Entering the season, the Edmonton Oilers
were fairly set and did not appear as though rookies were going to factor much
into their plans for the 2005-06 campaign.
Only two fresh faces managed to stick with the club through training
camp beginning the season on the 23-man roster and even one of them didn’t
finish the year in Edmonton.
It was not until injuries began mounting in
Edmonton that the calls to the AHL began and new recruits starting making their
NHL debuts. Only one of the recalls
never went back to the farm, but nearly all of the youngsters made positive
impressions during their stays with the big club.
Brad Winchester, RW (Age 24) – It turned out to be a good year for Wisconsin
Badgers both in the present and alumni as well. Former captain Brad Winchester began the year with the Oilers
although he didn’t see his first game action until an Oct. 10 road game in
Anaheim, his first game in the NHL.
“It was pretty sweet; it was exciting,” he
told HF soon after with a huge smile.
“I tried to stay on a pretty even keel though and I think the preseason
helped a lot playing all those games.”
Winchester remained with the club until the
end of the month when he was dispatched to Hamilton for conditioning. There the 6’5 230lb winger trimmed some
excess muscle and found his game that made him one of the most prolific Road
Runners a year ago.
The Oilers brought Winchester back to
Edmonton at Christmastime and kept him over the holiday season before once
again returning him to the AHL shortly after the New Year. Patience in the minors paid off for
Winchester who decided the quickest way back to the NHL was to concentrate on
what made him a success as a minor pro.
“You can only control the things you can,
so I just tried to focus on my game and not worry about what was going on up
Winchester rejoined the Oilers for the last
few weeks of the regular season where he finally made his mark on the score
sheet when he assisted on a goal for fellow rookie Marc-Antoine Pouliot.
By the end of the 82 game campaign it
appeared as though he had re-established his place in the organization,
something that wasn’t clear on the NHL trade deadline day where several reports
had Winchester involved in a last minute trade with St. Louis which fell
through due to the deadline expiring.
For some GM’s, the best moves are the trades they never make, perhaps
this will be the case here as well.
Winchester’s performance in the first round
of the playoffs has been impressive skating on the top line next to Ryan Smyth
and Shawn Horcoff, rifling home the winning goal in Game 2 and adding two
helpers in Game 3.
Kyle Brodziak, C (Age 21) – Unlike Danny Syvret who was in his first pro season
after his junior career, Kyle Brodziak entered 2005-06 with one year under his
belt having played with the Edmonton Road Runners. When he was brought up from Iowa, Brodziak was immediately thrust
into the fire stepping into an early season clash with archrival Calgary. The St. Paul, Alberta native played an
impressive 13:42 in his first NHL game and did not look a second out of place.
“We have really high hopes for him,” said
head coach Craig MacTavish after Brodziak’s first appearance. “We saw he had a
really high level of understanding of the game and where he had to be. He has good hands and he is able to make
good start plays with the puck. Anytime
you’re playing in your first game the butterflies are there and guys have a
tough time dealing with that but he apparently didn’t.”
“I think I played pretty good, I played
more than I thought I would but I think it went all right,” Brodziak said at
the time. “The first few shifts you’re just trying not to screw up. It was awesome. It was something I was dreaming of my whole life.”
Although not projected to be a scorer in
the NHL like he was in junior as a member of the Moose Jaw Warriors, Brodziak’s
versatility and defensive awareness is what will get him to the big leagues. Once he’s established himself in the NHL it
is totally possible to see an offensive game develop not unlike one has for
Jarret Stoll this year with the Oilers, a player many people are comparing
Brodziak to these days.
D (Age 20) – The first blueliners to receive ‘the call’ from Edmonton were
Hamilton’s two Dans. Veteran Dan Smith
and 20-year-old Danny Syvret found themselves mired in a tough situation in
overstocked Hamilton one minute and in action against the St. Louis Blues the
next. Syvret spent most of November
with the big club and played in a total of 10 games before getting reassigned
back to the Bulldogs where he remained for the rest of the year.
“I thought I’ve played pretty well,” Syvret
described at the time. “I’ve been on
for a few goals for and a few goals against, but the ones against it’s not like
I’ve been getting burnt one on one or anything.”
