November 26, 2012
Oilers' Taylor Hall, Justin Schultz, Jordan Eberle and Nail Yakupov grab spotlight
By ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI, QMI Agency
EDMONTON - Taylor Hall is the AHL player of the week on the strength of nine points in three games, Justin Schultz leads all minor league defencemen in scoring, Jordan Eberle leads all forwards and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is close behind on a team that could contend for a Calder Cup.
And in Russia, Nail Yakupov was named KHL rookie of the month after 10 goals in his first 13 games.
Steve Tambellini isn’t ready to declare this the Best Lockout Ever, but in terms of making the best of a bad situation, his Edmonton Oilers are leading the league.
“I think the biggest thing is there’s a large amount of people in OKC who are going to get a chance to play together at the next level,” said the Oilers general manager, just back from the Oklahoma City Barons weekend sweep in Charlotte.
“It’s about growth not only as individuals, but as teammates. They’re learning how to work together and win together, that’s such a valuable thing, going through those experiences together.”
The Oilers haven’t had a winning atmosphere since the spring of 2006, so the chemistry and experience these cornerstone players are soaking up right now is like mother’s milk.
Oklahoma City might not be as scenic or glamorous as Stockholm or Austria, but Tambellini has no doubt this is better for them than being spread out all over Europe, playing non-contact shinny.
“I think it’s as good as what the situation allows us,” he said, adding the players are well aware of the unique and special opportunity OKC affords them during a lockout at this point in their careers. “Guys have also chosen to be there. Taylor Hall didn’t necessarily have to go to Oklahoma City, he could have played wherever he wanted to play, but he wanted to be with that group.
“There are good signs at a lot of different levels.”
They aren’t just playing together on North American ice, they’re picking up speed — 6-2-1-1 in their last 10 games. They’re getting better and they’re getting closer, which is all any GM wants for his franchise players.
“They’re with each other a lot more as an entire group, more than what you would see in the National League, and I think that’s part of growing together, getting to really know somebody,” said Tambellini. “You know what guys can do on the ice, but to get to the next level you have to get to know the person, so this is an invaluable time.”
Who knows, if the Barons go deep in the post-season and develop that playoff mettle, the Oilers might even look back at this lockout as being one of the most beneficial seasons in years.
“I think so,” said Tambellini. “Because it hasn’t been all easy down there, either. There are lots of games, whether it’s because of a great performance from the other side, or opposition toughness, where it hasn’t all come easy. And that’s a good thing.”
As for Yakupov, he can’t play in the minors, but the lockout allows him to essentially do it anyway, gaining experience and confidence in a league that’s a big step up from Junior, but not quite the NHL.
“If I had a choice, and if he had a choice, he would have rather probably been playing with our guys in Oklahoma City, but I think he’s made the best of his situation,” said Tambellini. “I think you have to recognize the fact he’s playing against top players from that league and top players who are over there from the NHL. For what he’s done as a young person I think is impressive.”
So what would happen if the NHL was on and they were all Oilers? Tambellini doesn’t even want to ask.
“I want them focused on their teams, being good teammates and having continued growth,” he said. “That’s what I want.”
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