Oilers' top four re-paired, Markus Niemelainen waived with another move to come

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News from Oilers camp that defenceman Markus Niemelainen practiced with the club this morning, then was placed on waivers at noon for purposes of reassignment to Bakersfield. That process will be completed on Saturday in the event that he goes unclaimed in the waiver process.

Niemelainen was banged up in preseason and couldn’t be waived while injured, so the squad had little choice but to include him on their 21-man season-opening roster. When Mattias Ekholm remained unable to go on Wednesday, the Oil had to play a man short of the usual 20-man game-day line-up. So too did their opponents, the Vancouver Canucks, who responded to the adversity in style with a resounding 8-1 win over the Oilers.

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Friday’s practice likely provided a clue to how the Oilers plan to approach the rematch in Edmonton tomorrow night. The pairing of Darnell Nurse and Evan Bouchard that played together throughout preseason and then struggled mightily in Game 1, appears to have been broken up. This morning Nurse lined up with Cody Ceci, his long-term partner on what has been Edmonton’s shutdown pairing since the arrival of Jay Woodcroft and Dave Manson a season and a half ago. Bouchard meanwhile has been re-paired with Ekholm, a very successful partnership down the stretch last season. Among them, that quartet provided the squad with its strongest top four since Oscar Klefbom was healthy and playing.

The (reported) preseason plan to pair Ekholm with fellow Swede Philip Broberg has been mothballed for now, no doubt a direct result of the abysmal performance by the defence group as a whole on Wednesday. For Woodcroft and Manson, its already time to go with what they know as opposed to an experiment that can still be tried out down the road.

Today’s move of a depth defenceman left the Oilers with eleven forwards, seven rearguards, two goalies, and enough cap space to add one more player in the $1 million range. It will almost surely be a forward, as a 12F /7D / 2G roster is the optimum split.

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Who might it be? Centre Lane Pederson and winger Raphael Lavoie were waived earlier this week when the Niemelainen complication arose, but now that they have safely cleared and are in the AHL, the early favourite to become the 12th forward is a veteran NHLer who was in camp on a professional tryout.

Spector tweet Erne

Erne, 28, is a veteran of seven NHL seasons and 355 games with Tampa Bay and Detroit. He played 6 preseason games for the Oil, scoring 1-0-1 in 75 minutes of action. That included 12 minutes on the penalty kill, a unit that had its own struggles on Wednesday in allowing 13 shots and 3 goals in 9½ minutes. Last season he posted 8-10-18 in 61 games with the Red Wings, averagin 13:23 per game including 1:37 on the PK. He led all Red Wing forwards with 160 hits, and his 11.8 hits per 60 were by some distance the most of that group. He’s limited, but so is the role he is apt to fill, most recently occupied by Klim Kostin (now a Red Wing).

If Erne does sign and dress for Saturday’s game, then the Oilers would most likely go 12/6, with one of Broberg or Vincent Desharnais apt to play with Brett Kulak on the third pairing and the other watching from on high.

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