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Tuesday, January 15, 2013

CANADIAN NHL TEAM NOTES

EDMONTON OILERS

EDMONTON - He has just one NHL practice under his belt, but defenceman Justin Schultz has already impressed the Edmonton Oilers' coaching staff.

"I see a hockey player who has moxie, who has the ability to step up into the play when needed, he has the ability to play strong defensively, he skates strong, he loves the game,'' said Oiler assistant coach Steve Smith, who has seen virtually every one of the 34 games Schultz played this season with the Oklahoma City Barons of the American Hockey League.

"From all accounts from the coaches I've talked to he wants the puck, he wants to be on the ice, he wants to be a game-changer. There's just so many positives I've seen to this point.''

Schultz was one of the most sought-after free agents last summer, and he showed while playing on a talented Barons team including Oiler forwards Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.

He left the AHL with 18 goals - two shy of the AHL record for defencemen - and 48 points, second in league scoring only to Eberle.

The 23-year-old native of Kelowna, B.C., who spent the previous three seasons with the University of Wisconsin, said having the three Oilers in the AHL was definitely an advantage for him.

"We played a lot together a hopefully we can bring that chemistry up here,'' he said Monday.

With only one week before the season opens on the weekend, head coach Ralph Kruger elected to pair Schultz with his namesake: NHL veteran Nick Schultz who has played 763 NHL games, all but 20 of those with the Minnesota Wild.

"He just makes it easier,'' Justin Shultz said of his defence partner. "He's been in the league a long time so it's nice to have someone back there to talk to me a lot, kind of ease me into the NHL.''

At six-foot-one and listed on the Oilers' website at 163 pounds, Schultz will now be playing regularly against NHL players bigger and stronger, a factor he plans to offset with smarts.

"You have to be stronger, guys up here are bigger. For me I have to be smarter, have good sticks and make sure I'm in good position all the time,'' he said.
The Oilers open their schedule Sunday in Vancouver and have their home opener next Tuesday against the San Jose Sharks.
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CALGARY FLAMES

CALGARY - With captain Jarome Iginla sidelined for the second straight day and Jiri Hudler gone to attend to a family emergency, the Calgary Flames were looking for something to spark the team at practice.

Goalie Miikka Kiprusoff came through Monday when he made a highlight-reel save to deny forward Roman Horak from scoring what seemed like a sure goal during an intense scrimmage.

Kiprusoff slid from right to left across his crease and stretched his right leg out to make a pad save to turn aside Horak's shot.

"That's why he's one of the best goalies in the NHL,'' said Horak, who one-timed a saucer pass from Tim Jackman. "I just tried to put it on the net. Maybe I could have tried to receive it and then shot it. It was an unbelievable save.''

After the save, many of the 250 or so fans in attendance at the Scotiabank Saddledome started chanting, "Kipper, Kipper.''

Flames coaches and players said they weren't surprised to see that their No. 1 goalie is already in mid-season form just six days before Calgary's home opener on Sunday against the San Jose Sharks, Kiprusoff's former team.

"You saw vintage Kipper again with that one save,'' said goalie coach Clint Malarchuk, while noting that Kiprusoff arrived at camp in great shape. "He's a veteran guy that knows what to do.''

When asked about the save, Hartley replied that "Kipper was just Kipper,'' adding that he rates Kiprusoff as one of the top-five NHL goalies.

"I have the old line that 'You name me a good goalie and I'll name you a good team,''' Hartley said. "I know that Kipper's going to be big for us. He's working hard. He's very positive. He's eager to get going and so is the rest of the team.''
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VANCOUVER CANUCKS

VANCOUVER - Andrew Ebbett can relate to Ryan Kesler's plight as he attempts to take over his job temporarily.

Ebbett, a candidate to fill in the hole created by Kesler's absence from the centre spot on the Vancouver Canucks' second line, is attempting to overcome adversity of his own. A journeyman forward, Ebbett was limited to 18 games in the 2011-12 NHL season because of a broken collarbone and foot injuries.

"It was tough,'' said Ebbett. "I'd never been through something like that. ... It was definitely a learning situation. The key for me was just setting goals. Both times, I set a deadline of when I wanted to get back playing, and I got to it both times.''

