Oilers Top 20 prospects

By Guy Flaming

The following Top 20 list is a snapshot in time of the prospect depth pool currently held by the Edmonton Oilers. Comments from Oiler GM Kevin Lowe, Chief Scout Kevin Prendergast, Road Runner GM Scott Howson, anonymous scouts from around the leagues and various players were collected over the last few months. While they appear in this project, however, they were not necessarily given for it at the time.

The player ranking is property of Hockey’s Future and should not be considered the official opinion of the Edmonton Oilers or anyone associated with the organization. While the list certainly could not be constructed as accurately without the input of their management and scouting staff, the seeding of players is the work of Hockey’s Future.

Spring 2005 Top 20 at a glance

1.Rob Schremp, C – 19 – London Knights (OHL)
2.Marc-Antoine Pouliot, C – 20 – Rimouski Oceanic (QMJHL)
3.Jeff Drouin-Deslauriers, G – 21 – Edmonton Road Runners (AHL)
4.Devan Dubnyk, G – 19 – Kamloops Blazers (WHL)
5.Matt Greene, D – 22 – North Dakota Fighting Sioux (NCAA)
6.Jeff Woywitka, D – 21 – Edmonton Road Runners (AHL)
7.Doug Lynch, D – 22 – Edmonton Road Runners (AHL)
8.Brad Winchester, RW – 24 – Edmonton Road Runners (AHL)
9.Colin McDonald, RW – 20 – Providence College (NCAA)
10.Jean-Francois Jacques, LW – 20 – Baie-Comeau Drakkar (QMJHL)
11.Jani Rita, LW – 23 – HPK (SM-Liiga)
12.Kyle Brodziak, C – 21 – Edmonton Road Runners (AHL)
13.Jesse Niinimaki, C – 21 – Edmonton Road Runners (AHL)
14.Dragan Umicevic, LW – 20 – Södertälje (SEL)
15.Geoff Paukovich, C – 19 – Denver (NCAA)
16.Zack Stortini, RW – 19 – Sudbury Wolves (OHL)
17.Liam Reddox, LW/C – 19 – Peterborough Petes (OHL)
18.Roman Tesliuk, D – 19 – Kamloops Blazers (WHL)
19.Tony Salmelainen, RW – 23 – Edmonton Road Runners (AHL)
20.Alexei Mikhnov, LW – 22 – Sibir Novosibirsk (RSL)

The Top 20 is based on peak potential and projected long-term impact on the organization and is not a reflection of who is closest to making the NHL. Players are assigned a grade (HF Prospect Rating) based on the comments from both inside and outside the organization. Other factors that help determine ranking order to varying degrees include: player age, draft position, current league and team quality, location (North America or Europe) and foreseeable opportunity. Players are removed from the prospect list due to NHL experience or simply age; those details can be found here (HF Prospect Criteria). The NHL comparisons mentioned are based on similarities of playing style, attributes and mindset and not necessarily on expected potential.

Key: Current Rank, (previous rank), Name, (position), age, 2004-05 team (league)
Draft Position, Grade, Projection and NHL Comparison.

1. (1) Rob Schremp (C) – 19 – London Knights (OHL)
Draft: 1st Round, 25th 2004 Grade: 8B Projection: 1st line skilled forward NHL: Playmaking skills like Doug Weight

This time last year the London Knights were in an intense battle against the Guelph Storm in the OHL playoffs, well, at least most of the Knights were. While clearly an offensive dynamo, Rob Schremp was deemed too much of a defensive liability by London coach Dale Hunter to play a regular shift. Instead, he opted to use the gifted forward largely as a power play specialist.

What a difference a year can make.

“When a team goes 30-some games without a loss, and he’s a big part of that, certainly he’s addressed (his defensive game),” said Kevin Prendergast. “Playing for Dale Hunter you’re going to have to and I think Robbie learned that the hard way last year in the playoffs that if you’re not going to, then you’re not going to play. He went in with a different attitude this year and worked very hard and now contributes every night. From our standpoint there’s always going to be room for improvement defensively but his offensive game is just magnificent.”

“His effort both ways has been excellent,” said one OHL based scout. “He’s picking up defensive end rebounds, this isn’t a kid that just plays between the bluelines and I don’t know if he ever was, but people had that perception about him. His play in his own zone, the neutral ice and his play as to what the Hunters want him to do, has been excellent.”

Schremp wasn’t drafted by the Oilers to keep pucks out of his own goal. His job is to fill the net at the other end and his torrid scoring pace this year suggests he can do that very well. The Fulton, N.Y. native recorded a career-high 90 points in 62 regular season games with the Knights and has added over 20 more during their postseason.

On top of his successful OHL campaign, Schremp also earned the opportunity to represent the United States at the 2005 World Junior Championships. After beginning the tournament as the 13th forward, Schremp played his way onto the second line scoring four goals, second highest on the team.

Aside from the defensive criticisms he faces, Schremp’s biggest knock has been against his skating.

“His skating has to improve still; I think when he gets tired he gets the wide base a bit,” described Prendergast. “I watched them play a game against Kitchener and in a very physical game I thought he played really well. He’s not the toughest guy in the world but the puck’s the most important thing and he goes in there to get it. I’m not worried about the physical part of his game at all; he’ll get in the way and he’s not afraid to go into traffic.”

“He had two charging penalties the other night!” exclaimed an OHL scout when asked how Schremp handles the physical game. “Playing against Kitchener, that was a series where guys were running people, there were head injuries all over the place but this kid was taking hits to make plays. They were chopping him at every opportunity they could, but he fought through and still got points.”

With several of London’s leaders leaving the team this summer, Schremp will get the opportunity to shoulder much of the load alongside teammates like Dave Bolland (CHI) and Brandon Prust (CGY), that is unless he can crack the Oilers’ roster.

“I think he’ll get the opportunity to play, but in Robbie’s case, if it’s not the first or second line then he’s not going to play,” said Prendergast. “That’s why you have training camps and exhibition games, for these things to sort themselves out, but Robbie will certainly get the opportunity to see if he deserves to stay here.”

Schremp’s off-ice concerns are still there as one scout commented, “His name shouldn’t be Robbie it should be ‘Mike’ because he’s never met a microphone he didn’t like. He’s got to put his mouth in front of every one and the journalists know it and like it because he gives good answers.”

Although to his credit, Schremp has clearly matured in his media dealings and is not sticking his foot in his mouth anymore.

