Oilers: Training camp preview Part IV, holding the line

By Guy Flaming

summertime recruiting drive by the Edmonton Oilers has refilled the
organization’s defensive corps enough to supply both a NHL and an AHL team. 
Last year’s AHL affiliate in Hamilton had a blueline largely consisting
of Montreal Canadiens prospects.  Only
a half dozen Oiler owned defensemen played including Alexei Semenov and Marc-Andre
who both finished the year in Edmonton.

the great influx of blueliners, there comes a terrific logjam and competition
for roster spots for both teams.  Edmonton
has invited 18 defensemen to their training camp but only have, at the most, two
spots up for grabs on the parent club.

“I would
think that’s fair,” agreed Oilers VP of Hockey Operations Kevin Prendergast,
“We do have our top six but the battle for the seventh spot will probably push
over into the six position.”


There is
no doubt on the top five: Captain Jason Smith, Eric Brewer, Steve Staios, Alexei
Semenov and Cory Cross.  Scott
Ferguson is the sixth man Prendergast refers to but concedes that the Camrose,
AB native shouldn’t consider his position to be guaranteed. 
Certainly Ferguson should be considered the favorite for the sixth slot,
as his defensive play has been very solid during his Oiler tenure.

how dreadful the power play was last season with Janne Niinimaa in the
line up, obviously a prospect with the potential of being a special teams
quarterback would have an advantage.

Bergeron showed flashes of helping our power play at the end of the season and
he was good on the power play in the AHL so we see him as a possibility,”
proclaimed Assistant GM Scott Howson.

agrees that Bergeron is in the running for an Oiler job.

showed at the end of the year that he could play here.”

played in five regular season games and notched two points including a goal. 
In his brief NHL stint in 2002-03, Bergeron provided a handful of
highlights including a dominating fight against a Calgary Flame, a bone crushing
hit on Steve Webb of the Islanders and an often replayed textbook hip check on
Dallas’ Brendan Morrow in the playoffs.

too small by many, the 5’10” 190 lb Bergeron has excelled at every level of
hockey he has played.  Being named
to the first All-Star team for both the QMJHL and also Canadian Major Junior in
2000-01 wasn’t enough; Bergeron was also named Canadian Major Junior
Defenseman of the Year that same season.  Last
season, Bergeron was selected to the AHL’s second team All-Star squad.  That’s pretty good for a kid who is supposedly too small to
play professional hockey.

also signed an overaged European drafted last year. 
Mikko Luoma, a 27-year-old from Finland, is a solid bet to challenge for
a roster spot.  Luoma scored 17
points last season with Tappara and spent a lot of time as the power play
quarterback, obviously the ability that interests the Oilers the most.

certainly expect Mikko to challenge,” confirmed Prendergast, “His skating is
not pretty to look at but he gets the job done. 
He moves the puck very well and he keeps things simple and rarely gets in
trouble in his own end.  He
quarterbacked the power play for Tampere in the playoffs. 
We think that at his age and what he’s been though in an elite league
over there and pressure situations, that he’s going to be a strong candidate
to make our team this year.”

will get
another chance to show what he can do after a pretty good season in Hamilton. 
Allen played a single game for the Oilers last year as an injury
replacement but barely saw any ice time in that contest. 
Allen registered 13 points in his 56 AHL games for the Bulldogs. 
Not known for his offense, Allen is regarded as solid defensively. 
Allen would likely benefit greatly from a top three role with the Toronto
Roadrunners moreso than as a press box warmer in Edmonton.

forgotten player from the Doug Weight trade a couple summers ago is returning to
North America.  Jan Horacek
will be at camp in just over a week and will play in on this side of the pond
after a tumultuous year in Europe.

is a very physical defensemen and I think playing in Europe he ran into a lot of
problems last year in that he spent a lot of time in the penalty box. 
A couple of teams that had him didn’t want him because of that but when
he played in North America he’s more adept at playing our style,” explained
Prendergast, “I think the year of playing away from North America probably did
him a lot of good.  We think he’s
one of the players who’ll challenge for that seventh defensemen spot in

6’4” 220 lb Czech will play an important role in Toronto if he fails to
crack the Oiler line up.


is one of the most eagerly anticipated prospects the Oilers will have at their
training camp.  It will be Lynch’s
third Oiler camp and he has been very impressive in both previous ones. 
Lynch plays a very solid hard-hitting style similar to Jason Smith and
like the Oiler captain, he relies on great positioning skills to overcome a
slight lack of mobility.

