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Lubomir Visnovsky expected to be ready when Oilers season opens

EDMONTON - There was never a doubt Lubomir Visnovsky was going to play for the Edmonton Oilers this season because it's not like he had to earn a job at training camp. The only question was when.

The Oilers got some good news on that front Thursday as Visnovsky, who is coming off a shoulder injury that ended his 2008-09 season and required surgery, skated in his first full practice.

With six-pre-season games remaining, Visnovsky has been cleared for full contact by team medical staff and, barring any complications, is expected to be ready for action when the regular season opens.

On a morning when the Oilers trimmed 13 players from their camp roster, seeing Visnovsky on the ice jostling with teammates in his first full practice session since the injury was the news of the day.

"I'm ready to play the game, an NHL game," Visnovsky said after a 90-minute skate at Millennium Place in Sherwood Park.

"I'm available. I'm waiting. When the coach says, 'You're in, you're playing,' I'm ready for it."

Visnovsky, 33, has been on the ice since the Oilers opened training camp, but the talented Slovak defender has been limited to no-contract drills while rehabbing the damaged right shoulder - the surgery was to repair a torn labrum - that forced him to miss the final 32 games last season.

Visnovsky, injured when slammed into the boards by Dave Bolland of the Chicago Blackhawks last February, has two weeks to knock off the rust in time for the start of the season Oct. 3.

"Every hockey player gets frustrated when you're injured," Visnovsky said. "Summer was hard.

"One bad shift, one bad hit. I was injured and lost 30 games. I start again, like a young baby, you know? After surgery, my hand was zero power. Now, I feel very good that my shoulder is strong."

With Visnovsky, who scored eight goals with 23 assists in 50 games in his first season with the Oilers after being acquired from Los Angeles, back in the fold, there's no mystery when it comes to what Pat Quinn's depth chart on defence will look like when camp breaks.

"Lubo is a great talent," fellow defenceman Steve Staios said. "You always want to have a guy like that in your lineup.

"He plays big minutes for us and we want him to be as healthy as possible, but we have great depth on our defence. When he comes back, it'll be big for us."

While there is much to be decided in terms of roster spots at forward, Quinn's top six on the back end is set with Visnovsky, Sheldon Souray, Dennis Grebeshkov, Tom Gilbert, Staios and Ladislav Smid.

"My first year, it was kind of the same thing," Gilbert said of trying to crack a set group as a rookie in 2006-07.

"You come to camp, work hard and try to learn as much as you can in a short period of time. We've got a really good group here, but there are always guys pushing."

Souray was second in team scoring to Ales Hemsky last season with 53 points. Gilbert was fourth with 45 points and Grebeshkov was eighth with 39 points. Visnovsky was 11th despite the games he missed.

It's a group laden with puck-movers, complemented by stay-at-home types in Staios, Smid and seventh-man Jason Strudwick.

"With the depth we have, I think we should challenge ourselves to be right up there with the best defensive corps in the league," Staios said. "That's a good challenge for us. We have all the attributes to be a great defensive corps."

While it's unlikely Visnovsky will play against Florida on Friday, he will make his return Saturday against the Vancouver Canucks or Sunday against the New York Islanders in Saskatoon.

"I need to play games," Visnovsky said. "I need the challenge of games because in the last seventh months, I haven't played hockey. I need the confidence.

"My confidence, my mentality is a little bit down. I need the games, shift-by-shift, minute-by-minute and game-to-game, then I will be very good. I will be more comfortable."

CUTS MADE: The Oilers sent 11 players to Springfield of the AHL, including Jamie Bates, Jordan Bendfeld, Kelly Czuy, Jesse Dudas, Riley Emmerson, Colton Fretter, Bryan Lerg, Ryan MacMurchy, Matt Nickerson), Andrew Perugini and Cody Wild. ... Dalton Prout was assigned to Barrie of the OHL and Philipe Cornet was sent to Rouyn-Noranda of the QMJHL. The camp roster sits at 48.


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