Dan Tencer has given us the full list of invites this morning. It's a bit odd that the list isn't yet on the Oilers' website, but it is what it is. For those hoping to find a loose UFA after the jump, prepare to be disappointed. Steve Tambellini has been pretty consistent in saying that he didn't expect to add anyone late in the summer, and he's been true to his word. But no matter, training camp is here! The players have already been broken up into three teams, and after the jump, we'll take a look at each of those teams as well as speculate a bit on the possible opening night lineup.
The A Team
Dustin Penner / Sam Gagner / Ales Hemsky - The Oilers' top line on the "A" team is a likely preview of the top line on opening night. These are three of the four best forwards in camp, so they should be dominant in the scrimmages so long as Penner laid off the Sour-Patch Kids over the summer. Although we still haven't heard officially whether or not Hemsky is going to pass his physical, he did participate in Perry Pearn's 3-on-3 tournament, and his position in the lineup here means he's probably ready to go.
Teemu Hartikainen / Liam Reddox / Zack Stortini - A spot alongside two pros who've worked hard to make careers for themselves is a nice spot for Hartikainen. It makes me wonder if the Oilers aren't at least thinking about him as an option for the Oilers. It's a bit odd to see Reddox at center, since he's usually listed at left wing, but it's a good opportunity for him to show that he can play a range of positions, which is what the team would want from a utility forward. He's played some in the NHL in each of the last three seasons, and shouldn't be underestimated. Further down, we'll see that the other potential "fourth liners" are playing together, so this isn't a great spot for Stortini, but it's still early days.
Chase Schaber / Tyler Pitlick / Ben Ondrus - After seeing Pitlick in the Young Stars tournament, I expect him and Ondrus to play a crash and bang style. Unlike most prospects, Pitlick is eligible for the AHL, so a good showing against men in the exhibition games could see him starting the year in Oklahoma. The undersized Chase Schaber looks a bit out of place on this line. He's neither big enough to crash with these two, and he's not as skilled as Pitlick either. That said, he gets to play with two solid players while he tries to earn himself a contract, and you can't ask for much more than that.
Philippe Cornet / Milan Kytnar / Cameron Abney - There's a lot of youth on this line, but it's not the kind to get excited about. It seems likely that Eberle, Hall and Paajarvi will start their (N-A) pro careers in the NHL; these three could all start in Stockton (although Abney has another year of junior to go). This is a big fall for Kytnar in particular who began the rookie camp alongside Eberle and Hall.
Jean-Francois Jacques - He's the extra forward on this club, and that's likely because he can't pass a physical (also possible: he's just that bad). If that remains true when the final roster is set, guys like Reddox, Omark, and Giroux have a much better chance to start the year with the Oilers.
Ryan Whitney / Jeff Petry - It's good to see Petry listed in the lineup because it means that shoulder problem must not be too serious. I like this pairing a lot, and hope they get to play a couple of exhibition games together too. Petry is one of the best prospects, and it makes a tonne of sense to put him with one of the two skilled and successful NHL defenders on the team. This could well be an Oiler pairing of the future (though I must admit to hoping that the future doesn't come too soon).
Jason Strudwick / Jeremie Blain - After watching Blain lose his coverage against the Sharks the other night, this pairing seems designed to make Taylor Chorney look good by comparison. I kid, of course. Jason Strudwick isn't a great NHL defender, but in training camp he's clearly capable of handling most of the competition (especially when Gagner, Penner, and Hemsky are on his team).
Brandon Davidson / Jordan Bendfeld - Unlike Petry and Blain, Davidson isn't getting the benefit of veteran help. Bendfeld is two or three years older, but he's also two or three times worse. I have no doubt that Davidson is the better player today, and honestly, it would be nice to see Davidson playing on a pairing where he's not the best player.
Dallas Ehrhardt - The big teenage defender got invited to main camp, but he's still injured, and may well get cut before they see him play.
