When news broke that the Edmonton Oilers
had finally been able to complete a deal that would ship disgruntled center
Mike Comrie packing, fans of the club immediately wanted to know more about the
player coming back in return. That
player is Jeff Woywitka.
The highly touted Alberta product had an extremely
successful junior career as a member of the WHL’s Red Deer Rebels and is
currently in his debut season as a professional. The 20-year-old joined Edmonton’s AHL affiliate Toronto
Roadrunners after the trade was announced in mid-December and has already begun
paying off dividends with the farm club.
Scouts like what they seen in Woywitka because quite
frankly there isn’t much to be finicky about when it comes to the talented
“Jeff’s got all the tools,” stated Kevin
Prendergast, Edmonton’s chief scout and VP of Hockey Operations. “He skates really well, he’s smart
defensively, moves the puck really well, he’s a good passer and I don’t think
he’s all that far away from being in the NHL.”
“I think Jeff Woywitka is a very nice grab on our part,”
agreed Oiler amateur scout Chris McCarthy. “He’s a solid two-way d-man
with good size and skills who uses his attributes to his advantage, can play
the power play, and does the little things well. He skates well for a big
man, and can lug the puck out of his own end. Jeff also has a very good
shot from the point.”
210-pound Woywitka was a member of Red Deer’s 2001 Memorial Cup winning team,
he was also a key part of Canada’s silver medal World Junior team in 2003 and also
Canada’s gold medal Under-18 team at the 2000 Four Nations Cup in the Czech
final season with the Rebels, Woywitka won the Bill Hunter Memorial Trophy as
the league’s outstanding defenseman and he was also named to the Eastern
Conference’s first All-Star team. It was his second WHL All-Star selection as
he had previously earned second team honors in 2001-02.
In a statement
released after the trade was finalized, Kevin Lowe made it clear that the
Oilers are extremely happy to have added a player of Woywitka’s caliber to
their stable of prospects.
“Jeff is a
player that we have liked since we first saw him play with the Red Deer Rebels
and he has improved each year,” said Lowe.
“He was rated high on our 2001 draft list along with Ales Hemsky, and we
would have liked to have drafted him that season. We feel that Jeff will
solidify our defense for the future. There seems to be a huge premium on
defensemen in the NHL and when you can get a solid defenseman that has the
upside that Woywitka does, you go after him.”
Hockey’s Future was fortunate to speak at length with
Woywitka from his hotel room after a recent road trip to Newfoundland.
Q: You are
originally from Vermilion, Alberta, how long did you play your minor hockey
A: I played
there until my first year in Pee Wee. [approximately 12 years old]
Q: Where did
you play after that?
A: I played
my second year of Pee Wee in St. Paul because they had a AA team there. Then I moved from St. Paul to Wainwright
where I played my first year of Bantam with the Wainwright Polar Kings. Then I skipped a year of Bantam and went
straight to my first year of Midget in Wainwright and then from there I went to
Red Deer at 16.
In Red Deer you obviously had a lot of success with the Rebels winning
the Memorial Cup in 2001. I’m wondering
if having won a championship at the junior level still holds the same
significance for you now that you are playing as a pro?
A: Oh for
sure! Anytime that you can win a
championship that big it follows you forever.
After you’ve won something like that you’re always considered a winner
and I guess it’s always good to be known as a winner and to have accomplished
something like that.
Take me back to when you first heard you had been traded by the Flyers
to Edmonton for Mike Comrie. What were
your initial feelings after being told and how were you informed a deal had
Holmgren (Flyers Assistant GM) came down and took me up to Bob Clarke’s office
and (Bob) said that I had been traded to the Edmonton Oilers. It kind of shocked me there for a second
because I didn’t really see it coming; it caught me off guard a bit. It took me an hour or so to get over it but
when I really sat down and thought about it I realized that it couldn’t be a
better situation for me.
Q: What were
you thinking as you were being led to Clarke’s office by the Assistant GM?
A: I didn’t
know what was going on, he was kind of talking to me as we were going up to
Clarke’s office and then I sat down and he told me I’d been traded to the
Oilers for Mike Comrie. It shocked me
but it’s actually a dream come true having watched the Oilers play and now
being a part of the organization and maybe play in Edmonton one day.
Q: At first did
you think that maybe the Flyers were calling you up?
A: Yeah! I thought ‘well maybe I’m going up’ or maybe
they just wanted to check in and see how things were going for me, just talk
and see how I was adjusting to things.
They just sat me down, didn’t really waste any time telling me that I’d
been traded, they got right to the point and that’s the way they do it. That’s the way it goes in this business and
I think it’s a good opportunity for me to come here.
That day was obviously pretty hectic for you because you immediately had
to do a ton of media spots back to Edmonton.
