Oiler prospects in the playoffs

By Guy Flaming





Prospects In The Playoffs







Their parent
club might be on the outside looking in at the post season, but for a myriad of
Oiler prospects this spring, the playoffs are still very much a reality. The three major junior leagues in
Canada
all had Oiler kids as participants as well as several of the
U.S.
conference tournaments and the final NCAA bracket.

 

Oiler VP of Hockey Operations Kevin Prendergast was eager to give updates on several key players during Edmonton’s “clean
out day” earlier this week.

 

QMJHL

 

Edmonton’s
goaltender of the future, Jeff Deslauriers, has backstopped
Chicoutimi to a 3-1
second round lead over highly regarded
Cape Breton. The showcase match up in the series is
between the pipes as Deslauriers stands opposite of Marc-Andre Fleury, the
Pittsburgh Penguins franchise netminder.

 

“I think from Jeff’s stand point there’s a real competition there, both
being French goalies and both being from the same draft year and so on but it’s
good for Jeff to be in that kind of atmosphere,” explained Prendergast. “It gives him a real good purpose as far as
wanting to win against a team they might not really have any business
beating. If
Chicoutimi is going to win that series it’s going to be
because of him.

 

Chicoutimi has
captured the last three games after dropping the series opener and the hard
fought games have all been decided by a single goal with exception of game 2
that ended 4-2.

 

If by
chance
Cape
Breton

were to come back and win the series, expect Deslauriers to turn up with the
Toronto Roadrunners for the rest of the year.

 

He’s agreed already that if they get beat
that he’d go to
Toronto too but hopefully Chicoutimi will be around for a little while,” said
Prendergast. “Tyler Moss will be the
goalie (in
Toronto) regardless of what happens there though.”

 

The Rimouski
Oceanic easily swept past
Shawinigan
in four straight games after being off the ice for a couple weeks while
enjoying their exemption past round one.
Marc-Antoine Pouliot is second only to wonder kid Sidney Crosby
in team scoring. Pouliot has managed 9
points in just four games and has shown little rust after missing the final two
weeks of the season with a broken wrist.

 

He missed the final two weeks and then (Rimouski) had the two week layoff so he’s been off a month
but the wrist he says is 100 percent,” said Prendergast. “He says it’s the best he’s felt all year and
he was the first star in the first game and he scored in the second game. I think he feels really good about himself
not being injured and being able to play.”

 

Pouliot has had an injury plagued season beginning with a hip flexor
suffered in the summer at Team
Canada’s training camp in Calgary. The more
serious injury was an abdominal pull that nagged the center for most of the
season but the broken wrist was simply another case of bad luck.

 

“With the stomach, it’s not something that
means you’re fragile or anything it just happens from training,” Prendergast
explained. “The wrist, we’ve had all
kinds of problems with wrists (in
Edmonton) so that’s just part of the
game. He plays hard and gets slashed and
hacked but he did play three weeks with a broken wrist which goes to
show you that he’s a pretty tough kid to be able to go through that pain.”

 

Pouliot sat for the final two weeks of the
year but did suck it up for the three weeks prior to that before finally
agreeing to rest the arm.

 

“He’s the captain of his team for a reason
and certainly he has leadership qualities and now he’s got an opportunity that
he’s healthy to take that team through the playoffs.”

 

The other prospect the Oilers had involved in
QMJHL playoff action was
Jean-Francois Jacques but Baie-Comeau was quickly eliminated by Moncton in four straight in the opening
round.

 

“Jacques had a really good year but I think
it was not a very good hockey club,” said
Edmonton’s head scout. “They got into the playoffs on the last day
and ended up going against a tough team but Jacques scored over 20 goals this
year, had over 150 PIM, got to play in all sorts of situations and really improved
his skill game this year. He had to stay
on the ice more this year so from that standpoint we’re really happy with his
development.”

 

This week Jacques will visit a surgeon in
Montreal and then undergo some testing by Edmonton trainer Ken Lowe in regards
to a shoulder problem Prendergast first told Hockey’s Future about back in
December.

 

“(Jacques) says it feels pretty good and he
came through the year better than he thought he would with it and once we get
the testing back on it next week we’ll make a decision of what were going to do
with it,” said Prendergast.

 

OHL

 

There is only one OHL player to follow if you
are an Oiler fan but Zack Stortini is quickly garnering plenty of attention and
respect from those outside of
Edmonton circles. The hulking forward is best known for his tendency
to beat the stuffing out the opposition but the captain of the Sudbury Wolves
took the mantle of leadership to an all-new level during the team’s first round
battle with St. Mike’s.

 

“He had a guaranteed win night when they went
into St. Mike’s rink and he ended up scoring the winning goal in the second
overtime so that shows you what he’s made of,” Prendergast said while grinning
from ear to ear. “He’s a pretty quiet
kid so they must have really upset him to get him like that.”

 

Stortini was singled out in a late season OHL
coach’s poll in both the hardest working and most improved player categories.

