The 2005-06 season
will long be remembered by Oiler fans that follow the club’s prospects because
of how tumultuous the campaign was.
When you look on the surface and see that eight of the AHL farm hands
made their NHL debuts this year, one would initially have to think the year was
a rousing success. But was it?
That varies from
player to player, as it does most years.
However, in the that just wrapped up, some of them were hurt by the
business decisions made by the parent organization.
The Edmonton Oilers
had a total of 13 players active in the minor league systems of North America
who still fit the Prospect
Criteria outlined by Hockey’s Future.
Here is a detailed review of the year that was for those 13 prospects.
The Oilers had just a
single prospect netminder to concern themselves with this year but when it came
to lost development time, no one had it worse than Jeff Drouin-Deslauriers. JDD was behind the 8-ball right from the
start of the season having been assigned to Hamilton, the split affiliate of
the Oilers and the Montreal Canadiens.
Not a true split, the Canadiens supplied two thirds of the players to
the club which included a pair of goaltenders of their own, leaving
Drouin-Deslauriers on the outside looking in on most nights.
“The worst part was when I was in Hamilton and I deserved to play
more games and they didn’t give it to me,” JDD told Hockey’s Future
recently. “That was hard because when
they gave me the call I was doing my best, 100 percent each night and sometimes
that wasn’t enough. Not playing like
that is just hard.”
Even when he did get the nod to start, it
would more often than not be in a situation where the team had played the night
before, and travelled six hours by bus for an early game that night. On some of his 13 games Drouin-Deslauriers
played more than well enough to earn the next start, but he was rarely given
the opportunity because the Bulldogs had to extend more chances to Yann Danis,
Jaroslav Halak, Olivier Michaud or even Cristobal Huet for four
“It was ridiculous actually,” one Bulldog
teammate said defiantly. “He would play
his ass off and then they’d go back the next night with Danis or one of the
other guys and honestly, it’s not like they were better goalies at all.”
In a year where he realistically should
have expected upwards of 60 starts in the AHL, Drouin-Deslauriers had a fifth
of that and then played in just six regular season games for the Greenville
Grrrowl. One might think that the
reassignment to the ECHL would be the lowest part of the season for JDD but to
hear it from him, it was a blessing. In
fact it was in Greenville where the 21-year-old claims he spent the happiest
part of the year.
“The playoffs in Greenville, we won the
first playoff round and I was named a star in two of the games,” smiled JDD. “I
had a shutout in one of them and we went to overtime so that week was the best
part of my season.”
Just three games into his stint with the
Grrrowl, Drouin-Deslauriers blew out his knee, an experience that he amazingly
says he’s found a silver lining to.
“I went behind my net to play the puck and
then I had to scramble to get back in the net because a guy went for a wrap
around,” Drouin-Deslauriers recounted, “I sort of rolled over my knee and I
heard a big crack, it was like when you crack a celery branch so I knew right
away; I had a meniscus tear and a MCL. I came back up to Edmonton during the
Olympic break and they took care of my knee and now it’s 100 percent.
“The injury actually helped me to be more
mature and to see the game from a different perspective,” he continued. “I’m
more calm and patient now than I was.”
It will be interesting to see if he can
keep his newfound composure next season when he is likely back in the AHL
thrust into a similar situation as the one he endured in 2005-06.
The blue line was an interesting position
for Oiler prospects this past year.
Four began the year in the AHL and four ended it in the same league too,
but they weren’t all the same players.
Edmonton had five prospect rearguards in the minors in 2005-06 but by
the end of the regular schedule, two of them had graduated to a higher level of
started off in Iowa with the Stars, another shared AHL team of the Oilers’ this
time with their bitter enemies from Dallas.
Remarkably, after just 26 games on the farm, Greene was recalled by the
Oilers and never again set foot back in Iowa.
In less than a year removed from leading the North Dakota Fighting Sioux
to the championship game of the NCAA tournament, Greene is now a starter for
the Edmonton Oilers as they enter the NHL’s Stanley Cup Finals.
During his very brief stay in Iowa Greene
scored two goals, one shy of his three-year total at North Dakota. When asked about his sudden offensive output
the likeable defenseman replied in his trademark style.
“Absolute luck, pure luck!” he
laughed. “Both the goals, if you could
see them, they’re not exactly pretty.”
