The Edmonton Oilers held a weeklong rookie camp for their prospects in early September as a lead-in to the club’s main training camp which brought to town most of the organization’s top hopefuls for the future. Included in the gathering were 13 players with CHL ties, five skaters who were minor league pros last year as well as 14 free agents from various leagues and levels of experience. In all, 37 players were in camp but only 22 moved on to the main sessions a week later.
The following is a report card on how the array of players performed over the course of their tenure in Edmonton.
Player – 2005-06 team (Grade)
Rob Schremp – London Knights (A-) – When camp opened there were few people who considered 19-year-old Schremp a realistic possibility to crack the NHL roster. With 14 forwards with NHL contracts already in camp, Schremp would have needed to have an incredibly impressive showing just to elevate him on the depth chart ahead of Yan Stastny and Marc-Antoine Pouliot to get consideration.
September began impressively for Schremp, his puck control and deadly shot were clearly on a different level from everyone else in the rookie camp. His creative passing and playmaking was done with an apparent ease and when he decided to shoot the puck, it was with a force and an accuracy not seen in an Oiler player for many years.
The two goals that Schremp scored against the Golden Bears quickly catapulted him to the forefront of the media’s attention. Every post game or practice scrum was lead off by questions about the London forward, and rightfully so.
“He does things at a level that most players can’t do,” complimented head coach Craig MacTavish. “We all know full well the value of a player that brings the offensive dimension to our club, the value that would hold in terms of our success. I think everybody is very encouraging of Robbie because maybe the quicker he comes along maybe it’s a situation where we grow as well.”
In the annual intersquad game he was well down the list of shooters in the climactic shootout competition but received the loudest ovation of the night when he finally did get the tap on the shoulder.
All along Schremp maintained a level head, not getting caught up in the newfound attention from the mainstream media who, with less than a handful of exceptions, might not have recognized him on the street a month earlier.
As camp progressed, MacTavish decided to try Schremp on the left wing where he would probably have to play if he was to factor into the regular line-up at all this season.
“I haven’t noticed his positional play being poor at all but the strength, quickness and the reads that centermen have to have, those are gained through experience,” MacTavish explained. “You only gain experience by making mistakes but you lose games by making mistakes so we’ll probably protect him on the wing for a little bit. We see him right now as a very viable option for us to use 5-on-4, 4-on-3, 5-on-3 and those are going to be significant minutes.”
Although his creativity followed him from rookie camp into the exhibition schedule, the scoring did not and Schremp only managed to find twine once in six games.
Edmonton was clearly weighing their options and debating on whether to keep Schremp or Jani Rita, their former first round pick from 1999 who had also performed well in camp. In the end, Edmonton opted to return Schremp to the OHL for this year.
“He was close, I told him that his strength and quickness were the only two things right now keeping him out of the league,” explained MacTavish. “He should feel good and positive about the camp that he had. He has a skill level that is very impressive; he’s going to get lots of things done at this level.”
“I felt pretty good at the beginning of the camp but I could tell when teams started getting their full rosters in that it was getting tougher and tougher,” Schremp admitted. “I think I kind of hurt myself the last couple of games, I didn’t really produce very well and struggled in the speed category. I could tell, I don’t think I was really ready yet.
“Maybe next year.”
J.F. Jacques – Hamilton Bulldogs (A-) – No one upped their stock in the past month more so than rough and ready winger Jean-François Jacques. His combination of relentless aggression and terrific speed garnered the attention of Edmonton’s brass enough to give him an extended stay through the main camp. To Jacques, his performance stems from a newfound confidence after enjoying a huge year in Baie-Comeau followed by a short stint in the AHL.
“With the year I had last year I knew that coming into my third camp I could be not only good but be great out there and be one of the best players,” he said just days into rookie camp. “I played with some high quality players (in the AHL) like on the same line with Jarret Stoll and Paul Healey. It brought me some experience that some of the guys here don’t have from junior so it’s a plus for me to have been there last year.”
It didn’t matter to Jacques if it was an exhibition game against Calgary or the annual Joey Moss Cup inter-squad match, he was dishing the body on a nightly basis. Igor Ulanov didn’t like getting hit by the 6’4 225 lbs rookie in the Blue and White game, but Jacques was just doing what he felt he needed to do.
“Even if it’s a veteran or something, I have to play my game and my game is physical play,” said Jacques who was paid back in full by the Russian veteran in the dying seconds of the game. “He got me at the end when I scored the empty net goal. It’s even now.”
Craig MacTavish liked what he saw from Jacques throughout camp and had no problem with the hit on Ulanov.
“I was impressed, as a young physical player you’re always balancing what is appropriate in a game like that and what you have to do to make the team. It’s tough balancing act and I was impressed with the way he managed all that,” MacTavish complimented. “He’s the hardest hitter that we’ve seen here in a long time with that combination of strength and power. He gets a couple big hits every game.”
The game against the University of Alberta was the first chance Jacques had to really unload the hits on an opposing team and he didn’t disappoint. The 20-year-old had a pair of assists on the night as well as a couple penalties and a score of bruising body checks.