There is no player in the Oilers prospect pool with a higher upside than Schremp, which is why he earns the top spot for the second consecutive time on Hockey’s Future’s list.

2. (3) Marc-Antoine Pouliot (C) – 20 – Rimouski Oceanic (QMJHL)
Draft: 1st Round, 22nd 2003 Grade: 7.5B Projection: 1st or 2nd line center NHL: All-around skill like Brendan Morrison

Marc-Antoine Pouliot’s ‘to-do list’ at the beginning of the year was a pretty short one: stay healthy. Mission accomplished, and the 114 points were nice too.

“He’s been healthy all year. That’s the first time in about three years that he hasn’t had something broken or a muscle or anything and he showed the type of player that he is,” said Prendergast. “Here’s a team that went 35 games without a loss and he was a big part of that. Between him and Schremp we have two kids who went 66 games without a loss this year and that’s not a bad résumé to have for two young players.”

Not only has Pouliot had to concentrate on staying healthy but he’s also had the constant distraction of Sidney Crosby’s traveling road show. As Rimouski’s captain, Pouliot is supposed to be the one the players look to for their leadership and having the vast majority of the spotlight shine on someone else could ruffle the feathers of a lesser person.

“We knew when we drafted him that he was a very mature young man,” Prendergast said. “He’s a quiet leader but he is their leader.”

Like Schremp, a concern with Pouliot is his skating, but according to those who have seen him play this year, that’s not as big an issue anymore.

“Pouliot has progressed and done everything he has to do to become a great pro,” praised one scout. “His skating, his first step and his speed have all improved while his commitment and his skills were always good.”

“I don’t know if I’ve seen a kid from that draft year whose curve has gone upwards as much as his has.”

Despite comments like that, the Oilers still see room for improvement in the center.

“Marc’s skating and overall game is better, he’s stronger on his skates, he’s handling the puck even better than he did last year and this will be a good summer for him because it will actually be the first one in a while where he’ll get the opportunity to train and put some weight on,” said Prendergast. “He’s probably about 180lbs right now and we’d like him to be about 190lb. Everything we drafted him for he’s shown us, plus he brings a lot to the table in that he has size, great hockey sense, can play the wing or center, he’s good on the power play and the penalty kill, has really developed every part of his game and now we just have to get him a little bit bigger for the NHL.”

By the sound of it, Pouliot is getting close.

3. (2) Jeff Drouin-Deslauriers (G) – 21 – Edmonton Road Runners (AHL)
Draft: 2nd Round, 31st 2002 Grade: 8C Projection: Starting goalie NHL: Positional play like Jose Theodore

As a rookie in the AHL this year, Jeff Drouin-Deslauriers struggled at times to capture victories but rarely was the reason his team lost games. Brought along slowly by Road Runners head coach Geoff Ward through the first couple months of the schedule, Drouin-Deslauriers played sparsely and couldn’t find his stride.

During a December practice, JDD’s pad twisted unusually exposing his shin just as a routine shot from Nate DiCasmirro reached the goalie. The 21-year-old suffered a deep bruise on his shin that knocked him out of commission for upwards of five weeks. The long absence made it necessary for the Oilers to reassign their star goalie to Greenville of the ECHL for a three-week conditioning stint where he played exceptionally well.

“Goaltending is the hardest position and he’s a young guy put in a tough situation being a rookie but he played well,” complimented ‘Runners defenseman Doug Lynch. “He’s going to be a terrific player.”

“In the last while he had been playing unbelievably and made some saves that I didn’t even know were possible!” echoed Kyle Brodziak.

“I think the way that Jeff finished the season showed a lot, he’s still got work to do but he started to play with confidence,” said Prendergast who went on to say that the summer plans include goaltending coach Pete Peeters working closely with JDD.

Often one’s harshest critic is the man in the mirror and that holds true for Drouin-Deslauriers who feels he could have been better this year.

“It was a tough year and I had some rough moments; I had to do a lot of adapting,” the goalie told Hockey’s Future after the season. “If I want to play at a higher level I have to play with more consistency. Anybody can have a game with 50 shots and have a shutout or win the game 2-1 but the best goalies have those types of games every night so if I want to go higher and be a good goalie I have to play that well every night. I have to be prepared for that and more consistency is the key point for me.”

JDD ended the year with disappointing but somewhat misleading statistics; his record of six wins and 15 losses coupled with 2.96 GAA and .888 save percentage do not display how poorly the team played in front of him at times or account for the multiple one-goal losses he sustained.

Although he slips one spot on the listing, that is more of a result of Pouliot’s fantastic year than anything negative about Drouin-Deslauriers himself. But because he is farther along in his development, he remains ahead of the next goalie.

4. (8) Devan Dubnyk (G) – 19 – Kamloops Blazers (WHL)
Draft: 1st Round, 14th 2004 Grade: 8C Projection: Starting goaltender NHL: Uses size like Olaf Kolzig or Sean Burke

The second part of Edmonton’s terrific 1-2 punch in the crease comes in the form of 6’6 Devan Dubnyk. At the midpoint of the campaign, the Kamloops Blazers were mired in the cellar of the WHL’s BC Division but with inspired play by their goaltender, they had an impressive stretch drive and were able to surge past the Prince George Cougars into the final playoff spot.

“It wasn’t a very good hockey club and the only opportunity they had every night was if (Devan) played well and he did,” explained Prendergast. “I think leaving training camp here, there was a bit of a lull to start the year but then he picked his game up. If I’m not mistaken he won every Molson segment they had there and that’s a huge thing for him. I think he was named a star in 30-35 games or something over the course of the year and that’s pretty astounding when you think of it.”

“He’s a quiet leader for them and he did a great job in the playoffs against Kootenay where they basically stole two games when nobody even thought they would make the playoffs,” Prendergast added. “I think it was good for Devan because he knew that every night he would have to be outstanding to give his team a chance to win and from a mental standpoint, that’s a great way for a young player to learn. Hopefully he’ll be Canada’s goalie at the WJC next year.”

Dubnyk was invited to the summer and December WJC camps that Team Canada held but did not fair as well as he’d hoped. He is the only Canadian goalie from those sessions that is eligible to play at the Vancouver tournament next winter and is the early favorite for the starting job.

Certainly the Oilers can feel satisfied that they made the right choice by drafting Dubnyk when they did last June. Many pundits and experts panned the Oilers for taking the Albertan ahead of Czech goalie Marek Schwarz (STL), but there really was no comparison this year. Dubnyk’s .912 save percentage and six shutouts were impressive considering how poor the Blazers were and the fact that he won just three fewer games than Schwarz (.900 and two shutouts) did on a much better Vancouver Giants team has the Oilers feeling confident.

