The Edmonton Oilers have just five prospects playing major junior hockey in Canada this year, the lowest number in years. Adding that group to the pair playing in the USHL and the Oilers have just seven players at the junior level in North America.
Most of the players are developing nicely while a couple others seem to have stagnated in the early season.
Fredrik Pettersson, LW/C – Calgary Hitmen (WHL)
Drafted: 5th Round 2005
Freddie Pettersson knows how to make an impression. First he stole the show at the 2005 Oiler training camp then in June of 2006 he did it again at the prospect camp. The highly likeable Swede was at it again during the main training camp and won over head coach Craig MacTavish so much that he was rewarded with a roster spot in his first pro game, an exhibition tilt against the Florida Panthers.
Just because he’s 5’10 and 185 lbs soaking wet and standing on his tip toes doesn’t mean Pettersson backs down from anyone and that was the case when he charged into the corner after a loose puck and threw an aggressive check at 6’6 Alexei Semenov. Pettersson got the worst of it and suffered a knee sprain that kept him out of the first month of the WHL season.
Pettersson returned to the Calgary Hitmen in October after six weeks of rehab in Edmonton and has been playing with a brace, something he’s still getting used to. But with two strong offensive lines this year the Hitmen have much more of a scoring mindset than they did last year. Pettersson is benefiting from that and after an expected slow start with the knee brace, the 19-year-old is a point-per-game player having totalled 15 in 14 games.
“He’s having a little trouble getting accustomed to the brace but outside of that, he’s Freddie; he shows up for every shift, he’s a bit of an agitator and an energy guy and that’s what he’s given Calgary since he’s been back there,” Oilers chief scout Kevin Prendergast told Hockey’s Future recently.
Theo Peckham, D – Owen Sound Attack (OHL)
Drafted: 3rd Round 2006
No one expected it, but bruising rearguard Theo Peckham began the year by pounding pucks into the net and quickly found himself near the top of the OHL in scoring among defensemen. Unfortunately a high ankle sprain knocked him out of action for a few weeks and the hot streak came to an end.
Peckham was a popular player for fans at training camp because of his physical game but it was his mobility and puckhandling that made him a hit with the Oilers. No one from their 2006 crop of draftees has exceeded the club’s expectations quite like Peckham has so far this year. Getting to play alongside offensive minded Bobby Sanguinetti (NYR) has helped pad those offensive numbers a fair bit too.
“It certainly doesn’t hurt him when you have a guy that thinks the game as well as Sanguinetti does,” Prendergast conceded before commenting on Peckham’s continued tough guy role. “He certainly gets a lot of room; nobody in the league wants to tangle with him.”
After just 14 games, Peckham has already established new career highs in assists (13), points (18) and is just two away from beating his old goals scored record. His 45 minutes in penalties leaves him well short of the 236 he collected last season.
Bryan Pitton, G – Brampton Battalion (OHL)
Drafted: 5th Round 2006
One recent draftee who is struggling to find the next level to his game is goaltender Bryan Pitton of the Brampton Battalion. The opposition has peppered Pitton and the 18-year-old keeper in his first year as a starter in the OHL has the stats to show for it.
Brampton’s disappointing season is reflected in Pitton’s 9-10-2 record as well as the ugly 3.73 goals against average and .878 save percentage.
“Pete Peeters was just down there and spent five days with him,” Prendergast reported. “He’s been struggling and I think taking over the No. 1 job on a team that is struggling just as much. He’s having trouble adjusting himself to it. Pete says that he’s been playing very good for 50-55 minutes but the other five are bad minutes where he’s letting in two or three goals.”
The positive spin is that at least Pitton is playing as the starter and no longer is the back-up for the Troops.
“That’s the point of playing, he didn’t play a heck of a lot last year,” Prendergast added. “It’s natural for a goaltender. He has flaws in his game that we didn’t see because he didn’t play much outside of warmup but we saw them in training camp when he was here and we tried to help him out with them as much as we could.”
Viatcheslav Trukhno, C – Gatineau Olympiques (QMJHL)
Drafted: 4th Round 2005
If the Oilers have a genuine steal on draft day in the last few years, it’s looking like Russian-born Slava Trukhno is it. The fourth-round selection in 2005 was named the QMJHL’s Player of the Month in October thanks to his accumulation of 32 points in 12 games. He’s since raised those remarkable numbers to 51 points in just 23 games while playing alongside linemates Brett Morrison and Claude Giroux (PHI).
What the Oilers like the most about Trukhno’s situation this year has less to do with his stats and more to do with how he’s playing and they chalk that up to who he’s playing for.