“That’s the way they play and that’s what they bring,” Kevin Prendergast said after that game in regards to Jacques and Zack Stortini. “They showed character tonight in that they didn’t want to lose. They’re big strong kids and they know it but they come to play and if you’re playing them you’d better be ready because they’re coming after you.”
One attribute the Oilers really like in Jacques is his strength. In fact, Jacques broke a 9-year-old record during the fitness testing that was set by Georges Laraque when he was an 18-year-old. The two-handed grip test measures how tightly a player can squeeze the measuring instrument with both hands.
“That test doesn’t really mean anything,” argued Laraque with a smile.
Laraque’s old score of 184 pounds per square inch (PSI) lasted until Jacques upped it this year, although the new benchmark didn’t last long.
“He beat me back two days ago,” Jacques explained at the time. “(Laraque) had 184 with both hands, last week I made 185 and two days ago he made 186.”
Jacques made it to the last week of main camp before he was cut and reassigned to the Hamilton Bulldogs. It was a sad day for him but at the same time, did not come as a surprise.
“I’m only 20, so when I had the tap on my shoulder this morning I knew what it was,” he said. “They have a good line-up here so it’s a tough line up to get a shot at. I’ll just go down there and continue working on the things that I’ve been working on the last few weeks. I’m going to do what I can to open some eyes in the organization and hopefully I can have a few games this year.
“I’m really happy with the way I played, I don’t think I could have done any better,” Jacques summed up. “I know what I have to work on, but I don’t think I could have made a better impression than I did.”
Marc-Antoine Pouliot – Hamilton Bulldogs (A-) – This was the third Edmonton camp for Pouliot but it was the first where he was 100 percent healthy and able to show the Oilers exactly what he could bring to the team. Craig MacTavish was clearly impressed with what he saw.
“There were some guys that we sent down today that surprised me and hadn’t shown much until this camp, Pouliot being one,” said the bench boss after the second to last round of cuts ended Pouliot’s camp. “He’d had some health issues the last training camps but he played better and established himself as a prospect for us.”
What the 20-year-old delivered was an offensive threat on a nightly basis and when he wasn’t scoring the goals he was setting them up. Having spent the past couple seasons playing with Sidney Crosby has meant that Pouliot is already used to working with an elite level players, so teaming up with NHL caliber linemates was not a big adjustment.
Coming into the camp the feeling was that Pouliot was just behind Yan Stastny on the depth chart because the latter had a couple years of pro hockey under his belt already and that the Rimouski captain would need seasoning in the AHL. While both statements are fact, in reality the separation between Stastny and Pouliot on the depth chart is negligible and either could be the first player called up this year as an injury replacement depending on who is playing better at the time.
“That was probably the best game we’ve seen him play here while he’s been hurt the last two years he’s been here,” Prendergast said of Pouliot after the Golden Bears game. “He showed the character and what he’s made of in the third period.”
Pouliot’s lone point in four preseason games came against the Dallas Stars when he found the back of the net against Mike Smith. Although he would have liked to contribute more, Pouliot says he was happy with his camp performance.
“I had a good camp but not enough to make the team,” Pouliot said. “I gave my best for sure and I’m happy with what they said to me. They trust me a lot; they said if I work on couple things they’d see me in the future line-up so I’m happy about that.”
Pouliot wasn’t going directly down to Hamilton though as he needed to see Edmonton’s medical staff in regards to a nasal cavity problem that had been bothering him in the later stages of camp.
“I’ve had a problem to breathe, one nostril is blocked,” he said. “I’m not going to make excuse, but I’ve had a problem to sleep for the last couple of weeks.”
Fredrik Pettersson – Calgary Hitmen (B+) – The most impressive new face at training camp this year was definitely that of Fredrik Pettersson. Thanks to the budget restrictions of the lockout, many of Edmonton’s scouts hadn’t seen Pettersson play but everyone was ecstatic about what they saw at camp.
Pettersson is listed generously at 5’10, but avoids the stereotype of being a small player because of his aggressive mindset on the ice. He’s willing to hit and take hits to make plays, he directs everything to the net and his playmaking skills are very strong.
“He’s a very energetic guy, a very good skater and he has some excellent skills too,” agreed European scout Frank Musil. “I was really anxious to see how he’d do in North America and so far I’ve been very pleased with what I’ve seen.”
GM Kevin Lowe really liked what he saw from Pettersson and is looking forward to watching the prospect play in the WHL this year.
“I think he’ll be an exciting player for the Hitmen,” said Lowe. “He caught our eye this early and if he can keep that development mode going then he might be able to play (in the NHL) some day.”
Devan Dubnyk – Kamloops Blazers (B) – The goalie that did stand apart, other than Mike Morrison, was Kamloops ‘keeper Devan Dubnyk. Although his preseason stats don’t show it because he was shelled in a pair of road games in Dallas and Calgary, Dubnyk played very solidly. He was the unofficial player of the game in the Joey Moss Cup after being told he was playing just minutes before the game due to a Ty Conklin groin injury.
“It was a lot of fun, maybe I should get the nod five minutes before every game because you don’t have time to get nervous,” he laughed afterwards. “I just tried to stay relaxed and not think about it too much.”