Joining Greene in Iowa was former
Providence Friar blueliner Jason Platt who played 60 games as a member
of the Stars. The steady depth defender
added five assists during the regular season but added another in the playoffs
during Iowa’s seven-game series loss to Milwaukee. Platt is set to become a Group 2 free agent this July if the
Oilers give him a qualifying offer by June 26.
If the offer does not come, Platt will then become an unrestricted free
The other defenseman who made a permanent
move upwards was Kenny Smith who started off the season in the ECHL with
Greenville before the Oilers found him a more suitable gig with the Portland
Pirates, Anaheim’s AHL club. There
Smith played a respectable 48 games in a defensive role but still chipped in
eight modest assists. Smith did not
play in the postseason for Portland, though as he was not one of the players
named to the 22-man Clear Day Roster back in March. Like Platt, Smith is also hoping to get a qualifying offer from
the Oilers before the end of June.
played just 50 games for the Hamilton Bulldogs this year the last of which came
in mid March. After a simultaneous
broken nose and concussion ended his Road Runner campaign in 2004-05, Roy
suffered another season-ending injury this past year.
“[An opponent] just stuck his knee out and
got mine, I tore 80 percent of my MCL and so I’ve been out for like a month and
a half,” Roy said recently. “That was sad because I missed the end of the
Roy says he is very pleased with the way he
developed over the course of the year after beginning the year slower than he’d
hoped after being named the Road Runners’ top defenseman the season previous.
“I struggled at the beginning of the season
and didn’t have any confidence, but as the season went on I started playing
better and more consistent,” he said.
“I was probably trying to do too much and I came back to simple things
and it started going my way.”
Roy is a restricted free agent this summer
but says if the Oilers want him back, he’d be more than happy to return to the
organization that drafted him as a 19-year-old in 2003.
Hamilton wasn’t as enjoyable an experience
for Danny Syvret who, as a rookie, found it much harder to get into the
regular rotation. The former captain of
the London Knights described the time spent in Hamilton as very difficult.
“I was fortunate enough to live at home, my
house is only like 15 minutes away from Copps Coliseum so I was able to go
through it all with my family but if I lived on my own I don’t know what I would
have done,” Syvret said. “It was tough
on me mentally that’s for sure.
“It was frustrating for me in the sense
that heading into 5 o’clock on game days I didn’t know if I was going to be in
the line up or not and you can’t really have that approach going into a game;
you want to be prepared for a game and set your mind to that but not knowing if
you’re even going to play or not… it was just things like that that gets the
best of you after 80 games.”
Syvret received a one-month reprieve from
Hamilton when the Oilers recalled him for most of November. When he was sent back to the AHL four weeks
later, it was a devastating blow.
“Yeah that was really tough,” he agreed.
“Two totally different mindsets. When I
got the call-up it was sort of like getting a pat on the back for everything I
was doing and then there’s those times down in the AHL where things aren’t as
Syvret recorded 20 points with the
Bulldogs, all assists, but says it wasn’t for lack of opportunities that he
didn’t score this year.
“I had so many chances but I kept hitting
posts or legs in front,” he explained. “But as far as creating chances, I
thought I did a good job of that but I couldn’t find the back of the net.”
The youngster won a gold medal at the World
Junior Championships in 2005 and followed that up with a Memorial Cup win with
London. Next season, Danny Syvret will
do everything in his power to avoid being sent to another split affiliate in
One of the biggest success stories amongst
the forward prospects this year has been the graduation of Brad Winchester. The former Wisconsin captain began the year
with the Oilers then was reassigned to Hamilton for conditioning, in part to
lose some extra weight — muscle that he’d put on through summer training. With the Bulldogs he was a machine and
garnered a lot of ice time, which he made the most of.
Winchester was a point per game player on
the farm this year having notched 40 in 40 games. With his skating much improved over the course of the schedule,
Winchester eventually was recalled by Edmonton to close out the year in the
NHL. In the playoffs against Detroit,
head coach Craig MacTavish played a hunch, inserted the 25-year-old into the
Game 2 line-up and was rewarded when Winchester scored the eventual game winner
late in the third period.
According to Winchester, his time on the
farm was well spent and he was able to further his progression as a player.
