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Some Big Roster Battles Brewing at Oilers Training Camp

The Edmonton Oilers opened training camp for the 2020-21 NHL season and there are already some roster battles worth taking a look at.

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There’s a ton of news out of Edmonton as the Oilers officially opened up their 2020-21 training camp on Monday. There were a few players missing, including James Neal, Dominik Kahun, Gaetan Haas and Devin Shore and early line combinations suggest there aren’t too many surprises in the forward and defense pairings. That doesn’t mean there aren’t some battles brewing for some open spots.

Related: Maple Leafs’ Matthews & Oilers’ McDavid: Picking Each Other’s Brains

Jonathan Willis of The Athletic took a closer look at the obvious openings for the Oilers at camp and which spots don’t necessarily have sure-fire players to fill them. Below are some of the key positions Willis focused on.

Top-Six Winger

Willis noted that there is really only one spot open for a top-six winger as Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Kailer Yamamoto and Dominik Kahun are set to be flanking Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl to start the season. That means Zack Kassian, Tyler Ennis, James Neal, and Jesse Puljujarvi will battle it out for that last spot.

Kyle Turris and Jesse Puljujarvi Oilers camp 2020-21 NHL season

Willis listed Kassian as the favorite and the line combinations on the first day of camp seem to suggest he’s right. Willis does add, “There’s always the possibility of a surprise, and the most interesting outside-the-box possibility is Puljujarvi.”

Related: Oilers Think They’ve Found a Solution to Questions About the Penalty Kill

Third-Line Winger

Willis also notes there’s one spot open for a third-line winger to work with newly-acquired pivot Kyle Turris and the contenders are Puljujarvi, Josh Archibald, and James Neal.

While Puljujarvi is the dark horse in the top six, he seems to be the favorite on the third line and he got some practice time on Monday with his potential line mate. Willis assumed that Ennis has the other spot on that line already locked up. It makes sense considering early projections when Turris was signed is that a line of Turris, Puljujarvi and Ennis seemed like an easy call, mixing speed, skill and size.

Two Spots on Second-Pair Defence

With Oscar Klefbom out and Tyson Barrie in, there will be some changes to the blue line for the Oilers this season. Most have projected that Darnell Nurse will be paired with Ethan Bear in one top unit. The other pairing isn’t as obvious.

Adam Larsson Oilers
Adam Larsson Oilers

Willis lists the contenders for the second pair in the top four as Caleb Jones, Adam Larsson, Tyson Barrie, Kris Russell, Slater Koekkoek. Jones and Larsson are the favorites which is interesting because it means Barrie would be a bottom-six blueliner on this team.

That might not matter much as he should still get plenty of ice time running the Oilers absolutely deadly power play.

Fourth Line Is Still Wide Open

Finally, Willis suggests there will be three open slots on the fourth line in Edmonton and the names battling it out to secure a spot are the previously mentioned James Neal, along with Gaetan Haas, Alex Chiasson, Jujhar Khaira, Joakim Nygard, Devin Shore, Tyler Benson, Patrick Russell, Ryan McLeod and Josh Arhcibald.

While Neal is a candidate for every line, and depending on how the season goes he could see time in the top nine, he’s the first easy choice for this bottom group. Willis also believes it will include Haas and Archibald.

Both can penalty kill and that will be important and helps get them a spot. Archibald has proven he can score as well.

What’s interesting here is that Chiasson and Joakim Nygard are being left out of the equation.

Third-Pair Defenseman

Finally, who gets that final spot on the Oilers blue line bottom pair? The obvious choice seems to be Kris Russel. That said, Koekkoek, William Lagesson, and Theodor Lennstrom won’t make the decision easy.

Next: Insider Says Patrik Laine for Pierre-Luc Dubois Trade Not “Craziest” Idea

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