All told, Dubnyk was remarkable when it came to the shootout having stopped all five shots he faced in the preseason including one in his hometown of Calgary against Jarome Iginla.
“Devan came in and played very confident and was well prepared for training camp,” said Prendergast. “He was very solid in the preseason games, got beat early in Calgary but came back and developed that mentality that he wasn’t going to get beat again.”
Danny Syvret – Hamilton Bulldogs (B) – There are those who feel Danny Syvret should have made the Oilers opening night roster because of the way he played during the camp. There is no doubt that because of how poorly veteran Cory Cross has played, Syvret would still be in Edmonton if it were not for the role that contracts play. However, the rookie was cut, and Syvret will begin the year in Hamilton and hope for a recall sooner rather than later. He might have competition from other farm hands, but there are differences between Syvret and some of the other Oiler AHL players.
“We like the way he moves the puck and his poise,” said GM Kevin Lowe. “Where Matt (Greene) is more of a banger of the Jason Smith variety, Danny is a puck mover a la Marc-Andre Bergeron.”
Syvret played well in the games he dressed in, although like Schremp, found it much more challenging as the closer the regular season got.
“The longer you go, you want to be in the line-up come the start of the season,” he sighed after getting the bad news. “I was two days away from the start of the season so in one sense it’s good that I made it this far and learn from the experience. I knew it would be an adjustment, but the first game I played I thought I fared well and the ball just sort of kept rolling from there. I think in all I played pretty well, I was jumping into the play and creating offense and I think that’s what they’re looking for from me.”
Syvret played in four games, had one point but more importantly, finished the preseason off even in the plus/minus column.
“When you’re as smart as he is, you find a way to get things done,” Prendergast said. “He found himself over his head in a couple games but he found a way to get himself out of trouble. Danny was really good, he was maybe a little heavy, but the short offseason coming from London probably hurt him.”
Troy Bodie – Kelowna Rockets (B-) – One of the most pleasant surprises this fall was the play of 6’4 212 lb power forward Troy Bodie. Edmonton had to sign the 20-year-old this past summer and did so because they felt there was enough there to justify spending the money. After this camp, it’s obvious that they were right.
“I can see myself improving; I’m working hard on things during the season that I need to improve on like my skating and stuff,” said Bodie. “I was this weight last season and but I wasn’t strong enough to skate with it. I’ve come back this season a lot stronger and faster so I can hold it really well.”
Bodie played well in the exhibition games he dressed for. After impressing the Oiler brass for three weeks, Kevin Lowe and company opted to return Bodie to his WHL team to play his overage year. There is no way Bodie is reassigned back to junior if the Oilers have their own AHL team this year, but because they don’t, they were forced to sending the winger back to Kelowna. Bodie’s stock definitely went up over the course of the last 25 days.
“Troy was outstanding; I don’t think we could have asked for any more from the young man,” beamed head scout Kevin Prendergast. “He’s still got to improve his skating and his strength to get to the next level but he’s certainly a young man that is going in the right direction for us.”
Bryan Young – Peterborough Petes (B-) – One player who has made a ton of progress since the last time he was in Edmonton is defenseman Bryan Young. A shy introvert a year ago, both on and off the ice, Young was much more willing to get involved this time around.
“I got my feet wet last year and learned what it was all about and this year has actually gone a lot better,” Young understated. “If you step up and mistake here it ends up in the back of your net so you really have to pick your spots more. At the same time, everybody is a good hockey player so you’ve got guys around you that will back you up if you do get caught out of position and that’s a good feeling.”
Young was one of the more aggressive hitters during the rookie camp having laid out numerous forwards, but he also was rocked a couple times himself. While he played very well, it was obvious that his strength needs to get better before leaving junior. At one point he was lost a battle in the corner with diminutive forward Mike Duco and it cost his team a goal.
However, with the encouraging progression he has made in the last 12 months it will be very interesting to see how he comes to camp a year from now.
Zack Stortini – Iowa Stars (B-) – He’s not ready yet, but Zack Stortini is getting closer to the NHL every year. His skating still needs to improve and he needs playing time in the AHL to get accustomed to the pace of professional hockey, but Stortini isn’t far away and he will be an Oiler one day.
Stortini was very physical throughout camp but did not drop the gloves until playing against Dallas in the preseason. Unlike at most camps, the Oilers didn’t want to see young tough guys trying to fight each other to make their way onto the team.
One thing Stortini doesn’t get a lot of credit for is his ability to score. However, the ever-smiling winger did score goals during the camp, a regulation time marker and the shootout winner in the Joey Moss Cup game as well as his first NHL tally in that same game with the Stars. In three preseason games, Stortini had 20 minutes in penalties a +1 rating to go with his one point.
“I came in here with the expectation of being a part of this club,” said Stortini after given the news of his reassignment to Iowa. “I don’t think any less of myself because I’m not here because it’s part of the game and I understand the rationale behind it so I’m just looking forward to getting the opportunity to play for the Edmonton Oilers one day.”
Kyle Brodziak – Iowa Stars (C+) – Training camp is always important but in reality, for Kyle Brodziak it meant very little in regards to his status with the club. Last season Brodziak barely saw action with the Road Runners until the second half of the year, but by April he was clearly one of the most consistent and reliable players on the team. What that meant though, was that he would be headed back to the AHL this year in order to prove that 2004-05 wasn’t a fluke.
