Oilers job competition heating up

Oilers hopefuls are given details on a drill at the first day of the team's development camp in...

Oilers hopefuls are given details on a drill at the first day of the team's development camp in Edmonton, Alta. (PERRY NELSON/QMI Agency)

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:55 PM ET

EDMONTON - Nobody is going to make the Edmonton Oilers at a mid-summer prospects camp, but everyone at Millennium Place this week — as well as some veterans who might already be doing the math — should know this: October isn't looking so good, either.

Not for you, anyway. But from an Oilers perspective the competition for jobs has never looked better.

A collection of rookies from last season who already have their skates in the door and a handful of free agent signings on July 1 have jammed this year's depth chart to over-capacity.

"There's no question about that," said head coach Tom Renney, watching the latest crop of draft picks run drills Monday morning. "We've put ourselves in a position to make tough decisions now."

Up front alone there are 16 or 17 forwards for 12 starting jobs (and two more in the press box).

For some veteran players, just making it to training camp without being shipped away in the summer represents a significant hurdle.

"In the past we would almost post a job with our hat in our hand," said Renney. "Now we're in the position where we're in the driver's seat. Those who are capable and most competent will and should play."

The odds of six rookies walking in like Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, Magnus Paajarvi, Linus Omark, Jeff Petry and Teemu Hartikainen did last season are zero.

The odds of borderline forwards hanging around with Ryan Smyth, Eric Belanger, Ben Eager and Darcy Hordichuk added to the mix are getting slimmer.

And with Andy Sutton and Cam Barker here, and Ryan Whitney healthy, the blueline might no longer be a training ground.

"In some cases it will push some kids out or prevent an opportunity right away, and that's a good thing," said Renney. "That means they go back to a level they can dominate in, have success, build confidence and come back and give it another go in a year from now."

Even No. 1 overall Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is no gimme.

"Edmonton is a young team and they have a lot of talent up front," said the 18-year-old centre. "I want to make the team and I'm going to do everything I can, but if I don't I'm in no rush and I don't think the team is, either."

They're not. But if he reports to training camp and does what Hall did Ń prove he's ready to be an impact NHLer Ń they'll make room.

"I know how badly he wants to be an Oiler this year and I know that he's going to bring everything that he possibly can to the table in order to succeed at that," said Renney. "With that being said, and recognizing the big picture as a coach, we'll do the right thing with Ryan.

"If he can stand the rigours of the physical part of the game and work to his strengths so he creates an advantage for us every night, then he has an excellent chance to play this year.

"If not, we'll wait. The mitigating factor will be if he can establish his game with the men."

With or without RNH, Renney is loving the way this team is evolving before his eyes.

The draft and the free-agent market are providing him with elements the Oilers simply didn't have before.

"You can't help but be excited, honestly," he said, adding the Oilers are starting to assemble the pieces that make up a successful club.

"As the playoffs weave their way through to the last two teams, you see a certain look your team has to have in order to compete.

"Kevin (Lowe) and Steve (Tambellini) and the scouting staffs have done an excellent job of putting the coaching staff in a position to put a little more on the ice to get wins."

robert.tychkowski@sunmedia.ca

TWITTER.com/SUN_TYCHKOWSKI


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