The Edmonton Oilers
fall sessions began on Sept. 9 as prospect camp officially opened with
weigh-ins and fitness testing at the University of Alberta. On-ice practices commenced the following day
in nearby Leduc and lasted until Monday the 11th. Twenty-three players took part in the
three-day event that served as a precursor to the main training camp. Main Oiler camp begins on the road five
hours northwest of Edmonton in Grande Prairie and will last for three days,
just in time for the club to return back to the provincial capital for the start
of the exhibition season.
The Oilers signed a pair of their Swedish prospects
in late spring and both Jonas Almtorp and Fredrik Johansson are
making their North American debut at camp this fall. Almtorp, drafted in the seventh round back in 2002, and
Johansson, a ninth rounder the same year, have played in Sweden since they were
drafted and will return there again unless they surprise everyone by cracking
the Oiler roster this year.
Netminder Devan Dubnyk was also inked to a
contract in May, preventing the 6’6 keeper from re-entering the NHL draft. The former Kamloops Blazer is ready to take
the next step as a professional but may be forced to do so at the ECHL level.
Other 2004 draftees who earned contracts include Stephane
Goulet, Liam Reddox, Tyler Spurgeon and Bryan Young.
Tom Gilbert scored the
winning goal in the NCAA national championship game, scored his first professional
contract in July and now is coming to camp with hopes of playing in the NHL
The biggest signing of the summer in Edmonton came
recently when the club announced that Alexei Mikhnov, their first round
choice back in 2000, was finally under contract. The giant Ukrainian has attracted plenty of watchers at informal
practices held at the U of A over recent weeks.
A camp dark horse might exist in Norwegian
national team member Patrick Thoresen.
Edmonton signed the 22-year-old to a deal and think the former QMJHL
100-point man could surprise.
Battle for the Roster
Thirty-three players who fall under HF’s prospect
criteria are involved in Edmonton’s camp: 26 that Edmonton owns and six free
agent invites. A standard 23-man NHL
roster consists of 14 forward positions but in Edmonton, 10 of those jobs are
already spoken for by returning Oiler veterans or newcomers to the fold like
Joffrey Lupul and Petr Sykora.
Realistically, the 11-14th forward spots
up front are up for grabs and there are nine players in the mix to latch onto
one of them. Veteran AHL winger Toby
Petersen is one of them as is 25-year-old Brad Winchester.
OHL scoring champion Rob Schremp and
Hamilton Bulldogs MVP Marc-Antoine Pouliot are the highest profile centers
vying for a spot on the NHL roster.
They will be competing with fellow middlemen Patrick Thoresen, a
top ten scorer in the SEL in 2005-06, Kyle Brodziak and Jonas Almtorp.
Schremp is the only one in that grouping who does
not have pro experience under his belt and the historically patient Oilers
aren’t often seen putting youngsters into positions where they might not be
ready. Pouliot blossomed in the AHL
last year despite the less than perfect split affiliation with the Montreal
Canadiens. The 21-year-old ended the
season off in Edmonton and would have played in the playoffs ahead of Rem
Murray had he not suddenly come down with mononucleosis.
Brodziak is a dependable player in his own end and
has developed into a terrific faceoff man, characteristics not unlike those of
head coach Craig MacTavish back in his playing days. However, the former Moose Jaw Warriors captain lacks speed and
the offensive ability he displayed in the WHL has not followed him to the pro
Thoresen and Almtorp are two relatively unknown
quantities in Edmonton, which will certainly work against them. Neither have the benefit of a high draft
position that will guarantee them a longer look, so both will have to impress
early to avoid being cut. Almtorp will either
return to the SEL or head to the farm should that happen while Thoresen is
staying in North America no matter what.
Aside from Petersen and Winchester, the wingers
with a definite opportunity to make the team are J.F. Jacques and Alexei
Mikhnov. Jacques showed last year
that he can definitely handle the physical play at the professional level, he
is more than fast enough and he has the attitude that the organization
likes. Of all the players at camp,
Jacques may be the surest bet to stick with the team.
Mikhnov has the disadvantage of being on a two-way
contract meaning should the Oilers really be pushed in making a final decision,
the option of sending him to the farm might work negatively for the big
Ukrainian. However, every indication
from the organization is that Mikhnov is good enough to make the team on skill
alone so it will be his ability to acclimate himself that will be the deciding
On the blueline, Edmonton lost some veteran players
from their Stanley Cup contending squad but has attempted to fill those holes
with other veteran players. Matt
Greene has already established himself as a bona fide NHL regular but has
not yet played enough games in the league to remove his prospect status.
After Greene, Jason Smith, Steve Staios, Daniel
Tjarnqvist, Marc-Andre Bergeron and newcomer Jan Hejda, there is only the
seventh defenseman job up for grabs.
Edmonton will have six prospects vying for the job but it will come down
to four of them in the running for it and that’s being generous.
The inside edge would have to go to Ladislav
Smid whom the Oilers acquired from Anaheim in the Chris Pronger deal. Some believe that this fact alone, having
given up so much in getting Smid, will help Smid make the team — that Edmonton
will want to show value in the deal as soon as possible. However, if Smid isn’t ready, the Oilers
won’t rush him and will send him back to the AHL for more playing time. Most think Smid is good enough now to earn
the job, but that won’t be confirmed until camp is underway.
Tommy Gilbert is likely on a
development curve similar to what Matt Greene was riding last year, begin the
year in the AHL and eventually show that promotion to the NHL is a
possibility. He is a puckmoving defenseman,
which is what Edmonton is building their blueline around, but until he shows he
can play against faster and bigger competition, he’ll be on the farm.
Playing in Hamilton was not a positive experience
last year for Danny Syvret or Mathieu Roy, but both could be
headed back to the AHL for another year.
Roy just re-signed with the club and is considered a capable call-up,
but is probably not considered a real contender for the seventh man job.
Syvret was more impressive as an Oiler than as a Bulldog
last year and was clear in conversation with Hockey’s Future that he did not
want to go through the same scenario he did in 2005-06. That motivation might make Syvret Smid’s
biggest competition in camp.
Jeff-Drouin Deslauriers, Devan Dubnyk and Bryan Pitton are the three
prospective netminders in camp but none will challenge Jussi Markkanen or
Dwayne Roloson for their jobs this year.
Unless an injury befalls one of the veterans, JDD and Dubnyk will spend
the entire season in the minors and Pitton will be back in Brampton to
hopefully secure the starting job with the Battalion.
Now or Never
It is a contract year for Brodziak and therefore a
pivotal one in his career. The former
seventh round pick has already played in the NHL, an accomplishment most
players drafted don’t achieve, let alone someone picked so late in their draft
year. However, in order to get a second
pro contract offer from the Oilers, Brodziak will have to have a career year.
Goaltender Jeff Drouin-Deslauriers is also entering
the final year of his entry-level contract.
Whether he re-signs with the team has probably just as much to do with
how much opportunity he gets to play this year as his performance does. Should he only get into another paltry 13
AHL games like he did last year, how much incentive would there be on the
player’s part to return to the organization?
Training Camp Prospect Roster
* = Non-roster prospect invitee, defined as any player not property of the
Oilers by draft rights or direct signing with Edmonton and still considered a
“prospect” under HF’s criteria.
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