Rookies warned

DEREK VAN DIEST -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:58 AM ET

Getting an opportunity is one thing.

Making the most of it is another.

The rash of injuries that have plagued the Edmonton Oilers this month has opened the door for a number of young players in the organization.

But the fact the team has not won in 12 games heading into tonight's encounter against the Colorado Avalanche may indicate the door is closing.

"Based on the game (Wednesday) night, the danger the young guys have is that we make the assessment that they're not ready to help at this level," said Oilers head coach Craig MacTavish.

"It's a double-edged sword for them. They get the opportunity, but if they're not ready for this level of hockey, then they get exposed and they're on the back-burner."

ICE COLD

Rarely do so many rookies have the opportunity to play so late in the season against teams with so little on the line.

In the Avalanche, the Oilers are playing the hottest team in the league on the heels of the Calgary Flames for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference.

The Oilers themselves are the coldest, closing in on a franchise-record 14-game winless skid.

"It's a very important time for young players to establish themselves as guys that are going to be part of the immediate future here," MacTavish said.

"Some guys are really distancing themselves from our organizational plans for next year and they have to improve from now until the end of the year for them to be in any part of those plans."

MacTavish was not happy with his team's effort in Wednesday's loss to the Avalanche.

And the youth excuse is starting to wear thin.

Some of the rookies who looked good at first are now starting to drop off.

"A lot of the young guys have survived up to this level by just dropping the puck, going out and playing and being better than everybody else," MacTavish said. "But at the NHL level your head's got to be the most important asset of your game, otherwise you get exposed.

"If you don't focus on the mental aspect of the game, the veterans will absolutely expose you and they'll expose every weakness in your game and they take great joy in doing that with young players."

Yesterday the Oilers were back to working on fundamentals. Despite being offensively challenged during their current skid, the team has, at times, played very well defensively. That was not the case on Wednesday.

FAIR PLAY

"The coaching staff has been really fair with the players," said Oilers forward Robert Nilsson.

"If you play well they'll give you lots of ice time. If you play bad, then they'll bench you. That's how it is right now."

Playing at the NHL level has been an eye-opening experience for many of the rookies on the squad.

Some, like defenceman Danny Syvret, were thrown into the mix without much of an initiation process. On Wednesday Syvret logged 25:25 minutes of ice time - second-most on the team.

"It's a great opportunity for us to see how far we have to come for next year's training camp and hopefully for the start of the year," Syvret.

"The losing skid has put some pressure on us trying to get a win. We're trying to work our hardest, and at times it's been frustrating not being on the right side of the score sheet."


Videos

Photos