Oilers: Training camp with a French flair

By Guy Flaming






Teaser: A recent influx of French draft choices is changing the scenery<br />at Edmonton’s training camp

 

Not known for having had a rich history
of French-Canadian superstars, the Edmonton Oilers have only had a few key
players over the years with French roots. 
Unless you include role players and journeymen like Michel Petit and
Francois Lehroux, that list really only has four significant names on it: Kevin
Lowe, Vincent Damphousse, Martin Gelinas, and Georges Laraque.

 

A short list indeed and one that the modern day
Oilers seemingly want to add to.  There
were twice that number of French players invited to the 2003 edition of Oiler
training camp and half of them stand a better than fair chance at making
impacts on the NHL club in the coming years.

 

It’s debatable which of the French prospects is the
one worth the most hype.  On one hand
you have Marc-Antoine Pouliot and on the other there is Jeff
Deslauriers
.  Both players have the
potential to one day be the top Oiler in their position, both have been the
best players on their QMJHL teams and both are likely still a couple of years
away.

 

Pouliot, after a slow start to camp, has really
turned some heads in the last couple of days. 
The 6’1” 195 lbs center is a wonderful playmaker and a terrific stick
handler.  The Quebec City born Pouliot
has the knack for getting out of trouble with a quick sidestep or sudden shift
on his feet while seemingly dangling the puck just out of reach on a string.

 

“I thought Pouliot played his best game
(on Day 4) and he’s gotten consistently better through the first four days,”
complimented Oiler Head Coach Craig MacTavish. 
“He got a nice goal and I think that really spurred his confidence on
and he started being a little more conservative.”

 

He’s not likely going to stick with the
NHL club for much longer, but Pouliot has probably earned the right to get into
a preseason game very soon.  Whether he
does or does not is up to the coaching staff to decide over the next couple of
days.

 

When Pouliot finally does return to his
junior team in Rimouski, it will be with renewed confidence for the year.  Not just because of his experience in
Edmonton but also because of the player who has joined him for this coming
season, much heralded Sidney Crosby. 
When asked to describe Crosby’s worth to the team Pouliot didn’t
hesitate at all.

 

“Ah, he’s frickin’ talented!”  exclaimed Pouliot.  “It’s unbelievable and he’s not cocky, he’s a good guy.  It’s a big plus for our team.”

 

Meanwhile Deslauriers continues to build
on the success he had at his first Oiler camp last fall and at the prospect
camp this past June.  Well known for his
lateral movement and for his competitive nature, Deslauriers failed to make the
Canadian Junior team last year but will be in the running again this time
around.

 

One of Deslauriers’ best attributes is
something he can only thank his parents for. 
The 6’4” 190 lbs goalie takes up so much room in the net that players
have a hard time finding daylight around his frame.

 

Goaltending coach Pete Peeters commented
on the fact that with his size, Deslauriers is never really out of position.

 

“Deslauriers was beat on a breakaway but
then he gets those legs out on you and just when you think you’ve got it… this
big leg appears out of nowhere!” described Peeters.

 

Deslauriers will survive the first round
of player cuts on Wednesday morning and will probably play in one of the
preseason games later this week in Calgary against the Flames.

 

There are three invited players with the
name Jean-Francois so keeping the newcomers straight takes some practice.  Unfortunately for one of them, Cape Breton’s
Jean-Francois Dufort
, he will not impress anyone this fall.  Dufort was unable to attend camp due to
nagging complications from a concussion so the big winger has been forced to
sit this one out.

 

Jean-Francois Jacques is at camp and is very happy to be a part of the Oiler organization
despite the fact that he’s so far from his home.

 

“It’s not important for me to be close to
home,” reasoned Jacques, “It’s more important to me to be drafted by a team
that loves their kids and just want to develop them very well to get them to
the NHL.  That’s the most important
thing for me.”

 

And is that the impression the third
round selection is getting from his new team in this unfamiliar part of the
country?

 

“Yes, very well.  It’s a great organization that’s won a lot
of Stanley Cups in the last 25 years and they develop their kids very well,”
answered the power forward.

 

“They’ve got rookies or young guys that
perform well every year in the NHL.”

 

Then there are other francophone players
who will not be returning to their old junior teams because of their ages.  Jean-Francois Plourde skated for
Sherbrooke last season in the QMJHL with fellow Oiler camper Sebastien
Courcelles. 

 

Plourde, a right-winger with a scoring
touch, started last season with Pouliot in Rimouski but was part of that team’s
early season trading frenzy on their quest to draft Crosby.  Somehow, the highest goal scorer in the Q
with 58, Plourde slipped through the cracks at the draft.

