The Edmonton Oilers moved away from their traditional strategy at the most recent NHL Entry Draft when they selected 17-year-old Zack Stortini from the OHL’s Sudbury Wolves. The one characteristic the Oilers hold above all else is that of speed and in Stortini’s case, that’s not an adjective often heard to describe him.
Nevertheless, the Oilers found plenty of reasons to select Stortini in the later stages of the third round, with the 94th overall pick, this past June in Nashville.
"Zack Stortini does not skate like an Oiler but he brought other things to the table that made us say ‘alright, look what else he’s got’," said Chris McCarthy, an eleven year Oiler scout. "He’s tough, he’s a leader and was captain of his team at 17 years old, he can put the puck into the net every once in a while, he’ll fight anybody, and he works hard and he’s willing to improve his skating."
Just days after being drafted by Edmonton he was in the City of Champions at the team’s first ever summer Top Prospects camp. Then in September, Stortini found himself back in Edmonton to make his NHL training camp debut.
Stortini, now 18, had a good fall camp and showed a marked improvement just from the June mini-camp to three months later, most noticeably on his skating. Stortini impressed enough that many onlookers may have come to expect more from the young power forward than he’s capable of providing to the Oilers in the short term.
"Zack had a really good camp and I think we have overly high expectations of Zack right at this moment," commented Oiler scout Bob Mancini recently. "I think after seeing him in the OHL here about a month ago, we have to remember that Zack is a kid who has a chance but he’s going to need a couple of years in Junior."
"Let him play and improve his skating. He’s a tough kid who may find a way to play but let’s let him have that development time," continued Mancini. "He’s such a competitor and character kid, you want this guy to play for you but Zack needs some development."
Born in Elliot Lake Ontario, Stortini’s family now resides in Sudbury, which enables him to live at home rather than being billeted out to a sponsor family like most other players. Last season Stortini was chosen to receive the Wolves Academic Player Award and was also nominated for the second straight season for the Bobby Smith Award that the OHL gives to its Scholastic Player of the Year.
Zack Stortini’s Sudbury Wolves were set to begin a three game weekend with games against Brampton (3-3 tie), in Owen Sound (a 5-4 loss) and St. Michaels (5-2 loss) when Hockey’s Future was able to speak with the young captain.
HF: How’s the team doing so far this year?
ZS: Not bad, not great… not where we’d like to be right now. We’ve still got a young team and mostly young players but we’re starting to turn the corner now and doing better.
HF: And personally, you’ve got five goals already. Does that surprise you a little bit?
ZS: I’m getting chances and opportunities and I can still have a few more, there are still a lot of games left to play.
HF: You were drafted by Edmonton in the third round last year. Did you have any idea, at the time, that they were serious about you; did you have an interview with them?
ZS: No, actually I didn’t. I had quite a few interviews with a lot of different teams, like 13 or 14 interviews when I was in Nashville for the draft, and Edmonton wasn’t one of those teams. I wasn’t too sure about their view of me but I was so excited to go to Edmonton. It’s a first class organization and they treat everybody really well and it’s great to go to a Canadian team.
HF: What is the interview process like? Is it a stressful situation to have to go through?
ZS: I think it’s something that’s just part of the game. You’ve just got to be yourself and try to be calm and relaxed, it’s hard to do that but it’s a great experience and I found it to be exciting.
HF: Two days after the draft you were in Edmonton at their prospect camp. It was a bit of a whirlwind week for you with the combines, the draft and then the mini-camp all so close together, what was that week like for you?
ZS: It was pretty fast and exciting. It was a great experience for me in my life and it happened so quickly.
HF: Correct me if I’m wrong but I believe that you are the only prospect the Oilers have currently playing in the OHL. Is that surprising to you?
ZS: I think you’re right. They have a lot of NCAA guys, a few Quebec guys and a couple guys out west. I guess it’s a little surprising to me.
HF: When you were out here in June, whom did you find yourself hanging out with? I know the QMJHL players all had a bond with their language but being the only OHL player, who did you click with?
ZS: All the guys were really great so I hung out with lots of different guys. It didn’t matter where people were from; they did a great job of welcoming us into the organization. A lot of guys were in the same boat as me in that they had just been drafted too and we were just excited to be there and to be a part of what was going on. I hung out quite a bit with a couple of the guys from the Q, (Marc-Antoine) Pouliot and Jean-Francois Jacques, we kind of had that in common there so we spent some time together.
HF: What kind of things did you take away from the mini-camp that have made you a better player?
ZS: The speed and pace of the game and just how hard I have to work to get to the next level. I have to get myself in better physical condition and mental condition just to make myself a better player.
HF: You spent about a month in Regina over the summer working with a power skating coach?