“I think everybody has their own timeline
for development and as long as I keep taking strides in my game and I’ve had
the opportunity to do that in Hamilton,” he said.
The progression slope of Marc-Antoine
Pouliot was a steady incline all year beginning with the sluggish start
many rookie AHL players have and eventually ending with the award as the team’s
MVP. His 45 points were third highest
on the team but his value to the club was clearly evident at the end of the
year after he had been recalled by the Oilers for the final month of the NHL
regular season. The Bulldogs lost seven
of eight games at one point before finally getting some wins at the end against
teams who no longer had anything to play for.
“Guys like Pouliot and J.F. Jacques have
had to play against top lines in the AHL on most nights,” development coach
Geoff Ward told Hockey’s Future earlier in the year. “ I think we’re starting
to see the benefit of that.”
Pouliot was impressive in his NHL
appearances too and if not for a bout of mono and his subsequent banishment
back to Quebec, the rookie would more than likely have drawn into the series
against the Detroit Red Wings.
Another player now up in Edmonton currently
hoping to get into a playoff game is winger J.F. Jacques. The aggressive and hard-working forward had
a terrific year with Hamilton, led the team in scoring for large stretches and
says that the experience was very positive for him despite the split
“I was really lucky, I was never out of the
line up as a healthy scratch,” he told HF recently. “It happened to Pouliot that once and for sure it’s a bit
frustrating. I knew a few guys that
were playing there because I played against them in junior. It was kind of cool to see how other
organizations are too so it was a good experience.”
Jacques said that he really needed the
challenge of playing against men for the benefit of his development after
dominating physically in the QMJHL the year before.
“I was ready to
go against bigger guys because like you said, in junior I was one of the
biggest guys there and it was not a really physical challenge,” Jacques
said. “This year I had to readjust
myself a bit, it took me a while because the big guys are just as fast as the
little guys, but it was just that little adjustment.”
the rookie, the fact that Hamilton was such a bad team was probably a blessing
in disguise not just for him but for guys like Winchester and Pouliot too.
“It was hard
because at the beginning of the season we didn’t win a lot,” he explained. “It was my first year pro so it helped me a
lot to be on a bad team like that because I got a lot of ice time and first
two-line power play and PK all year long so I can’t complain about that.”
With the way he
played in his brief recall to Edmonton, Jacques is a leading candidate to crack
the NHL as a rookie next season.
The forwards in
Iowa were not nearly as fortunate as their Hamilton counterparts. The Oilers began the year with five forwards
stationed in Des Moines, including veteran minor leaguer Toby Petersen, but
finished the campaign with just two.
Stastny who struggled to get on the same page as Iowa head coach Dave Allison
before he was dealt away by Edmonton, Kyle Brodziak says that he was
treated very well by the Stars and that there was little he had to complain
“I think the
Edmonton players got a good chance, everyone got along great and the coaches
treated everyone fairly,” Brodziak said recently. “It was a good time and it didn’t feel like a split affiliation
so for me [the shared team] wasn’t a big deal at all. I got a good chance, finished the year on the second line and so
it was a good year in that aspect.”
Alberta-born forward admits that he was somewhat disappointed with his personal
performance on the year despite the fact that he earned two separate tickets to
Edmonton for his sound defensive play.
“I don’t think
I played as well as I could have throughout the year,” he said, “I didn’t get
as many points as I wished I would have and I thought I could have played a lot
better in different areas of the game. But I just need to keeping working hard
at it to get my game back to where I expect it to be.”
the year with 31 points in 55 games, basically on par with what he did as an
AHL rookie with the Road Runners the year before when he totaled 32 points in
One of the
players who just couldn’t win over the Stars was tough guy Zack Stortini
and as a result the Oilers negotiated another AHL deal that saw the rookie land
in Milwaukee with the farm club of the Nashville Predators.
