The Springfield Falcons, entering their second season as the Edmonton Oilers AHL affiliate, begin their regular season tonight. Jeff Truitt, in his first season as head coach, should have plenty of firepower and potential at his disposal. Due to the Oilers’ overall depth, the Falcons will start the year with at least a couple of players who would likely already be in the NHL, were they with another organization. They are a young, highly skilled group. If they progress as hoped, the Falcons five-year playoff drought should finally come to an end.
The deepest position in the Oilers organization is undoubtedly at forward, and the group in Springfield is no exception. Two former first-round picks, Rob Schremp and Gilbert Brule, possess the type of star potential that has them knocking on the door to the NHL. They were two of the last cuts at the Oilers main camp and have the offensive flair that any team would covet, but both come with question marks. Neither one has been able to duplicate anything close to their impressive junior careers at the NHL level, though Schremp had a great year in Springfield last year. They are both still young with a huge upside, and should they get off to a hot start, one of the two will likely be the first forward called up.
Ryan O’Marra is another player with a high draft pedigree (15th overall in 2005) that will be looking to turn things around. Acquired from the Islanders as part of the Ryan Smyth package, O’Marra hasn’t been the impact player he was envisioned to be. A serious injury severely hampered his play last season, and he was also said to be less than 100 percent at camp this year. Now healthy, the Oilers see him as a potentially elite third line shut-down center who can hit and score.
Draft pedigree isn’t always everything, and the Oilers hope they have uncovered a gem in Bryan Lerg. The undrafted free agent signing out of Michigan State of the NCAA was a sniper at the college level and the team is excited to see if he has brought his scoring touch to the pros. A couple of other former collegians to watch are Ryan Potulny and Colin McDonald. Potulny is a top-six forward at the AHL level, and Colin McDonald is a gritty player with some nice qualities (size, skating), but the Oilers would like him to develop more of a scoring touch.
If there was an award for the most improved player over the course of last year, Slava Trukhno would be the unanimous choice. He went from being a non-factor in the early part of the season to a point a game player at the end. His strong play carried into training camp this year and has made him a player to watch. Skating is his biggest weakness.
Taylor Chorney and Theo Peckham were two of the pleasant surprises at training camp this year, outplaying a few of the veterans and giving notice that their time in the minors will be short. Polar opposites in style (Chorney is small and fast, Peckham is big and tough), they will likely be the top pairing in Springfield.
The quality and depth below them is impressive. Cody Wild finished the 2007-08 season in Springfield, following a productive college career. He has great wheels and loves to rush the puck, but his freewheeling, gambling style often leaves him out of position, and he will need to work on his play in the defensive zone. Another young, offensive threat from the back end is Sebastien Bisaillon. He doesn’t have Wild’s speed, but is sound defensively and probably has the hardest shot in the organization after Sheldon Souray. Basaillon had an impressive start last season, but went down with a serious injury after 21 games. He’s also a right handed shot, which are in short supply in the organization.
The organization was anxious to see how Josef Hrabel would adjust to the North American game after playing in the RSL, but he went down with a serious injury during the first preseason game, and is expected to be on the injured list for four to six months. Bryan Young is a hard-hitting, stay-at-home player with very limited offense, while Jake Taylor provides a veteran presence.
After backing up team MVP Jeff Deslauriers last season, Devan Dubnyk is taking over the No. 1 spot. A huge presence (6’6) in net with decent mobility, he will hope to justify the Oilers selection of him in the first round of the 2004 draft. Glenn Fisher will begin the year as Dubnyk’s backup, but will be pushed by OHL grads Bryan Pitton and Andrew Perugini. Both will start the year in Stockton of the ECHL.