“And they played in the same conference,” pointed out Prendergast meaning that the schedules of the two teams would have been very similar. “We’ve taken heat from certain media about which goalie we should have taken. Schwarz is a great goaltender and the two were very close on our list, but we felt that the upside to Dubnyk was just enormous.”

That would be fitting for the biggest goalie in the WHL.

5. (6) Matt Greene (D) – 22 – North Dakota Fighting Sioux (NCAA)
Draft: 2nd Round, 44th 2002 Grade: 7B Projection: Top 3-4 defensive defenseman NHL: Aggressive like Jason Smith and Adam Foote

The blueline terror known as Matt Greene is the prospect who might make the biggest impact with the Oilers, and certainly the hardest. The 6’3 225 lb behemoth wore the captain’s C for North Dakota in 2004-05 and led the Fighting Sioux all the way to the final game against the eventual winner, Denver University.

“He made a commitment to the team last year saying that they underachieved, so he went back hoping to win and they made it all the way to the finals on what we didn’t consider to be one of the best teams in the league,” smiled Prendergast. “But when you’ve got guys like him on the team that come to play every night and that play as physical as Matt does, I think you would have to consider it a successful year for him.”

Greene recorded nine points in 41 games, a step back from the 17 he had last year, but isn’t a guy that’s too concerned about setting any records. Greene’s job is to abuse and punish the opposition at will and it’s something he excels at.

Asked to describe any progress in Green’s development from the previous year where most felt he was ready to turn pro, one scout said simply “Nothing’s changed; you want him on your team, you don’t want to play against him.”

“He’s a quiet leader but on the ice he’s probably the toughest guy North Dakota suits up and he’s really hard to play against,” offered another scout. “When they played Boston University with highflying WJC caliber guys like Chris Bourque, they couldn’t do a God damn thing against North Dakota’s defense. Greene’s a prototypical pro defenseman. Nothing flashy, moves the puck smartly, defensive defenseman and I really think he had a year where he pulled a lot of things together. On the ice and in the locker room he was the leader of that team no doubt.”

Greene, like many NCAA players this year, experienced a significant amount of adjustment because of the league’s major crackdown on infractions.

“They changed the rules in college this year so that if you even thought about obstructing you got a penalty! There were so many obstruction calls in the first month of college hockey that I wanted to poke my eyes out with a hot iron stick because I couldn’t stand to watch it; it was horrible,” one scout described. “Those rule changes came down hard on (Greene) and that entire North Dakota defense. Against Boston College in the regionals, their team must have had 20 minors and they still won because their defense, Greene included, played like pros. They don’t obstruct but they get in the way, they play tough hockey and when you lean on a 5’9 midget from Boston College he’s going to go down and you’re going to get a penalty.”

What every Oilers fan really wants to know is whether Greene is going to turn pro this summer or if he’s going to go back to North Dakota for another year.

“We certainly would like to see Matt turn pro,” Prendergast reiterated. “We don’t have a CBA so we don’t know what the money parameters will be, but even if there wasn’t a CBA we’d still like to see Matt play with the Road Runners and just get on with his pro career. There’s only so far you can go in college or junior before you sort of overgrow the system and we feel that’s where he is now. I know he’s a loyal young man and that he’s committed to being a pro and from a selfish side, I’d love to see him next year with either the Oilers or the Road Runners.”

Until there is a new CBA though, it would be mildly surprising to see the collegian abandon his senior year in favor of the AHL. But Greene could sign an Oiler contract as soon as the NHLPA and the league ratified a new agreement. Oiler fans could conceivably see Greene patrolling the blueline in Edmonton as soon as this fall, regardless of which pro league is operating then.

6. (5) Jeff Woywitka (D) – 21 – Edmonton Road Runners
Draft: 1st Round, 27th 2001 Grade: 7B Projection: Top 3-4 defenseman NHL: Plays like Eric Brewer

Some would consider his year a step backward for Woywitka, while others will suggest it was simply a case of the sophomore slump, but either way, the blueliner had a season he’ll need to rebound from. After putting up 28 points in his rookie year, the Vermilion, Alberta product fell two shy of that mark in 2004-05 although he did pot two more goals.

“There were parts of the year where Jeff didn’t play as well as we felt he could, but that happens with young players,” advised Prendergast. “When a team is struggling they try things that just isn’t in their repertoire to do. Jeff tried to do things that he’s just not going to be able to accomplish at that level and he got himself into trouble rather than just be the stay at home guy, move the puck and jump into the play when it’s good. He’s gotten bigger and stronger, there were nights where he showed that he can play in the NHL.”

One area where Woywitka was really exposed this year was with turnovers in his own end when pressured by a forecheck. It might have been a product of the tag-up offside rule that enables opposing forwards to get back on top of defensemen, but it still came as a surprise to the organization.

“It was new because one of the reasons we got Jeff was because he didn’t cough it up; he was able to move it quickly and make the right reads but he had trouble with that for some reason this year,” said the chief scout. “Whether it became a mental thing or whatever, it just snowballed over the year but there were nights where he made it look easy. In the off-season Jeff’s got to recognize that he has to work on and improve those things and come into camp prepared for it.”

Woywitka knows where his focus has to be in order to take the next step, something most who saw training camp last fall felt the defenseman was already ready for.

“All in all, I’m not that worried about my offensive game because it’s going to come,” Woywitka told Hockey’s Future at the end of the year. “I had lots of chances this year where I could have scored more or got more assists but I think the most important thing for me is to work on my defense, clearing guys in front of the net and being more responsible in the defensive end. The coaches told me that my offensive game is coming good but to get to the next level I have to work on my defensive game.”

7. (4) Doug Lynch (D) – 22 – Edmonton Road Runners
Draft: 2nd Round, 43rd 2001 Grade: 7B Projection: Top 3-4 defenseman NHL: Physical like Jason Smith

The trick to controlling your mistakes is to make sure you don’t repeat them. For Doug Lynch the mistake was trying to play through an injury, which should have kept him sidelined at the start of the year for several weeks.

“It was my fault and I should have taken better care of myself and I take full responsibility for that,” Lynch told Hockey’s Future once the season was over. “I’m a young guy and I’m learning how to be a professional athlete and how to take care of my body. Playing hurt and trying to play through it all year was probably not the smartest thing to do, but I’m going to learn from that. It’s no one’s fault by my own and it’s something I have to learn from so that the next time that I’m injured I stop and not be stubborn and make sure I get myself fixed and take it from there.”

