Young players get valuable opportunity

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:51 AM ET

An injury plague that cleans out the dressing room and the team's earliest crash landing in 10 years aren't usually the stuff that brings a smile to a hockey player's face.

But if you look carefully in the Edmonton Oilers' room you can see them.

They're subtle, like a handful of scarred-up Mona Lisas, but the grins are there.

Marc Pouliot has one. So do Danny Syvret and J.F. Jacques. And you can bet Kyle Brodziak will, too, when he arrives today.

They're careful to stifle the excitement in front of the veterans. Edmonton is, after all, in a state of mourning on several fronts. But their stroke of good fortune has them busting on the inside.

With Edmonton short-staffed and out of the playoff race, this is their golden opportunity. Instead of three or four pre-season games in which to prove they belong, they get as many as 16 NHL games down the stretch.

Work experience and a big-league cheque, to boot. Sweet.

'A GOOD LOOK'

"I think those guys are excited because of their opportunity," said veteran defenceman Steve Staios. "It's something that doesn't come around that often, where you get a really good look. These guys can step into the lineup and build their game from there."

Hence the grins.

"It's almost like an early training camp," said defenceman Danny Syvret, called up after injuries to Daniel Tjarnqvist, Mathieu Roy and Tom Gilbert and the trade of Marc-Andre Bergeron.

"But it helps that this comes after we've played most of the year already.

"In training camp you've had a whole summer off. Now we're peaking, in mid-season form."

Pouliot has done quite well in his second call-up of the season, made necessary by Jarret Stoll's lingering concussion symptoms

His two-assist night Saturday against Calgary was his best game as an Oiler and he seems to be growing more confident by the game. Think what these last 16 games will do for him when he shows up in camp next year.

SIX POINTS FOR POULIOT

"I feel more comfortable now," said Pouliot, who has six points in the 12 games since his most recent promotion. "I just want to finish very strong and hopefully earn a spot. I don't want to think too much ahead, just play it game by game."

With 10 players on the roster who've spent time in the AHL this year, Syvret, Pouliot, Jacques, Brodziak, Roy, Gilbert, Patrick Thoresen, Zack Stortini, Toby Petersen and Jan Hejda, there are a lot of kids getting a chance to make a name for themselves.

"It's an important time in a lot of respects," said head coach Craig MacTavish. "The perception from the outside might be that it's not all that important, but it's actually very important.

"We have to evaluate who is part of the solution and who is part of the problem that we're in. See who is going to be a part of what we want to build.

"We have to develop some guys. There's going to be a big change in our makeup and we have to get some of the young guys some experience, see what they're capable of and try and accelerate their development."


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