 

“It doesn’t surprise me, he’s a kid with a
big heart and he’s going to find a way to play,” added Prendergast. “He’s in
Toronto right now skating with the
Roadrunners and if the opportunity comes for him to get into a game then we’re
going to throw him in and see but we just want him around that environment
right now to help his development.”

 

WHL

 

The Moose Jaw Warriors are led by captain Kyle Brodziak and are currently knotted up with the Red Deer Rebels in their second
round WHL series. If you are an Oiler
fan, you have to be excited about the development of Brodziak this year when
seemingly from out of nowhere, the seventh round draft pick stayed at or near
the top of the scoring race for the entire season.

 

“He’s had an outstanding season and he’s a
young man that’s not going to quit,” beamed Prendergast. “He finished third in scoring in the league,
he’s captain of his hockey club, and he did everything that was asked of
him. He’s got great offensive tools,
he’s very good in his own end, and he’s just a solid hockey player. He’s going to get a little bit bigger and
stronger like all of them do at that age but anybody in
Moose Jaw will tell you that he’s been
their MVP this year.”

 

At this stage, all signs point towards
Brodziak playing next season in
Toronto provided a contract can be worked
out this summer.

 

“When he’s had the type of year he has had in
junior this season, you want to take that skill to the next level,” confirmed
Prendergast. “We’re going to have
another young team in Toronto again next year because we have a lot of kids
coming sort of at the same time so we’d like to get him in the system as quick
as we could.”

 

Brodziak himself remains focused on the
business he currently has at hand but also acknowledges his desire to turn pro
next year too.

 

“That’s
what I’m hoping for sure but you never know what’s going to happen,” said Brodziak after game 3 of the series with
Red Deer.
“For now I’m just taking care of what I can control and that’s going out
and playing and hopefully everything works out.”

 

Edmonton’s
only other WHL prospect is
Troy Bodie and as a member of the Kelowna Rockets, he’s guaranteed to make a
Memorial Cup appearance in a role as one of the hosts. Bodie has a pair of goals in the eight games
that the Rockets have so far played but is generally not an impact player on
that squad. Through 71 games this season
Bodie totalled just 20 points but had 112 penalty minutes.

 

NCAA

 

North Dakota was expected by most hockey pundits to be
one of the finalists at this year’s Frozen Four tournament culminating in
Boston.
After suffering a major upset at the hands of the Denver Pioneers, the
Fighting Sioux of North Dakota waved goodbye to Zach Parise who signed with the
New Jersey Devils and now await the decision of Matt Greene.

 

“He’s a
kid that thinks everything really through and he’s got pulls on him from all
sides,” said Prendergast. “He hasn’t
made a decision on an agent, which is good, he’s got a coach there that is
throwing the captaincy at him to come back next year now that Parise’s gone,
he’s got his parents telling him how important schooling is, he’s got his own
mind wondering if his current level is enough for him or if it’s time to move
on. He’s going to take his time, he’s in
no hurry, and then when he’s made his decision he’s going to give us a call and
let us know.”

 

“It’s
one of those things that as Matt gives it more thought, his number one goal in
life is to be a hockey player,” he continued.
“Irregardless of the school whether it be Harvard, Notre Dame or North
Dakota, if you want to be a hockey player there comes a time when you have to
make the decision that now’s the time to go.
That’s where he is right now, he’s not sure if he’s ready to go or if he
needs one more year of schooling before he makes that decision.”

 

Clearly
the Oilers would like to see Greene decide to turn pro sooner rather than later
because they feel he can already challenge for an NHL position.

 

“I think when he was here last summer
he physically could have played,” Prendergast complimented. “He’s 220 lbs and it’s
solid muscle but it’s a step and I think that’s something Matt has to
understand.
Brad Winchester and Joe Cullen went through it this year and there’s a
process you have to go through. We’re
not going to rush guys, we want to make sure we put them into a situation that
they can succeed in and it’s a very young team in
Toronto.
Jeff
Woywitka
and Doug Lynch have been exceptional but both
have come a long way this year and they both came from a pretty good program
too so to say Matt’s ready to play in the NHL, physically he’s ready to
play. Is he ready to play at that tempo
and that speed? We’re not sure and I
think that’s something that he’s thinking about right now.”

 

The opportunity for Greene to finish the
season in the AHL is definitely still on the table though.

 

“We’ve talked to him and I think at this
point he’s still trying to get over the disappointment of not playing,”
concluded Prendergast. “He said he
wanted to take a little bit of time just to contemplate whether he wanted to go
back to school for another year or if it was time to come out so we’re just
going to let that lie for the time being.”

 

North Dakota was joined in the NCAA tournament
by
Wisconsin, Harvard, Michigan, Michigan State, New Hampshire and Denver as schools with Oiler prospects
playing for them. The only team that
made it to the Frozen Four though was
Denver whose Edmonton connection lies solely in back up
goaltender
Glenn
Fisher
.

 

Kenny Smith and Jason Platt joined the
Roadrunners on amateur tryout contracts as soon as their seasons came to an end
at Harvard and
Providence respectfully.

 

Europeans

 

Mikael Svensk, the bruising blueliner from Sweden, may be ready to make the trek
across the ocean to
North America next year.

