Oilers mid-August update

By Guy Flaming





Mid-August Oiler Update

A handful of player signings, the relocation and renaming of
a minor league affiliate and summer training camps highlight the activities of
the Edmonton Oilers’ prospects this summer.
Below is also an update on many of the lesser talked about players filling
out the system’s depth pool as the 2004-05 season quickly approaches.

 

AHL on the Road

 

For the third time in as many seasons, Edmonton’s AHL
affiliate will begin the season in a completely new city. After some years in Hamilton and then a
single year in Toronto, the farm club has hit the highway to set up base in
Alberta as the new Edmonton Road Runners.

 

Road Runners GM Scott Howson firmly believes that the AHL
can be a success story in Edmonton and if so, the franchise will operate here
for more than just one year.

 

“Fans of the Oilers have always heard about these guys, but
they have never got to see them up close, maybe a little on television and some
of you guys have written about them a bit, but now they’ll get to watch them
grow,” Howson said at the recent press conference where the club unveiled the
team’s new logo.

 

“I’ve seen it from year to year where a guy might not even
be able to play on the AHL team in November and by March he’s one of the best
players. Six months later he could be
playing in the NHL, that’s how development happens. Mike Bishai couldn’t play on our team in Hamilton, he was
a spare on our Calder Cup final team, and midway through the next year he’s
playing in (the NHL).”

 

More interesting is the recent revelation that, unlike in
1994, there is no prerequisite for players to play in the AHL this year during
an NHL stoppage. It was expected that
players who played at least 50 games in the AHL would be the only ones allowed,
outside of newly graduated players, to play in the league this year but that is
not the case and in fact, it will be waivers only that separates NHL vets from
playing.

 

“The NHL teams can send down anybody they want but they have
to clear waivers,” Howson outlined.
“(Jarret) Stoll does not have to clear waivers but we haven’t made that
decision yet (to send him or not).
(Ales) Hemsky could play in the minor league but those are our only two
guys who do not have to clear waivers.
We could send Jason Smith down but he’d have to clear waivers and
you’d have to pay him his one-way contract.”

 

With Hemsky already set to play in Europe during a lockout,
Stoll is the only Oiler from last year who might return to the farm team this
year. Not Marc-Andre Bergeron, nor
Alexei Semenov.

 

One kink to sharing a building with the Oilers that the Road
Runners will have to live with is playing and practicing at unusual times. There will be situations where the Oilers
and their opponents will practice during the mornings and then the Road Runners
will have an afternoon skate for their own session. If Rexall Place is in use, the AHL club could take advantage of
other facilities in town like the Agricom or even Millennium Place in Sherwood
Park for their practices.

 

Rookie Camp and
Games Finalized

 

The Oilers will welcome a number of their top prospects for
a fall training camp that begins on September 9 and culminates in two exciting
games five days later. The list of
players from across Canada who will travel to the Alberta Capital is expected
to include forwards Rob Schremp, Zack Stortini, Stephane
Goulet
, Tomas Micka, Marc-Antoine Pouliot, J.F. Jacques,
Troy Bodie, Liam Reddox and Tyler Spurgeon, blueliners Bryan
Young
, Roman Tesliuk, and Max Gordichuk and goalie Devan
Dubnyk
. Also to be potentially
included are young local professionals like Jeff Woywitka, Kyle
Brodziak
and Doug Lynch as well as rookie Road Runners Jeff
Deslauriers
, Jason Platt, Brock Radunske and Eddie Caron.

 

The Oilers will ice a roster of prospects to take on a
similar collection of Calgary Flames players for a clash on Monday September
13. The game will be played at the
University’s Clare Drake Arena with a tentative start time of 6:30
scheduled. The following night the
Oiler kids will tackle the CIS powerhouse University of Alberta Golden Bears in
their annual match up.

 

The original plan was to have a four-team mini-tournament
also involving the Vancouver Canucks but the NHL squashed the idea that
proposed games after the current CBA expires on September 15. With Rexall Place occupied for a week by a
WWE event and also the Canadian Country Music Awards, Clare Drake Arena became
the logical choice. The facility can
hold nearly 3000 fans and sell outs are definitely expected for both of these
games.

