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Edmonton Oilers hope added forward depth comes through in post-season

Edmonton Oilers' James Neal (18) is chased by Evan Bouchard (75) during training camp in Edmonton on Monday, July 13, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson

The Edmonton Oilers offence has often been defined by their “Big Three” in recent seasons: Leon Drasaitl, Connor McDavid and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.

Those players will be vital to the team’s success in the upcoming post-season, but the Oilers boast more forward depth than they have in years past.

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The Oilers have 10 forwards who all scored 10 or more goals in the 2019-20 regular season, including deadline acquisitions Tyler Ennis and Andreas Athanasiou. However, In the 2018-19 season, the team only five.

“It gives us good depth. With the trades coming in and some injuries, everyone was just trying to find where they slotted in and how they were going to make all the lines work,” winger James Neal said.

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“Right now, we have good depth in our lines and through the centre position. That’s a huge thing to have going into the playoffs.”

Oilers coach Dave Tippett noted the team’s versatility is an asset.

“We feel like we have different options that we can look at on different lines,” Tippett said. “We’ve had a lot of people play with each other that gives them confidence. If they do switch a line, they have familiarity there.”

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Tippett is hoping he has enough versatility on the squad to find the right combinations at any point in a game.

Look no further than Alex Chiasson and Neal. Both have played on the top two lines this season but start training camp in more of a depth role on a unit with Jujhar Khaira. That line was put together late in the regular season.

“We were playing some games that were heavier games,” Tippett said. “We talked about that being a line with good playoff experience.

“We wanted to try J.J. at centre. He actually does a really nice job down low in our zone,” Tippett added. “They’ve come into camp and been very enthusiastic.”

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Khaira has been mostly a winger with the Oilers. He scored six goals this season and hopes the move to the middle sparks him closer to the form that saw him score 11 times in the 2017-18 season.

“I love playing centre,” Khaira said. “For a while, I was used to it on the wing. Remembering back to juniors and the American Hockey League, I was coming up as a centreman.

“Coming back into the middle here, I took a while to pick up on some habits, and there are still some habits I need to brush up on. I definitely feel comfortable in the middle, and it’s where I want to be.”

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At Saturday’s training camp scrimmage, defenceman Philip Broberg stole the show with a couple of goals, including one a solo rush. He beat a defender down the right side, held the puck across the crease and slid a shot past Mikko Koskinen.

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“He hasn’t looked out of place at all,” Tippett said.

“He’s young in age, but physically he’s mature. He’s a thick guy, he’s a strong player, his skating is excellent.

“You can’t walk away from a scrimmage saying he doesn’t fit. If anything, you walk away from a scrimmage saying he does fit.”

The Oilers will be back on the ice Sunday morning.

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