“I think I made some strides last year with the team and I’m looking forward to having a whole year of just being able to play solid,” said Brodziak after being cut. “Last year was kind of a battle, a frustrating struggle, but this year I look forward to having the whole year just to see what I can do out there.”
The Oilers liked what they saw from the 21-year-old native of Vegreville, Alberta and feel that he’s one of the guys with a possible NHL future ahead of him, but they do need to see improvements in his game this year for that to happen.
“There’s a lot of little things for me to work on; faceoffs for sure, I need to get a little faster and a little stronger, just a lot of things like that,” Brodziak listed. “I don’t think I’m too far off but those are little things that I need to improve to make the jump.”
Matt Greene – Iowa Stars (C+) – Greene was the player that many Oiler prospect fans we really hoping to get a glimpse of at training camp. Unfortunately for the heavy hitting Greene, rookie camp was not a place where he could display that particular facet of his game. With very little hitting and no fighting going on, Greene had to rely on his defensive positioning to get by. Being new to the pro ranks and trying to make the adjustment to the new rules cost him.
Greene was good, but not allowed to be Matt Greene. In the preseason games, he played well but was victimized by the seasoned NHL forwards he faced, most notably Mike Modano and Bill Guerin in Dallas and again later that week in Calgary.
“He’s got a ways to go, not a long ways though because he actually thinks the game a lot better than we thought he did,” described Prendergast. “The thing that surprised us was that he didn’t play the physical game the way we expected and I think he got caught up with just trying to learn the game. He’s got a pro mentality and he’ll figure it out very quickly. His decisions with the puck were really good, he had two bad shifts in Calgary and that really hurt him.”
On the day he was cut and reassigned to Iowa, Greene was very open and honest about his performance. His willingness to recognize his flaws is a sign of his maturity.
“I’m not going to say the odds were stacked against me because it’s the same for every young player coming in,” said Greene. “If you’re going to take away a guy’s spot who has been playing for a few years you’re going to have to play better than I did. I expected to do this so it’s not a big deal at all going down to the minors.”
Stephane Goulet – Moncton Wildcats (C+) – After adding nearly ten pounds to his frame, Stephane Goulet came to camp stronger and more confident than a year ago. Big things are predicted for Goulet this year in Moncton where he is guaranteed an appearance at the Memorial Cup in the role as tournament hosts.
“It’s an honor for the club to be hosting the tournament but we don’t want to be tourists at a Memorial Cup,” Goulet told HF. “We have a free pass but we want to be competitive and win like all the other clubs.”
Goulet came to rookie camp riding a wave of success during the early stages of camp in Moncton where he was scoring goals and playing very well. That good fortune followed him to Edmonton where he played alongside Yan Stastny and Fredrik Pettersson. Seeing ‘Stastny and Goulet’ playing together on a line drew a smile from many.
One of the highlight performances for Goulet was in the game against the University of Alberta Golden Bears playing alongside Marc-Antoine Pouliot and undrafted Kitchener winger Mike Duco. The trio connected for a pretty tic-tac-toe goal capped off by a delicate Goulet pass to a waiting Pouliot who one-timed it for a goal.
Yan Stastny – Iowa Stars (C+) – Injuries caught a hold of a few players at camp but probably hurt no one prospect more than newcomer Yan Stastny. After a solid opening week where he was the early favorite to make noise at the camp, Stastny suffered a deep bone bruise in his left wrist during the annual clash with the Golden Bears.
Stastny began the month hot on the heels of being acquired from the Bruins and the natural topic of discussion upon his arrival in town was the relationship with his legendary father. Once he got all of those questions out of the way, he let his hockey take center stage. Unfortunately with the wrist injury, Stastny ended up missing the first ten days of the main camp and his opportunity to take a run at making the opening night roster quickly vanished.
“It’s tough but I have the support of the coaching staff and the players here,” Stastny said midway through the month. “Once I get on the ice, as long as I get that opportunity to show what I can contribute to this team I’ll be happy with that, I just want that opportunity.”
Stastny was able to get into a trio of exhibition games but was held off the score sheet and went -5. In the end, the 23-year-old was reassigned to Iowa at the end of the month but took it with a grain of salt and didn’t whine about how the injury robbed him of his opportunity.
“The injury didn’t help but I can’t make that an excuse,” he said. “I should have done a few things a little differently but you have to play with the cards you’re dealt. I thought I played all right, as the days progressed I thought I did better and better, I think I just ran out of time I guess. I think I’ll be back.”
“Mentally I need to be tougher, you have to fight through the rust that comes with (an injury),” Stastny concluded. “The veterans here are in phenomenal shape. I thought I worked hard this summer but it’s just fully a notch above what I’m used to.”
Slava Trukhno – P.E.I. Rocket (C) – Recently drafted Russian forward Slava Trukhno took a few days to get comfortable during the rookie camp but by the end of the week he had shown some flashes of the talent Edmonton scouts saw in him last season. The 18-year-old has strength and agility to go with his hockey sense making him a prospect to keep an eye on this year.
