SUN Hockey Pool

Nilsson earning praise

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 8:42 AM ET

The picture is getting clearer by the day, as candidates for all those openings at forward play themselves into, or out of, contention.

Then again, with five pre-season tilts left on the schedule, there's still plenty of time for all those hopefuls to fog things up, too.

"It's like trying to hit a moving target," said head coach Craig MacTavish, who got a good look at another batch of training campers in a 3-2 overtime win over the Toronto Maple Leafs last night at Rexall Place.

"The forward lines are starting to clear up in my mind, but that's not to say there can't be other guys grabbing those spots.

"Things develop as camp goes on and the competition gets tougher and some guys fall by the wayside who are having success now."

Sam Gagner has been looking stellar (of course, who wouldn't, between Ales Hemsky and Dustin Penner?) and Kyle Brodziak stole the show with his stellar two-way play Monday against Florida.

And last night, highly touted Robert Nilsson looked very much at home in his Oilers debut, playing on a line with Jarret Stoll and Raffi Torres, where's he's favoured to start the season.

"They threatened lots," said MacTavish. "They didn't get anything offensively, but Nilsson looked dangerous a lot of the night. I like the line and some of the momentum changes they got when they got out there and got a good forecheck going."

If this is how MacTavish wants to start the season, fine by Stoll.

"With all the penalties we were mostly on the penalty kill," said the veteran centre, who showed no ill effects or hesitancy in his first game since being shelved with a concussion last year. "But, for me and Robert penalty killing together, you could definitely tell we were on the same page. With Raffi out there it could be a good combination, I'm looking forward to that, if that's what it is."

Nilsson had been waiting for this from the moment he became Oilers property in the deadline deal for Ryan Smyth.

"This (preseason games) is where it starts," he said of his quest to win a spot in Edmonton. "This is where I have to show that I'm ready to play here."

He did, logging 21:49 of ice time, second only to Stoll among the forwards.

"It felt pretty good, actually," he said. "I maybe didn't have my best game with the puck, but I felt like I played pretty solid. It was a lot of fun. That was probably the first time I played PK the whole game."

Management likes what they've seen so far, starting in last year's AHL playoffs and continuing into camp.

MacTavish said publicly the second line winger job is Nilsson's to lose, and general manager Kevin Lowe said he'd be "shocked" if Nilsson doesn't crack the lineup.

For a club that doesn't like showing its cards until the last possible moment, those are two resounding, highly placed, votes of confidence.

Nilsson knows he's close, but tries to filter out the rave reviews and ignore the depth chart.

"I went into training camp maybe a little too confident last year (after playing 53 games with New York the season before) and I don't want to make that mistake again," he said. "This year I'm just going to play my game and we'll see in a couple of weeks if I've made it or not. I feel ready to play in this league. And I'll be honest with you, I'm as hungry as I can be."

Shawn Horcoff had a goal and two assists, Slava Trukhno had a goal and an assist and Denis Grebeshkov scored the overtime winner. Mathieu Garon and Devan Dubnyk split the duties in goal.


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