By MARK SPECTOR
EDMONTON — With his team waiting until Saturday night to play its season opener, new Edmonton Oilers head coach Pat Quinn plans to take his team to systems school with four straight practice days following Monday’s day off.
And he didn’t want the classroom to be any more crowded than it needed to be.
So, after the Oilers 5-4 overtime victory over the Vancouver Canucks on Sunday night the Oilers cut five players, taking their roster number down to 26 players.
Gone are 2008 first-round pick Jordan Eberle (sent back to the Regina Pats) goalie Devan Dubnyk, defenceman Taylor Chorney, centre Rob Schremp and left winger Kip Brennan (all to Springfield of the AHL).
Only Schremp will have to clear waivers. The former Oilers first-rounder has never made the team since being picked in ’04. He said he hoped to be picked up by another team, and Quinn did not sound as if he would be too disappointed if that happened.
"We have quite a few players of the same look. Part of our goal is to change our look a bit. Get some size and grit," Quinn said. "Maybe he’ll get a chance [with] someone else."
Quinn basically anointed spots on the team to wingers J.F. Jacques (6-4, 217 lbs.) and Ryan Stone (6-2, 199 lbs.), stating that the coaches wanted "bigger, crustier guys"
It’s hasn’t been a rewarding preseason for a new coaching staff hoping to see signs of life from its roster. But finally, in their final tune-up on Sunday, Ales Hemsky showed some of the dazzle they are counting on from him, notching two assists. Mike Comrie also had a pair of goals to cap the preseason with 10 points.
But the best Oilers player on Sunday was Jacques, a big, second-round draft pick from 2003 who is finally healthy, and perhaps finally ready to be an NHL player as well. There isn’t a player, outside perhaps big Dustin Penner, that this small and soft Oilers club is happier to see make the grade than Jacques.
"Hockey is a lot about confidence," said the 24-year-old, who is at his seventh pro camp since being drafted in the second round in ’03. "I’m getting a chance to play way more this year."
He is also healthy, after back and wrist surgery had slowed Jacques’ development. He had a goal, an assist and led the game with five hits on Sunday – and boy, could this Oilers team use his skill set.
He hits, he fights and perhaps best of all, Jacques comes with a cap hit of just US $525,000. Playing on the top line next to Shawn Horcoff and Hemsky, Jacques earned himself a spot in Saturday night’s opening lineup against the Calgary Flames, and first-star honours Sunday night.
Edmonton may not have to make any more cuts. Fernando Pisani (back) and Marc Pouliot (groin) are destined for the I.R. Captain Ethan Moreau is day to day with a groin problem. Liam Reddox is still here, as is injured defenceman Theo Peckham, giving the team much flexibility before cut down day Wednesday, when all NHL teams must get down to 23 players.
Mark Spector is lead columnist for Sportsnet.ca.