After signing with the Canucks as a free agent, Ebbett missed 12 weeks with his collarbone injury and, shortly after recovering, another six weeks for the feet.

Now, he hopes to have good timing in an offensive role, something he has not always had in a six-year journeyman NHL career.

Ebbett, a 30-year-old Calgary native who was never drafted, is with his fifth NHL club. After four seasons at the University of Michigan, he signed with the Anaheim Ducks in 2007 and then moved on to Chicago, Minnesota and Phoenix while also seeing duty with the Ducks' and Coyotes' AHL affiliates in Portland and San Antonio.
He is battling for Kesler's playing minutes with Jordan Schroeder, Vancouver's top draft pick (22nd overall) in 2009, who has yet to impress enough for duty with the Canucks, and also spent the lockout with the Wolves. The stakes are much higher this season, because at the outset of the 2011-12 campaign, Ebbett was just trying to earn a roster spot.

"I think both him and (Schroeder) have looked very good,'' said Canucks coach Alain Vigneault. "Today, I liked (Ebbett's) practice. I liked (Schroeder's) practice. We're going to continue with this and see what happens in the next couple of days.''

Notes: Kesler skated on his own Monday, but the team is not indicating when he might return. a The Canucks signed journeyman defenceman Jim Vandermeer, 32, to a one-year contract. He split last season with San Jose and Edmonton. The signing came after he worked out regularly with Canucks players in Vancouver during the lockout. a Booth sat out for the second straight day with a sore groin. a Defenceman Dan Hamhuis (groin) and winger Zack Kassian (back) skated after missing Monday's first workout with minor injuries.
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WINNIPEG JETS

WINNIPEG - Mark Scheifele has grown in size, confidence and experience and now the 19-year-old centre says he's ready to play in the NHL - if the Winnipeg Jets agree.

"Overall, I think I've been working over the summer, working through the year, just to get faster, just to get stronger,'' he said after practice Monday.

Last season the Jets gave Scheifele a shot but decided he wasn't ready for the NHL and sent him back to junior with the Barrie Colts.

He also made Canada's world junior team and acquitted himself well at the championship tournament in Russia, although the team came away without a medal.

While there is no question he wants to graduate this season, he doesn't sound overconfident.

"I think I have to translate what I did in junior and make it even . . . stronger just to be able to withstand an NHL season,'' he said.
Coach Claude Noel says no one is going to pressure Scheifele to do anything he isn't ready for, but he sees improvements.

"Is he going to be a top-six player for us and start there? It's hard to say if he'll land there by the end of the week but he doesn't have to worry about being a top six player,'' Noel said.

"He doesn't have to do anything that he's not capable of. "

Practice looks a little different this year with the addition of Perry Pearn as an assistant coach, working with the Jets defence.

"It worked out well for me that an area I liked working on I got a chance to work on,'' he said of his role.

"When you look at trying to improve as a team and make the playoffs, you have to give up less goals against.''
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TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS

TORONTO - Toronto Maple Leafs head coach Randy Carlyle is comfortable with the idea of giving a top prospect a shot with the big club.

When he was a head coach in Anaheim in 2010, Cam Fowler was given a chance to play and quickly cemented a spot on the Ducks' blue-line. Morgan Rielly is hoping to take a similar path to the NHL with the Maple Leafs.

The six-foot-one, 200-pound defenceman has looked solid over the first two days of training camp.

"The one thing is he's been a quick study, he's been a kid who's been able to absorb a lot in a short period of time,'' Carlyle said Monday. "He's played in some pressure situations and we're looking at playing him to his strengths.''

The last few weeks have been a whirlwind for the 18-year-old Vancouver native.

He averaged nearly a point a game with the Western Hockey League's Moose Jaw Warriors before joining the Canadian team that finished fourth at the world junior hockey championship in Ufa, Russia.

Rielly returned to North America and took part in some informal skates at the Leafs' practice rink before the collective bargaining agreement was ratified. The fifth overall pick in last year's draft is definitely in game shape after a busy few months.

Whether he's ready for the rigours of games at the NHL level is the big question. Carlyle said the short training camp and lack of pre-season games make things a little more challenging.

Rielly is comfortable with the higher tempo and knows it's only going to get more difficult over the next few days.

