SUN Hockey Pool

Excitement abounds

DEREK VAN DIEST, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 12:25 PM ET

Their enthusiasm was well-contained as they trickled out of the dressing room.

Perhaps it's difficult to be excited after a long morning of medicals and fitness testing.

But heading into training camp, there is a definite sense of optimism among the Edmonton Oilers.

"Everybody has been excited for this day for a while now," said head coach Craig MacTavish.

"In a lot of previous years I'm up here trying to generate optimism and enthusiasm, but this year I'm probably more interested in quel-ling it a little bit.

"But it is an exciting time from everybody's perspective. We're anxious to get started and we can't wait for the on-ice stuff to begin (today). It's going to be exciting."

There are a number of reasons for the optimism.

Last season's late surge, the return of key veterans and two high-profile acquisitions have the Oilers talking playoffs this year.

It's similar to the buzz heading into the 2005-06 campaign that saw the Oilers eventually make it to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup final.

"Being around the game as long as I have, I know enough to know that we have a really good chance to do some great things this year," MacTavish said.

"I felt after the lockout we had a good opportunity when we had Michael Peca and Chris Pronger. I feel that this is the best chance we've had to win a division that I think is wide open. We're going to be right there.

"That's why we're all excited. Everybody is healthy, the young players have developed, we have lots of depth in virtually every position. We're all very curious to see what we've got."

In Erik Cole and Lubomir Visnovsky, the Oilers have brought in a couple of players capable of generating the same impact Peca and Pronger had.

Cole, 29, was acquired this off-season from the Carolina Hurricanes in a trade that sent defenceman Joni Pitkanen the other way.

Last season, the native of Oswego, N.Y., scored 22 goals and added 29 assists in 73 games for the Hurricanes. A former 30-goal scorer, Cole is expected to play on the top line with Ales Hemsky and Shawn Horcoff.

"Seeing Cole around the rink, it looks like he's been here for five years already," MacTavish said. "It's the same with Lubomir. He's got such an infectious personality and is such a happy guy.

"Those guys have quickly made the transition in a short amount of time. Cole has been here for just three weeks, but like I said, he looks like he's been here for five years."

Visnovsky, 32, joins the Oilers from the Los Angeles Kings, having been traded for centre Jarret Stoll and defenceman Matt Greene.

The native of Topolcany, Slovakia, averaged over 55 points in his last three seasons with Los Angles.

"I think the excitement has a lot has to do with just the way the team finished last year, with the young guys and how the team played," Cole said.

"It's obvious that there is also some great leadership in the room from top to bottom. Hopefully everything is going to transfer onto the ice well. Everything has been pretty seamless off the ice so far.

"I'm excited. I've been here for over a month and there have been a lot of anxious moments to get going."

Along with the two new additions, the Oilers are going into the season with a healthy trio of key veterans.

Horcoff, defenceman Sheldon Souray and captain Ethan Moreau are all ready to go.

Last year, both Horcoff and Souray had their seasons cut short with shoulder injuries, while Moreau broke the same bone in his leg twice, limiting him to 25 games.

The previous season Moreau missed 75 games with a shoulder injury.

"We feel that everybody has been surgically rebuilt," said MacTavish.

"You never say never in this business, but it's going to be almost impossible to think we're going to have injury problems to the extent we had the last couple of years.

"A lot of that was because the guys were not quite 100% coming into the year and problems happen. But this year that's been eliminated. Guys are 100% healthy and I think we're going to be fine from that perspective."

Incidentally, MacTavish is one of the few not 100% healthy. He's recovering from recent hand surgery and won't be on the ice this morning.

"Maybe that's a good omen," he said.

"It's a good omen that the only health issues are from a non-participant."


Videos

Photos