SUN Hockey Pool

Oilers ready for opener

Taylor Hall bounces a puck off his skate as he takes part in an Oilers' practice at Rexall Place on...

Taylor Hall bounces a puck off his skate as he takes part in an Oilers' practice at Rexall Place on Wednesday. (QMI Agency/David Bloom)

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 3:22 PM ET

EDMONTON -- It's showtime.

They've been slashed and gutted, stripped down and rebuilt from scratch -- now it's time for the Edmonton Oilers to show what they've got.

And make no mistake, the re-born Oilers are just as pumped about this as the fans are.

"There's just big excitement," said captain Shawn Horcoff, as the Oilers wrapped up the morning skate before tonight's regular season home opener against the Calgary Flames. "We worked hard in camp, brought in a lot of new faces. We're just looking forward to getting things going and seeing what we have.

"There's a new found excitement, especially after finishing the way we did last year. We've made a lot of big changes. We're excited for what the future holds for us."

The future starts tonight, when Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle and Magnus Paajarvi make their regular season debuts. It's also the first time Edmonton's top nine forwards will play together in the same game.

"I'm not too nervous, just very excited for this opportunity and glad my family is here to share the moment," said Hall, the first pick overall and centerpiece of GM Steve Tambellini's rebuilding effort. "It is my first game, but at the same time, I've played so many hockey games in my career that at some point they're all the same -- you have to go in there with the same game plan. But I definitely want to enjoy tonight and make sure that it's special."

This is a ground-breaking night, but at the same time the Oilers are doing everything they can to keep the pressure off their rookies.

"I try not to let that affect me," said Hall. "Somebody was telling me that in the big scheme of things my first game isn't going to mean a whole lot. Hopefully I can have a long career and what I do tonight isn't going to affect that.

"But you can definitely tell that all the guys are excited. The dressing room is very happy to get it going. Hopefully we can pull out a win."

Paajarvi played in the Swedish Elite League for three seasons, so he's somewhat accustomed to the pros, but opening night in a Canadian NHL city is enough to send a chill up anyone's spine.

"It's a special day and I'm super excited," said Paajarvi. "I'm probably going to be nervous before the game, but once I get into the game it's not going to be a problem."

It's not just the kids who are nervous. Goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin hasn't played since November, when a back injury and subsequent surgery de-railed his season. He was one of Edmonton's best players before he went down -- but who knows what to expect in his first game back in 11 months.

"Not a single player in the league is going to be in mid-season form right now," said Khabibulin, who played just two pre-season games. "So I'll keep taking it game by game and try to improve every game.

"Tonight is going to be a step up from exhibition, the guys are going to go to the net even harder. There's going to be more traffic. You just have to get used to it."


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