In fact you were on hold with one radio station in town and they let you
listen to their feed of Kevin Lowe’s press conference.
Exactly. That was kind of
neat. Any time a team is interested in
you that much it feels good and the Oilers are a good organization so I’m going
to work hard down here to get up there in the future.
Q: Did you
hear Kevin say anything in that press conference that has really stuck with
A: He said
that ever since the draft in 2001 he’s wanted me along with Ales Hemsky and
Doug Lynch and it’s nice to be regarded like that. He said he always liked to get me one day and I guess this was
the perfect time to get a D-man and for me it’s a dream come true knowing that
a team was interested in me that much.
You immediately joined the Toronto Roadrunners, how long did it take you
to realize that your first game would be against your former team the
A: About two
hours after it really settled down and I was talking to some of my teammates, former
teammates, and they were saying ‘hey we’ll be playing you in a couple days!’
and then I realized. I wasn’t really
thinking about that at the time.
Playing my first game against them was good, showing that I was pumped
up for the game and it was an exciting moment for me.
Q: Was your
preparation for that game any different than normal?
A: I’d lost
my equipment so I barely even made it out for warm up that day! My equipment and luggage got lost there for
a bit so it was kind of a scrambled up day.
The adrenaline was going and just playing for a new team and new
organization, I’d never done that before, it was something special for me. I used all that to my advantage and I thought
I did pretty well.
Like you said, it was awkward going to a new organization for the first
time but there was at least one familiar face waiting for you there in your old
defensive partner Doug Lynch.
A: I played
with Doug I think for three and a half years in Red Deer. Doug’s a good guy and we got along really
well so to come back and play with him is pretty exciting. Actually knowing somebody there made the
adjustment a lot easier for me because I didn’t really know anyone else so it
started me off knowing Doug just to get settled in that way.
What is it about the styles of your game and Doug’s that seem to
compliment each other?
A: I think we
both like to jump up into the play and create offensive chances and defensively
we’re both responsible. We’re both good
skaters and smart players so we can make the first pass out of our own end and
that’s key so you don’t get trapped in your own zone for a long time. A bad pass will mean you’ll be stuck in
there for another two minutes so you have to be sure with your passes and I
think that’s something we do well.
We’ve played together for a couple of games now and it seems like the
old times in Red Deer.
I was going to ask if you’d hoped to be reunited on the ice as a pairing
but you say you are playing together now?
A: We did for
a couple of games but we’ve been all switched around but playing with him has
been fun. At times we’re on the power
play together or killing penalties or we’re on against a specific line
together. Usually through the course of
a game there will be a few times when we find each other on the ice.
That’s actually got to be a pretty big compliment, you’re both rookies
and yet the coaching staff has enough confidence in the two of you to send you
A: It is but
you know, I don’t think we play like rookies. We’re 40 games into the season now and it’s time for us to step
up and show that we can lead because this is a young team here in Toronto and
every game is crucial for us coming down to the playoff run. We’ve got some ground to make up on some
teams and everybody’s got a job and the biggest part is probably on the young
guys. There’s a lot of pressure on us
but that’s something we like and something we thrive on.
I talked to Doug a couple weekends ago and I asked him about nicknames
you might have because a lot of people seem to have a difficult time trying to
pronounce ‘Woywitka’. He gave me
‘Woyzi’ but he said there were a couple of other ones that I would have to ask
They call me “Cheeksy”, “Woy-a-cheeka” “Woy-Toy”, you name it, there are a lot
of names [laughing harder]. Oh man,
there was one game in St. John’s that we watched the replay of on TV and they
were absolutely screwing up my name so bad! A lot of the guys were giving it to me. After awhile the announcers didn’t even try
to say it, they just gave up!
Every player who isn’t yet in the NHL is inevitably compared to someone
who is. Who have you heard yourself
A: I’ve heard
people compare me to Wade Redden. A guy
like that who is calm with the puck, makes good plays from his own end, plays a
decent amount of the physical game. I’d like to get more physical
though. I skate well and I make good
plays in the all three zones.
I’ve heard you described as being well-rounded in that you are
proficient in a lot of areas, not outstanding in any one in particular but also
there are no weaknesses.
A: Yeah, like
Do you think you can produce offensively at the pro level like you did
in Red Deer or was that a product of being on an exceptional team?
A: We had a
good coach under Brent Sutter and he gave us a lot of opportunities because he
had a lot of confidence in us. At this
level I think it’s all about confidence and ever since I joined the Roadrunners
I’m starting to get a few more points and I’m feeling that much more
confident. When you get up to the NHL
you have to keep your game simple instead of trying to do too much but I think
I can be a guy who can produce some numbers for sure.
Have you set a goal for how soon you want to be playing with the big
club in Edmonton?