“Three years ago I would never have guessed I’d be here but to see guys like Ryan Smyth, it’s just been amazing,” Trukhno told HF during his stay in Edmonton. “Of course you’re nervous, yesterday I had trouble sleeping but it’s fun once you get out there on the ice with them.”
“He told me that he’d learned so much for his defensive game just being here for the last few days and by being around the guys so he’s looking forward to this season,” QMJHL scout Bill Dandy said.
The camp was clearly a solid springboard for Trukhno’s regular season as he has gotten off to a quick start playing for P.E.I.
Brad Winchester – Edmonton Oilers (C) – It’s been a long time coming, but when the Oilers acquired the 2000 second round draft pick from the Islanders for Roman Hamrlik and used it to draft Winchester, expectations from fans were there right away. Winchester endeared himself to the organization last year with the Road Runners and was rewarded with a two-year NHL contract.
His camp performance was generally under the radar with a couple of very noteworthy exceptions, the largest of which was a devastating hit on Vancouver defenseman Sven Butenschon which was probably the biggest collision in Edmonton’s preseason.
“Winnie made a big hit tonight and that’s what we need to have success,” captain Jason Smith complimented after the game. “Everybody’s got to bring their best game and be consistent with it and when they do that we’re going to win games. Anytime you get a big hit like that out there it builds energy and excitement, if you’re struggling to do things it builds momentum.”
Unfortunately, Winchester was held pointless in six preseason games and was a -3 in that time span as well. He’ll have to produce more than just hits in order to get the ice time but head coach Craig MacTavish likes what he sees from the fourth liner.
“I’ve liked the line with Georges and Brad,” began the coach. “They’re tough to handle down low and if they have the same success in the defensive zone that they’ve had in the offensive zone, we’ll have ourselves a good line.”
Matt Glasser – Fort McMurray Oil Barons (C) – He was only in Edmonton for two days, but the Oilers’ final pick at the 2005 NHL Entry draft left an impression on the management and staff of team while he was here. The shifty forward showed that he could play with the rest of the prospects during the early stages of the rookie camp. Through two scrimmages Glasser picked up an assist but displayed some skill and feistiness as well. Pretty good for a guy who didn’t sleep much in the days leading up to the camp.
“I’m not going to lie to you, I was pretty nervous to tell you the truth,” Glasser laughed. “Knowing guys like Pouliot, Schremp, Syvret, guys who played in the WJC and stuff, knowing they would be out here didn’t sit too well, but coming out I just wanted to prove myself and I think I’ve done that.”
It took some adjustment and part of that was just being around significantly bigger and faster players than Glasser normally faces when he’s in the AJHL.
“I got my bell rung once out there today and it’s not usual that will happen in the AJHL, but it’s a lot easier to dodge hits there,” Glasser told HF. “Here’s it’s a lot faster and more up tempo than I’ve ever played.”
Glasser’s performance was brief but encouraging, he’ll be the closest prospect to the city of Edmonton so the Oilers will have plenty of opportunities to check in on him this season.
Mathieu Roy – Hamilton Bulldogs (C) – Named the best defenseman of the AHL Road Runners last season, Mathieu Roy failed to meet the expectations that go with that this year. At best he was average and at times he was less than that. There were no signs of the physical play he willingly displayed last year, no hitting no fighting, it was as if Roy was content with just being there.
Defensively he was satisfactory, but certainly not enough to warrant an NHL opportunity. Roy was out played by Danny Syvret and Dan Smith, two players lower than him on the depth chart when camp opened.
“I haven’t played exceptional hockey, I’ve played (average) and to stay here I would have had to play exceptionally,” Roy agreed after being given his ticket back to the AHL. “When you’re a rookie and you come to camp and there are seven veterans it is hard to get an opportunity but it’s a great chance to learn from them.”
Liam Reddox – Peterborough Petes (C-) – Unfortunately for Liam Reddox, he has been tagged as being slow out of the gate. In his first training camp in Edmonton he was completely invisible, chalked up to nerves. This summer he struggled early at Team Canada’s camp before catching on in the final days. During the rookie sessions in September, Reddox again started slowly before getting noticed in a positive way as his days came to an end.
“I feel a little bit better this year, I’m getting a few more scoring chances and hopefully I can start putting them in the net,” Reddox told HF a couple days into camp. “I feel like I’m skating pretty good, but I score goals and I need to start putting the puck in the net.”
But score he didn’t do even though he was playing alongside Rob Schremp for most of the time. When it finally came time for Reddox to return to Peterborough, he had just started getting into the swing of things and became much more noticeable than he had been the first ten days. Reddox still has a way to go before he’s convinced anyone that his junior success will translate to the professional ranks.
“I know that I have to get bigger and stronger, definitely faster; at the fitness test I think I could have done better,” Reddox admitted. “My first year they said to work on my speed going wide because at the next level, you’re not going to dangle everyone so I did some power skating this past summer and I think it got me a bit quicker, but I still have a long way to go.”
Kenny Smith – Iowa Stars (C-) – It was a far better performance this year from Kenny Smith than at his first pro camp a year ago with the Road Runners. There was a sense of confidence in his passing and his skating, all a pleasant change from 12 months ago.
