Edmonton’s college-bound junior trio

By Guy Flaming

The Edmonton Oilers drafted three players in 2005 knowing that they would be long-term projects. The Oilers are content to let the young trio play out their current junior year, head off to solid college programs and then evaluate the results when the time comes. All three of the players have had up and down seasons; two have battled through shoulder injuries, and two of them are rookies at a higher level from the league they were in during their draft year. Two of them also appeared at the recent Viking Cup just outside of Edmonton.

Here’s a brief look at how Matt Glasser, Robby Dee and Chris Vande Velde have fared in 2005-06.

Robby Dee, F – Omaha Lancers (USHL)

Since hurting his shoulder in the preseason BUC Bowl tournament, Robby Dee has struggled to find his form in the USHL. Living away from home for the first time in his life has added to the difficulties of adjusting to a higher level of hockey from his days last year as a star in Minnesota high school.

“He’s been struggling a bit this year, but he’s working hard and he’s headed to a school with a great reputation in Maine,” Edmonton’s VP of Hockey Operations and head scout Kevin Prendergast said. “He’s a kid that in a winning situation he’ll improve his game. He’s a skilled player with good hands but at 165 lbs he has to get stronger. Good skater, good hands and really good hockey sense.”

After 26 games, Dee has collected just 11 points which is a far cry from the days when he was a standout at his high school. But thanks to the injury, his USHL year has been largely an uneventful prelude to his college debut next year with the Black Bears.

“Getting hurt at the beginning of the year really put a stamp on how his season was going to be. It’s like a guy who holds out for a contract and misses a couple months; he’s never right for the year,” said one area scout. “With him I think a lot of it has to do with it being such a big change for him having never been away from home. Now he’s living in Omaha with billets, he’s playing more games and it’s not the code of the innocent high school anymore. It’s something he’s unfamiliar with and that coupled with his injury probably put him behind the 8-ball.”

However, one former high school rival has respect for Dee and thinks the future is bright for the Plymouth, MN product.

“Robby was a great player for Breck last year and finished behind T.J Oshie as the league’s leading scorer,” endorsed fellow 2005 pick Chris Vande Velde. “I haven’t got to meet him but I know he’s a great player.”

Matt Glasser, LW – Fort McMurray Oil Barons (AJHL)

Another youngster with shoulder issues hampering his play this year is seventh round pick Matt Glasser of the powerful Fort McMurray Oil Barons. Glasser spent a couple informative and beneficial days at Oiler camp last fall where he received some bad news.

“It was actually determined at Oiler camp when I got my physical done that I have a piece of bone missing in my shoulder so I had to get an MRI done to have a look at that,” Glasser told Hockey’s Future in early January. “I might need a bit of surgery done on my shoulder which I could probably get done at the end of the year here. It hasn’t been bugging me too much but it is something that I do need to get looked at.”

At first Glasser said the problem wasn’t affecting his play but with a little prodding…

“When I throw it out I’d say there is a fair bit of pain for a few minutes but I never really took much notice of it until the MRI and they said there was quite a bit of damage done,” Glasser admitted. “It has been hurting me this last month but I don’t want to make it any worse so I know that something will have to be done to it.”

As a result of his concerns Glasser has not been the offensive force he was expected to be with the Barons this year. His 15 goals and 35 points are just enough for seventh in team scoring, and he has not been able to up his game much from a year ago.

“I think the shoulder is part of it but they’re not as high a scoring team as they were last year,” argued Prendergast. “I think he’s been a bit snake bitten too because (coach) Gord Thibodeau told me early in the year that he hit the goal post like nine times in the first few weeks of the season. I think we’ll find out what he’s made of at crunch time in the playoffs.”

The Oilers believe that Glasser’s development will blossom next year in Denver and already the player is looking ahead to those days too.

“I think about it every day to tell you the truth,” Glasser revealed. “There’s a lot of tradition there and they’ve won two championships back to back. My focus right now is in Fort McMurray but when the season ends my thoughts will be going to University.”

Chris Vande Velde, F – Lincoln Stars (USHL)

Of the three future collegians, Chris Vande Velde is clearly having the most notable season. He’s playing well but not outstanding for the Lincoln Stars and he also got the opportunity to represent his country at the recent Viking Cup in Camrose, Alberta. At the tournament he player alongside top 2006 eligible prospects Kyle Okposo and Trevor Lewis and did not look out of place. Vande Velde ended the tournament with a respectable five points in six games.

“He showed us some very good things at the Viking Cup,” Prendergast said. “He’s got very good hands and hockey sense but he has to improve on his quickness and the strength in his legs to create speed.”

With the Stars, Vande Velde is sixth in scoring with 14 goals and 26 points but has begun to come on strong in the later stages of the schedule, especially since the Viking Cup.

“He’s still got to get that confidence in his game and in himself where he can say ‘hey, I’m pretty good and I can do this.’ I don’t think he knows how good he can be but when he figures it out he’s going to be very effective,” said one Oiler scout. “I like him and I think he’s a good player and going to North Dakota is only going to help him because they’re going to have an excellent team for the next number of years and he’s going to be a part of that.”

With the Fighting Sioux, Vande Velde will get the chance to play with some talented players that he already has some history with.

“I played with Brian Lee on my high school team and I know T.J. (Oshie) really well so I can’t wait to get there and hopefully be an impact player.”

Quotes

“Everything is hockey there, there are other sports but hockey is the big thing. We pack the house even in high school where our rink sits 4000 people. People in Moorhead just love hockey, it’s a real hockey town and I think that’s why we have so much success.”
–Chris Vande Velde describing hockey’s popularity in his hometown.

“It’s only about an hour away from home but I picked it over the other schools because I knew the coaches well and they recruited me pretty hard. The facilities there are really amazing and they’ve sent a lot of guys to the NHL so I think it’s a great program for me to go to.”
–Vande Velde explaining why he chose North Dakota over some of the other schools who expressed an interest in him.

“I always like Minnesota and I liked Calgary but I kind of quit with that right away!”
–Vande Velde when asked which NHL team he cheered for prior to the draft.

“My role is to use my speed which is one of my biggest attributes and to be a leader. I don’t know if we were predicted to be doing this good but we’re doing great so that’s all I care about.”
–Matt Glasser talking about the success of the Barons this year and his part of it.

“We have four more years to wait for him to improve and by the time he comes out of school he’ll probably be in the 190-195 lbs range and if he continues to improve his skill he’ll be a fine hockey player.”
–Kevin Prendergast describing the patience in drafting college bound players like Robby Dee.

“Both Dee and Vande Velde aren’t as worldly as some of the other kids we’ve drafted so they haven’t got that life experience yet that helps build better players.”
–Scout Chris McCarthy describing the difference between their USHL players and the other players they drafted in 2005.

“We’ve got four and a half years to wait for these guys, we’re in no rush with these kids. We’ll let them grow and develop and turn into players, there’s no urgency to sign them which is great because there’s no pressure thanks to Schremp and Cogliano, Pouliot and those types of guys coming up right away.”
–McCarthy on the strategy of drafting long term projects like these three players.

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