The Edmonton Oilers rookies began competing in the Camrose Rookie tournament on Sunday in preparation for the opening of the main camp on Friday. Last year’s excellent rookie crop, highlighted by such future stars as Sam Gagner and Andrew Cogliano, won’t be repeated, but there should be some epic battles for the one or two roster spots still available.
The Oilers have a number of young forwards who appear close to taking that next step into full-time NHL duty, making this camp the most competitive in some time. True rookies such as Rob Schremp and Liam Reddox will face stiff competition from young and still unproven, but not rookie-eligible, players such as Marc Pouliot and Gilbert Brule.
Schremp is probably the player who brings out the widest range of opinion. Some have already written him off as a bust, while others drool over his potential. The 22-year-old native of Syracuse, NY finished in the top 10 scorers in the AHL last season and also appeared in the All-Star game. He drew rave reviews from the Moreau brothers during Chad Moreau’s annual summer workout session, and was also impressive in his appearance with the London Knights tour of Europe (alongside Sam Gagner and Marc Pouliot). His newfound dedication to improving both his conditioning and skating, which have long been considered his biggest flaws, could land him in the NHL sooner rather later. His ceiling is still quite high.
Ryan O’Marra is another first-round pick (15th overall in 2005) who has yet to live up to his potential. He doesn’t possess the high-end offensive upside of Schremp, but he could be a very valuable third or fourth liner in the near future. He is great in the faceoff circle, can skate, and has bulked up to about 220 pounds. If he has a great camp, he could end up centering the fourth line, but will likely spend the year in the AHL.
Jean-Francois Jacques is the type of player the Oilers would love to add to the roster. He’s big, fast, and loves to hit. The only problem is that he has yet to score or make an impact at the NHL level when given the opportunity. He suffered a back injury in the AHL last season which may need surgery and put him out of the running for a roster spot this year.
Liam Reddox doesn’t have the draft pedigree of some of the other top prospects, but if he continues the inspired play he showcased in Springfield last year, he could be one of the first call-ups for fourth line duty — especially if the Oilers continue on their recent, injury-riddled path.
Other rookie forwards who have a shot at making the team are Ryan Potulny and Bryan Lerg. Both were snipers in college and could add some firepower to one of the bottom two lines. Jorden Eberle is the latest highly skilled player to join the system, but at only 18, the slick goal scorer will almost certainly be back in the WHL.
With the top seven defense spots pretty much set on the big club, the Oilers have the luxury of allowing their top prospects time to develop in the AHL. They do have a number of talented youngsters on the back end, which may force one of the veterans off the roster.
Josef Hrabel, being the oldest at 23, and having the experience of playing against men in the RSL could give him a slight edge over the younger players. He is a steady, two-way defender who will probably see at least some NHL time this season.
Theo Peckham is a future fan favorite – a hard-hitting, physical force with an offensive upside. He’d be a great compliment to the Oilers current stable of puck rushers, and although still raw, he could be complimenting them as early as opening night if an opening breaks.
Taylor Chorney has received more press, but Cody Wild isn’t far behind. Both are fast, smallish players who can handle the puck. Barring a rash of injuries on the big club, they are likely at least a year away from NHL duty.
This is the year that Jeff Deslauriers finally has a real shot at making the team. He was one of the top goaltenders in the AHL last year and would have to clear waivers to be sent back down. GM Kevin Lowe has said that he may start the year with three goalies on the roster. Deslauriers’ promotion would also allow Devan Dubnyk to take over the starting role in Springfield, giving him the opportunity to develop into the No. 1 goaltender the Oilers envisioned him to be when they selected him in the first round in 2004.