While Syvret did not manage to hit the
score sheet he did leave a positive impression on the coaches and management in
Edmonton. Unfortunately, Syvret was a
better NHL player than he was in the AHL, but having seen what he was able to
deliver at the highest level will benefit the youngster and could earn him an
even longer look at training camp next fall.
D (Age 22) – The former captain of the North Dakota Fighting Sioux made his
first appearance several weeks after his initial recall from the Iowa
Stars. The Oilers pulled Greene up to
Edmonton in early December and took him on an Eastern Conference road trip through
Philadelphia, Long Island and New Jersey.
However, a sore ankle prevented Greene from dressing in any of the games
and he was subsequently sent back to Iowa at the conclusion of the trip.
Greene didn’t have to wait long for his
second opportunity though as the Oilers again flew him back north across the
border where he would sit in the press box until after Christmas. However, on Dec. 30 Greene made his NHL
debut and in a 4-2 Oiler win over the visiting Nashville Predators. The 22-year-old has been with the team ever
The rugged rearguard has been a hit with
the fans, the coaches and with his teammates since his arrival in the River
“He’s a mean kid, he likes to get on the
body and he gives good hits, we’ve seen that a number of times in the games
that he has played,” assistant coach Charlie Huddy said in February. “It’s tough for young guys to fit in but
he’s done a good job of meshing with the older guys. The veteran guys all like him and they see what kind of player
he’s going to be and they want to help him along. They know at the end of the day that he’s going to be a good
player for us and they want to see him be successful.”
Jean-Francois Jacques, LW (Age 20) – Six games in early February, that was the extent of
Jacques’ initiation to the NHL but although he also did not record a point, the
former Baie-Comeau captain left an impression.
The smooth-skating power forward did not
play a lot of minutes in the games he appeared in, but he made the most of his
ice time by drilling opponents into the boards and creating momentum for his
club. While initially pegged as a third
or fourth line energy player at the NHL level, his offensive numbers in his
first pro season in the minors suggests to the Oiler brass that Jacques could
offer a whole lot more. Captain Jack
will get a very long look next fall in training camp and could very well crack
the opening night 23-man roster.
Jacques has been practicing in Edmonton
just in case he gets the call to play in the NHL playoffs and he nearly did get
into action in Game 4 on Thursday night.
D (Age 22) – Often overlooked, Mathieu Roy managed to appear in one NHL game
this past season and put forth a solid effort when he did. Roy is not being counted on to be more than
a depth defenceman for the organization and that’s what he was this past
year. When injuries infiltrated in
Oilers line-up, the call went down to Hamilton and Roy dressed for his lone
appearance in a 5-3 loss to the hapless St. Louis Blues.
On the farm, Roy struggled early before
regaining his form. Scouts tell HF that
Roy was trying to do too much for the first couple months of the schedule and
once he settled down and returned to his comfort zone he was much more effective. Roy ended the AHL season with 19 points in
50 games played for the Hamilton Bulldogs.
Marc-Antoine Pouliot, C (Age 20) – The most exciting rookie debut of the year was
probably that of Marc Pouliot. It was
only eight games at the end of the year, but considering the pressure cooker
Edmonton had become down the stretch and the performance that Pouliot
delivered, it was extremely noteworthy.
Pouliot scored in his third-ever NHL game, a 7-1 rout of the Phoenix
Coyotes, and although it wasn’t a stylish one it was indeed memorable for the
Pouliot logged over ten minutes in four of
the eight games he appeared in and also slotted in on the power play on a few
nights. Although he completed the
schedule in Edmonton, Pouliot was named the Hamilton Bulldogs’ MVP. The pro rookie accumulated 45 points in 65
games during the course of the year and had really come on strong after the
midway point of the calendar.
There was some debate as to whether or not
Pouliot might draw into the line-up in the playoffs against Detroit, but that
decision was taken out of head coach Craig MacTavish’s hands after Game 2 when
Pouliot was diagnosed with mononucleosis and sent back to his home in
Quebec. The likable forward upped his
stock with his year end play and will get a longer look next fall, hopefully
for his sake the illness does not hamper him for much of the offseason.
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