“My goal was to come into camp and play so well that I made them say ‘this kid needs to play at the AHL level,’ whether that will happen or not is kind of out of my control,” Smith told HF. “I feel like my game is pretty good at this point and I feel like I’m working hard and playing pretty well with a lot of high caliber guys out there.”
Smith did not dress for a preseason game and was the reassigned to Iowa along with Platt, Baum and veteran Toby Petersen.
Jason Platt – Iowa Stars (D+) – Jason Platt was another player who fought the adjustment to the stricter enforcement of the rules. Leery about playing his hard hitting style because he didn’t want to take penalties, Platt was not playing as well as he’d hoped to and was one of the first cuts from the main camp.
“I definitely can play a lot better than what I’ve been showing,” said Platt. “Maybe it’s just rust or nervousness but my passing isn’t what I need it to be, my skating isn’t there, and I haven’t thrown the hits that I need to. I have been shooting the puck more than I’m used to, but that’s a good thing but I definitely need to bring my game up if I want to be here.”
Platt was cut the next day after being left out of the game against Vancouver. In the one game he did dress for, Platt was victimized for his soft play and was -3 on the game.
“You could say that all three were my fault,” he admitted. “I would like another chance to prove myself and show that I belong and to prove to myself that I can play at the level. It’s tough because they want to get the team ready for the season and that’s the most important thing.”
Platt’s reassignment to Iowa is a silver lining to the cloud of being cut, the likeable rearguard spent a couple years in the area while playing for Omaha on the USHL.
Jeff Drouin-Deslauriers – Hamilton Bulldogs (D+) – The most disturbing thing about Jeff Drouin-Deslauriers’ very average performance throughout training camp was that he thought he played very well. JDD was bland during the Joey Moss Cup and his two appearances in the preseason were both mixtures of bad goals followed by stretches of solid play.
“If I had a word to describe his camp I guess ‘erratic’ would be it,” sighed Prendergast. “It’s like he wasn’t mentally prepared for what was going to happen at training camp because he struggled with just about everything around him. His movement in the net was all over the place until the last practice he had before going to Hamilton where he was outstanding. He’s got to fight through these things, he can’t give up bad goals and he can’t worry about what the other goalies are doing at training camp. He’s just got to go out and be the goalie we think he’s going to be.”
“There were some questions as to whether Morrison was going to come in and take his job and he was under a lot of pressure and didn’t really handle it in the fashion he’ll have to in the future, but you expect that with a young goaltender,” MacTavish said referring to last year in the AHL. “He’s got to continue to grow along those lines but we see some improvement there and still have solid hope for him in the future.”
After being reassigned to Hamilton, Drouin-Deslauriers still maintained that he played well, but was now focused on developing as best he could with the Oilers’ split affiliate.
“I think I improved from the first day until today and I’ll go to Hamilton and do my best,” he said. “My dream is to play in the NHL and with the Oilers particularly. It’s never easy to be sent down, it’s disappointing but I have to show some character and work hard there to show that I am able to play here in the future.”
Jordan Little – Greenville (D-) – There was little that Jordan could do about it, but being injured for the vast majority of September with a bad back left the Oilers with no choice. In the end, Jordan Little didn’t make the cut.
“The team has said that they’re sorry I’m injured and stuff, but from my point of view I don’t think I have enough time to get 100 percent so if I can get out there at 80 percent and at least show that I want to get out there, then that’s what I’m going to do,” Little told HF. “I worked really hard this summer and I was looking forward to seeing where it would get me playing against the cream of the crop but I haven’t been able to do that yet. Once I’m healthy and back onto the ice I’ll let things take care of themselves.”
Little took part in the first four days of rookie camp and then sidelined himself when he threw out his back taking slapshots. The pain lasted until the final week of the main camp and by then it was far too late and he was reassigned to Hamilton. Little has already been sent down to Greenville of the ECHL, but is not under contract with the Oilers.
Brock Radunske – Greenville Grrrowl (F) – There was good news and bad news for Brock Radunske at this training camp. The good news was that he was involved in close to ten highlight reel plays through rookie camp. The bad news was that three quarters of those highlights were of him getting hammered because he had his head down.
The first hit of rookie camp came about 30 seconds into the opening scrimmage when Bryan young stepped into Radunske at center ice and completely flattened him. Radunske was the victim of hits from J.F. Jacques, Mike Duco and Fredrik Pettersson during the first week.
To his credit, Radunske did show that he could take a hit, but if that’s the best quality you were able to show the scouting staff, it’s not going to get you too far. Aside from some chemistry playing with Rob Schremp and Liam Reddox, Radunske didn’t have much positive happening. As a result, he was quietly cut from the team and sent to Hamilton.
“In his defense he was injured at the end of last year and his training in the summer was really hampered by it,” Prendergast defended. “He just couldn’t get going, he had a bad physical test and it just showed up in camp. It was a disappointment, more so for him than for us. He’s got hockey sense but it just doesn’t show when these guys aren’t in the same kind of condition as everybody else.”
