the bubble back in 2020 after finishing five points out of the postseason in 2021-22.
Forward Elias Pettersson hopes to start the year better off than the previous campaign after being limited to three goals and seven assists in his first 22 games. He’ll centre the second line with Swedish countryman Nils Hoglander and NHL newcomer Andrei Kuzmenko, who looks to follow in the footsteps of Minnesota’s Kirill Kaprizov and St. Louis’ Vladimir Tarasenko in recent seasons as Russians who experienced immediate success in the NHL after making the jump from the Kontinental Hockey League, where he had 20 goals and 53 points in 45 games for SKA St. Petersburg.
Thatcher Demko returns to lead the Canucks betwen the pipes in the second year of a five-year deal worth an AAV of $5 million. The American netminder suited up in 64 games for the Canucks last season and is expected to carry a heavy workload again this campaign in front of backup Spencer Martin.
After having hand surgery in late September and being expected to miss three-to-four weeks, Brock Boeser is ahead of schedule on his recovery and pencilled in on the top line with J.T. Miller and Tanner Pearson. Boeser recorded his fourth 20-plus goal season in 2021-22 and has at least 45 points in five straight seasons.
By The Numbers
Wednesday’s game will mark Edmonton’s first of four games against Vancouver this season and the first of two at home… The next time these teams will meet is December 23 in Edmonton… The last time these teams met was on April 29 in Edmonton, with the Oilers winning 3-2 in a shootout… Tyson Barrie and Brett Kulak scored for the Oilers, while Devin Shore shored the shootout deciding goal… Connor McDavid leads the team with 54 career points (17G, 37A) against Vancouver and has a team leading 37 assists against the Canucks… McDavid is tied with Leon Draisaitl with a team high 17 goals against the Canucks…
Edmonton Ranks seventh in the NHL for highest points percentage in season openers with at least 10 games played (.595)… The 2022-23 campaign marks the fourth consecutive season in which Edmonton and Vancouver will meet in each club’s first game of the season… The Oilers hold a 2-1-0 advantage…
The 2021-22 campaign saw McDavid lead the League in points (44G, 79A in 80GP) for the second straight season, giving him the opportunity to become the first player to win three consecutive Art Ross trophies since Jaromir Jagr (1997-98 – 2000-01)… A 100-point campaign in 2022-23 would mark McDavid’s sixth, tying him with Sidney Crosby for the most among active players and trailing only Wayne Gretzky (15x), Mario Lemieux (10x), Marcel Dionne (8x), Peter Stastny (7x) and Mike Bossy (7x) atop the all-time list…
OILERS – Tyler Benson (F), Vincent Desharnais (D), Oscar Klefbom (D), Raphael Lavoie (F), Carter Savoie (F), Mike Smith (G)
CANUCKS – Travis Dermott (D), Ilya Mikheyev (F), Tyler Myers (D)
— Jamie Umbach, EdmontonOilers.com
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