“It was a tough
situation [in Iowa]. I really wanted to
contribute and help that team win but I don’t think they were looking for my
help,” Stortini told HF recently. “I
didn’t know if it was going to be like that all year or what the situation was
with them but Milwaukee’s been a great fit for me and I’ve been able to step
into the line-up every night, contribute and play games.”
appeared in 27 games for Iowa before dressing 37 times with the Admirals. On the season he recorded 10 points and 261
regular season penalty minutes. Now
that the Admirals have advanced to the Calder Cup finals, Stortini is the last
remaining farm hand still active this year and in the postseason he has potted
a pair of goals in 12 contests, the first coming against Iowa.
playoffs have been great for me, I’m playing for a great coach here in Claude
Noel,” Stortini said. “They’ve taught me a ton here and it’s been a great
Dan Baum began the year in Iowa but did not get into
any games before he was reassigned to Greenville due to back pain. Baum again had similar health problems to
those that he endured the previous year with the Edmonton Road Runners. His recurring headaches and discomfort
limited Baum to just 24 games with the Grrrowl during which time he scored a
single goal and added five assists. It
seems unlikely that Baum will be tendered an offer this summer thus he will
likely become an unrestricted free agent.
The one player
in Greenville that the Oilers are pleased to say had a good year is winger Brock
Radunske. It was the Ontario
native’s second season in the ECHL but he played well enough that, if it were a
normal year where Edmonton had their own AHL team, Radunske likely would have
been rewarded for his efforts. The
22-year-old had 54 points in 63 games, good for fourth place in team scoring,
but first in goal scoring by far with 38. He overcame a concussion early in the
year. With one more year remaining on
his contract, Radunske will look to make an impact in the AHL next season.
Whether or not
the year can be considered a success really depends on how you look at it, each
player on an individual basis versus where teams finished in the standings.
spin from the Oilers will be that numerous players made appearances with the
big club, didn’t look out of place and therefore it was a good year for
development. Despite off the record
comments from players and staff that indicate both Iowa and Hamilton were less
than ideal situations, some players still flourished.
thought the players in Hamilton had a really good development year,” said
Assistant GM Scott Howson. “[They]
played a lot and contributed for that team as they went down in the second half
of the season.”
“Iowa, for one reason or another, we started with six
or seven players there and we ended up with just three or four,” Howson
continued. “Matt Greene got called up, Dan Baum was sent down, Yan Stastny got
traded, so that probably wasn’t as fruitful or as successful as we had hoped.”
It’s hard to
ignore the fact that at least two players, one being Stastny before the trade
to Boston, asked to be removed from their AHL team if at all possible and that
at least two more considered asking for the same. More than one player told Hockey’s Future in confidence that the
year was extremely trying and that they desperately do not want to be in the
same situation again next season.
to develop player chemistry was largely lost by the scattering of players
around the AHL. Most of the players found
themselves periodically scratched from games for no reason other than numbers
and politics. The Oilers, without a
minor league team in North America which they ran, could not sign any free
agents to AHL contracts and therefore missed out on the opportunity to uncover
and develop a hidden gem. Of course,
the greatest damage was done between the pipes.
player it really hurt was Jeff Deslauriers,” admitted Howson. “Jeff got hurt, there’s no question about it
and it’s not entirely his fault but that’s the down of the split affiliation. There
are only two spots on the roster for a goalie and if you have a couple of bad
games it becomes tougher to work your way out of that.”
Outlook for 2006-07
the Oilers recently announced their failure in establishing a new home base for
their dormant AHL franchise and therefore will again put their prospects in a
similar situation in 2006-07.
A deal that
looked promising in April fell apart, leaving the Oilers with little option so
at the AHL meetings in Springfield, Massachusetts in May they again applied to
suspend the operation of their club.
talked to the ownership group in Quad Cities and they were interested for a
while,” detailed Howson. “Then they
didn’t want to take the risk of having an AHL club come in because it would
increase their costs. Then they put the
franchise up for sale and there were two groups that were willing to buy; one
was interested in keeping it in the UHL and one was willing to move it to the
AHL. At the end of the day, the UHL
group ended up buying the team.”
The Oilers had
held talks with one other interested group in another city during February and
March, but the organization would not disclose the location of that prospective
partner. So after nearly a year since
the Edmonton Road Runners closed up shop, what has been the big problem in
getting a new team set up?
been the market,” Howson simply stated.
“There aren’t a lot of markets out there at this point for next year
that we were comfortable going into, we certainly didn’t want to go into a
place that wouldn’t be a success from both a hockey point of view and a
financial point of view. We couldn’t
find the right market with the right fit because ideally, we’d like someone
else to run the team while we just run the hockey end at that wasn’t there this
Why do the Oilers feel anyone would be interested in
that type of partnership?
