There's no need for a flowery introduction here - we just had our first look at a bunch of young Oilers and our first helping of Oiler hockey in five months. After the jump I've got a run-down of my first impressions, and some notes I scribbled down while watching the stream tonight, beginning with the five best Oilers on the ice.
Olivier Roy, G - I'm not a goalie guy. I don't pretend to understand what they do out there, and normally go with my gut when I'm trying to figure them out. Tonight, Roy looked spectacular except for the Khabibulin/Deslauriers special off of the blocker. However, I think most of what looked so spectacular about Roy was his physical ability and had more to do with his recovery, quickness and flexibility rather than his positioning and technique. Standout performances like that will all but lock up a roster spot on the WJC team.
Magnus Pääjärvi, LW - Pääjärvi was the best skater on the ice tonight and it was apparent from the beginning that he was also the best actual skater. I said in the comments section of our game post "...he even coasts fast...", and it's true. He's always moving at high speeds, but he does so very smoothly; there's not much flail to his game. He looked like a kid that's been playing against men for the last three years. I like that Edmonton has a shirt-flapper again.
Tyler Pitlick, C - Most people will rave about his two hits, but the most impressive part about Pitlick was his strength on his skates. It was apparent in the faceoff circle and on the boards. He's a very stout kid for being nineteen and the scouting report from Chris Dilks was right - Pitlick has a heavy snap shot. It grabbed my attention the first time he tried it.
Alex Plante, D - Plante played a very low-event game. He was quick to get on the puck when it came loose and he was quick to engage physically. He had very little trouble winning puck battles tonight, but that's expected after his time in the AHL. He dropped the gloves against Taylor Ellington as well. The Oilers desperately need him to be this kind of blueliner going forward. If he maintains this steady presence and continues to work on his footwork, he's got an easy shot at the top of the organizational depth chart.
- Teemu Hartikainen, RW - He played the exact game I expected him to play. Though he's a personal favorite, there's no bias in this selection; he played a prototypical Finnish game. This game was a microcosm of what Hartikainen will bring all season long in Oklahoma City. He came back to the play in the first period to save a goal with a beautiful and hard back check. He drew a penalty in the third with some excellent board work against David Fischer, a 6'4" 207 lb. former first-round pick. Fischer tried to engage Hartikainen, but was rebuffed quite easily and then took a high-sticking penalty when he tried again. Later in the third, Hartikainen made another outstanding play, laying a big hit on the Canucks' defender (Fischer again?), and grabbing the puck in the process. He stormed to the net in his typical style, made a wonderful deke and got off a shot from in tight. As Dennis Green might say, Teemu was who we thought he was. As he told us last year, "...I try to get to the front of the net a lot and I like to hit often."
- Johan Motin, D - Another guy that played the game as expected was Johan Motin. It was a bit strange seeing Doug Weight back on the ice for the Oilers, but Motin was poised and well-positioned in the defensive end. He did have two foibles in his footwork tonight, and both of them ended with him prone on the ice. I still think Motin is going to be an NHL defenseman.
- Curtis Hamilton, RW & Ryan Martindale, C - I don't know why, but I've started to consider Curtis Hamilton and Ryan Martindale to be one player. I don't know if it's their draft position or the multi-syllabic last names, but when I think of one, I immediately think of the other. But even when you considered the two of them combined, they were invisible in this one other than a really bad penalty taken by Hamilton.
- Chris Vande Velde, C - Vande Velde was similarly invisible except for his work in the faceoff circle. He's older, and with four years of NCAA experience behind him, he had his way on the dot.
- Brandon Davidson, D - Scott's work on Davidson's qualcomp showed a player taking on second toughs in the WHL and just blowing the rest of his defensive corps away in the +/- category. That alone has me intrigued. Had I known about this before ranking our Top 25 Under 25, I would have pushed him higher, much higher. Davidson played a solid little game tonight. He had a couple of sequences that stood out, including separating his man from the puck and staying on it until it popped free. He scooped up the loose puck and raced it out of the zone on his own. He also got into a shoving match after the whistle after battling in front of the net, a battle that included a pair of crosschecks. Davidson did get caught out of position once, wandering up the sideboards a la Steve Staios, but he quickly recovered and got into the play. He also drew himself out of position by going for a big hit (on Bill Sweatt, I believe) and fanning badly. There were times throughout the game that he was trying to play a physical game and looked out of place, and there were times when he was trying to play a finesse game on offense and looked out of place. I wonder if that's because he was so late arriving to high level hockey that he hasn't figured out his own game yet.
- Taylor Hall, LW - I said during the game thread "Hall is deferring to Eberle." It seemed like every time Hall had the puck, he wasn't looking to create his own shot, he was looking to feed Eberle. He definitely has a comfort level with Eberle and seems to trust that getting the puck to #14 is the right play. Hall was reckless at times tonight, but for the most part he wasn't doing anything crazy.
- Martin Marincin, D - The knock on him was his skating, but I sure didn't see it tonight. He moved well enough, joined the rush and was getting back when necessary. He had a wonderful breakout pass (I didn't see who received it) where he finished with the perfect fundamental follow-through and held it there. One thing that really stood out for me is the way he uses his stick in the defensive zone - he's got a long reach and he's always trying to use it. I wonder if it's going to get him in trouble with players who are faster on the puck.