Lynch had wrist surgery last summer but the recovery and rehab wasn’t smooth so the rearguard played with immense pain all year and it hampered his ability to be effective.

“I think Doug would be the first to tell you that it wasn’t a good year,” Prendergast said. “The wrist got to him and maybe it became a mental thing too after awhile; he just didn’t do the things he’s capable of doing. One of the biggest things he likes to do is play physical and he’ll drop the gloves and get into it but it was hard for him to do that this year so it was the same thing as with Woywitka, you start pressing to do things you’re not capable of and it gets worse from there.”

“When you’re injured your confidence isn’t as high,” Lynch said, agreeing that mentally he was off his game. “Everyone in this organization did 100 percent right and it was my fault, I want to make that clear. I’m a young guy, stubborn, you think you’re invincible when you’re young and I have to make sure that I take care of myself properly in the future because I want to play for a lot of years so I have to be smarter.”

Lynch’s biggest hurdle coming into the year was his mobility, but the Oilers were pleased with his progression there.

“His skating has gotten better but Doug thinks the game so well that skating isn’t really going to be a major issue,” complimented Prendergast. “At the NHL level he’s going to have to adapt to it, but first he’s going to have to play up there to adapt to it. He’s a tough kid, he’s strong, when he has the puck he moves it well and he shoots it really well. Speed is going to be an issue for all these young guys over the next few years but his own skating has improved over the last two years with us.”

8. (13) Brad Winchester (RW) – 24 – Edmonton Road Runners
Draft: 2nd Round, 35th 2000 Grade: 6.5B Projection: 2-3rd line power forward NHL: Uses his size like Joe Thornton

Ask anyone around the Oilers to name a player who had a breakout year and one of the first names you’ll hear is that of Brad Winchester. The 6’5 233 lb power forward had a lot of success in his sophomore year picking right up from where he left off at the end of the 2003-04 campaign.

“He committed himself all summer to coming in here as a better player and he showed us that drive; he uses his size and reach, he has a big shot and he got into some tussles too,” said Prendergast. “There were some nights where he got a bit lazy at times but those are things you learn as you mature over the course of the year. He scored 22 goals for us as a second year pro and showed improvement in all areas of his game.”

Asked to pick out a teammate that impressed them this year, several Road Runners looked Winchester’s way.

“He’s a guy that I personally think is pretty much ready for the NHL. He can still learn little things here and there, but he’s really stepped up his game and he knows what he has to do as a player,” said ‘Runners center Jarret Stoll. “He’s a big power forward kind of guy and he has to play like it and when he does, he dominates games. He scored 22 goals and for a team that didn’t score very many goals that’s pretty good. He’s got a heavy shot, he can skate, he’s tremendously strong on the puck and obviously he’s a big guy so he definitely comes to my mind first.”

“First of all he’s a good guy off the ice and a great friend,” began J.J. Hunter who shares an interest and talent of playing guitar with Winchester. “To me he was the guy that showed consistency every night; he battled hard, he’d fight when he had to, he’d take the puck to the net he has a great shot and so on the power play he was invaluable in front of the net. He’d tip in goals or bang home rebounds and he’d win battles that needed to be won. He gives the other team’s defensemen fits because he’s so strong down low. He’s a guy that I can see having a long NHL career. I hope he does because then I can say I had a part of it!”

For his part Winchester says he tackled his biggest issue head on, that being consistency, and was able to put together a pretty solid year.

“Being a power forward, consistency is important to bring to all my games,” said the personable Winchester. “It’s something I’ve improved on but I still want to get better at it.”

Where he’ll do that is the question. He’s a restricted free agent this summer and is a lock to be re-signed, but will he be in the AHL or the NHL next year?

“He’s going to be one of the kids who will get a really good chance at the big team when we do come back; he took a huge step forward this year,” confirmed Prendergast.

When asked which Road Runner is the closest to a can’t miss prospect, coach Ward said, “I think with the year that he had you have to be pretty excited about Brad Winchester, he certainly stood up and had a huge year and established himself as a strong prospect but he has to take that next step and continue to grow as a player.”

Winchester’s five-position jump up the Top 20 list is an indication of how well he played as well as the interest the organization has shown in him during the course of the year. He’s well liked by head coach Craig MacTavish, which definitely gives him a leg up.

9. (11) Colin McDonald (RW) – 20 – Providence Friars (NCAA)
Draft: 2nd Round, 51st 2003 Grade: 6.5B Projection: 2-3rd line power forward NHL: Hits and shoots like Bill Guerin

There are two players on this current Top 20 list that Kevin Prendergast says were drafted because they have the ability to be NHL snipers. The first is Providence Friars winger Colin McDonald. Unfortunately for the talented power forward, a knee injury robbed him of a fair chunk of the regular season, about six weeks in total leading up to the Christmas break.

“I think it threw him back a little bit because they don’t play many games in college hockey as it is,” commented Prendergast. “I saw him the night he got hurt and he’d had five goals in five games to that point and had played well. He did come back and in the playoffs he played center which was a surprise to us, but he played very well.”

One area scout felt that McDonald was poised to make a major impact on the Friars this season and was being counted on heavily by the coaching staff.

“Before he got hurt he was on a tear; he was a point a game player and he was the catalyst go-to guy on that team,” said the scout. ”They did pretty well at the beginning, he went out and they struggled, he came back after Christmas and they kind of made a run at the end and I think it was squarely because of him.”

“He needs to improve his foot speed, he’s got second line potential but right now I’d say he’s more of a third line guy,” the scout continued. “If he has a big year coming up and he scores some points you’re going to see everybody on the Hockey’s Future boards saying ‘we knew he’d come around, he’s going to be our second line winger!’”

At this point the Oilers still see McDonald as a sniping winger picturing him playing alongside one of the two centers at the top of this list.

“He’s a gunner and a shooter and something we need in the organization down the road with the type of centers we’re having,” confirmed Prendergast.

His 16 points were equal to his freshman season a year ago but McDonald was held to just 26 games in 2004-05.

10. (16) Jean-François Jacques (LW) – 20 – Baie-Comeau Drakkar (QMJHL)
Draft: 2nd Round, 68th 2003 Grade: 6.5B Projection: 3rd line power forward NHL: Speed and hitting of Ethan Moreau

Jean-Francois Jacques is one of the two players who saw their stock and ranking climb the most over the course of the season. Leaping six positions, partly because of the rapid fall of a few players, Jacques had a season that caught the attention of scouts from around the league.