A: It’s kind
of up to me. I want to be up there
sooner rather than later that’s for sure but I’m going to keep working hard
down here and show that I deserve to be up there so I can show the fans there
that the team made a good trade.
Is it more realistic to think of the beginning of next year as a target
for you as opposed to sometime during the current season?
A: I think
so. It would be nice, I want to get a
call up maybe once this year but I think next year will be big for me having
come here half way through the season they’re still getting familiar with
me. I’m getting settled into Toronto, I
just picked up my stuff and they just want me to get settled so I can
concentrate on playing and playing lots.
Do you believe you have a better chance of making an impact with the
Oilers than you may have had with the Flyers?
A: I think
so. When you look at the Philly
organization they have a lot of All-Stars and veteran D-men there, especially
with their payroll up there that becomes a factor a bit.
It’s a tough roster to crack there, especially when they can afford to
use the free agency market more.
Exactly. It kind of makes it tougher
but when you look at the Oilers they have a lot of good prospects coming up so
it’s going to be tough still. You have
to make sure that every day you are ready to go.
You spent a couple of months with the Phantoms and now it’s been about a
month in Toronto. Can you make any
comparisons between the two systems?
A: You can
see with Toronto that we’re a young club and we’re developing our players and
these coaches are really working with us because they know we’re young. In Philly we had a little older team and
maybe they weren’t focusing on the developmental part as much as the
Roadrunners are. I think I’m getting
more opportunity to play in key situations and it’s helping a lot.
Do the guys who have been up to the Oilers this year, Bobby Allen,
Marc-Andre Bergeron, and also the vets with NHL experience like Rocky Thompson,
do they tell stories about the times they’ve spent in the league?
A: They tell
a lot. Having heard stories from them
it’s clear that that’s the place to be, when it’s all said and done that’s
where you want to be is up with the big club.
The stories you hear about how nice it is up there it’s something you
want to work towards and you keep improving every day so that one day you’ll
get there. For me it’s a chance to play
close to home so it would be nice.
You mentioned a while ago how nice it will be to play for the team you
grew up watching through the dynasty years.
Wouldn’t you have been only 8 or 9 back then? When you were a teenager the Oilers were a terrible team!
A: My middle
brother Mark was always an Oiler fan and I really started following them a few
years ago when they had the big playoff runs against Dallas and Colorado. When they beat Dallas that one year and
Marchant scored that overtime goal, that was exciting and just watching those
kinds of games made me a fan.
brother Mark plays for the Grant MacEwan Griffins (ACAC) doesn’t he?
that’s right, he’s playing for Grant MacEwan right now so he’s in Edmonton too.
How does it feel going from a Cup contending team, one that is a
contender most years, to an organization that currently isn’t in a playoff
position in either the NHL or the AHL?
A: It may be
a little different but you treat every day the same. The Oilers are going to be a good team and they’re going to push
strong at the end here to get into the playoffs and that’s the fun part. They just beat Philly and that just goes to
show that when they play they can beat the best teams in the league. Buying teams isn’t always the answer; it’s
by developing players and with the draft, that’s how you’re going to
In the coming years you are going to have some battles with former
teammates like Dion Phaneuf who is now with Calgary. How much are you looking forward to that?
A: Dion and
me were good buddies in Red Deer and we always hung out a lot. If we ever get the chance to play against
each other in a Battle of Alberta that’s going to be a thing to see and it’ll
be exciting for both of us. I hope that
comes pretty soon.
Q: Did you
have a chance to watch any of the World Junior Championships this year?
A: I had a
chance to watch and Canada did well. It
was unfortunate that they had to lose to the States but they had a good
tournament and they have nothing to be ashamed of. A couple of mistakes happened and that’s what happens sometimes
at that level and you move on.
Certainly they have nothing to be ashamed of.
Q: You can
relate since you were in the same boat last year in Halifax?
A: I don’t
think there’s a worse feeling than losing when you get that close in a gold
medal game like that especially when Canada hasn’t won the gold a few
years. It’s something you learn from,
it’s a good experience, anytime you can be a part of that tournament and gain
that experience it’s unbelievable.
Woywitka had just six assists after playing in 29
games for the Phantoms before the trade that brought him to the Edmonton
system. Since joining the Roadrunners,
Woywitka has nearly doubled his points in just a dozen games. Heading into action on Wednesday night,
Woywitka had scored twice and added three helpers with Toronto and looks very
comfortable doing it.
With a winning attitude and the talent to take him to
the next level, Oiler fans can rest assured that one of the three pieces
acquired from the Flyers is definitely going to make a difference to their
team. And if all goes according to his
plan, Woywitka should be skating regularly with a copper drop on his chest in
about nine months.
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