Beyond their top lines, the Oilers are looking lean on offence

Edmonton Oilers forward Ryan Mcleod, left, checks Calgary Flames forward Jonathan Huberdeau during second period NHL pre-season hockey action in Calgary. (Jeff McIntosh/CP)

It’s a good thing the Edmonton Oilers Top 6 is pretty much set. 

Because if they were looking for some help from this crop of training camp invites, it could be a lean season offensively. 

Two nights after losing 3-0 in Seattle, the Oilers dropped a 4-0 decision to a Calgary Flames roster that sported 14 players who will be NHL regulars this year. Edmonton dressed (by our count) seven NHL regulars — and not a Top 6 forward or Top 3 defenceman among them. 

Ryan McLeod was the best Oilers forward, skating miles Wednesday at the Saddledome in a fruitless effort. He has first-line speed, but is still working on those third-line hands, closing the night with zero shots on net in 21:09 of ice time, tops among Edmonton’s forwards. 

“There are some offensive opportunities where he, upon second look, might want to do some different things,” said head coach Jay Woodcroft, who liked how McLeod looked against a mostly NHL Flames lineup. “He certainly can skate with them. Now, it’s finding a way to be offensively productive against them.” 

This is the beauty of NHL pre-season hockey, and we’ll likely see the same thing in Edmonton when the Flames visit on Friday. Calgary had five of their Top 7 defencemen in the game, their Top 3 centres, plus Jonathan Huberdeau, Tyler Toffoli and Blake Coleman on the wings. Starter Jacob Markstrom played the first two periods in goal. 

“The way we framed it this morning was, it’s an opportunity,” said Woodcroft. “See who rises to the occasion and keeps getting better on a daily basis.” 

Yeah. This was a mismatch, and it’s hard to say anyone was a lot better off for it — on either side. 

“It’s exactly what I wanted in the pre-season, coming in and playing against the big guys,” countered Oilers starter Calvin Pickard, who stopped 16 of 17 shots he faced. “You want to win but at the same time you want to get back into game shape and face tough situations. 

“I’ve been on this side of a lot of pre-season games. We actually settled in well, but it’s always a possibility (that this can happen).” 

The final shots on goal were 34-21 Flames, and had the high danger chances at 7-1 for Calgary. The Oilers generated nada. Zilch. 

“There are things we can do better offensively, for sure,” said Woodcroft, who liked Tyson Barrie, Phil Kemp, and Pickard on the night. “Some things to build on, some things to work on.” 

Dylan Holloway, from nearby Bragg Creek, played his first NHL pre-season game in the town where he played his minor hockey. He had his parents, grandparents and friends in the house. 

“It was pretty cool. I wish I would have played a bit better,” he said on a minus-2 night. “When you get a good challenge like that, I wouldn’t say it humbles you but it puts things into perspective. There’s a lot we can improve on.” 

Foegele fighting for a bigger role

Give Warren Foegele credit. He is well aware that he has to stake a claim to some kind of a greater role on this Oilers team, so he’s set his sights on becoming a go-to penalty killer.

“You’ve got to be on one of the special teams to be involved. That’s something I’m shooting for here in training camp,” said Foegele. “That’s something I’ve done my whole career, but didn’t get a chance to do last year. I’m trying to fight my way on to the PK.” 

Foegele spent the summer hearing trade rumours, and has two more years on his contract at $2.75 million. That second year is likely why Holland could not move Foegele this summer, when the Oilers GM was trying to alleviate his cap crunch. 

So Foegele is likely an Oiler this season. He wants a bigger bite of the pie in Edmonton, and he’ll move over the right wing if necessary. 

“The majority of my time in Carolina I played more right wing than left. I’m excited about playing there, and showing my versatility,” said the left shot winger. 

He put on five extra pounds this summer. He knows his role here — as a hard-charging, third-liner. 

“My best hockey is when I play tenacious and take pucks to the net,” said Foegele, who had no shots on goal in 19:25 of ice time versus Calgary. “Whether I play seven minutes or 15, it’s got to be the same game.” 

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