Oilers WHL prospects update

By Guy Flaming





WHL Prospects Update

The Edmonton Oilers have five prospects playing in the WHL
this year, four of which were acquired by the club this past summer at the
Entry Draft. The quintet of players
could have been found on just two teams at the beginning of the season, but a
recent trade has added another city to the list for Oiler fans that might be
keeping track.

 

Max Gordichuk
(Vancouver Giants)

 

Edmonton took note of the 6’4 225lb Max Gordichuk
last year while he was a member of the Kamloops Blazers. The blueliner was a suitable partner for the
more offensive minded Roman Tesliuk in Kamloops, but despite his
terrific size, the towering figure rarely exerted himself in the physical
department.

 

The Blazers dealt Gordichuk and a fifth round pick in the
2005 Bantam Draft to the Vancouver Giants for a third round draft pick in
2006. From a Kamloops point of view, it
was just a simple matter of having far too many rearguards in tow.

 

“I think the case there was that (Kamloops) was carrying
eight or nine defensemen,” explained Kevin Prendergast, Edmonton’s VP of Hockey
Operations and chief scout. “For Max,
going to a team that’s going to be a contender like Vancouver with a coach like
Don Hay who demands a lot, it’s going to be good. He’s going to have to be that type of player that they can depend
on.”

 

The Giants are excited to have him on the team, but
unfortunately were only been able to enjoy his presence for three games before
Gordichuk suffered a knee injury.

 

“Well first of all we’re really happy to acquire
him,” began former NHL coach Don Hay.
“Obviously he has size and he can move the puck up the ice pretty good
and he skates well for a guy who is 6’5 and 215 lbs. He came to us and played a couple games and we’re really happy
with his play.

 

“We were hurting for defense early in the year and we were
looking for a guy who could come in and play for us in our top 4 and he’s going
to fit that bill when he’s healthy,” Hay continued. “He’s going to compliment the guys who are on the back end with
him like (Mark) Fistric, (Andrej) Meszaros and Andy
Schenn
. Max gives us a lot more
depth.”

 

Gordichuk’s injury occurred in a game against Swift Current
on November 3rd and is being described as a knee dislocation. Listed as being sidelined for 1-2 weeks,
this injury is not the first of its kind in Gordichuk’s career.

 

“This is the third time,” revealed the Edmonton-born
player. “The knee cap moves onto the
side of my leg. I’m not too worried
about it, nothing ripped or stretched so you just give it time and get into a
heavier brace or something. It was just a funny wipe out at center ice, a bit
of a collision involved but not a hard hit or anything by any means.”

 

The recurring injury last popped up in his Bantam days so
Gordichuk insists he isn’t worried about it being a chronic problem. That said, one has to wonder if the Oilers
were aware of the knee history of their sixth round pick.

 

“I don’t know if they knew, I don’t think I told
them,” he said.

 

News of the trade to Vancouver was tough for the defender to
take at first but he quickly got over the shock and realized that he’s now a
part of a much stronger team than he was in Kamloops.

 

“I was pretty comfortable in Kamloops; I had a lot of
friends there and I was comfortable on the team,” Gordichuk said. “Coming to a place like Vancouver, it’s a
beautiful city and another great team.
Within a week I’ve got some good buddies here and it’s a pretty good
hockey program so now I’m excited about it.”

 

Playing with Fistric has helped but the Oilers are really
hoping to see improvement in one area more than any other.

 

“(Scout) Bob Brown saw him play his first game in Vancouver
and he was really happy and said it was one of the better games he’d seen Max
play in the last year,” said Prendergast. “Hopefully over there he’ll develop
that physical skill that we want him to work on.”

 

The Giant’s coach, however, cautioned that patience should
be the rule of the day.

 

“I think that sometimes we don’t get everything we want,”
Hay warned. “The first thing we have to
do with Max is get out of him what he does well and help him become more
physical and help him learn how to take guys out and finish checks. I think if we compliment him with a guy like
Mark Fistric it will really help him.
We have a couple physical guys in Fistric and Shenn who can play that
style so I think if you’re surrounded by guys who are prepared to do that every
night, then it’s going to help him.”

 

Having only been a Giant for ten days or so, Max’s priority
right now is finding his place in the team and getting healthy to contribute on
the ice.

 

“So far I’ve killed a lot of penalties and my partner Mark
Fistric and I have logged a lot of minutes,” Gordichuk said. “They slot me in when necessary on the power
play, but more or less I’m a defensive guy who can maybe match up with the top
line. I try to think about what I could
do to make the situation here work for me rather than why it didn’t work in
Kamloops. I think the more I focus on
what I can do to help this team the better off I’ll be.”

 

Roman
Tesliuk & Devan Dubnyk (Kamloops Blazers)

Russian-born defenseman Roman Tesliuk impressed many
onlookers back in September during the Oilers rookie camp. Not afraid to get involved in a forward rush
and in possession of a howitzer slapshot, Tesliuk has established himself as a
solid second round pick. That was where
the Oilers plucked him from the list of available players at the draft this
past June.

