Are the young Oilers currently with AHL Oklahoma City — Jordan Eberle, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Justin Schultz — playing with targets on their backs?
That was the question raised by Terry Jones of the Edmonton Sun after a rough weekend of action.
On Friday, Nugent-Hopkins received some free (and crude) dental work while playing against Houston and Schultz — the reigning AHL Player of the Week — was given an especially rough ride, with Barons head coach Todd Nelson noting that “Houston keyed on him quite a bit.”
The keying continued on Sunday.
In Oklahoma City’s 4-2 win over Texas, Stars forward Antoine Roussel went knee-on-knee with Eberle, earning a five-minute major and game misconduct in the process.
“It was on my knee,” Eberle said afterward. “Was it intentional? Who knows?”
All of this alleged targeting comes at a precarious time.
Taylor Hall is primed to join the OKC lineup this week and play his first competitive games since undergoing shoulder surgery in May.
That’s another high-profile star set to join the Barons, and Hall is keenly aware of the treatment his teammates have been getting.
Hall said from what he’s seen the league is a little more “reckless” and maybe the NHL guys are targets to some extent, but not to the degree it changes his idea about getting cleared to join his linemates and Schultz in action.
“Against Houston, remember we were going against two NHL defencemen on that team, too. It was definitely like playing them in the NHL.
“But I do think there is more liberties being taken against us, hacking and slashing and that sort of stuff. To me, it just amps me up.
“But Nuge takes that high stick and guys are playing us a lot tougher.”
All that said, the young Oilers realize this is an important part of the maturation process. If they can’t handle the heat in the AHL, they aren’t going to handle it in the NHL.
“There are going to be guys coming at you,” Schultz said. “They’re fighting for a job. They’re trying to prove themselves. I took a couple extra hacks. But I expect it. I have to prove I can handle it.
“I’m trying to prove myself, too.”