“We see
him as having an outside chance to make the hockey club and more than likely
will need some time in the AHL, but, you never know. 
It’s tough for a defenseman to step in right away but we certainly see
him as a solid pro.”

a darkhorse to make the Oiler squad straight out of the WHL, Lynch is likely
destined for the AHL this season but will be high on the list for a call up to
the big league.


was invited to last fall’s Oiler training camp and was drafted by the team
this past June.  Roy had 32 points
in 52 games for Val-D’or of the QMJHL last season. 
At 6’2” 214 lbs, Roy is poised to begin his pro career in the AHL.

recently signed 26-year-old Dan Smith who was originally drafted by the Colorado
Avalanche back in 1995 and comes with a great reputation.

a steady defensemen and a very good skater,” described Prendergast, “He’s
a good player in the dressing room.  We
think he’s a good mix for everything we’re going to have in Toronto.”

player with NHL experience was very recently added to the camp roster listing.  Rumun Ndur has seen time with the Atlanta Thrashers, Buffalo
Sabres and the New York Rangers but played last season in Austria. 
In 52 games with Graz, Ndur totaled just 4 goals and 9 assists. 
The 28-year-old will be playing for an AHL contract at best.

A bit of a
wild card to consider is Rocky Thompson.  Once
a hated member of the archrival Calgary Flames, Thompson later moved on the
Florida Panthers but played for their AHL team in San Antonio last season.  Thompson, renowned for his pugilistic tendencies, managed 12
points last season but recorded 275 penalty minutes in 79 games. 
Previously made a winger by Calgary, Thompson has reverted back to his
natural blueline position.  It is
uncertain where he’ll play but it is a sure thing that with Thompson in camp,
there will be fireworks.

There are
three virtually unknown players invited to camp who will be hoping to earn AHL
jobs or at least a position with the Columbus Cottonmouths of the ECHL.

is one
such player.  At 6’7” 245 lbs,
the “Henley Giant” will certainly be noticeable on the ice as the towering
blueliner uses his size to his advantage.

Henley is a kid who played in the ECHL in Carolina. 
Whether he’s able to play at the AHL level this year we’re not so
sure, but he’s worked very hard this summer so we’ll give him a fair
opportunity here in camp and hope that transpires to a shot for him in
Toronto,” described Prendergast, “He’s a tough kid, very aggressive and a
bit of a late bloomer.  His dad was an RCMP officer so as a kid they moved around
quite a bit so he never really got established in one area.  Finally he went down to the ECHL last year and he established
himself as a tough guy and we scouted him and we liked what we saw and think
there’s some potential there.  With
his size and his weight, the next level up to the AHL, and certainly the NHL, is
a big jump for this kid but we’re going to give him an opportunity to develop
in the system.”

Born in
the Edmonton suburb of Leduc, Curtis Sheptak is returning to the team that
originally drafted him back in 1994.  The
160th pick that year, Sheptak played for Schwenningen of the German
Elite League (DEL) and recorded a dozen points in 52 games.

played in Europe for a couple years,” Prendergast said. “He’s proven that
he can play in the American League and he can play forward as well as defense. 
We’re looking for some leadership down in Toronto, older guys that we
think can come in and help and Curtis has a chance to be a role player down
there.  He’s a good penalty killer
and a good leader so we’ll see how it goes for him at training camp.”

The final
blueliner coming to camp is Peter Hogan who the Oilers now have under

finished the season in Hamilton last year and we think he’s going to be one of
our defensemen in Toronto this year,” recalled Prendergast, “He moves the
puck very well.  He’s a very smart
hockey player.  We’ll bring him
into camp and give him a taste of what it’s like here and see how it goes for
him back in Toronto.”

training camp opens on September 12th at Millennium Place in Sherwood
Park, AB with a weekend of day sessions open to the public.

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