“He had a tremendous year,” Prendergast began. “He left training camp in September with the understanding from management here that he had to work on his offense. We knew that physically he could play the game and that he skates well enough, but to contribute in the NHL he would need to be able to score some goals and create offense. He went back and did all that. He worked hard on his skating and on his shot, came to the AHL at the end of the year and certainly didn’t look out of place at all.”

Jacques played just six games with the Road Runners but made a positive impression with the organization and his teammates alike.

“JF did a great job tonight,” said Brodziak after one such contest. “He’s such a big body and a big force out there.”

“Jacques has come in here and done a good job of learning the systems and playing to his strengths,” noticed Winchester. “We had a couple of good shifts and we were able to make some stuff happen.”

“He was excellent,” complimented coach Ward. “In his first game he played with a lot of energy, skates well, he was physical and I thought he played great.”

Jacques lead Baie-Comeau to the playoffs, not an easy task on its own, but also put up a tremendous amount of points in doing so. Scoring 36 goals and 78 points was nearly double his previous best in both categories, a fact that honestly surprised Jacques himself.

“At the beginning of the year I told myself that I wanted to increase my numbers and mix my physical game together with my skills,” Jacques told Hockey’s Future while in Edmonton with the ‘Runners. “Having almost 80 points was more than I thought, but I knew that I could score more goals than I did at 18 years old.”

Jacques also represented the QMJHL against Russia in their WJC tune-up matches after being named as an injury replacement for Alexander Picard (CLB) and was a big hit with onlookers.

Jacques, Winchester and McDonald are all big bodies that can dominate along the wall but for all their similarities, they also have their differences.

“Jacques is probably the most hard-nosed of the three, Colin’s the most natural scorer and Brad’s the all-around package of the three,” described one scout. “The way Jacques played this year though he really opened the eyes of everybody.”

The ink on the next NHL CBA will probably still be damp when the Oilers get Jacques under contract, at least if the club gets their way.

11. (10) Jani Rita (LW) – 23 – HPK (SM-Liiga)
Depth: 1st Round, 13th 1999 Grade: 7C Projection: 2nd Line Forward NHL: Forechecking of Jeff Friesen

The first of six Europeans on the list is one that was once the club’s top prospect, Jani Rita, who helped lead HPK to the semi-finals of the Finnish Elite League playoffs this season. Rita collected 39 points in 56 games during a year in which there was an influx of NHL stars into all the European leagues. It was a bit of redemption for the Finn who struggled in Toronto last year with the Roadrunners and now that he’s got a successful year under his belt, he may have played himself back into the Oiler picture once again.

“I sure hope so; he has a lot of tools and he’s strong enough,” said Prendergast. “The European game is different so the physical part of his game will have to improve. Going from a dismal year in Toronto to starting on the third line for HPK to the first line, and then to the national team, his confidence level has to be right up there and that’s something we need to take advantage of when he comes back here.”

Currently Rita is playing for Finland at the World Championships in Austria.

12. (18) Kyle Brodziak (C) – 21 – Edmonton Road Runners
Draft: 7th Round, 214th 2003 Grade: 6.5B Projection: 3-4th line forward NHL: All-around ability like Rem Murray

He hardly played in the first half of the season, but by the end of the year Kyle Brodziak was one of the most valuable players in the Edmonton Road Runners line-up. It wasn’t until injuries to both Raffi Torres and Jarret Stoll occurred that there was enough room to squeeze Brodziak into action, but game after game he kept collecting points. His 32 points in 56 games was a pace that would have had him at the top of the team’s scoring race had he played a full schedule — pretty good for a rookie who nearly went back to Moose Jaw earlier in the season.

“He had trouble getting into the line-up and there were times we considered sending him back to junior or maybe to the ECHL. but he hung in and battled every night and when the door opened for him he came through and by the end of the year was probably one of our top three forwards,” confirmed Prendergast. “He thinks the game so well and doesn’t seem to get rattled by pressure or physical play. He knows what to do with the puck, makes players around him better, kills penalties and moves the puck on the power play. I think he’s got to get a bit stronger to get to the next level, but he took a huge step forward this year. He’s a kid that can play on your first line or fourth line because he can do all things either way. It was tough for him sitting but he persevered and just kept working.”

Brodziak got sparse minutes in the few games he did play early in the season but created a niche for himself as an invaluable faceoff man, supplanting Stoll in that role by the end of the year.

“At the beginning of the year he was not playing every game, same thing as me and we were working out together and when I started playing he still was not playing,” said Mathieu Roy who picked Brodziak as the young teammate that most impressed him during the year. “He’s got an unbelievable work ethic and really good skills too so he’s going to be well prepared for next year.”

“Brody couldn’t get into games for a few months and we seemed to have our roster set and he wasn’t on it until Stoll got hurt,” said Dan Baum. “He rose to the challenge and he was one of our most effective forwards down the stretch the last few months and kept getting points.”

“He’s a great guy and had a great season,” added Jeff Drouin-Deslauriers. “He does a lot of great things offensively and defensively, he brings a lot to the team and he’s going to be that much better for the team next year.”

The former captain of the Moose Jaw Warriors can be effective in many roles on the team drawing comparisons to previous Oilers like Rem Murray or current ones like Shawn Horcoff and Marty Reasoner. Brodziak says it was not giving up and putting in extra work that was his blueprint to success.

“You just have to keep working hard and that’s what I did by staying out after practice and working on little things and if you don’t get too frustrated you start to gain some confidence and that’s when I started playing better.”

Along with J.F. Jacques, Brodziak has made the biggest jump on the rankings by climbing six positions.

13. (7) Jesse Niinimaki (C) – 21 – Edmonton Road Runners (AHL)
Draft: 1st Round, 15th 2002 Grade: 7C Projection: 2nd line forward NHL: Puck control like Olli Jokinen

Clearly 2004-05 was not a season to remember for Jesse Niinimaki, but it was an important year for the youngster on many different levels.

“I don’t think a lot of European players understand how tough it is to play here until they get here,” said Prendergast. “They hear about it but when they get into it they say ‘whoa man, I’m not ready for this!’ and I think that’s what he went through all year.”

Tony Salmelainen was the only other European player on the ‘Runners squad this year and he explained exactly how hard it was for him to get adjusted when he first came to North America.