“If we’re going to give [a partner] our
franchise to use then that takes away a lot of capital costs for them so it’s
an interesting way to try an see how a market will respond to an AHL team
without risking a lot of capital. That
wasn’t a hindrance; it was the lack of markets. I am confident based on what I know about the markets for 2007-08
that we’ll be able to place a team then.”
It’s interesting to note that the perfect
deal the Oilers are after, like the one they did have in Toronto with
Lyle Abraham in 2003-04, is a unique scenario that no other NHL team has.
“I don’t think anybody else does, not that I
know of,” conceded Howson. “Either teams are owned outright and have hired
people to operate it or there’s an independent group that owns the team.”
But before you start jumping to the
conclusion that Edmonton’s request is too restrictive and that’s why the team
hasn’t been able to get this done in the last 12 months, Howson says think
“[The Edmonton Investors Group] is flexible
too,” he said. “If somebody wanted to purchase a portion of the franchise… I
can’t really speak for the owners but in my discussions with (Oiler president)
Patrick Laforge, we’re flexible with sharing the business with somebody. It’s not the anchor that you might be
assuming that it is.”
Some of the ramifications of history repeating itself
on the farm will begin with player signings.
The Oilers have several players who are reaching the end of their
current contracts, some whom the team would normally want to re-sign while
others they would elect to leave for free agency anyway.
“It will affect who we sign but it won’t affect
any of the young players that we sign or that we are going to sign; we will
attempt to sign them regardless,” advised Howson. “It may affect some of the depth players and the free agents that
you take a chance on because you have room on your farm team. We won’t be able to sign those types of
players and maybe some of the older veteran players too. I don’t think it will affect what we are
planning to do with our Europeans.”
Edmonton hopes to make is that instead of using seven teams like they did this
past year, hopefully they can keep it down to under four but overall there will
not be an increase in AHL spots for Oiler prospects.
“We had 14 spots in the AHL [last year] and
I think based on what our projection is that will be very close to the number
again, it might be 15 or 16 players but it’s not going to be dramatically
different,” Howson added. “The
challenge for us will be to get that many spots on one team. We would prefer it to be 50/50 with one team
and if we had to parcel out the odd guy then we would do that.”
“We aren’t restricted to anything, we could
put one player on 28 teams if we wanted to but of course we won’t do that,” he
continued. “Our goal is to try and find
a true split like we had a few years ago in Hamilton where it’s more 10 and 10
[player ratio] but whether we’ll be able to achieve that or not is unknown at
this time. We have talked to two teams
and expressed our interest in that but if we don’t get that then we’ll talk to
other teams and make sure that we can get five or six players in two or three
“The biggest problem as everybody knows and
eludes to is with the goaltending; it didn’t work out well for Jeff Deslauriers
and that’s the problem when you get into these splits; the goaltenders get the
short end of the stick,” the Assistant GM added. “Next year it’s even more problematic because we’re going to have
Jeff and Devan Dubnyk so that will be a challenge to work through.”
“This year was basically a write off for
Deslauriers and with Dubnyk coming in next year we certainly don’t want to get
into a situation where both of those guys are sitting on a bench for 60 games
rather than playing in 60,” VP of Hockey Operations Kevin Prendergast
So the last question then remains ‘with
which team(s) will the Oilers affiliate themselves next year? Iowa is probably out, Hamilton might be a
good bet because of that pre-existing relationship but don’t be surprised if
there is an agreement with another team north of the border.
“We would prefer to stay in Canada because
it just makes it easier travel wise, immigration wise and worker’s compensation
wise,” Howson summed up. “We would like
to stay in Canada not only with a split but also with our own team but I don’t
think that that is going to be achieved.”
ECHL affiliate needed
News is reporting that Oilers ECHL affiliate Greenville Grrrowl will cease
operations. The team plans to turn in
their membership in the league rather than suspend operations and try to find a
buyer. Suspending the operation of a
franchise for a year does require a payment to the league, something that
doesn’t look feasible at this point.
The Oilers, as
well as the Chicago Blackhawks, have been affiliated with Greenville for two
years. Greenville won the Kelly Cup
Championship in 2001 while affiliated with the Atlanta Thrashers.