Dan Baum – Iowa Stars (F) – Baum missed half of the previous year due to mysterious headaches that have yet to be diagnosed and the 22-year-old was pretty invisible over the last few weeks as well. Baum did tweak a groin very early in training camp, but it still must be said that his performance was very forgettable this fall. Baum has been shipped to Iowa and will need a very strong year to regain the favor of the organization because he has definitely dropped considerably on the depth chart. Drafted with the intention of being the antagonizing spark plug in the system, Baum was neither emotional nor physical enough in training camp.
Roman Tesliuk – Kamloops Blazers (F) – Practically invisible for the time he was here, Tesliuk was a shadow of the player he was at camp a year ago. Last year he was very vocal, skated well and used his hammer of a shot but this year he simply blended into the crowd. It was a very disappointing performance for the Russian who admitted to Hockey’s Future that prior to the rookie camp, he had not skated for three months.
While training camp at one time was used to get back into shape in advance of the regular season, these days training is a nearly year round necessity and the fact that Tesliuk hadn’t skated during the offseason was very evident.
“Conditioning really hurt him; he came in, in awful shape and I was disappointed that he hadn’t played any games,” Prendergast declared. “You have to earn your way into certain situations and this was his second camp. I know it was tough for him going back to Russia because he couldn’t practice with certain teams unless he signed a contract, but still, when you’re away from the rink you need to develop a work ethic to get better and he didn’t do that.”
To his credit, Tesliuk was disgusted with himself and fully accepted responsibility for his lack of readiness. Since being cut he has performed well in Kamloops so it appears that the Russian blueliner was able to get himself back on track after leaving Edmonton.
Tyler Spurgeon – Kelowna Rockets (N/A) – Unable to participate on the ice with the rest of the prospects due to offseason shoulder surgery, Spurgeon was still a visible face at camp. The local product was wearing a sling for the first few days but was shortly able to go without the wrap and before too long he was actually on the ice taking and giving passes. By the end of camp Spurgeon was going so far as to be taking hard shots on fellow rehab player Jussi Markkanen.
“I’m way ahead of schedule,” Spurgeon told HF recently. Originally expected to be out of action until Christmastime, it now appears that the Kelowna Rockets will have their heart and soul leader back in their line-up by the end of November.
Final Camp Reflection
The Oilers were very happy and encouraged by what they saw from their prospects over the course of September.
“This is the first time since our management group has been together,” began GM Kevin Lowe, “I have a clear picture of what our team is going to look like in the next couple of years and I have never been honestly able to say that. This group of guys is clearly ready to get the call quicker than any group in the last five years.”
“We’ve been hearing about it for a couple years, that the cavalry is coming. We can see what our team will look like down the road,” echoed MacTavish. “We’ve got some skill, some size, some toughness… the prospects are good; we’re pretty deep.”
The best news is that the end of the wait is very near if you’re a fan of the prospects because there will soon be big changes coming to the Edmonton roster as there are too many talented youngsters knocking on the door. Lowe says those changes could come much sooner than some think.
“If we don’t get out the gate the way we hope to get out, we can make changes,” he said. “We’re not tied to what we have here and we will make the changes.”
So who delivered the best performances in camp? They weren’t necessarily the best players but who exceeded expectations and left the management with a better impression than they began the month with?
“Dubnyk would be one because of the way he handled everything,” began Kevin Prendergast. “Danny Syvret played very well and adapts to situations and Jacques would have to be at the top of the list, he’s just got pro written all over him.”
On the other end of the scale one could safely assume were Radunske, Drouin-Deslauriers and Tesliuk.
“Not that I didn’t like them but they should have been better,” clarified Prendergast. “Radunske was due to injury so I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt, but the other two guys, being at camp before and knowing what to expect, they should have been better.”
“I was very pleased to come here because it’s a hockey town, great hockey tradition with some great names in the past. They play with intensity, that tenacity, I love it. It’s up and down hockey and it fits me well because I consider myself to be a pretty good skater. It’s a good fit.”
–Yan Stastny on opening day of rookie camp.
“If you’re going to play physical, that’s what comes with it so you have to be ready to take on that responsibility. If that’s what my role here is going to entail, dropping my gloves every once in a while then that’s what I’m going to do; I’m going to do everything I can to make this team.”
–Matt Greene when asked if he was ready to drop the gloves despite not being allowed to fight in three college years.
“There’s a couple of Ultimate Fighters in Grand Forks that I worked with a little bit there but… nothing too crazy.”
–Greene’s reply when asked if he trained with fighting in mind.
“No I’m not. I’m happy to be here. I’ve got all my eggs in this basket hoping to make this team and play professional hockey so I’m not looking back one bit.”
–Greene on opening day when asked if he missed North Dakota.
“I want to play hockey, that’s it. I’d rather be here or in Iowa right now than going to school so it’s not a big deal for me.”
–Greene when asked the same question a month later on the day he was cut.
“The Baie-Comeau fans called me ‘Crazy Train’ the first two years I was there and it kept going. After my fourth year they gave me a plaque that says ‘Crazy Train, Thank you for your four years’. It was great.”
–J.F. Jacques revealing the source of his nickname.
“No, it was ‘A-O-Captain Jack’.”
–Jacques answer when asked if he heard a lot of Ozzy Osbourne’s Crazy Train in Baie-Comeau.