 

The Road Runners are set to open their own camp during the
last week of September with Scott Howson pinpointing the 30th as the
day for the first on-ice session.

 

The Oilers have invited 5’8 180 lb center Martin St.
Pierre
, whose 110 points were third best in OHL scoring in 2003-04, to the
rookie camp and obviously if he attends he would play in the finally games as
well. St. Pierre, an undrafted free
agent, has completed four years in the OHL, all with the Guelph Storm, and
recorded 320 points in 257 games. St.
Pierre turned 21 earlier in August.

 

European Player
Updates

 

Hockey’s Future had the opportunity to speak with Oilers VP
of Hockey Operations Kevin Prendergast during the recent Team Canada summer
camp about a variety of players, in particular some of the lesser-known players
in the system.

 

According to Prendergast, Ukrainian prospect Alexei
Mikhnov
has very recently signed with Avangard Omsk in Russia but no terms
were immediately known. Asked if he
felt this was a positive move from Novosibirsk, Prendergast indicated he did.

 

“I think it’s a huge positive,” he said. “(Omsk) is one of the best teams in that
league, it’s going to put him into a
position where he’s going to have to play a lot tougher every night. It’s going to be a lot easier for us
to see him. It will be much better
competition than there was in
Novosibirsk, not that it wasn’t good there but that was always a bottom team
looking up and now on a top team
he’s going to have to play better. He’s going to have to play hard to keep his
position because they spend a lot more money on their players.”

 

The downside to the move is that it will be harder for
Mikhnov to garner an important role on a team with a larger group of strong
players.

 

“Well that’s up to him and that’s what we want, we want him
to be able to fight through those situations in order to get better,” countered
Prendergast. “Playing in Novosibirsk he
was the big guy but even though he did get better, being on a better team with
better players, it’s going to give him more grit to play, we hope.”

 

Swedish center Jonas Almtorp is entering a pivotal
year in his development. The Oilers are
expecting to see the two-way forward reach new levels in 2004-05 and will be
able to watch over him frequently.

 

“He’s going on 22 this season so this year is a critical
year for Jonas; he’s got to make himself known this year,” agreed
Prendergast. “He’s a checking forward,
a good defensive player and we’ll have a good look at him this year via Kenta
Nilsson. Our European scouts aren’t
going to travel a lot but instead watch the guys in their countries so Jonas is
going to get a lot of viewings this year.”

 

Kristian Antila returned to Europe late last season
after a failed attempt at making inroads in North America. Now playing for Luleå in the SEL, the Oilers
feel he is well positioned to regain his form.

 

“He’s only 24 and when you start thinking about goalies in
the NHL they are 28 or 29 so we have time to wait for him to come back,”
Prendergast said. “He had a family
situation where they weren’t happy in North America and that was tough on
him. With him and (Bjorn) Bjurling
over there, we have what we think of as two good goalies that we can look too
for down the road.”

 

Antila quickly found his rhythm when he went back overseas
last year so keeping him on their list was an easy decision for the Oilers.

 

“I saw (Antila) play when he went back and he had two
shutouts his first two games and Tommy Bergman, who works for Toronto, he leans
over to me and says ‘how good are your goalies?’ cause he played so
well,” laughed Prendergast. “I talked
to Kristian and he just felt more comfortable. It’s just a maturing thing and we feel that there is still a lot
of potential there, he’s a big kid and he finds ways to stop the puck. Even though he struggled here, if there’s
one position you’re going to have patience with, it’s goaltending.”

 

One player who might yet turn up at the World Junior
Championships this winter is Czech blueliner Josef Hrabal. The 2003 eighth round draft pick has been
invited to the national team’s camp and is seeking to make an impact.

 

“He’s on their invited roster but if he’ll make the team I
don’t know,” Edmonton’s chief scout reported.
“He made the national team in his age group last year and played pretty
well when we saw him. I think it’s
50/50 for him to make the team but Frank Musil has been working with him this
summer and says he’s worked really hard.
Hopefully we’ll get to see him in North Dakota at Christmas time but I
know he’s going to get an opportunity and that’s all we can ask for right now.”

