Oilers assign Drouin-Deslauriers to Greenville

By Guy Flaming

What do Jeff Drouin-Deslauriers and Janet Jackson have in common? They can both blame it on a ‘wardrobe malfunction’. The difference being that while the singer’s publicity probably benefited her in album sales, the ramifications for the goalie are a reassignment to Greenville of the ECHL.

The last time JDD saw any game action for the Edmonton Oilers’ AHL affiliate was on December 27th, a road loss in Hamilton. A couple days later Drouin-Deslauriers was injured in practice, a victim of friendly fire. After dropping down in the familiar butterfly stance to make a save, the 6’4 goaltender’s pad twisted on his leg exposing the shin just enough and just at the wrong instant as Nate DiCasmirro fired a shot. The puck hit directly on the bone and the 20-year-old keeper hasn’t started a game since.

With Drouin-Deslauriers unable to play even as a back up to Tyler Moss, the Runners placed a call to the ECHL and Boston native Mike Morrison made his way back to the AHL.

The tandem of Moss and Morrison has been very effective for the past several weeks, with the latter goalie in fact playing nothing less than sensationally. In eight appearances since his recall, Morrison has a goals against average of 0.92 with a .967 save percentage and a pair of shutouts. Unbelievably, his record is just 2-2-2 however, in the losing efforts Morrison was never the goat but rather the victim of his team’s lack of scoring ability.

“Mike had showed enough in Toronto last year that he deserved a chance, but we were pretty clear with him in the summer that in all likelihood he would start in the ECHL unless Jeff showed that he was completely incapable of playing which he has not showed at all,” Road Runner GM Scott Howson outlined. “Mike played well in the ECHL and Jeff’s injury just opened the door for him and he came through it saying ‘I’m going to make this all very difficult for everybody here and not make it an easy decision’ and all the credit to him, he’s earned himself more chances.”

After Tyler Moss injured his shoulder against Grand Rapids on January 27th, Morrison started the next two straight games, both resulting in victories against Utah. Drouin-Deslauriers was able to return to his back-up duties for the first of those games but Moss was once again starting by February 5th with Morrison on the bench.

Faced with the problem of having three healthy and qualified goaltenders in Edmonton, the Runners were forced into choosing one of them for the unfortunate demotion to Greenville. The short straw was given to the most logical choice and today the Road Runners have announced the reassignment of Jeff Drouin-Deslauriers, their top goaltending prospect, to the ECHL.

“We didn’t have to wrestle much with the decision because the important thing for his development is to play and the goaltending here has been so good over the last few weeks that even if he was going to get into a game, he wouldn’t consistently get games,” explained Howson. “We have to find a place for him to play consistently.”

The Road Runners expect JDD to play for the Grrrowl for most of February before they consider bringing the 20-year-old back.

“He’ll be there for the better part of February for sure and then we’ll probably review it around the 23rd and see where he’s at, where our team is at and what’s best for him,” said Howson.

In reality, this doesn’t come as a surprise to anyone following the team. With the way Mike Morrison has played in the last month, it became clear a while ago that once Drouin-Deslauriers regained his form he would be the leading candidate for a ticket to South Carolina.

“(Morrison’s) been fantastic and kudos to him because he told us before he went down there that he was going to work hard and when the opportunity came for him he wasn’t going to let it go and that’s what he’s done,” Kevin Prendergast, Edmonton’s VP of Hockey Operations told Hockey’s Future in late January. “We’re fair with all our kids, it might not seem like that all the time but we are fair. It might turn out in the long run that Mike Morrison is the best of the lot, we don’t know that yet but he certainly hasn’t done anything that would warrant him being sent back to Greenville.”

So while Morrison gets his shot at sticking in the AHL, the likeable Frenchman will suit up for the Grrrowl and get a chance to play a lot of games.

“We have quite a few games coming up here in a row where we play 12 games in about 17 or 18 days,” Greenville head coach John Marks told Hockey’s Future recently. “I told Scott Howson that we would probably play him more often than not; two or three games in a row, sit him out, and then two or three in a row again.”

“It’s not going to do him any good to come down and play one, sit one,” the ECHL coach added. “Mike Brodeur (CHI) has been good but I have no problem playing Deslauriers while he’s here because I’ve heard nothing but good things about him.”

The Oilers share the Greenville affiliation with the Chicago Blackhawks. The prospects play under the tutelage of Marks, a former defenseman with 657 NHL games to his credit earned over the course of 10 seasons in the Windy City.

Despite the sharing scenario, the Oilers have received assurances that while JDD is in Greenville, he will see more than his fair share of action since the Hawks’ keeper there has been playing extra time since Morrison’s recall to Edmonton.

“The biggest problem (with a split affiliation) is with the two goaltenders in that they alternate back and forth but they’ve guaranteed us that if we have to send JDD down there that he’d play 90 percent of the games while he’s there,” Prendergast said a few days ago.

A mid January report from south of the border said that U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Services had reached its 66,000 cap on distributing H-2B working visas on Jan. 3 and that no new visas would be issued until Oct. 1 of 2005. But in Drouin-Deslauriers’ case, these rules did not apply.

“Jeff’s under an NHL contract so there are visas available to players like him but there are no visas available to players under AHL contracts,” Howson clarified. “There are two different types of visas they get, I don’t pretend to know the reasoning for that, but because he’s under a NHL contract he gets a different type of visa from the U.S. government and there are still those left.”

Some might incorrectly jump to the conclusion that Drouin-Deslauriers’ reassignment is an indication of a setback or that the youngster has somehow disappointed the organization. But as Howson points out “Jeff and Devan (Dubnyk) are at the head of the class in terms of what we see as future NHL players, blue-chip prospects, and this hasn’t changed anything; Jeff has not played poorly here. It’s been a function of circumstance. Jeff will be back here at some point, this year, Jeff will be back here.”

JDD was an early second round pick by the Oilers in 2002 (31st overall) and will probably follow the path of several other high profile goalies taken over the last several years. Anaheim’s J.S. Giguere, Martin Biron of Buffalo, Marc Denis in Columbus and Brian Boucher of Phoenix were all first round picks in 1995 and all played multiple years in the AHL before making names for themselves in the NHL. The class of 1999 boasts Maxime Ouellet (WSH), Brian Finley (NSH), Ari Ahonen (NJ), Alex Auld (VAN) and Ryan Miller (BUF) but that stellar group has collectively played just 41 NHL games so far.

Goalies like Roberto Luongo, who only played 29 AHL games, are a rarity and the fact that Florida was desperate for goaltending at the time should not be overlooked. The Oilers are not in that situation anymore obviously with the lockout, but with two capable NHL tenders already with the big club and three pros playing well, few would say the concern is as immediate as in years past.

“The organization’s depth in goal, it’s something that’s been a sore spot for us for awhile and it looks like we’re finally turning the corner in that area now with the five guys we have under contract as well as Devan Dubnyk and even Glenn Fisher in Denver who is playing pretty well too,” said Howson.

Patience is a virtue and in regards to goaltending prospects, it’s a must. Drouin-Deslauriers is still on track and barring any other unforeseen wardrobe malfunctions, he’s still the goalie of the future for the City of Champions.

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