Finding a new
ECHL affiliate shouldn’t be as difficult as an AHL. iIn the 27-team league,
there are several without NHL affiliates, including the Phoenix Roadrunners,
Utah Grizzlies, Texas Wildcatters (returning from a Hurricane Rita-induced
hiatus), and Cincinnati Cyclones. The
Victoria Salmon Kings are the only Canadian-based ECHL team, and they are
without a full-time affiliate, although the Vancouver Canucks did station goaltender
Rob McVicar there for part of the year.
Quotes & Comments
“I didn’t like
it there at all, no one did. There’s
nothing to do there; it’s all old people and Tim Horton’s.”
Bulldog player talking about living and playing in Hamilton this year.
“It’s a good city, we had about 8000 people
at our first couple of games, it’s a brand new rink so it’s a good thing. It’s a pretty quiet city and that’s one
thing I like about it, there’s about 500,000 people that live there but there’s
never too much traffic.”
Kyle Brodziak back in October
describing his impression of Des Moines.
“I was happy to go to Greenville. I knew I was going to play down there and
that I’d see a lot of shots, they have a great coach down there who knows what
he’s doing and he runs a real professional organization and there’s good guys
to play with. Plus it’s gorgeous
weather, going to the rink in flip flops and a pair of shorts…you can’t beat
Goalie Mike Morrison in November
revealing the upside of a reassignment to the ECHL.
“When the players are here, it’s the
Hamilton Bulldogs and we try to stress that and guys like Jacques, Pouliot and
Winchester, if they’re playing the best then they’re going to play. That’s the way we’ve stuck to it other than
with the defense early because of the numbers.”
Hamilton Head Coach Don Lever in
reference to how he dished out ice time.
“It was hard at the beginning because you
don’t know the coaches and how they run things. But as things go on you learn to share your ice time with the
Montreal guys. It’s just something you
just have to learn to live with.”
Defenseman Mathieu Roy’s outlook of
the ice time for Hamilton blueliners.
“It’s broken, a fracture in the foot. It’s not pleasant but I can play with it.”
Brad Winchester talking about an
injury he suffered in a game against Grand Rapids just before Christmas.
“I took two shots off the same spot so now
they’re calling it a deep bone bruise.
I don’t know, I just put an ice bag on it, that will help it out.”
“It is a little different wearing the
Bulldogs stuff after all the battles we had with them last year.”
Winchester on getting used to his
“In the first exhibition game I played
there I was wearing a Dallas jersey and I remember looking at Stortini and we
kind of shook our heads a bit but, you have to get used to it if we’re going to
be doing it all year.”
Brodziak commenting on his garb this
“It’s Christmas and he’s played nine
games. We can’t have him sitting there
for the second half of the year, we’re going to have to find a place for him to
play or maybe convince him to go to the ECHL for a couple weeks is maybe the
best thing for him to do.”
Kevin Prendergast shortly before the
Oilers reassigned Jeff Drouin-Deslauriers to Greenville.
“We’re not complaining about their ice
time, it’s how they’re being used. When
you’re not in control, you’re not in control and luckily we’ve had Geoff Ward
this year to go and watch these guys and both organizations have been great in
letting him go on the ice, spend time, take clips and work on what we wanted
our guys to work on and they’ve been receptive to that. Hopefully next year will rectify itself and
we’ll have our own team and we won’t have to worry about that.”
Prendergast in December in reference
to the AHL situation in 2005-06.
“Zack got out of the mix in Iowa but we
found a solution for him in Milwaukee and now he’s playing deep in the playoffs
and playing regularly for a first-place team.”
Scott Howson in regards to Zack
Stortini whose situation in Des Moines both player and organization were
unhappy about thus prompting a change of scenery.
“He went down to Des Moines, the coaches
worked with him and because he’s such a smart kid and a quick learner, he
became one of their best defensemen and made the All-Star team after just half
Scout Chris McCarthy on Matt Greene.
think it was just a bit different because with the Road Runners I wasn’t
playing as much off the start so it was tough to get in a groove that way. This year I got a good shot and a lot of ice
time, I just didn’t play as well as I wished I would have.”
Kyle Brodziak comparing his first two
years as a pro.
Holly Gunning contributed to this
article. Comment on this story at the Oilers section of the Hockey’s Future
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