Oilers welcome new faces with high hopes, sights set on division title

Edmonton Oilers general manager Ken Holland joined Hockey Central at Noon to discuss his activity at the NHL Trade Deadline.

ANAHEIM — All three of the Edmonton Oilers’ Trade Deadline acquisitions will play on Tuesday in Anaheim, with head coach Dave Tippett going so far as flanking Connor McDavid with two of them.

Why put both Andreas Athanasiou and Tyler Ennis on McDavid’s wings, in both players’ first game as an Oiler?

“Housewarming gift!” joked Tippett after the morning skate. “We want to get the new guys going as quick as we can. Just give it a try and see how it goes.”

Of course, there was deeper thought that went into the decision — some of which came from Tuesday’s news that right-winger Kailer Yamamoto will be lost for likely two weeks with an ankle injury suffered in Sunday’s 4-2 win at Los Angeles.

The arrival of three new troops — two wingers and veteran defenceman Mike Green, who will be paired with William Lagesson — comes at a time when the Oilers are in dire need of fortification. Oscar Klefbom (due back next week), Yamamoto, James Neal and Kris Russell (return unknown for the latter two) are all out, and Zack Kassian still has two games to serve on his seven-game suspension.

So, let’s meet the new guys, starting with speedy winger Ennis. He grew up in Edmonton, and earlier this season scored his first-ever NHL goal there while playing with the Ottawa Senators.

He’s going to be thrilled to pull on that jersey Tuesday night in Anaheim.

“Just like any other kid in Edmonton,” the 30-year-old Ennis said. “In that sense it’s a bit of a dream come true. A lot of kids in Edmonton, just like myself, grow up wanting to play for the Oilers.

“I’m ecstatic to be an Oiler.”

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He grew up a Wayne Gretzky fan — just like every other kid from The Big E. “But for me, my favourite player was Dougie Weight,” said Ennis, who can’t believe that this deadline has landed him with his hometown team and in the middle of a playoff push. “Two of the best players on the planet, and I get to play with Connor tonight. I’m just going to try to shake off some rust and work hard.”

While Ennis kept his familiar No. 63 from Ottawa, Athanasiou changed from No. 72 in Detroit to No. 28 in Edmonton.

“I think the mascot is wearing (No. 72), and I didn’t want to get him a Rolex, so…” quipped Athanasiou, the son of an Air Canada pilot and a stay-at-home Mom who raised four kids. The 28th is the birthday of his Mom and brother, and a goal total he’d love to approach next season, if he can become a mainstay on McDavid’s left wing.

“Fortunately I watched a lot of Oilers games this year. He’s a fun guy to watch,” said the 25-year-old from Woodbridge, Ontario. “I think you just have to stick to your game plan, and try to open up as much ice as you can. With my speed I’ll be able to open up a bit of extra ice — give him time and space to do his thing.”

His Dad’s a pilot and the kid can fly. Go figure.

But Athanasiou has always been a fast-twitch guy — quick on the ice, on the track, or on the soccer pitch.

Jeff Marek and Elliotte Friedman talk to a lot of people around the hockey world, and then they tell listeners all about what they’ve heard and what they think about it.

“It takes work, too — you can’t just rely on it,” he said. “I’ve spent a lot of time working on that fast twitch. It’s everyday work, but it’s definitely one of my strengths.”

It’s funny how life works, when one of the fastest players in the league gets dealt to the same team on the same day as Calgary native Mike Green, a 34-year-old with nearly 900 NHL games played. He also came from a flagging Detroit Red Wings organization, and steps into the Oilers dressing room where there is new life — even for an older D-man who isn’t quite as quick as he once was.

“You know the game’s still the game,” Green said. “My thing is, as you get older, the game is faster. You have to find ways to make up for it. I feel like that’s been the biggest challenge.”

Green has run power plays in the NHL for 15 years. Will he get chance up top on Edmonton’s league-leading unit? It doesn’t sound imminent.

“We like what our people have done with the power play here, so there’s no use to change a lot of that,” Tippett said. “Especially with Klef coming back early next week.”

Green has played with Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom in Washington, and Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk in Detroit. He knows the drill in Edmonton, where the puck has to find the blade of either McDavid or Leon Draisaitl.

“As a defenceman it makes the job a lot easier,” Green said. “You get the puck into their hands and good things are going to be done with it. It also holds us accountable, to make sure we get those guys the puck — which raises everybody’s game.”

So, it’s Oilers-Ducks at 7 p.m. Pacific. An Anaheim team playing out the string, against an Oilers club that has its sights set on a Pacific Division title.

Both teams have new faces on their roster — Anaheim made six trades leading up to the Deadline, most in the NHL — but it’s the Oilers who are hoping those additions equal a long playoff run this spring.

“It’s a reflection of how well our players have played,” Tippett said of general manager Ken Holland’s handiwork on Monday. “I told that to the guys today: A big part of having these new guys here to help is because of the work you guys put in. So let’s welcome the help with open arms, but we still have a lot of work to do.

“Yesterday was a good day for us, we added some good pieces. But today we’ve got to get back to work. That’s the message.”

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