“It’s not always on the ice that is the hardest. You come to a different country you have to speak a different language, get a place by yourself, new friends, everything you have to do is new. For some people that takes a long time and the only thing you have when you first get here is your teammates,” Salmelainen explained. “If it affects you mentally then it will hurt your game too.”

“On the ice there are some different rules and the rink is smaller so for some people it could take a whole year,” Salmelainen continued. “For myself it took me half a year to get used to everything but I had always liked the North American style better so I don’t think it was a big deal for me, it was more the off-ice stuff. Dealing with the cars, house, cell phones, all the things you need to get going; the second year is much easier because you know everything. Everybody’s different, for some people it will take longer because of how they play.”

And it is next year that the Oilers are concerning themselves with as opposed to putting too much stock into this past campaign.

“Like I’ve said all year, I don’t think the measuring stick on Jesse Niinimaki was this year, it’s got to be next year because when he got here he was only 175 lbs and certainly wasn’t strong enough to play at this level,” said Prendergast. “He could skate at this level but he had trouble with his consistency. He worked hard at getting bigger and stronger and a lot of people talk about his attitude and being complacent but I don’t agree with that. He cares, and he knows the organization went out on a limb as a first round pick and we expect things from him.”

“In practice with the Road Runners you see him do things with the puck that very few players in hockey can do. But I think it’s something that he’s got to come back here in September with a clean slate, bigger and stronger, and it’s a new opportunity for him to show us what he can do and then we’ll make a decision on him this time next year.”

There was much discussion locally as to whether the coaching staff was handling the talented Finn correctly by easing him into the line-up rather than throwing him to the wolves and forcing him into action. However, when he was dressed and playing, Niinimaki didn’t deliver enough to warrant more opportunities.

“We had a team that didn’t get enough points in the bank before we got on that long road trip and I think some nights Jesse did it to himself by not showing enough to give Geoff Ward the confidence to bring him back,” explained the head scout. “Brodziak went the other route and made it hard to take him out, it was easy to take Niinimaki out because there were nights where he was just invisible. He’s got to mentally tougher and accept that there will be nights when he’s going to get hacked and whacked, but he’s got to fight through it and create and do the things he’s capable of. He has the hockey sense and he definitely has the hands to do things with the puck that very few guys in our system can do, but he’s got to get tougher.

“There’s light at the end of the tunnel for him. It’s not the biggest light but we knew when we drafted him that it was going to be a long ride before the opportunity came for him. Next year is that opportunity.”

14. (14) Dragan Umicevic (LW) – 20 – Södertälje (SEL)
Draft: 6th Round, 184th 2003 Grade: 7C Projection: Scoring forward NHL: Scoring prowess of Patrik Elias

Colin McDonald was the first player on the list described by Kevin Prendergast as a sniper and Dragan Umicevic is the other. The rookie SEL sensation enjoyed a standout year despite all of the NHLers. Umicevic was the only Oiler prospect in Europe aside from Rita that wasn’t hurt by the lockout, in fact, one could argue he actually benefited.

“He played with Oli Jokinen and they had tremendous chemistry between the two of them, but when Jokinen left, then the coaches couldn’t find a place for Dragan,” Prendergast said. “He went to the first line to the fourth line and in Europe, if you’re on the fourth line you’re a checker and very seldom take the puck over the redline, you just sit back and wait. I saw him in two games at the end of the year where he started on the fourth line and by the end of the game he was on the second line.”

“He possesses unbelievably quick hands, one-times the puck very well,” Prendergast added. “He’s very similar to McDonald in the way they shoot the puck — very quick release.”

With the Oilers’ spotlight on him, many fans were hoping that they would see the talented Serb playing in North America in 2005-06, but that doesn’t appear to be in the cards.

“We asked him if he was interested, but he’s got one more year to go in his deal over there,” said Prendergast before adding that the player didn’t feel he was ready yet anyway. “He felt he’s got to get stronger too. He’s around 184 lbs and he’s going to have to get around 190-192 lbs before he comes over.”

Interestingly enough, had Edmonton had more success last season, there was a very real possibility that Umicevic would have come to take part in the AHL postseason.

“If the Road Runners would have made the playoffs we probably would have tried to bring him over at that point, but we’ll see where that goes next year,” confirmed Prendergast.

15. (NR) Geoff Paukovich (C) – 19 – Denver Pioneers (NCAA)
Draft: 2nd Round, 57th 2004 Grade: 6.5C Projection: 3-4th line power center NHL: Toughness of Joel Otto

The first newcomer to the list is hulking Denver Pioneers center Geoff Paukovich. Winning the national title in your rookie year is obviously a successful season, but the Oilers were pleased with their 2004 second round selection before the playoffs even started.

“He stepped into what was supposed to be a rebuilding year in Denver and did an awful lot of positives for that team,” said Prendergast. “He gave them a physical presence, 22 points in 38 games and over 100 PIM. He showed up every night and at the end of the year he was rewarded with a national championship so it was a great year for him.”

“He’s in the same mold as Winchester and Jacques,” said one area scout. “He usually played third or fourth line which is fine on the defending national champions, but he also played second power play. They just put his big ass in front of the net, but he also showed that he’s got good hands by scoring with tips or making a little play on a rebound.”

Standing 6’4 and 225lbs, the 19-year-old is a force in the NCAA where he can dominate over the vast majority of opposition defensemen. The rare exception to that claim is fellow Oiler prospect Matt Greene with North Dakota and the pair battled all year long. The peak of their rivalry came in the WCHA conference tournament after Paukovich hit North Dakota forward Robbie Bina from behind, breaking the 5’8 player’s neck.

“Matt Greene snapped; he took about three penalties in a row after that, he was out for blood,” described Prendergast who was at the game. “He and Paukovich have had a running feud all year anyways. The incident was unfortunate and Geoff plays tough but he didn’t mean to injure him. We talked to him after the game and it had rattled him, when you see a kid taken off the ice on a stretcher it affects you.”

According to Pioneers head coach George Gwozdecky, Paukovich is an active member of the community who takes a lot of enjoyment from working with local youth. The Denver native was suspended two games for the hit on Bina and returned to play after but was clearly not the same player. When asked to describe Paukovich and draw a style of play comparison, the Denver coach ironically told Bob Stauffer from Total Sports in Edmonton, “I think Geoff probably plays more like Matt Greene than anyone else that I can think of; I’ve never seen anyone as big as Geoff who is so agile on his skates.”

