More Rookies on the Way

By John Christie

Looks like the oil well is flowing again with highly rated prospects in the Oiler system. With as many as six rookies playing for the Oilers this season, it is possible that another 3-4 rookies could make the Oilers line up next season. Continuing depth in the minors has provided the Oilers with this luxury.

Since Kevin Lowe took over as General Managers of the Edmonton Oilers, one of his mandates is to produce a quality farm system in which the Oilers prospects can receive ample playing time and have a quality minor league coach who can teach. Oilers Vice President, Kevin Prendergast is also heavily involved in player development since he holds that title with the Oilers as well. Both Lowe and Prendergast have modeled their farm system after the New Jersey Devils in terms of player readiness and always playing in the minors before promotion (Ales Hemsky skipped this one due to NHL-CHL rules). More and more NHL teams are following Lou Lomreillo’s lead in player development. Vancouver, San Jose and Edmonton are examples of this. Having a strong minor league system helps in terms of trades, depth and injuries and we have seen that with the Oilers this year due to many injuries.

This season, the Oilers could not afford to stock the Bulldogs with all their players. For the 2002/2003 season, the Oilers are sharing their minor league affiliate with the Montreal Canadiens. Next season, the Oilers minor league affiliate will be based in Toronto. The Oilers will have the luxury of stocking the Toronto Roadrunners roster with their own players, which has always been the case except for this year. Having all their players play their system in the minors and be ready for promotion

This season, Ales Hemsky, Fernando Pisani, Jani Rita, Jarret Stoll, Jason Chimera and Ales Pisa have played their way into the line up due to injuries and exceptional play in the minors. Jani Rita had a 25-goal rookie season in the minors and continued his strong play with Hamilton this season. Fernando Pisani, a virtual unknown has played well in Hamilton the last two years and was rewarded due to his hard work. Jarret Stoll is having a great rookie year of professional hockey in Hamilton.

With the recent Oilers trades, more depth was provided to the Oilers as highly rated Islander prospect Raffi Torres was traded to the Oilers in the Janni Niinimaa deal.

Next hockey season, it is quite possible that three-four rookies could make the Oilers. They include Jani Rita (Oilers top prospect), Jarret Stoll (Oilers 3rd best prospect) and Raffi Torres (Oilers 4th best prospect). Each of them is currently playing with the Hamilton Bulldogs. All three of them have played a few games in the National Hockey League and will learn what it takes to become full time NHL players.

With the Oilers sharing their minor league affiliate with the Canadiens, it may be hard for all of their prospects to get quality playing time but you can expect Stoll, Rita and Torres to get ample time. With the AHL playoffs approaching, look for all three players to play prominent roles with the club. This can only help their development. Jani Rita and Raffi Torres have exceptional playoffs last year for their AHL clubs and the Oilers will looking for the same production.

The Oilers had to trade Anson Carter and Janni Niinimaa due to financial reasons. Due to the current CBA, many small market teams have to do this to stay financially viable. The Oilers like all other small market teams hope that when the new CBA is negotiated, it will level off the playing field in terms of salaries. This is one of the primary reasons why the Oilers are investing a lot in scouting and development. “Stronger, Younger, Faster” are the qualities that describe Stoll, Rita and Torres. All of the players are over 200 lbs. and can play a power game. If/When Marchant leaves the Oilers; Jarret Stoll will be placed in at centre. If the Oilers are looking for additional size on the wings, expect Rita and Torres to get a good look. Torres and Rita can play the “crash and bang” game. With the Oilers needing more size, all three players can provide these attributes and their salaries are affordable for the Oilers.

With teams like Vancouver, Calgary and Colorado and Dallas in the Western conference, we saw that the Oilers were pushed around more often. Kevin Lowe had made size a priority with the Oilers. All three players can provide the attributes Lowe is looking for (bigger, faster, stronger, and younger).