"He's got great vision on the ice,'' Carlyle said. "If you watch him pass the puck and move the puck, he's got NHL passing skills. You see him up top on the power play, you can see that's one of his strengths. He's not intimidated by any of those situations.

The Maple Leafs, who will open the season Saturday in Montreal, are hoping to improve on a disappointing 13th-place finish in the Eastern Conference last season.

"I think all levels of the organization are going to feel that there is more pressure to have success,'' Carlyle said. ``We know that. We welcome it and it's up to us to perform and that's our responsibility.''

As for Rielly, he's trying to soak up the experience and hope that his hard work pays off.

"I understand that I have an opportunity here that a whole lot of other kids don't get,'' he said. "So I'm going to try to make the most of it.''
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MONTREAL CANADIENS

BROSSARD, Que. - Colby Armstrong has a chance to get back at the team that dumped him in his first game as a Montreal Canadien.

The gritty forward is expected to be in the line-up when the Canadiens open the lockout-shortened NHL season at home against the rival Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday night.

It will be a fitting Canadiens debut for the 30-year-old, who signed a one-year, US$1 million contract with Montreal the day after the Leafs bought out the final season of his three-year, $9 million contract last summer.

"I don't think it could be any better,'' Armstrong said Monday. "There's no better team to play than the team I played for last year.

The Saskatoon product has been skating on the fourth line with physical winger Ryan White and prospects Brendan Gallagher and Gabriel Dumont this week.

That suggests lower expectations for the former first-round draft pick who was a bust the last two seasons in Toronto, where he played only 79 games largely due to injury.

The Canadiens are missing centres Tomas Plekanec (day-to-day with sore ribs) and Petteri Nokelainen (back), and sent centre Scott Gomez home for the season on Sunday with the intention of buying him out next summer.

But it's clear coach Michel Therrien wants some toughness at that position from Brandon Prust.

"I played centre my whole life and even my first couple of years as a pro,'' the 28-year-old said. "It's been a while, but it's a position I enjoy and I like the responsibility as well.

"But with Plekanec coming back, who knows who is going to play there?''

The talk of the day was of impressive rookie Alex Galchenyuk, who put sweet dekes on backup goalie Peter Budaj during a shootout competition - first to the forehand, then the backhand.

The third overall pick in the June draft is trying to crack the line-up straight out of junior hockey.

"You're not going to keep a guy because he's got skill on the shootout, it's more about his all around game,'' said Therrien. "But one thing he showed today is that he's got tremendous skill.

NOTES: There was no news on holdout defenceman P.K. Subban, a restricted free agent who hopes to sign a new contract this week.
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OTTAWA SENATORS

OTTAWA, Ont. - Ottawa Senators prospect Patrick Wiercioch is making the most of his opportunities, because he's well aware of how quickly they can slip away.

Wiercioch's career nearly came to an end before it even started when he took a puck to the throat during an American Hockey Legue game in December 2011.

Just over a year later, he is fully recovered and looking to crack the Senators' blue-line corps.

Wiercioch was hit in the throat by a clearing attempt while playing for the AHL's Binghamton Senators last season. He broke a bone in the back of his neck and doctors were unsure if he would ever fully recover, but seven weeks later he was back on the ice with his teammates.

It's a defining moment in the young player's career, but he prefers not to dwell on the incident.

"I became appreciative of a lot of things,'' Wiercioch said. "It was probably a lot more difficult for my friends and family than it was on me until I was able to take some time away from it and really look at what could have happened that day. I had a lot of people looking out for me.
Wiercioch, drafted 42nd overall in 2008 by the Senators, is expected to be a part of the team's future, but this could be the time to prove he belongs. With injuries to defencemen Jared Cowen and Mike Lundin the Senators are looking to see if one of its young prospects can fill the void.

Senators general manager Bryan Murray has identified Wiercioch as one of the Senators most intriguing young players in camp.

"We can talk about the other guys, but Patrick two years ago wasn't really strong enough in the American Hockey League and didn't play all the time and last year I talked to him a couple of times and he was concerned about what we were helping him get to,'' Murray said. "But he made a huge commitment in the off-season, along with Kyle Turris, to come in here and spend a big part of the summer here and he got stronger and he looks much better.

The Senators anticipate carrying 22 or 23 players to start the season.

© 2013 The Canadian Press

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