“My first year in the OHL I wasn’t the biggest or the strongest guy in the league, but I worked up to that. That’s what I have to continue to do now. Here I’m back at the bottom of the food chain but I hope to be able to work myself back up to the top again one day.”
–Zack Stortini in regards to no longer being the biggest fish in the pond.
“In a way it’s frustrating but you have to play the hand you’re dealt. There’s nothing I can do about that but come out and play my best and if they think another year of junior would be good for me then that’s fine with me.”
–Troy Bodie’s feeling on returning to Kelowna for his overage year rather than getting an AHL spot.
“I was just getting fed up doing stuff to the hair so I figured the easiest thing to do was to shave it all off.”
–Liam Reddox explaining why he came to camp with a shiny head as opposed to his shaggy red hair look.
“The defense just kind of backed in there and let me take a shot, he’s a small goalie and the coach told us to go upstairs so I did.”
–Rob Schremp describing his NHL-class goal he scored against the UofA Golden Bears.
“Yeah, that’s crazy! That just shows the support they get here in Edmonton. This was my first taste of it and it was pretty neat, that’s a lot of people for an intersquad. We have great support in London but I don’t think we ever get 6000 people for an intersquad game.”
–Schremp’s reaction to seeing 6500 people in attendance for the annual intersquad game.
“I guess I kind of got him with a slash, but he put me in my place with an elbow, he got me right in the nose but whatever, I’m a rookie… I’ll take it.”
–Schremp describing his run-in with veteran blueliner Steve Staios’ reaction when stick checked.
“I didn’t hit when I first got here, I was more focused on not breaking the rules and because of that I wasn’t in the hitting mode that I need to be in and that’s my fault. Now I’m paying for it so I need to quickly get back into the routine of catching guys in open ice or else I’m not bringing to the table what they want.”
–Jason Platt describing what went wrong.
“It’s awesome, every now and then it’s nice to take a step back, take a look around and put things into perspective. When you’re a little kid you were thinking about how cool it would be and that this is where you want to get so it’s good to take a minute like that, but at the same time you can’t be in awe of the people around you because I want to work with them.”
–Kenny Smith talking about balancing business with star-struck pleasure.
“I didn’t have any trouble with (Mikko) Lehtinen but when (Antti) Miettinen came down, he put on a good fake and I bit, but it’s a good thing my legs are about eight feet long because I just hammered my toe against the post at the last second and I stopped it right on the goal line.”
–Devan Dubnyk’s description of his first NHL shootout experience.
“I had Mike Modano ripping down the wing at about 100 miles an hour, he’s the fastest guy I’ve ever seen, and he got across the top of the circle, one-foot snapped it…but I got out my glove, I was pretty jacked about that. It was pretty exciting.”
–Dubnyk describing his favorite moment of his first NHL game in Dallas.
“If I take off tomorrow, it’s been a good experience. I think I’ve come in and turned some heads and hopefully opened up some spots for the future if I do end up getting sent home.”
–Danny Syvret a full week before he was actually cut.
“I knew Hemmer was taking it, I saw him drive to the net and then it squeaked over and I thought I had a open net so I just whacked it. I probably had time to stop it and put it upstairs but it was just a reaction. He just sort of fell back and his hand was there. I give him credit, it was a sick save but he was kind of falling, plus it was rolling so I didn’t get it upstairs. I guess it was a good save and a shit shot, at least I was in the right place.”
–Schremp after the CGY game where he was absolutely robbed by Flames netminder Brent Krahn.
“One of the most important parts of a power play is breaking out of your own end and when you have good D back there like Syvret making the passes it’s a lot easier.”
–Schremp’s not too subtle endorsement of his London teammate who just happened to be within earshot.
“In some cases some of them outplayed the veterans in some cases but you make those decisions based on what some of the veterans have done in the past and you give them that opportunity. Conversely, the same will happen for them down the road once they have firmly planted themselves in the NHL.”
–Kevin Lowe explaining how close some of the prospects were to making the team.
“We’re not in a position where we would have a guy because he’s on a one-way deal or over someone who is better or a prospect that has out played him. We just wouldn’t do that. With Hemsky we made a place for him and we would have done it for some of these other young guys but they didn’t outplay the veterans, they did at times but not overall.”
–Lowe’s response when asked if contracts determined the roster.
“It was everybody’s opinion that it would be best that he continue to play, he’s a smart kid and he knows what he’s lacking to stay at this level so we felt very strongly that he’d be able to add that dimension while still at the same time playing in London.”
–Craig MacTavish’s explanation of why fan favorite Rob Schremp was the last player cut from camp.
“The biggest motivation for the fans is winning and we base all our decisions on that and not crowd favorites.”
–The coach’s answer when asked by HF if the expected fan reaction factored into any camp decisions.
“Just based on our experience and how the games went for him the last little while we just deemed that he wasn’t ready at this time, it’s no more complex than that. We think he will be ready but it would have been at somebody’s expense and we didn’t think he was ready yet.”
–MacTavish when asked by HF why Schremp didn’t get the chance to start the year for ten games when Brad Winchester could have been temporarily sent to the AHL.
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