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Head coach Craig MacTavish. (SUN/David Bloom)

Head coach Craig MacTavish. (SUN/David Bloom)

ROBIN BROWNLEE -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 12:38 PM ET

VANCOUVER -- Ladies and gentlemen, the 2006-07 edition of your Edmonton Oilers ...

Coach Craig MacTavish won't ice the 20 players he'll start the season with against Calgary Thursday when the Oilers wrap up their pre-season against the Vancouver Canucks tonight - injuries to forward Fernando Pisani and defenceman Matt Greene have scotched that plan - but it doesn't take a genius to figure out what's up based on his lineup tonight.

Aside from the obvious, meaning the first three lines, the first five defencemen and goaltenders Dwayne Roloson and Jussi Markkanen, here's what you can expect when MacTavish makes his final round of cuts after today's morning skate.

PATRICK AND POULIOT

Norwegian rookie Patrick Thoresen will be one of the wingers on the fourth line alongside veteran Marty Reasoner opening day. The other will either be Alexei Mikhnov or Marc-Antoine Pouliot.

Whoever comes out second-best between Mikhnov and Pouliot will get one of two roster spots as the 13th and 14th forwards with Toby Petersen, Rob Schremp and J.F. Jacques the candidates for the other.

On the back end, Ladislav Smid and Jan Hejda will both dress against the Canucks tonight because Greene is out. One of them - likely Smid - will be the sixth defenceman behind Jason Smith, Steve Staios, Daniel Tjarnqvist, Marc-Andre Bergeron and Greene. The other, Hejda, will get the seventh spot in the pressbox.

Got it so far, coach?

"Yes," said MacTavish, asked if we can read anything into Thoresen and Pouliot getting the nod to flank Reasoner tonight.

"I've liked Pouliot and I've liked Patrick. There's definitely potential there to see them opening night, for sure."

Mikhnov, at least to start, will be among the top 23 for a couple of reasons. First, the big winger from Kiev has been very good. Second, without a farm team of their own, the Oilers don't really want to ship him to Iowa or Hamilton or Milwaukee, where they can't keep an eye on him and bring him along. Language and communication are issues.

"Mikhnov is intriguing," MacTavish said. "We want to give him the experience.

"There's some things he needs to iron out in his game, but he's a threat and he's piqued everybody's interest. We just want to see some more."

With Thoresen being the surprise of this pre-season and having a job locked up, Pouliot, at worst, has earned one of the two extra spots based on his play.

As for the other spot, my guess is the versatile Petersen will get it.

That means tickets to the minors for Schremp - who has improved on his camp of last season, but still needs to get stronger and faster - and Jacques, who is very close.

"You don't have to put the opening day roster in stone," MacTavish said.

"We can send whoever, any of those guys, to the minors and if they look really good down there and the guys who we keep struggle, then we can make a change and bring them back."

HEJDA IN 7TH

Smid, 20, the prospect who came from Anaheim with Joffrey Lupul in the Chris Pronger deal, will pair up with Staios once the season begins. From where I sit, that'll leave Hejda as the seventh man.

MacTavish and GM Kevin Lowe both like the grit and toughness Mathieu Roy brings to the table, but with just 23 spots, he and Tom Gilbert are the odd men out.

As is the case with the forwards, strong starts by Roy and Gilbert in the minors could see them recalled if the back-end mix isn't what MacTavish is looking for a month from now.


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