 

“At 19 years old I got 49 goals,”
recalled Plourde.  “I didn’t get drafted
because it was my first good year in junior and I was kind of old.  After that, my goal at 20 years old was to
have a really good season to earn a try out and that’s what I’ve got here.”

 

Prendergast liked what he saw in June and
brought Plourde back for the team’s main camp in September.

 

“He’s intelligent, a bit of a darter and
he knows how to put the puck in the net,” Prendergast described.  “We need a couple of guys in Toronto who can
score for us this year.”

 

Plourde knows where his short-term plans
are and where he will play this winter already.

 

“I have a one-way contract with the
Toronto Roadrunners for one year and so I will try to force the Edmonton Oilers
to sign me during the year.”

 

From the window in his hotel room he is
sharing with Kyle Brodziak, Plourde can see what lies at the end of the rainbow
as long as he continues to impress the right people and improves his game more.

 

“In front of my hotel room is the
Skyreach Center… it’s making me dream to be here.”

 

Sebastien Courcelles is trying to win his
first pro contract after a decent season where he finished with 45 points and
166 PIM.  The 6’1” 200 lbs forward likes
to get his hands dirty and actually thrives on taking some lumps as he dishes
out the body.

 

“I like the tough game but I’m not a
fancy player,” Courcelles described about himself.  “My skills are all right but I’m not a ‘skill’ player.”

 

“I think I’m the kind of guy who likes to
hit people and get hit so anything along the boards is OK.”

 

There is a good chance the Oilers will
sign him to some sort of minor league contract because they’ve had their eye on
him for some time now.

 

“He’s got a lot of heart and I really
liked what I saw of him last year,” said Prendergast.  “We tried to do something to draft him late in the draft but we
just couldn’t get another pick to take him.“

 

Mathieu Roy is a defender who attended last year’s training camp as a free agent
and was subsequently drafted by the Oilers this past June in Nashville.  The 6’2” 214 lbs Roy patrolled the blueline
in Val-d’Or and picked up 164 PIMs in the process.

 

Roy knows what he brings to the table
each night.

 

“I can play a good defensive game, a
tough game, I make a good first pass and I’m a ‘keep it simple’ D-man.”

 

The reliable defender is a very physical
player and can deliver bone-jarring collisions with the best of the NHL’s
hitters. Just don’t expect him to shoot the lights out though.

 

“I’m more defensive than offensive I
think,” Roy said flatly.

 

But that’s OK because the defenseman that
the Oilers are hoping will jump-start them, especially on the power play, is Marc-Andre
Bergeron
.  In a short stint to
finish the year, Bergeron made a lasting impression on the organization. 

 

“The play very seldom dies with him,
which, in my mind, is a real mark of a great player,” praised Craig MacTavish
over the weekend. 

 

It’s true that Bergeron does not reach
the 6-foot mark but you would have a hard time telling him to his face that
he’s a small guy.  What he lacks for in
height he more than makes up for in muscle. 

 

“He’s a little guy but he’s over 200 lbs.
and he’s a strong guy on the puck, just ask anybody who plays against him,”
added MacTavish.

 

To his credit, Bergeron plays down the
constant questioning of his ability to play in the NHL and handle the physical
nature of the league.

 

“I’m used to it.”

 

“I’m not even the smallest guy on this
team but I’m a new guy and it’s something to talk about I guess,” Bergeron
concluded. “They’ll learn how to deal with me once they see what I can do.”

 

Craig MacTavish believes that what
Bergeron can do is quarterback the power play and become a player much like
other diminutive blueliners in the league.

 

“We could really use a guy much like
(Brian) Rafalski in New Jersey,” MacTavish stated.  “Someone who can really move the puck and be an asset to our
power play and we think (Bergeron) has a real chance to help us in that
regard.”

 

Camp has gone well for Bergeron thus far
and one Oiler source stopped short of saying that the Quebec-native was the
leading candidate to make the team up to this point of training camp.  The coach doesn’t disagree with that either.

 

“I’d be surprised, if he continues to
play the way he has, if he’s not here on opening night,” declared MacTavish on
Monday.

 

The seven French-Canadian players in camp
are hoping to stake their claims and show that they belong in the Alberta-based
organization. There is a large but largely unknown French community in the central
and northern parts of the province. Perhaps having more francophone players on
the team in a few years, the Oilers might be able to reach an all-new untapped
fan base.

 

Screams of “Et le but!” may ring from the
rafters of the soon-to-be-renamed Skyreach Center. 

 

 

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