“He’s fearless, a physical power forward, dominant along the boards and in front of the net in both ends of the ice but especially in the offensive zone where he can’t be moved,” Gwozdecky said. “He scored some goals that were just unbelievable where people were trying to move him and they were hanging off of him but he’d use one arm to bat the puck in.”

At this point it looks unlikely to happen, but if the Oilers are allowed by the league to hold a prospects camp this summer, the organization is prepared for the potential sparks that would ensue with both Paukovich and Greene in the same rink.

“We’ll just have to make sure that when we draw up the teams for training camp that they’re on the same team,” laughed Prendergast who clearly doesn’t mind the fact that he’s got two monsters in his stable. “They did go at each other a couple times this year and I think one of the comments that was made was ‘I’ll see your ass in training camp!’ and the other’s response was ‘that’s great with me!’ Things change when you become teammates and hopefully it doesn’t carry over; kids have long memories but they’re prospects of the Edmonton Oilers and not of North Dakota and Denver.”

Next season Paukovich will have an expanded role as the Pioneers are going to lose some important seniors over the summer from their two-time champion roster.

16. (NR) Zack Stortini (RW) – 19 – Sudbury Wolves (OHL)
Draft: 3rd Round, 94th 2003 Grade: 5.5B Projection: 3-4th line enforcer NHL: Bob Probert’s toughness with Kelly Buchberger’s heart

It wasn’t a stellar year for Zack Stortini, but the captain of the Sudbury Wolves is more concerned with his team’s success rather than his own and therefore the youngest player with an Oiler contract can feel good about his year.

“Zack is Zack; he’s a very blue-collar hockey player and what you see is what you get every night,” said Prendergast. “The team had success against Brampton and he played well every game. His forte as a pro will be excelling in those tough games because he’s a presence on the ice. Certainly every goaltender in the OHL knew when he was on the ice because he was in their face the whole night. His point production was adequate for what we expect of him in the NHL but it’s the intangibles that he brings to the rink with him and that big heart of his.”

Prendergast believes his accumulated -7 rating in the playoffs was because of a couple bad games against Ottawa in the second round of the OHL’s playoffs, but not a fair assessment of Stortini’s overall play in the postseason.

“I don’t know if it was a bad year or an average year or if it was one of those years where the upward curve has to plateau a bit,” said one area scout. “This guy can go out and be an energy guy and lay people out and come away with the puck. Zack’s got pretty good hockey sense but he still has to work on his skating. He’s a three-year captain for a reason and I don’t know if you’ll ever meet a kid in junior that has that level of class and vocabulary and is as likeable as him.”

Stortini’s 40 points represented a new career high but his days in the OHL are now behind him and the youngster will do no less than suit up with the Oilers AHL affiliate in the fall. Eventually the Oilers plan to have Stortini anchoring a massive trio on a single NHL line combination that will have the opposition taking notice when they come over the boards.

“We envision Zack Stortini and J.F. Jacques with Geoff Paukovich in the middle as one line,” smiled Prendergast. “Knowing what those three bring to the table every night, I think that would be a pretty effective combination.”

17. (NR) Liam Reddox (LW) – 19 – Peterborough Petes (OHL)
Draft: 4th Round, 112th 2004 Grade: 7D Projection: Scoring forward NHL: Darter like Justin Williams

Described as the Oilers’ sleeper pick of the 2004 Entry Draft, Liam Reddox has continued to show why the Oilers made it a priority to select the baby-faced center. After leading the Peterborough Petes in scoring as a rookie in 2003-04 with 31 goals and 64 points, Reddox repeated that feat by scoring 36 goals and 82 points as a sophomore.

“Every level Liam has been on, he’s been the leading scorer on his team,” Prendergast stated. “He’s not very big and not the fastest skater in the world, but if there’s an opportunity to score and he has the puck, there’s a good chance it’ll end up in the net. He finds ways to get into holes and creates with the puck. His size is always going to work against him, but I think the game is going to change over the next few years and the hooking and holding is going to be taken out of it and a kid like this will have an opportunity. He’s going to have to prove he can do it at the AHL level before he gets his NHL shot, but at every level he’s been at he’s done it and defied the odds.”

“When we go into a draft there are one or two players that we have our eye on that we‘d really, really like to get and the two we had last year were Paukovich and Reddox,” revealed the head scout. “Reddox is a kid that everyone on our staff came away from seeing with the same impression in that there’s an upside to this kid and he just finds ways to get it done. It might not be pretty some nights but in the end it gets done.”

“His coach, Dick Todd, just loves him and says they need him because he does the little things right and he finds ways to win games for them,” added Prendergast. “If we have patience with him I think we’ll have a player down the road.”

The 5’11 185 lb winger is considered a long-term project but because he has skill and a proven track record of scoring, expect Reddox to get a lot of opportunities down the road with the Oilers.

18. (17) Roman Tesliuk (D) – 19 – Kamloops Blazers (WHL)
Draft: 2nd Round, 44th 2004 Grade: 6C Projection: 4-6 defenseman NHL: Personality like Boris Mironov

The Kamloops Blazers struggled to be competitive on most nights this past season because they were a very young and inexperienced team. One of the expected leaders from the blueline was 19-year-old Russian-born Roman Tesliuk, but it took half the season before he found his groove and started compiling impressive numbers. By the end of the campaign Tesliuk had notched 29 points, doubling his previous year’s totals and just missing his own personal target by a single point.

Most impressive for Tesliuk was his playoff performance against the high-powered Kootenay Ice where he earned five points in six games, tops amongst WHL defensemen at the time.

“He played on the first power play unit and against the top line of the other team every night and unfortunately for Kamloops, a good chunk of the game was spent in their end so he had to work on his defensive game which came a long way this year,” said Prendergast. “He’s a happy go lucky kid, a bit of a free wheeler, but I think Kamloops showed a lot of confidence in him and played him in a lot of different situations and he learned from it. He played really well in the playoffs against Kootenay, had five goals and was a star in two of the games so he showed that he can play under pressure. He moves the puck well, has a cannon for a shot and plays a physical style. There’s a light at the end of the tunnel for him but we’ll need to be patient for him too.”

To Prendergast, Tesliuk is reminiscent of a former Oiler who was also of Russian decent.

“There’s a lot of Boris Mironov in him and hopefully we take all the good parts,” he laughed. “They’re both very outgoing guys and never have a bad day, both shoot the puck well and play physically for Russians.”

Kamloops is expected to be an improved club next year and Tesliuk will be an integral part of any success they have.