 

Through 19 games so far this year, Tesliuk has only managed
a single goal and three helpers for a total of four points. In order for him to reach his preseason
target, he will have to significantly step up his offensive production.

 

“30-35 points,” Tesliuk told Hockey’s Future in the summer
and explained why he only had 14 in 2003-04.
“It was not my best year, I had no luck.”

 

It could be a memorable winter for Tesliuk according to
Prendergast, who believes the future Oiler may get the opportunity to represent
his homeland in the pair of WHL/Russia games in early December.

 

“They picked up some Russians on the way through last year,”
explained Prendergast who also added another interesting possibility. “My understanding from his agent is that his
name is on the list and they’re thinking of picking him up because he’s a
possibility for their WJC team.”

 

The fact that the World Junior Championships are in North
America this year makes it much easier for Tesliuk to be involved without any
red tape from back home where military service would await him. Aside from a very brief in and out trip to
the Ukraine in the summer, Tesliuk is avoiding going back to Russia.

 

“He can go back, but we might never see him again!”
laughed Prendergast. “The next two
World Junior tournaments are in North America though so he’ll be OK.”

 

Blazers starting goalie Devan Dubnyk is obviously
very familiar with what Tesliuk brings to the table on a nightly basis.

 

“Roman is really
gritty, he plays with his stick and whacks guys in the corners, he’s not afraid
to do that,” Dubnyk described in the fall.
“He’s reliable out there, I think he’ll score a lot more goals this year
because he didn’t shoot enough last year and he knows that.”

 

Now that both are members of the Oiler organization, their
camaraderie is growing too. It was
especially nice on draft day when the pair met up at the draft after their names
had been called.

 

It was funny
because after you get drafted you don’t get to pay attention to the ceremonies
as much and I was upstairs and all of a sudden Roman pops his face in the room
with an Oiler jersey on and that was a nice surprise.”

 

For his part,
Dubnyk has had a good season, not a great one or a bad one, but there is room
for improvement. The 6’5 keeper has
played in 16 games and has a disappointing 5-10-1 record. Both a 2.42 goals against average and a .917
save percentage are encouraging stats to have though and would indicate that on
most nights, Dubnyk faces an enormous amount of work. The only two goalies in the WHL who have faced more shots are
Prince Albert’s Rejean Beauchemin (PHI) and Carey Price (2005
eligible) of Tri-City and they both have weaker personal save stats.

 

However, Dubnyk’s
omission from the announced WHL squad that will face the touring Russia side
has raised some concerns that the Oiler prospect has fallen out of
consideration for the National Team.

 

I don’t think
that Devan has done anything to hurt his situation,” argued Prendergast. “I know from looking at it a couple years
ago they didn’t want to have two French goalies on the National team and that
hurt Jeff Drouin-Deslauriers. I
think it’s a different mindset right now and they have to look at their overall
position; are any of these goalies going to be available to play for them next
year? Devan fits that bill. He played in the U18 for them last year and
he proved that he could play under pressure.
I think Beachemin was probably the No. 1 guy going into the junior camp,
but who the back up is going to be will probably come down to who’s the hottest
goalie at that time of year. I’m sure
Devan will be on one of those two (WHL) teams because they’ll want to have a
look at him.”

 

Red Deer rebels coach and GM Brent Sutter will be the bench
boss for the National Team as well as for the WHL teams. When asked when the full teams would be
announced or who would be on them, Sutter would not reveal much but did say he
would name up to three more goalies for the exhibition games in December. Odds are strong that Medicine Hat’s Kevin
Nastiuk
(CAR), a late summer camp invitee, will be one of those players,
but Dubnyk should also figure into the mix.

 

Tyler
Spurgeon and Troy Bodie (Kelowna Rockets)

 

Two of the brightest stories this early season, from an
Oiler prospect standpoint, can both be found in British Columbia’s Okanogan
Valley. Tyler Spurgeon and Troy
Bodie
were both late round draft picks of the Oilers, Bodie a ninth rounder
in 2003 and Spurgeon in the eighth round this past June.

 

Both players have elevated their games this year as the
expectations and ice time for the linemates has grown. Partnered up with Nashville prospect Lauris
Darzins
, the duo have burst out of the gate and they lead the team in
scoring. The defending Memorial Cup
Champions find themselves under the leadership of a new bench boss this year as
Jeff Truitt has replaced Marc Habsheid.

 

“There are a lot of things they do differently, but there
are things that are still the same too,” said Spurgeon last week after a 5-1
win over Red Deer. “One thing is that
the high expectations are still there and that’s good because it makes sure
you’re playing your heart out every night.”

 

The 5’11 Spurgeon is quick to point out the benefits of
having the 6’5 Bodie riding shotgun on his right side.

 

“He definitely creates a lot of room out there for me being
the big guy that he is and he comes to play every night,” he said.

