Edmonton Oilers centre Shawn Horcoff, left, and defenceman Corey Potter battle during training camp at Rexall Place on Tuesday.
Photograph by: JASON FRANSON, THE CANADIAN PRESS
VANCOUVER - The significance of the moment hasn’t been lost on either Justin Schultz or Nail Yakupov, but neither of the Edmonton Oilers blue chip rookies really knows what to expect when they make their NHL debuts Sunday against the Vancouver Canucks.
Their captain sure does. And he is going to remind the two to savour the showdown in Rogers Arena.
“It’s those little things, when you get older, that you really appreciate,” said Shawn Horcoff, who played his first game on Dec. 6, 2000, picking up an assist in a 4-0 win over the Nashville Predators.
“Everyone thinks they’re going to play 1,000 games and spend 20 years in the league and that it’s going to be really easy. And they might, but you eventually realize how hard it is to sustain longevity and how special it is just to play in this league.
“I’ll just tell them to enjoy it ... and the kids we have in here seem to be really mature for their age, really adaptable and ready to go – and not just be fringe players but impact players right off the bat. We just want to take as much pressure off them as possible so they can go out there and do what they do.”
Yakupov, the first pick overall in the June draft, spent the lockout playing in the Kontinental Hockey League then captained the Russian world junior team that defeated Canada for the bronze medal.
Schultz, a native of Kelowna, was the Oilers prized off season signing who spent the lockout adjusting to the pro game with the Oklahoma City Barons in the American Hockey League. The 22-year-old put up 48 points in 34 AHL games.
“It’s kind of amazing that the first game is coming,” said Yakupov, who like Schultz, didn’t know what to expect in terms of pre-game jitters.
Schultz, 22, did round up tickets for his parents, brother, uncle and grandfather.
“I guess I’ll find out pretty soon (how much AHL stint helped) but I think it did, especially since I played with guys who are up here,” Schultz said. “We’ll see.
“Right now I’m fine, just excited to get going. I’m sure once game time comes, the emotions will be running high.”’
Fistric out of mix?
If the drills were any indication on Saturday, defenceman Corey Potter will play against the Canucks in the third pairing with Ryan Whitney, bumping Mark Fistric to the press box.
On the fourth line, Lennart Petrell was on the wing, not Darcy Hordichuk who will join Fistric and Magnus Paajarvi in the press box.
Nikolai Khabibulin (hip) and Theo Peckham (still in need of a physical) were not travelling with the team.
Head coach Ralph Krueger did not want to confirm his lineup until the pre-game skate in Vancouver on Sunday.
No telling how games will unfold
Krueger, who has waited months to officially run the Oilers bench as the club’s new head coach, is confident his experiences at the world championships and the Olympics will pay dividends in the early going of this shortened season.
There were no pre-season games, NHL teams had less than a week in which to squeeze in a camp, and there will be little or no time between games to recalibrate if that’s what is required.
The other uncertainty is officiating. How tightly will games be called? Will there be a tendency to clutch and grab when the adrenalin wears off and the legs get weary.
“I’m really comfortable with it,” Krueger said. “You don’t know what the referees are going to be like (at an international event) and the players usually have slipped in just a few days before. You just hope the work you’ve done off the ice at meetings has sunk in.
“But we realize it’s going to be a game of mistakes for all the teams, not just us. You just need to be patient as a leader in this situation and not get caught up in the setbacks we’ll have within the game.
“You don’t want to block the players by over-teaching or over-coaching early in the season. More than anything we’re challenging the players to give it their all tomorrow.”
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