Bad news as Big Boyz Brigade debuts for Edmonton Oilers in rookie games against Flames

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The last thing you want to happen in an exhibition game between top rookie prospects? For one of your top prospects to go out with injury.

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That’s what happened with Dmitri Samorukov and the Edmonton Oilers in Edmonton’s 4-3 prospect game win over the Calgary Flames on Saturday night.

Early in the first period, after a couple major on-ice collisions, Samorukov left the game. It was an ominous moment, all the more so because Samorukov’s season was cut short last year due a shoulder injury. He had just been cleared one week ago to return to the ice from injury. He had been the talk of the first few days of the Oilers rookie camp, impressing team insiders with his great skating and big body.

Winger Xavier Bourgault also took a nasty and hard hit into the boards late in the game, missing the final three minutes of the game.

Samorukov is part of Edmonton’s Big Boyz Brigade on defence, the group of young and hulking d-man prospects on the Oilers, all of them well over six feet tall. The group also includes Philip Broberg, Michael Kesselring, Markus Niemelainen, Filip Berglund, Phil Kemp and Vincent Desharnais. They should form the Bakersfield defence this year. Kemp, Broberg, Niemelainen, Berglund and Kesselring all played in the rookie game.

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Each of the Big Boyz Brigade got stronger as the game went on. The Oilers rookies came back from a 3-1 first period deficit to win.

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Here are brief reports on each of the Big Boyz Brigade, with my account limited because I was unable to go over video to review the key plays.

Kesselring: He got beat to a rebound on one goal against and failed to block a shot on another.  But as the game went on, he got stronger, playing on a pairing with Markus Niemelainen. Kesselring got his feet going and made a number of strong plays, winning, moving and shooting the puck.

Niemelainen: He reminded me a bit of Kris Russell in this one, a much bigger version of Russell, in that he’s fast on his skates and defensive minded. He also won the puck a few times in his zone and was only able to dump it out, as opposed to making a good pass to get it out. But, overall, got the job done on defence, though he failed to cut out a pass on one goal against and was slow to his man in front of the Edmonton net on another.

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Kemp: He scored two bad angle goals, one through a screen and one on a deflection, but he scored them because he jumped into the attack and put the puck at the net. What’s not to like? He also jumped up a few times to pinch and keep the puck in the Calgary end. This was the best I’ve seen him as an Oilers prospect. After Samorukov went out, he paired up with veteran Yanni Kaldis, who made a few nice passes for assists on the power play.

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Broberg: He looked bad on one early goal against, wandering behind the net, and taking himself out of position to stop a slot pass, which eventually ended up in the net. Other than that, though, Broberg played well. He skated miles and skated fast. He was Edmonton’s top d-man on the power play, making a number of good passes and even better pinches in that role. A solid 2021-22 debut for the Oilers.

Berglund: He looked much, much, much better here than he had when I last saw him play in Sweden in the fall, when he was playing hurt. He was Edmonton’s steadiest d-man in this game, shutting down the attack, moving the puck, invariably in position. It looks like he and Broberg will form Edmonton’s top partnership in Bakersfield to start the year.

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