The Edmonton Oilers held their first ever summer camp for the organization’s top prospects last week in Sherwood Park, AB. The field of 29 players consisted of Juniors, Collegians, Europeans and a smattering of free agents. There were no NHL or AHL players to be seen because the Oiler brass wanted to see those who would not or could not attend camp in September.
This orientation camp, or “Oilerientation”, was designed for the players to become familiar with the organization, the city and each other. There were daily practices but they were not sessions where the players were evaluated and graded by scouts and GM’s.
The practices ran from Tuesday to Saturday and had basically the same format each day. After some opening skating drills they moved on to passing and shooting in various formations, (1-on-1’s, 2-on-1’s, 3-on2’s, etc.). On three of the five days there were brief scrimmages. On two days the goalies began an hour earlier than everyone else so that goalie coach Pete Peeters could give in depth instruction to the two net minders.
Ryan Smyth made a guest appearance on Day 3 of the mini camp and joined the coaching staff. Frank Musil, Edmonton’s European scout, was pressed into action in place of the injured Matt Greene for a couple days.
With that said, there were those who certainly did make some impressions.
#40 Jonas Almtorp: At 6-2 and 190 lbs, the Swede showed a good combination of speed and hockey sense. Almtorp’s best moment was batting in rebound from out of mid-air, as the goalie was about to snatch it with his trapper. A good camp but not a standout.
#41 Dan Baum: Known as an agitating pest, this was not the venue for Baum to display his best attributes. Instead Baum was forced to use his good speed and playmaking talents and they often did not let him down. Projected by the Oilers as a fourth line role player, Baum’s 2002-03 stats suggest he may be able to put up more than just his dukes. Baum had an impressive camp.
#70 Troy Bodie: Bodie is all about his size. The 6-4 tall winger is nearly 200 lbs and should he fill out even more, Bodie could develop into a very good power forward. Bodie’s best day was the last when he was seen diving to block slap shots during the high-tempo final scrimmage. Good camp but not a standout.
#42 Jake Brenk: The junior from Minnesota State impressed, not only with his speed but also with his shot. Brenk has a quick release and showed his tendency to aim for an inch below the crossbar. With stats that do not reflect an offensive upside, you have to wonder if he has been playing as a defensive specialist in college. Brenk had a noteworthy camp.
#68 Kyle Brodziak: With average size and few flashes of brilliance, Brodziak was often just a face in the crowd. Nerves may have played a role in his performance that can best be described as just average. It was his first time out after being drafted a few days earlier so the Moose Jaw prospect was likely not in top form.
#43 Ed Caron: Caron did not play last year because he transferred to Yale and had to ist out. The year off obviously did not help his development. Caron is a solid player. At 6-2 and 214 lbs, he can throw his weight around with the best of them but, unfortunately, those were skills not shown at this type of camp. More will be expected at the main camp in September.
#44 Joe Cullen: Cullen is a good shooter. He scored in one of the scrimmages and was one of the top three in the shootout competition of Day 4. Cullen was good but not stellar, perhaps one to watch in September though.
#45 Jeff Deslauriers: Technically very good with terrific lateral agility, Deslauriers looks like the real deal. It took a day and a half to shake off some rust but by the end of the week it was clear that Deslauriers is a top prospect for a reason. It was a very impressive week.
#46 Kevin Doell: Doell went largely unnoticed until later in the week when he played well in the final scrimmage. Kevin had 51 points in 41 games with the University of Denver last year so there is ability there, it just didn’t jump out this week. Perhaps the free agent will be asked back to the main camp this fall.
#47 Glenn Fisher: The hometown goalie was pretty good all week although he became visibly frustrated at times if he let in a series of goals during drills. Not as technically sound as Deslauriers but Fisher was arguably as good in the scrimmages.
#48 Matt Greene: Perhaps the biggest disappointment of camp was not being able to see more of Matt Greene. The highly touted blueliner injured his ankle playing softball the week prior to camp and thus only skated in two practices. However, Greene made the most of his limited ice time. Very good defensive positioning and very physical, Greene made me want to see a lot more as soon as possible. Very good, albeit very limited, camp.
#49 Dwight Helminen: Very good speed, puck handling and playmaking skills and Helminen displayed them all at times. He did not stand out enough. He was noticeably small compared to all of the hulks the Oilers have drafted recently. He is in the mold of Comrie and York, which may limit his future with a team that insists it wants to get bigger all the time.