“He’s playing for a tough coach,” said Prendergast in reference to Gatineau bench boss Benoit Groulx. “Last year was more of a country club atmosphere for him in P.E.I. because they weren’t a very good team so he didn’t have to control his own end at all but now he has to work hard at it and he’s happy about that.”
Development coach Kelly Buchberger was just out to see Trukhno and spent a couple of days with the Denmark raised forward and reported back to Prendergast that there was a definite dedication to working hard at both ends of the rink which is exactly what the Oilers wanted to see after an often lackluster performance during training camp practices.
“I think it was a bit of a hangover from last year in that he felt he didn’t have to work hard [in practices], just in games,” Prendergast theorized. “When MacT gave him the opportunity to play in a couple exhibition games I think he realized skating with the guys on game day and in pre-game skates and things like that, that in order to play in this league he has to work hard all the time and he’s carried that back to Gatineau with him.”
Sebastian Bisaillon, D – Val-d’Or Foreurs (QMJHL)
Free Agent Signed Oct 2006
There probably isn’t a team in the CHL that has better reason to dislike the Edmonton Oilers than Val-d’Or does these days. First the Oilers invited Sebastien Bisaillon to their fall training camp, then they kept him in Alberta well after the QMJHL season had begun eventually signing him to an entry-level contract.
After several phone calls checking up on their defenseman, Val-d’Or finally got their man back and quickly put him to work. Twenty-two games into the year Bisaillon has scored 24 points, most coming without the benefit of playing with his defensive partner Kristopher Letang (PIT).
“He had to play the first 18 games without Letang and I think at times he tried to do too much but he’s got a cannon for a shot and really good hockey sense,” Prendergast said. “He’s a lot like [Marc-Andre] Bergeron and plays that style.
“Sebastian’s come a long way from last year and I think the opportunity in our training camp was good for him,” he added. “He wants to be a NHL player and Kelly (Buchberger) was in there last night and said he played a very solid two-way game and that’s what we want to see from him.”
Bisaillon is not the first time player the Foreurs have had issues with the Oilers over.
“We also had Mathieu Roy a couple of years ago and we went through the same scenario with him,” Prendergast said with a chuckle, “but we did hold onto Bisaillon for a very long time and they were getting really scared that he wasn’t coming back.”
And in an odd if not humorous turn of events, the Foreurs recently acquired the rights to Oiler prospect Stephane Goulet who now skates in the ECHL with the Stockton Thunder. Val-d’Or is primed for a run at the league title and a Memorial Cup berth so had to place another call to see if they could pry another Oiler property from the NHL club.
“In the meantime they’ve made a trade for Stephane Goulet and have been hounding us over that the last little while but that isn’t going to happen!” laughed Prendergast. “Five minutes after they made the deal they called and said ‘We know he’s in the ECHL now but we’d really like to have him back here.’”
Jeff Petry, D – Des Moines Buccaneers
Drafted: 2nd Round 2006
Overshadowed last year by higher profile Bucs like Kyle Okposo (NYI) and Trevor Lewis (LA), both first-round selections, Jeff Petry no longer flies under the radar. The son of a former Detroit Tigers pitcher, Petry is now making a name for himself thanks to his development curve that has arced skyward since the end of the USHL playoffs last season.
“I think he’s probably the best defenseman in the league,” boasted Oiler scout Chris McCarthy.
He’s not leading the league in defensive scoring but his 11 points in 14 games are just four points shy of his 2005-06 total after playing 48 games. Having already notched six goals compared to just one last year is a clear sign of a player who has either developed an offensive touch or is playing with more confidence, but in Petry’s case it’s probably both.
“He’s the leader of that team now,” McCarthy added. “It’s a good year for him to get a lot of confidence and fine tune his skills before he goes to Michigan State. Last year he played well but this year he’s trying to take it to a different level and he’s kind of dominating in terms of moving the puck properly and playing a lot of power-play time and the penalty kill.”
Petry will join the Spartans next season.
Robby Dee, C – Omaha Lancers
Drafted: 3rd Round 2005
2005-06 was pretty much a wasted year in Robby Dee’s development thanks to a serious shoulder injury and a team depth chart that saw him playing behind a player like Martin Hanzal (PHX). The Maine recruit consulted with his advisor, his family and Black Bears coach Tim Whitehead and decided that a return to the USHL for another season would better prepare him for NCAA hockey and probably for professional hockey beyond that.
“You can really tell how hard he worked over the summer because he is visibly bigger and stronger although he still has work to due in regards to upper body strength,” McCarthy reported. “But I can tell that he’s playing with a lot more confidence with the puck.”
Dee has potted five goals so far this year and added as many helpers for a total of 10 points, one short of last year’s marks in both offensive categories. What is a bit alarming however is the minus-7 rating which is a team worst.
The powerful Maine Black Bears will open their doors to Dee next fall.
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