 

At this point there is little doubt that Kalle Olsson
will be playing in the WJC for Sweden.
After a solid performance in August at the three-team mini-tournament
hosted by the U.S., Olsson could be one of his country’s top players.

 

“Kalle played very well and he has two big attributes; size
and he can skate,” Prendergast pointed out.
“Both Lorne (Davis) and Stu (MacGregor) liked what they saw, they feel
he’s a legitimate NHL prospect and they think he’s going to make that junior
team. Kalle’s certainly a player I
think we’ll consider, at the end of this year, to signing if his
progress continues.”

 

The Oilers also have a Euro playing in North America to try
and fit into their plans somewhere.
21-year-old Tomas Micka played in the ECHL last year. He could
play there again or even in the AHL this season.

 

“He could play in the AHL but we’re still talking to
him,” Prendergast said, but sounded as though that were unlikely. “He has an opportunity to play at home, not
for a team that we’d like but Frank Musil is looking around to see if we can
get him on a better team. If not, we
will bring him to our rookie training camp in September and then keep him
around for the Road Runner camp. We’ll
try to find a place for him to play, maybe loan him to another AHL team or let
him go back to Greenville and the ECHL.”

 

North American Update

 

Mankato speedster Jake Brenk is entering his senior
year with the Minnesota State team and clearly is in a position where he needs
to prove himself to the Oilers.

 

“He’s certainly got a lot that he can bring to the table;
he’s a big kid at 6’3 and 195 lbs but he’s never really had a lot of
opportunity yet,” Prendergast began.
“This is a huge year for him because he’s a senior now and all the other
guys who were ahead of him are gone now.
This is the year that Jake should take over and we’ll be keeping
a close eye on him. You’re right though
that he’s got NHL wheels and he’s got a lot of good tools but he’s never got
himself into the position where he’s going to play regularly and hopefully this
year he can do that.”

 

To the casual observer it would seem that Brenk’s lack of
success in his first three years has him basically in the same boat that Chris
Legg was in this time last year.

 

“He’s in a position where he has to win himself a contract
now and if not he’ll come to training camp as an invite next year,” said
Prendergast. “He’s a centerman who can
handle the puck very well and he’s got a lot of good skills but this is the
year where it’s up to him to show us that he deserves to get a
contract.”

 

Another underachieving college prospect has been Patrick
Murphy
from Northern Michigan. The
late round pick from 2002 has only managed 11 points in a total of 56 games
played over the course of the last two seasons.

 

“Pat is one of those kids who is a third or fourth line
player, an up and down grinder type of guy.
His conditioning this summer, I’m told by his coach and from other
people that know him, is not as good as it should be and it’s time for him to
look into the mirror and understand that it’s not a given,” said a clearly
disappointed Prendergast.

 

“He’s going to play for a coach like Walt Kyle who’s not
going to give you anything. He’s a
junior now but he’s going to have to work hard for his spot in a second line
situation and I know Walt was disappointed that he wasn’t working as hard as he
felt he needed to back in June, so he’s had all summer to get back on track and
hopefully he has.”

 

For the second time in three years, Eddie Caron has
left the University of New Hampshire for another team. The difference this time around is that he
definitely won’t be coming back. The
Oilers recently signed the hulking winger to a contract and expect him to
challenge for an AHL roster spot. With
two years of eligibility left and a less than sparkly college hockey career so
far, the question is why now?

 

“We’re not happy with his progress it’s that simple,”
Prendergast confessed. “We took him
higher than a lot of teams felt he should have been taken but we really liked
the upside of him at the time. We
haven’t really seen the progress that we’d like to see and now we want to put
it in our own hands. It was a tough
negotiation, I know Scott (Howson) went back and forth with the agent, but he
was only going to come on our terms to play for us. I think we were fair to him as a guy who
only got one goal last year. Eddie
still has that potential and a lot of upside that he can bring to the table but
we want to be able to monitor and be in control of it and I think he made a
great decision for his hockey future.
We think he’s got a chance to play for the Road Runners sometime this
year.”

 

The situation in New Hampshire wasn’t the best for Caron but
certainly not because of anything to do with the program the Wildcats have.

