Oilers, Devils start their seasons in Sweden

For the better part of the last week, the Edmonton Oilers and the New Jersey Devils have represented the NHL as ambassadors in Europe. Now, however, it’s time to go to work.

Both clubs begin their respective 2018-19 seasons on Saturday in a matchup at the Scandinavium in Gothenberg, Sweden, as part of the NHL Global Series.

It is a unique opportunity for players of both teams.

“I feel pretty grateful to get to experience this,” veteran Devils center Travis Zajac told the team’s website. “It’s not every team that gets to come out here and play in front of different fans. They appreciate the game just as much as the fans back in North America.

“It’s a different atmosphere, it’s a great feel for the guys to get out here and help grow the game.”

For the Swedish players on each team, Saturday’s game will have even more meaning.

“It’s going to be a big day for me, a lot of feelings and emotions,” Oilers defenseman Oscar Klefbom said on the team’s website. “To play in front of friends and family will almost be a surreal feeling, but it’s going to be a lot of fun.”

Devils forward Marcus Johansson told reporters, “It’s a really special feeling, and it’s a little weird, too, walking around here in Sweden with all my teammates. But there’s very few guys that get to do this and I’m really, really excited for it.”

Jesper Bratt, the Devils’ second-year Swedish forward, will miss an opportunity to play in front of his family and friends because he suffered a fractured jaw in practice on Thursday. He will be out two to three weeks.

Bratt will be replaced in the Devils’ lineup Saturday by Jean-Sebastien Dea, a 24-year-old winger who was claimed off waivers from the Pittsburgh Penguins near the end of training camp.

In addition, the Devils signed veteran forward Drew Stafford to a one-year contract on Friday after he attended camp on a PTO.

The Devils will also be missing their No. 1 goaltender, Cory Schneider, who is still recovering from offseason hip surgery. Though Schneider is practicing with the team, he did not appear in any preseason games, and Keith Kinkaid will start Saturday.

It’s not a new role for Kinkaid, who filled in during the second half of last season when Schneider was injured. Kinkaid was 26-10-3 in a career-high 41 games a year ago and helped lead the Devils to the team’s first playoff appearance in six seasons.

Kinkaid will be opposed in goal by Edmonton’s Cam Talbot, whose subpar season mirrored that of his team in 2017-18 when the Oilers followed a 103-point campaign the year before with a 78-point effort.

“I know what I am capable of and this team knows what I am capable of,” Talbot said to nhl.com during training camp. “Most of the time, we go as I go. I understand that.”

Of course, the engines of both teams really are up front where Connor McDavid drives the Oilers and Taylor Hall does likewise for the Devils.

McDavid won the last two Art Ross Trophies as the league’s leading scorer and was the Hart Trophy winner as the NHL’s most valuable player in 2016-17. Last year, he posted career highs of 41 goals and 108 points.

Hall won the Hart Trophy last season when the former Oilers winger established career highs with 39 goals and 93 points with New Jersey.

“I’m really excited for the games to count now; to have practices with a legitimate goal in mind, to start well, is really good for our mindset as a group,” Hall said on the team’s web site.