#67 J.F. Jacques: Speaking of hulks… Jacques’ 6-4 217 lbs mass was quite noticeable on a handful of occasions. He threw a thunderous hit on Day 3 and an even bigger one on the final day. Jacques has a very hard shot but it appears he also needs to work on his control of it much more. Jacques also has better speed than an opponent might suspect a man his size to have. It was an impressive camp by the newcomer.
#50 Fredrik Johansson: The promising Swedish junior was unable to attend camp due to a back injury he sustained a couple weeks prior during dry land training.
#51 Chris Legg: Except for the goal he scored in the final day scrimmage, Legg’s week was quite average. Even that goal was achieved more by the pass from J.F. Jacques than by an individual effort from Legg. His size is average, his skating a bit more than that but not enough to elevate Legg from average status.
#52 Doug Lynch: A veteran of two Oiler training camps, Lynch looked very comfortable and confidant. A very good defensive prospect who is good in all areas of his game, Lynch will be an Oiler one day.
#53 Tomas Micka: There was very little contact during the week as most of the time players would just bump each other rather than collide with much intent. Micka didn’t get that memo. He was the one guy who was hitting all the time in all of the drills. He battled hard in all of the drills and scrimmages including the time he hammered Matt Greene despite Greene’s “no contact” red shirt.
#54 Patrick Murphy: Not a standout by any means, Murphy has average size and abilities that do not set him apart from the crowd. The only note on Murphy over the course of the five days was once when he hustled back and broke up a play.
#55 Jesse Niinimaki: A very good playmaker, stick handler and shooter the top Oiler draft pick from a year ago was one of the top players on the ice every day. His demeanor on the ice suggested that he was very comfortable in his surroundings. He was seen to be kidding with the coaches and other players a lot. Niinimaki appears to be a very bright and positive guy and well deserving of his top prospect status.
#56 Jason Platt: Most noteworthy for his shot and his solid build. Platt got better as the week went on and played well in the scrimmages. It was a slightly better than average camp for Platt.
#57 J.F. Plourde: The surprisingly undrafted free agent had good moments in the scrimmages but was most noticeable on the final day when he played very well. An ex-teammate of Marc-Antoine Pouliot’s in Rimouski, Plourde played last year for Sherbrooke and scored just under the century mark in points including 58 goals. A bit on the small side at 5-9 190 lbs, Plourde may also be asked back this fall.
#65 Marc-Antoine Pouliot: Missed the first day because he arrived late from Nashville, Pouliot quickly showed why he was Edmonton’s top pick this year. Already drawing comparisons to Simon Gagne, Pouliot had a large contingent of media watching him for his first couple practices. A terrific playmaking center with very good speed and agility, Pouliot is an exciting player to watch.
#58 Brock Radunske: With a first name that guaranteed his career as an athlete, Radunske has the size to back up his role as a power forward. At 6-4 and 203 lbs, Radunske can still add more mass to his frame. He also showed creativity on his failed shootout attempt, a nifty toe-heel drag into a short side tuck, which drew a reaction from onlookers.
#59 Mathieu Roy: One of only three attendees who are currently under contract with Edmonton, Roy was at the Oilers main camp last fall as a free agent. The Oilers drafted Roy in the seventh round a week ago so obviously like what they have seen. Roy is a hitter but is also good at moving the puck up the ice.
#60 Maxim Starchenko: This free agent blended well into the group, maybe too well. There was nothing noteworthy with this player.
#62 Kenny Smith: Defensively sound and a good passer, Smith is the type of player you won’t notice a lot but that’s because he’s just doing his job well. He’s not flashy but he’s reliable. Smith is also attending Harvard so one can safely assume that he’s more than just the stereotypical jock.
#66 Zack Stortini: Like Baum, unable to show off his most reputable traits. Stortini has the reputation as a pugilist but showed the ability to make nice passes and skate well on top of his physical play. The fall camp will be a much better venue for Stortini to strut his stuff.
#63 Mikael Svensk: Plays bigger than his actual size, Svensk isn’t afraid of the physical game. It would be good to see him add more muscle to his 6-2 and 191 lbs body though.
#64 Brad Winchester: Bar none, Winchester was the player who exceeded expectations on a consistent basis the most often. Excellent one-on-one, strong in the corners and possessing a long reach, Winchester will get a long look at the fall training camp as it has been reported he will be turning pro next season. Winchester won the shootout competition with three sniper shots. The Oilers search for a big center continues but may end with this final piece of the Roman Hamrlik deal.
The Edmonton Oilers have addressed many of their most glaring needs by increasing their size, grit and leadership with this group of players. How many of these prospects fulfill the lofty expectations placed upon them will only be answered in time but the future certainly looks brighter now than it has for many years.