 

“UNH has a very successful program there and you can’t argue
with it,” complimented Prendergast.
“They have a lot of small players who are great skaters and play well on
that Olympic sized ice surface which puts Eddie in a situation where he’s
usually the third line guy. We felt
that Eddie needed to play more in tough situations; more PP and first or second
line time and he didn’t get that. A lot
of the reason for that is probably Eddie’s own doing in that he didn’t earn
that but we felt, as a prospect, in order for him to get better, he had to come
out now.”

 

No one expected Marc-Antoine Pouliot to be ready for
Team Canada’s summer camp because they knew he had just had surgery in June to
repair the long lasting abdominal injury he had from last season. What they didn’t expect was that he wouldn’t
be able to participate in the camp at all.
After just three days around the team he returned to Quebec to prepare
for Rimouski’s training camp.

 

“He skated lightly when he got (to Calgary) and he did some
weight training but he’s not in game shape so you can’t blame them for not
keeping him around,” admitted Prendergast.
“We are a little disappointed that he is where he is at this point, he
probably should have worked harder to get here. He’s not 100 percent and his agent said they didn’t want to go
hard at this point. His team in
Rimouski was not aware that he is not at game shape and ready to go.”

 

The Oilers are considering giving Pouliot a team check up
before the Oiler rookie camp in September.

 

“We’re going to talk to the agent in the next couple of days
to see if we should bring him to Edmonton and take a look at him to make sure
everything’s OK,” he continued. “He had
a tough year last year with injuries and he’s probably erring on the side of
cautiousness to make sure he’s 100 percent before he gets going again but we
want to make sure he’s close to it when we have rookie camp in September.”

 

Pro Signings

 

They signed their first pro contracts just days apart from
each other, the coach often gets them confused and calls one by the other’s
name. Recently it was announced on the same day that both Mike Bishai
and Nate DiCasmirro have both resigned with the Oilers.

 

“Those two guys really do seem joined together don’t they?”
joked Prendergast. “Nate’s been a
really good player for us and he’s at a point now where he’s going to be a
leader on the hockey club and we expect him to be a leader both offensively and
defensively. Mike’s a real gifted
player in that he makes things happen and he makes players around him
better. DiCaz is the plumber who goes
in and does all the dirty work so they offset each other very well.”

 

In between the pipes the club is seeking a veteran presence
to help develop star prospect Jeff Deslauriers.

 

“We’re negotiating with a couple of goaltenders at this
point although obviously Deslauriers is the key,” said Prendergast. Mike Morrison played very well for
us last year in Toronto and he’s not out of the picture.”

 

Morrison, although not announced yet, has been
resigned and has been playing summer hockey in the Boston area.

 

“Mike played over .500 for us and we didn’t expect him to
play as well for us as he did. He’s
playing in a pro league in Boston right now and Chris McCarthy is going to
watch a few games but the early reports that I’ve got are that he’s played
really well,” Prendergast continued.
“We’re in a position that we can wait if we have too. We can let Mike come in and see if he can
win that job or if we get the right goalie for the right price then that’s the
way we’ll go but Morrison certainly is not out of the picture.”

 

One other option Edmonton has looked at is former AHL and
NHL Oiler Steve Passmore. His previous
association with the club is an obvious asset as is his experience at the minor
league level.

 

“Passmore is someone we’ve talked to and he’s been in the
organization before. It’s going to come
on our terms though and the goalie we opt for will have to understand that he
will play X amount of games but the majority will go to Deslauriers,” outlined
Prendergast. “There’s going to be a lot
of goalies available come September so if Passmore isn’t interested in what our
situation is then we’ll certainly find another one.”

 

The coach of the Road Runners, Geoff Ward, seems to be
comfortable with the two goalies he currently has but is definitely open to
other options.

 

“I don’t think we can lose either way. If we can find the
right veteran to work with Jeff, I think that would also be a great opportunity
for Mike to be a No. 1 guy in Greenville,’ Ward pointed out. “If we go with Mike and Jeff, I know that
I’m comfortable with that and I know our guys played with a lot of confidence
in front of Mike last year and I don’t think that will change. Mike really
proved himself last year by playing some big games for us.”

 

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