Devan Dubnyk / Bryan Pitton - There's no question that Dubnyk is the headliner in goal. The battle for playing time in net is the most interesting to me because it's so wide open. If I were handicapping the race today, I'd make Dubnyk the favourite to start on opening night.
The B Team
Magnus Paajarvi / Andrew Cogliano / Gilbert Brule - Just like the top line on the "A" team, these three could open the season together somewhere in the top nine. Paajarvi and Cogliano together should make for a fun speed combination, especially in training camp when the level of competition isn't going to be quite up to NHL standards. The Oilers are beginning with Cogliano at center, and it will be fun to see if his renewed commitment to an all-around game bears fruit. I don't expect that it will, but I sure hope it does because the most likely replacement for Cogliano at center is Gilbert Brule, and I prefer Brule on the wing. In addition to his defensive awareness not being all that strong, he also likes to run around to make hits, something that's a lot easier to do without hurting your team if you're playing wing.
Alexandre Giroux / Ryan O'Marra / Colin McDonald - It's hard to believe that all three of these guys played in the NHL last year. Still, this looks more like the coaches looking for AHL chemistry than NHL players, which has to be a disappointment for Giroux. I think there's some chance these guys will be run out against the top line on both the "A" and "C" teams just to see how they do as a "checking line". If this group ends up taking on the toughs in Oklahoma, there's a good chance that O'Marra, and McDonald will have career years.
Curtis Hamilton / Brad Moran / Mike Thomas - Moran is buried even further down the lineup than Giroux, which implies to me that he's starting from well back in the battle for the last roster spot. That said, this is a pretty talented group compared to some of the other lower lines, and Mike Thomas is fighting for a contract. These guys could look good together.
Steve MacIntyre / Ryan Martindale / James Livingston - MacIntyre is kind of like Jason Strudwick. Sure, he's going to be totally outclassed by most NHL players, but is he really worse today than Phil Cornet? Probably not, and that's probaly who these guys will be taking on, so there's a real chance that they look good banging bodies. It's too bad for Livingston that he's not still hanging with Tyler Pitlick because those two looked good together. Still, I think he gets a contract.
Jared Aulin - Aulin was invited to camp this year after a decent season in the AHL with Syracuse in 2009-10. He's got 17 games of NHL experience way back in 2002-03, but he's got enough games to qualify as an "AHL veteran" which may hurt his chances on getting a contract, especially if he's looking for a two-way deal (as opposed to AHL only). Unless he's hurt, I'm surprised they couldn't find a spot for him in the lineup, since you generally bring these guys to camp to check them out.
Theo Peckham / Tom Gilbert - I was thrilled about the Petry-Whitney pairing, but not this one. I just don't think Peckham has the skills to ever play in a top four role, so putting him with Gilbert seems like a waste. If the Oilers wanted him with an NHL player, a guy like Jim Vandermeer, with whom he might actually play, seems like a better choice.
Richard Petiot / Alex Plante - Plante apparently left the game against the Sharks with back spasms. He also injured his back in camp in 2007 just after being drafted by the Oilers, so this isn't a particularly good sign. He's listed in the lineup, so it's probably not serious, but Plante's back and head are worth keeping an eye on going forward. As for the pairing, this could end up being two of the top four in Springfield this year, maybe even the top pairing.
Martin Marincin / Jake Taylor - An interesting pairing here, as Taylor is bound for the AHL. I'm not yet convinced that Marincin is definitely going to the WHL, especially if he shows well with Taylor in camp. The Oilers have enough defenders that it might be difficult to find room for Marincin in the AHL, but if they decide that's where he'll develop the best, he may just eat Johan Motin's lunch.
Nolan Toigo - Just like Aulin, he's a free agent without a set spot in the lineup. I didn't think Toigo was particularly impressive in the rookie tournament, and doubt he ends up with a contract.