 

“I’ll talk to him tomorrow when I go through Stockholm and I’ll see,” said Prendergast
this past Tuesday. “He’s a little
disappointed in the season he had over there this year. He’s a physical player and in that league
over there it’s tough because he spends a lot of time in the penalty box. It will be put to him that if he’s interested
in coming then we’ll start talking and hopefully something will get done.”

 

The Oilers are high on Svensk and believe
that he can definitely play for the Roadrunners next season and eventually
challenge for a job with the Oil.

 

Speaking of challenging, the efforts to sign Alexei Mikhnov have temporarily been put on
hold.

 

“We’ve had discussions with the agent and
(Mikhnov) is very interested in coming over,” confirmed Prendergast. “He’s with the National Team training right
now in
Finland so it’s one of those things that we’ve
agreed to wait until the first cuts have been made with the Russian team and
then they’ll get back to us.”

 

By all accounts progress is going well and at
this time, it is looking quite promising that an agreement will be reached that
will see Mikhnov play in
North America next season. Mikhnov was very
impressed with the quality of life and the amenities available to the team here
in
Edmonton. It
also didn’t hurt that the game the visiting Ukrainian was able to watch first
hand was against
Dallas in the midst of Edmonton’s extremely entertaining playoff
push. The weeklong stay left a very
positive and undeniable impression on Mikhnov and the chances of a deal being
reached have never been higher.

 

While Mikhnov appears headed for North America, the same cannot be said for Jesse Niinimaki.

 

“He’s in the process of signing with TPS
Turku and I think from the standpoint of, ‘if there is no NHL next year’, I
think he has to get back playing again,” confessed Prendergast. “His agent is going to let us know, they’re
in the negotiation stage and when it gets really serious then they’re going to
talk to us and see what our plans are for him.
I hope to talk to him when I’m over there on this trip.”

 

If Niinimaki does sign in Finland it would obviously prevent the
Finnish star from playing in
North America at all next year. This is contrary to what Edmonton had stated earlier this year for
what they had planned for Niinimaki in the upcoming off-season. At one point they seemed determined to have
Niinimaki train under the guidance of Daryl Duke, the team strength and conditioning
consultant. Obviously this turn of
events means the decision to have Niinimaki play for
Toronto next year has been put on hold
because they feel he isn’t developed enough to contribute effectively at that
level.

 

“Well he could probably come over depending
on when the camp is,” said Prendergast.
“They would probably release him for four or five days to come over to
our mini-camp but if there is a training camp in September then no he wouldn’t be able to come for that, at this point it doesn’t
look like it
. That goes back to
the injury, he basically only played eight games all year and from our
standpoint as a first rounder we’d like to see him play more and get bigger and
make a decision on him from there.”

 

Prospect Camp
Back

On

 

The mention of the mini-camp suggests that
since Prendergast and GM Kevin Lowe spoke with Hockey’s Future in March, the
announcement of the possible suspension of the event is being reconsidered.

 

“I think it’s gone from being on, to off, to
basically being about half on right now,” smiled Prendergast. “We’re going to meet in the next few weeks
about it. I talked to Kevin (Lowe)
briefly the other day and he said that it might not be a bad idea if we could
find the money to do it again.”

 

“It’s just a matter of finding the right
date,” he explained. “We don’t want to
do it before the draft because I want to bring in this year’s drafted players
to it, then we have the AHL meetings right after the draft so if we do
it, it will be after the first weekend in July.
That would be the Monday or Tuesday, which is the 6th or 7th
of July, for three or four days.”

 

The mini-camp last year was a big success for
the organization and even more so for the players who were able to take
part. Not only is it an undeniable
benefit for the players but strictly from a public relations perspective, with
the league headed for a possible lengthy work stoppage it would be great for
the fans as well.

 

“Absolutely, I agree with you that it’s a
great thing for many reasons,” Prendergast admitted. “We’re in a financial situation here with a
possibility of no hockey next year, it’s something that I think Kevin has to go
to the ownership group and talk to them about.”

 

Financially it is a bit of a burden because
of all the expenses many people don’t think about. Those playing in the NCAA must pay their own
way because of regulations with their league but in all other cases, the Oilers
foot the bill.

 

“You have the other North Americans and we
brought over a bunch of Europeans over which was pretty expensive because we
have to put them up, pay for them, pay for ice, pay for sticks and equipment,
pay for trainers and stuff like that,” Prendergast listed. “It’s not huge costs but it’s still a
cost that when you’re struggling from a money standpoint, even though we
know it’s good, maybe from an ownership standpoint they might feel that we
could wait a year for these kids, but I think Kevin’s going to try his best to
push this through.”

 

While hockey in Edmonton has come to an end, hockey news
is a year round focus for serious fans of the game in the City of
Champions.
The Toronto Roadrunners are about to begin their first ever playoff run
and there are two teams in the QMJHL and two more in the WHL with Oiler
interests still alive with their intentions fully focused on the Memorial
Cup. Soon after that, the NHL Entry
Draft will take place in
Carolina and a new class of Oiler kids
will be added to the fold.

 

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