The Edmonton Oilers will have at least one player making their debut with the club tonight when they visit the Winnipeg Jets in the first of a two-game miniseries in Manitoba. Veteran defenseman Dmitry Kulikov, acquired from the New Jersey Devils at the April 12th deadline, will make his debut on defense.
Ryan McLeod, who was recalled from AHL Bakersfield on April 18th and skated Sunday in Edmonton, travelled with the team and could make his NHL debut tonight.
“Kulikov for sure,” Oilers Head Coach Dave Tippett said on Sunday when asked if Kulikov and McLeod would play against the Jets, “I got to talk to Mack (McLeod) and see how he felt here this morning. He’s been in quarantine for a bit. Young guy, I would think he would be anxious to play if he gets the opportunity but I’ll talk to him about that and we’ll see tomorrow morning.”
Kulikov was paired up with Adam Larsson on a shutdown second pairing both on Friday and Saturday. It would appear that this is where Tippett feels Kulikov can make the most impact right off the bat. With those two together, Kris Russell is expected to come out of the lineup.
While Larsson and Kulikov is Edmonton’s shutdown pair, Darnell Nurse and Tyson Barrie will reunite on the top pair. That means Caleb Jones and Ethan Bear get back together on a strong, dynamic third pairing.
Kulikov’s spot in the lineup is much more obvious than McLeod’s. Last Monday, Jujhar Khaira took a big hit from Alexander Romanov and was clearly stunned. Khaira left the game, and did not play on Wednesday. He’s skated each of the last three days, but is listed as day-to-day with an upper body injury.
If he can’t go, the Oilers could shift Devin Shore back to the wing and play McLeod at center. That’s where he played when with the Bakersfield Condors. McLeod was a regular penalty killer and scored 28 points (14 g, 14 a) in 28 games.
“Projection is at center,” Tippett said when asked about where McLeod may fit in. “That’s where he’s played most of the year. He’s played a little bit of wing but more at center.”
As for penalty kill work? McLeod got it in Bakersfield, but don’t expect him to get it in Edmonton just yet. Powerplay time, however, could be in his immediate future.
“He got some reps with the second power-play unit today. I don’t anticipate using him on the PK right away,” Tippett said. “We’ll get him up and going first. Both of those are key parts of his game. That’s the thing about him, he’s a good two-way player, has good skill, can play power-play minutes and is a really good, solid two-way player that can kill penalties. I envision that becomes part of the package that he has. Throwing him into both sides of the special teams early, we’ll probably see how we get him up and going first.”
McLeod likely won’t play in the top-six, but rather fill a depth role at five-on-five to start. Perhaps Edmonton’s third line center of the future is their third line center of the present tonight.