 

Bodie was quick to return the compliments back towards his
center.

 

“He supports me really well; whenever I have the puck he
always finds a way to get open so I can get it to him which is really important
when we’re trying to get out of our zone or deep in the other team’s territory
to create offensively,” said Bodie. “He
comes out every night and works hard to get it done.”

 

Although it is the third season for both players, before
this year neither player really put together noteworthy offensive numbers. Both are scoring at a near point-per-game
pace and are enjoying opportunities on the penalty kill and power play
units.

 

“Our role has changed so we have to be more offensive and
step up to the plate to get things done,” Spurgeon pointed out.

 

“I think we come to the rink every day with the mind set of
working hard and trying to improve ourselves and we’re getting a chance to show
our stuff this year,” agreed Bodie.

 

Spurgeon is one of the spark plugs in the Kelowna machine;
an energetic, hard working forechecker that always seems to be around the
puck. Coming off a season where he
suffered a concussion, the Edmonton-born 18-year-old is playing like he has
something to prove to critics but more so to himself.

 

In the game against the Rebels, Bodie played exactly how you
would hope the biggest skater on the ice would; he was hitting everything
insight, blocking shots and even got into a scrap. There’s still a need to improve his skating, but it’s evident
that the Manitoba native has matured physically and mentally. One could say that, fans of the team like
the Rockets for their minds but love them for their…Bodie.

 

Summary

 

The Oilers have a history of success with players from the
Western League. Jarret Stoll, Ryan
Smyth, Kelly Buchberger, Jason Chimera, Mike Comrie and Grant Fuhr are all past
and present Oilers with WHL backgrounds.
Current prospects in the system include Jeff Woywitka, Doug
Lynch
, Kyle Brodziak, Simon Ferguson, Dan Baum and J.J.
Hunter
.

 

Quotes

 

“I check the stats all the time! It’s good for him, he’s a competitor and it’s great to see him
doing well there.”

         
Tyler Spurgeon referring to former teammate and
current member of the Edmonton Road Runners, Simon Ferguson.

 

Troy’s a really
hard-working young man who has really dedicated himself to getting stronger and
into even better shape. He’s a guy who
is just starting to grow into his body and understand what he’s capable
of. I think the Oilers made a very wise
selection there. He’s a project for
sure but there is something there.
Troy is one of those guys who try whatever he can to be a player. The question will be if he’s good enough or
not but it certainly won’t be due to a lack of effort or commitment. The opportunity for him in Kelowna this year
is so much better. The experience he
went through last year was invaluable to understanding the process of winning
and what it takes to be successful in that.
This year, with the change in the make up of the team, he has been put
into a much more prominent role and he’s responded so far.”

         
The unbiased
opinion of Bodie’s agent, Craig Oster.

 

“My skating wasn’t
that good in the last camp but I worked hard over the summer and last season
and I can tell I’ve improved and others have told me they can see it as well.”

         
Troy
Bodie’s
self-analysis
during the September rookie camp.

 

“Anytime that you
take a ninth rounder it’s a shot in the dark.
We took Troy basically on size, he didn’t play a lot last year, but over
the course of the year he was in and out and we were told by (coach) Marc Habsheid
that he was getting better and he was working really hard. He came into his own in the playoffs and I
think part of Troy’s learning process was that he wasn’t sure how to best use
that size of his.”

         
Kevin
Prendergast on Bodie.

 

“The team they have
is thin forward wise, they don’t have a lot of skill up front so a lot of the
game is played in their end. It’s
similar to what JDD went through last year in Chicoutimi; if the team is going
to have a chance to win, Devan’s going to have to stand on his head.”

         
Prendergast on
the situation facing Devan Dubnyk in Kamloops this year.

“The game I was at
they tied 2-2 but he stopped three breakaways in the last seven minutes of the
game and then was very good in the overtime.
Pete Peeters is going in the next couple of weeks to spend five or six
days with him because we know it’s tough when the team isn’t winning and you’re
the last guy back there.”

         
More by
Prendergast on Dubnyk.

 

“He’s a great player. We played together for most of last year and
we are paired up here as well so we’re pretty comfortable with each other. The language barrier isn’t as bad as you
might think, he’s been learning very well since he’s been here and we hang out
a lot outside the rink too so we’re pretty good buddies.”


Max Gordichuk in reference
to his now former defensive partner Roman Tesliuk.

 

“It’s a team that
is looking to do a lot of great things this year and go a long way in the
playoffs and I’m excited about that.”

         
Gordichuk on why he’s excited to be going from cellar
dwelling Kamloops to contending Vancouver.

 

He’s a
great guy. He sits right across from me
on the bus. He’s a big guy and he plays
pretty physical, makes smart plays and he plays good defense. We needed to add size to our line up and we
did that with Max. He’s a great guy on and
off the ice.”

         
Gordichuk’s new teammate, top 2005 eligible
prospect Gilbert Brule.

 

 

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