Kid line picks up where they left off

DEREK VAN DIEST -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:07 AM ET

It was a glorified game of shinny.

The only guys running each other in yesterday’s Joey Moss Cup intra-squad contest were the rookies who were looking to impress. Granted Dustin Penner did hammer Tom Gilbert into the boards from behind, but that was one of the few hits thrown by a veteran.

In such a format, the skill players are expected to stand out, which is what the line of Sam Gagner, Andrew Cogliano and Robert Nilsson did, picking right up where they left off last season.

Line was clicking

“I thought they played pretty well,” said Oilers assistant coach Kelly Buchberger after coaching Team Blue to a 6-2 victory over Team White. “Obviously they know one another pretty well from playing with each other last season. They really seem to feed off one another.”

Nilsson and Gagner each had a pair of assists in the contest.

Tonight the Oilers begin their exhibition season by hosting the Vancouver Canucks in the first game of a home-and-home series.

“It feels like Cogs and Sam worked hard this summer as I did, too, and we’re all in better condition,” said Nilsson. “It’s different than in the first year when we came into training camp and we don’t have to think about the small details, like where exactly we’re supposed to be on the ice and things like that.

“We know how to play the game and it’s a lot easier this year and because of that we’re having a lot of fun on the ice.”

A year ago, there was debate whether the three would even make the team.

Gagner was coming straight out of junior, Cogliano from college and Nilsson was working on becoming a regular in the league.

Yet he went on to finish with 10 goals and 31 assists in 71 games. Gagner had 49 points while Cogliano collected 45.

This year the trio are not only locks to be on the team, but are expected to provide the bulk of the scoring on an already offensively talented squad.

“It’s different that way,” Nilsson said. “It’s not as though it’s going to be a lot easier this year, I still have to do the things the coaches want and play my game. But my confidence is up playing with these guys.”

It’s the first time all three of them have come to an NHL camp with pretty much a guaranteed spot on the roster. Because of that they can concentrate on preparing for the upcoming season without the stresses of trying to impress the coaching staff in order to make the team.

“I bought a place here now and I’ve been able to get everything around me settled,” Nilsson said. “Last year I stayed in a hotel the whole year, it’s a lot different.”

Part of Smyth trade

Nilsson, 23, was acquired in the Ryan Smyth trade from the New York Islanders two seasons ago. Before finally securing a spot on the Oilers lineup last season, he had bounced between the NHL and the minors in both organizations.

“I’ve been through highs and lows,” Nilsson said. “I know what it’s like down there and I definitely don’t want to go back there. This is something that I want to do (play in the NHL) for the rest of my career. And to be able to do that, I have to be able to do the right things. I have to work hard and do the small things right.

“But it’s nice to know that I’m not going to get sent back to the minors if you make a bad pass.”


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