No home sweet home for Oiler callup
DEREK VAN DIEST, QMI Agency
|Edmonton's Chris Vande Velde shoves Los Angeles King and former Oiler Ryan Smyth during the Oilers gameat Rexall Place on Tuesday. (Codie McLachlan, Edmonton Sun)
ST. PAUL, Minn. — Chris Vande Velde has had an eye on this game from the moment he was called up to play with the Edmonton Oilers.
For many, Thursday’s contest against the Minnesota Wild is simply a formality, on the road to the end of another frustrating season for both sides.
But for the Oilers’ rookie, it’s a homecoming and an opportunity to play in an arena he’s familiar with, in front of family and friends for the first time.
“I’ve played there (Xcel Energy Center) a bunch of times,” Vande Velde said. “It’ll definitely be exciting and I have some family coming in and some friends. It’s going to be a special game that’s for sure. It’s going to be the first time for some people to watch me play. It’s going to be fun, I’m looking forward to it.”
Called up by the Oilers two weeks ago, Vande Velde plans on savouring every moment of the opportunity afforded to him by a rash of injuries.
Despite not scoring against the Los Angeles Kings on Tuesday — no Oiler scored — the native of Moorehead, Minn., had one of his strongest outings with the Oilers, earning nearly 20 minutes of ice time.
“He’s very reliable,” said Oilers head coach Tom Renney. “To a point, you expect what he delivers and he does. He’s a little bit predictable in that way, which is a good thing.
“I’m just tying to give him an opportunity to play in a number of different circumstances and he’s done well.”
The Oilers’ fifth pick — 97th overall — in the 2005 NHL draft, Vande Velde, 24, is trying to impress enough so his name will be mentioned in conversations about next season’s roster.
His line, alongside Jordan Eberle and Teemu Hartikainen, was the most threatening in that 2-0 loss to the Kings.
“I think it’s a great line,” Vande Velde said. “I’m familiar with Hartikainen having played with him all year in Oklahoma City, and Eberle is a great player. We’ve been getting lots of chances and I think it’s only a matter of time before I pop one in.
“I think it’s big having played with Hartikainen before, we know where to go and we read off each other pretty well. I think we worked down low pretty well and if we can get the puck to Jordan, he’s a pretty good scorer.”
In six games with the Oilers since his call-up, Vande Velde has yet to register a point. However, the stage is set for him to net his first goal in front of a personal cheering section Thursday.
“I’m still looking forward to my first goal and hopefully it will happen soon,” he said. “It would be nice to score it in Minnesota, but we’ll see.”