Oilers News & Rumors: Neal, Jones, Bear, Smith, Larsson, More

In an Edmonton Oilers news and rumors update, as the team heads into a game against the Vancouver Canucks on Tuesday night, there are multiple lineup changes, including some to the blue line. There are few injury notes worth updating and the Oilers are going back to Mike Smith in goal. Are the Oilers and defenseman Adam Larsson talking contract extension and finally, the team is trending in the right direction, can they keep it going?

Caleb Jones Gets Opportunity

Caleb Jones will see his first game action in some time as he and Evan Bouchard will make up the third pair tonight against the Canucks. With Slater Koekkoek likely done for the season and some other notable absences on defense, Jones will get a chance to impress the coach and earn a longer look.

Bear and Lagesson are relatively close to returning so this is potentially a small window for Jones to prove he can be reliable and dependable. In fact, Bear might get the call tonight. As of an hour ago, the Oilers said the he could play. That means Jones’ shot could be extremely limited.

James Neal Not Traveling With Team

According to TSN’s Jason Gregor, Neal is not on the trip. Reid Wilkins of 630 CHED notes that Tippett says Neal is unavailable to play and the coach wouldn’t confirm who is in for Neal. Joakim Nygard and Patrick Russell got a look in practice and the Oilers called Russell up from the taxi squad on an emergency basis today.

It’s not clear what is ailing Neal but he’s not been himself this season and missed time to start the year. He must be injured if he’s not on the road trip but it’s not clear if the injury is serious.

Tippett Happy to Have Access to Mike Smith

The Oilers have been on a roll of late and head coach Dave Tippett said one of the major differences between the last 10 games (8-2) and the first nine (3-6) is that the team has two goaltenders they can call upon. He’ll go back to Smith tonight, a goaltender who has had only one shaky performance in his five starts.

Mike Smith Edmonton Oilers
Mike Smith, Edmonton Oilers (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

Tippett said, “Our goaltending has been better with two guys. Our save percentage has been higher. We’ve had a rhythm in our lineup, and you are figuring out what people can do for you.”

He added that as the season rolls along the team will grow together and it’s less about video and more about playing a system the players are starting to embrace. That includes knowing the players can play that system and the netminders will back them up. Smith has a .940 Sv% since returning, while Koskinen is at .912 during the hot streak.

Larsson Contract Extension Talks

As per a report by The Fourth Period, the Oilers and pending UFA defenceman Adam Larsson have yet to discuss a potential contract extension. They write:

A source with knowledge of the situation confirmed to TFP on Monday that the Oilers have yet to reach out to Adam Larsson’s camp about a new contract and there are no talks are currently planned.

Edmonton Oilers Adam Larsson
Edmonton Oilers’ Adam Larsson (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson)

Larsson is in the final year of a six-year, $25 million contract and he’s started to play extremely reliable hockey for the Oilers this season. There are certainly going to be questions about where he fits in the overall salary cap picture, especially with concerns surrounding a Ryan Nugent-Hopkins extension/potential trade.

If Larsson would be willing to take less on an extension, it makes sense the Oilers would be interested in retaining his services. He is a strong presence in the locker room and his teammates appreciate what he offers on and off the ice.

It’s too soon to get over-confident, but it’s easy to see the Oilers are starting to feel good about their game. Josh Archibald said, “We’re definitely trending in the right direction.” Alex Chiasson noted, “Our defensive game has taken a big step in the last 10 or 12 games and we have to keep that going.”

Tippett noted the team was striving to stay consistent which was a real issue for the club in the early going of the 2020-21 season. There were games where Edmonton would have a strong period and then give them game away. There were match-ups where the Oilers didn’t show up. Both things have been happening a lot less of late.

The Oilers get a chance to take two games from a team that is struggling and it will be key the team doesn’t play down to a Canucks team that can score with some potent weapons on offense.

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