VANCOUVER, B.C. – Evan Oberg did not make Vancouver Canucks coach Alain Vigneault’s selection process any easier Saturday night.
Oberg, a 21-year-old rookie defenceman, continued to impress as the Canucks beat the Edmonton Oilers 3-1 to remain undefeated after four NHL pre-season games.
He assisted on Alex Edler’s opening goal and helped the Canucks deliver a steady defensive effort against the previously unbeaten Oilers (3-1) before an announced sellout crowd of 18,630 at GM Place.
“I’m actually surprised,” said Oberg, who now has two points in three exhibition appearances. “I’m feeling pretty good out there. It’s pretty easy playing with these kind of calibre of players.”
Oberg, a six-foot-two, 175-pound native of Forestburg, Alta., signed with the Canucks in the spring after deciding to leave U.S. college hockey early following two seasons at the University of Minnesota-Duluth. He is a longshot to make the Canucks opening-night roster, since they have 10 rear guards signed to one-way NHL contracts.
But the Canucks also face some salary-cap issues, and Oberg’s two-way, which includes a minor-league salary and NHL pay, offers Vigneault and general manager Mike Gillis some options if he can pass the test. So far, Vigneault gives him good grades.
“He’s been really good since rookie camp,” said Vigneault. “He really caught everyone’s attention by his poise and the way he could skate with the puck. We were anxious to see how he would do once he came to our camp, and he’s maintained the pace.”
Vigneault and Gillis have indicated they will not hesitate to send a player on a one-way NHL contract to the minors. The coach suggested Oberg has a shot at making the big club.
“Everybody’s battling right now,” said Vigneault. “There’s five more (exhibition) games and we’ve said we’re going to keep the best players that make this team. He’s no different than anybody else.”
Oberg, who saw regular power-play duty, set up Edler during a man-advantage situation midway through the first period.
“I was on the power play and just passed (the puck) over to Eddie and Eddie just one-timed it and put it on net not too hard,” said Oberg.
Edler’s goal came only nine seconds after Oiler defenceman Johan Motrin was penalized for boarding Darcy Hordichuk face-first into the corner. Hordichuck held his composure, and wound up having the last laugh as he netted the winner on a two-on-one with Jannik Hansen with just over nine minutes left in the game.
Highly-touted Canucks rookie Cody Hodgson, playing his first pre-season game after recovering from a back injury, rounded out the Vancouver scoring with an empty-netter in the game’s final minute.
Sheldon Souray was the lone Edmonton scorer. He created a 1-1 tie with only seven seconds left in opening frame. His lazy wrist shot from the point appeared to hit someone in front and fooled a screened Vancouver goaltender Roberto Luongo as he was moving the other way.
Luongo and Edmonton’s Jeff Deslauriers went the distance in goal for their respective clubs as the Canucks outshot the Oilers 33-23. The Canucks went one-for-four on the power play while the Oilers were blanked on their four chances.
Notes: The Canucks have suffered their first injury blow of the pre-season. Russian rookie Sergei Shirokov, who shares the club’s pre-season scoring lead with four points in two games, is expected to miss about a week after suffering a first-degree knee sprain Friday in San Jose. . . Because of his age, Hodgson, 19, must stick with the Canucks or go back to junior. He’s too young to play in the minors. . . After playing in San Jose a night earlier, Vancouver’s top scoring twins Daniel and Henrik Sedin were scratched. . . Canuck defenceman Sami Salo also saw his first pre-season action. . . The Canucks will go with almost a completely different roster Monday as they host Calgary. . . The Oilers’ next outing is Sunday night in Saskatoon against the Islanders.