Jeff Deslauriers / Nikolai Khabibulin / Tyler Bunz - If Khabibulin was healthy, he and Deslauriers wouldn't be on the same team. My bet is that he's not ready to go, but we'll find out soon. If he can't play, the battle for opening night starter is wide open. Right now, I'm going with Dubnyk, but a strong camp from Deslauriers could easily win him the job.
The C Team
Taylor Hall / Shawn Horcoff / Jordan Eberle - Again, no one would be surprised to see these three playing together on opening night. Personally, I like the Hall-Horcoff pairing. Hall has all kinds of talent, but he wasn't very sound positionally in the rookie games, and Horcoff can help make up for some of that, as well as being a valuable on-ice teacher.
Ryan Jones / Colin Fraser / Linus Omark - Omark is in Stortini's spot here, and his job in camp is to steal it. I expect these guys to play an exhibition game or two together as well. Jones-Fraser-Omark is a very different look than Jacques-Fraser-Stortini on the fourth line. Hopefully these three show that four lines with skill beats three lines with skill and one set of goobers.
Gregory Stewart / Chris Vande Velde / Kristians Pelss - I was listening to an interview with Vande Velde before camp and he talked about his goal of making the Oilers. I didn't think it was likely when I watched the rookie games, and this spot in the lineup leaves him with some ground to make up on guys like Omark and Reddox who are playing with sure NHL players already.
Jesse Gimblett / Matt Marquardt / Drew Czerwonka - This is almost certainly the worst line on any of the three teams. Marquardt and Czerwonka are both pretty poor, and Jesse Gimblett is at camp on an invite after finishing four seasons at the University of Alberta. He may just be a late bloomer, but his offense in junior was underwhelming, and he barely managed a point per game as a senior in the CIS. He is a big man at 6'2'' and 210 lbs., but I'll be surprised if he gets more than a try-out deal from the Barons.
Ladislav Smid / Taylor Chorney - The good news is that Smid seems to be ready to go after surgery ended his season last year. The bad news is that this might be our shutdown pairing some nights this season. If these two are together in the top four to start the year, we may as well just start cheering for losses.
Jim Vandermeer / Kurtis Foster - Most of the veterans are being paired with a kid, so I was surprised to see these two together. It's possible that these two end up being the third pairing in Edmonton, but that means a guy like Peckham, Chorney, Petry, or Strudwick in the top four, which seems like a very bad idea.
Shawn Belle / Johan Motin - These two form a possible pairing in OKC, but I would have preferred to see Belle get some time with one of the (many) bottom pairing NHL defenders on the team. Belle has a real chance to make this team with a good camp, and I suspect we'll see him getting some exhibition games in with guys like Vandermeer and Strudwick before the season starts.
Martin Gerber / Olivier Roy - If indeed Khabibulin is injured, Gerber must be stoked. He knows that he's got an ally in new Oilers' associate coach Ralph Krueger, and he knows that the Oilers' goaltending from a year ago was woeful. There's a reasonable chance that a good camp will earn him a spot on the team, and complete his road back to the NHL. And then there's Olivier Roy. I know I shouldn't be thinking about him making the team, but if he's outstanding in camp, and Khabibulin projects to be ready by, say, the middle of November, it's possible Roy gets a few starts with the Oilers before getting sent back to junior.
Pretty self-explanatory, but here's my guess for the guys who will break camp with the Oilers:
Penner - Gagner - Hemsky
Hall - Horcoff - Eberle
Paajarvi - Cogliano - Brule
Jones - Fraser - Stortini
Jacques (inj.) - Reddox -MacIntyre
Whitney - Gilbert
Smid - Foster
Vandermeer - Peckham
And here's my projection for the lineup in Oklahoma City:
Omark - Moran - Ondrus
Giroux - O'Marra - McDonald
Hartikainen - Vande Velde - Livingston
Stewart - Aulin - Marquardt
Cornet - Kytnar
Petiot - Plante
Belle - Petry
Chorney - Taylor
Motin - Bendfeld