19. (9) Tony Salmelainen RW – 23 – Toronto Roadrunners (AHL)
Draft: 2nd Round, 41st 1999 Grade: 7D Projection: Scoring forward NHL: As fast as Todd Marchant

Falling the farthest on this edition of the top 20 rankings is Finnish speedster Tony Salmelainen. After a promising campaign in Toronto where he compiled 44 points in 57 AHL games and had a short stint with the Oilers, Salmelainen disappointed this year with a mere 44 points in 76 contests. It was Salmelainen’s third AHL season which draws parallels to the underachievement of a fellow countryman last year.

“He had a tremendous start, but it was the same thing with Rita the previous year and they seemed to hit the wall for some reason,” Prendergast said. “After his start we were thinking he could get 90 points and have a fantastic year but he just petered right out.”

As the season ended, the friendly and outgoing winger was honest about his year and admitted that he was as disappointed as everyone else.

“The beginning was good and somehow when the whole team went down, I was going with them,” he said. “I tried to step up but I just couldn’t help the team win games and that’s what I’m disappointed about because I think I should have been better at the times when the team struggled the most offensively.”

Upon returning to his homeland, Salmelainen promptly signed a new contract for the coming year with HIFK Helsinki, the team that gave him his professional start. Both the player and the Oilers are not ruling out a return to Edmonton and the NHL but it doesn’t seem likely for 2005-06.

“We’ll see what happens, maybe signing in Finland will make him a better player; he’s still a prospect as far as we’re concerned,” confirmed Prendergast.

20. (12) Alexei Mikhnov (LW) – 22 – Sibir Novosibirsk (RSL)
Draft: 1st Round, 17th 2000 Grade: 7D Projection: 2nd line power forward NHL: Big and strong like Nik Antropov

The window of opportunity is still ajar for Alexei Mikhnov because of the fact that he is only 22 years old, but the patience of the organization and the fans is rapidly diminishing. With no NHL CBA in place, Mikhnov spent the year in Russia playing with Novosibirsk until a late season trade to Yaroslavl. Once with the Lokomotiv, Mikhnov enjoyed a prolonged postseason and gained some valuable experience.

“He finished the year pretty well there, played on the third line but he had seven points in 16 games. They made it to the final four of the Russian league and I guess he played pretty well in the playoffs too,” said Prendergast who mentioned that the 6’5 winger played in four playoff games for Yaroslavl.

Interestingly enough, the Oilers spoke with Mikhnov earlier in the year while he was still with Novosibirsk to see if they could entice him to play for the Road Runners.

“We did approach them last winter to see if he’d be interested in doing the same thing Niinimaki did and they said they would consider it but that was right before the Yaroslavl deal,” confirmed Prendergast who certainly thinks the time is here for the player to come over. “When he was here last year he said his goal was to play in the NHL so once a new CBA is put in place we’ll get a better read of what he wants for his future. If he’s content there, then he’s going in the wrong direction, if he’s not content with that and he wants the opportunity to come over and show us what he can do then we’d welcome him.”

Expect negotiations to continue over the off season with Mikhnov, who was married last summer, but convincing him to take less money to play in the AHL might still be a tough sell.

Missing the Cut

(NR) Tom Gilbert (D) – 22 – Wisconsin Badgers (NCAA)
Draft: 4th Round, 129th 2002 Grade: 6C Projection: 5-6th defenseman

After a slow start, junior defenseman Tom Gilbert found his groove and regained his prominent status on the Wisconsin Badgers blueline. The two-way rearguard had his lowest point total of his three years in college despite playing more games this season than in any other.

“He played very well for Wisconsin, was their top two guy for three quarters of the year and then fell a bit but came back for the playoffs and played very well for them,” said Prendergast. “He’s a smart player, moves the puck well, quarterbacks the power play, and (head coach) Mike Eaves was happy with him this year.”

(NR) Mathieu Roy (D) – 21 – Edmonton Road Runners (AHL)
Draft: 7th Round, 215th 2003 Grade: 5B Projection: 6-7th defenseman

Chosen as the Road Runners’ top defenseman this past season, Mathieu Roy has elevated his stock from ‘depth player’ to ‘potential NHL depth player’ but he will need to follow up this breakout year with another solid performance in 2005-06.

“He can do everything; he’s tough, he can really throw the body, he has great hands and great eyes and he can definitely shoot the puck,” complimented teammate Jason Platt. “He’s a huge asset for this team and anybody would be lucky to have him.”

“He had a solid year and got some points when last year he didn’t even barely play!” smiled Jeff Woywitka. “To come up and be one of our top defenseman this year was really good for him. He’s kind of putting the pressure on us now because we’re fighting for the same job!”

(NR) Jason Platt (D) – 24 – Wisconsin Badgers (NCAA)
Draft: 8th Round, 247th 2000 Grade: 5B Projection: 6-7th defenseman

As impressive as Roy was in the second half of the year, Platt was equal to the task during the first three months. The only knock on the rookie from outsiders that don’t see him play regularly is with his size, but at 6’1 and 210lbs, Platt is as up to the task of playing physically as anyone else.

“He made the Road Runners this year when he wasn’t supposed to,” said one scout. “He plays like Jason Smith, he doesn’t give a shit if he gets hurt, he just leaves it all out on the ice. He’s a gamer and a character kid. If Platt were 6’3 he’d be a great NFL linebacker because just loves to pick somebody out of the crowd, go after them and try to kill them!”

(NR) Marty St. Pierre (C) – 21 – Edmonton Road Runners (AHL)/Greenville Grrrowl (ECHL)
Draft: Free Agent 2004 Grade: 7D Projection: Playmaking center

After a very successful and productive OHL career, Marty St. Pierre turned pro with the Greenville Grrrowl where he was an instant hit. Named to the league’s All-Star game, St. Pierre couldn’t play because he was recalled to the AHL at the same time. With Greenville the diminutive center tallied 53 points in 45 games and although he mostly played with grinders when with the Road Runners, he also showed incredible passing skills and added seven points in 18 AHL games.

“Next year when we reevaluate the team, Marty’s going to get a good opportunity to come in because he’s a guy who can do things on the power play,” said Prendergast. “In order to play at the AHL level his skating is going to have to get better, but he’s an intelligent kid and he understands that and will work on that this summer.”

Comment on this story at the Oilers section of the Hockey’s Future Message Boards.
Copyright 2005 Hockey’s Future. Do not duplicate without written permission of the editorial staff.