ZS: With Leanne Davis. She’s the sister of (Oiler scout) Brad Davis and daughter of (Oiler scout) Lorne Davis. She did a great job with me and really worked a lot on my skating, it’s improved so much that I get compliments quite a bit. It was the biggest part of my game that I had problems with and she sure helped me out quite a bit there and I’m looking forward to going back there again next year too.
HF: You spent ten days or so at Edmonton’s main training camp in September, including your 18th birthday. Tell me how cool it was to be in your first NHL camp.
ZS: It was great, it was an awesome experience and to be there for my birthday there was no place I would rather have been. It was truly a dream come true to be involved in an NHL camp. I got to see the pro guys and how they play and in how good of shape physically they are in and how hard they work everyday. That’s something I really took back to Sudbury and I work that much harder to improve myself.
HF: Did you get much opportunity to go out and enjoy the city or was it all business while you were here?
ZS: I had a chance to visit a couple of places. West Edmonton Mall is pretty cool; I’d never seen anything like that before. It’s a very nice city, a great hockey town and it’s famous for its support of the Oilers and everyone in the city was very nice and I was very impressed.
HF: When I talked to you in Sherwood Park during camp you told me you knew you would be returning to Sudbury so it couldn’t have been a shock when they cut you but did it still sting a little?
ZS: My dream is to play in the NHL one day and it doesn’t have to be right away. It’s not a race to see how fast I can get there but when I do get the opportunity I do want to stick with the big club. I know I have a lot of work to do and I trust that the Oilers are going to develop me into a player and just watching some of the young guys they’ve drafted over the years and how successful they’ve become, I hope to be included in that group.
HF: Tell me how this season has started for your team and also for you personally.
ZS: It’s been a little tough. It’s been a great opportunity for me to play for Mike Foligno, he’s a coach that’s been successful at the OHL level and at the NHL level as a player and a coach. I learn so much from him about how to play the game and he’s been helping my development as a player.
HF: Does knowing that you’ve already been drafted bring a certain level of confidence?
ZS: Yeah it’s something that helps my confidence level and I still have to work that much harder to get to where I want to be but being drafted is one stepping stone that’s good to have behind me now in my career.
HF: Do you know when Oiler scouts are in town to watch you?
ZS: Not usually but I met up with Brad Davis after one of the games in Plymouth and he talked to me for a little bit but other than that I usually don’t.
HF: Young players are always compared to current NHLers. Who have you been compared to and whom would you compare yourself to?
ZS: I really like a lot of the power forwards in the NHL and right now Todd Bertuzzi, being one of the most dominant power forwards, he’s somebody I can try and model my game after. I like the fact that power forwards contribute as much as they can by fighting, scoring and hitting so it’s through both physical and finesse play.
HF: Were you hoping to be a part of the OHL team playing against the Russians?
ZS: Yeah that would have been nice. Not being picked doesn’t deter my development or my growth as a player though. I’ve just got to continue working hard and keep working towards my goals.
HF: You’re listed in the Oiler media guide as being 6’3" and 216 lbs, how big are you right now?
ZS: I’m 6’4.5" and 225 lbs.
HF: And you’re 18!? What are you guys eating nowadays?
ZS: (laughs) Lots of fruits and vegetables I guess, lots of healthy foods.
HF: What would constitute a successfully season for Zack Stortini this year?
ZS: I’m looking to have over 20 goals, anywhere from 150 to 200 PIMs and win about 10 fights. I want to contribute as much as I can and lead the Sudbury Wolves to a winning season and make the playoffs this year.
HF: You were named captain of the Wolves and you were just 17. Was it an appointment from the coaching staff or did the players elect you?
ZS: I’m not too sure but I think it was a combination of both. The majority of the decision comes from the coach but I got a lot of support from the players and that helped me out a lot too.
HF: I was going to ask you if it was difficult being a captain at 17, I’m assuming that you were one of the youngest guys. Does respect come easily from the 18, 19 and 20-year-old guys?
ZS: No, respect is something that you’ve got to earn especially being that young. There are guys quite a few years older than you and so you have to go out and prove yourself every game, every practice and you rely on some of the older guys to help you out too.
HF: Will you be back in Edmonton this summer for the mini-camp again?
ZS: I’m sure planning on it, yeah.
Stortini scored twice during Saturday’s loss to Owen Sound bringing his scoring totals up to 7 goals and 4 assists for 11 points. Known as "Storts" to his friends and teammates, the winger currently sits in fourth place amongst Wolves scoring. After the weekend’s games, the Wolves reside in the basement of the central division and have not made the postseason since the 2001-02 season, Stortini’s first year with the team.
Zack Stortini will play out his Junior eligibility before turning pro in order to develop his game as much as he can before making a serious run at a job with the Edmonton Oilers.