Oilers 2006-07 European season review

By Guy Flaming

Edmonton had a total of nine prospects playing in Europe during the 2006-07 campaign and they were concentrated in just two countries: Sweden and Russia.  It was a pivotal year for several of the players, some of whom need to be signed by the Oilers by June 1 or else the club will lose their rights and the players will become unrestricted free agents.

Sweden

Jonas Almtorp, C

Almtorp began 2006-07 in Edmonton back in June when he took part in the club’s prospect camp at Rexall Place.  In the fall he returned for the opening of main camp and told The Pipeline Show that he had no desire to return to Sweden to play hockey but instead desperately wanted to stay and play in the AHL if he failed to crack the Oiler roster.

“If I could choose, yeah I want to come into the AHL and the American living and style of playing hockey so I don’t want to go back to s/sweden” id=”HFlink” class=”HFlinkstyle”>Sweden, no,” said ‘The Torpedo’.

However, with no room for him in their minor league system the Oilers were forced to send the center back to Brynäs where he filled a specific job and didn’t see a ton of ice.  Statistically, Almtorp accumulated six goals and 13 points in 53 games playing the SEL.

“Defensively a decent season, offensively very quiet and in a rather limited role in Brynäs,” one Swedish insider told HF.

Almtorp will definitely be playing in North America next year and in all likelihood is headed to Springfield to skate for the Falcons in the AHL to get acclimated to North American hockey.

Fredrik Johansson, C

Like Almtorp, Johansson also attended the June prospect camp as well as main camp albeit on short notice thanks to some misunderstanding of the fine print on his newly-signed contract with the Oilers.  The Swede’s agent didn’t realize that he was expected to appear at the September sessions until two days before they began and after making the overseas trek, Edmonton was forced to send him back to Frölunda in time for their regular season debut.

One source told HF that he was confused by the player’s choice of SEL team and that he considers the result to be both predictable and potentially damaging for his development.  

“[It was a] moronic decision by Johansson to sign with Frölunda again, the same team that did not let him play much three seasons ago,” said the source.  “Yet again, he found himself having a small role and seeing limited ice time.  Even after the team changed coach and actually acquired Johansson previous coach in Västerås he still did not get quality ice time.

“A year wasted, in many ways.”

Johansson is signed by the Oilers and will play in North America this year, likely with Springfield but possibly Stockton if Edmonton doesn’t just send him back to his homeland after camp.

Kalle Olsson, C

Olsson was drafted by Edmonton back in the fifth round of 2003 but has yet to play regularly in the SEL instead having to play in what might be described as the Swedish version of the AHL.  With Västerås this year set new personal highs but will they be enough to convince the Oilers that they need to sign him before June 1?   

“[Olsson] had a minor breakthrough scoring decent 33 points in 46 games with Västerås,” the Swedish source described. “He was re-signed and should be a key player for the team.  With a good season next year, he could/should get a SEL contract.”

Sources tell HF that the Oilers have not offered Olsson a contract so the player will now be a free agent.

Dragan Umicevic

Although he set new personal career standards in the SEL this past year, Umicevic will not be offered a contract by Edmonton and will therefore become a free agent if not chosen again in the 2007 draft.  According to one Swedish birddog, there are a few suitors in Europe already.

“[Umicevic] has been rumored about to sign with many teams, both in Sweden and Finland but nothing yet,” he said.  “The last rumor placed him with CSKA Moscow in the Russian Super League, but I do not know how valid those rumors are.”

“He had his best season point-wise in 2006-07 scoring 28 points in 51 games, but was not super in any way,” said the source. “He still has problems with his skating and with his intensity at times.”

The fact that Djurgården didn’t see re-signing Umicevic as a priority was a factor in Edmonton’s decision not to pursue a contract agreement as well.  Even after establishing new highs in goals and points, Djurgården taking a pass on him sent red flags up for the Oilers.  Umicevic will now be available in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft.   

Russia

Alexander Bumagin, RW

A year after a terrific rookie RSL season expectations were high for Bumagin, but 2006-07 was nothing but disappointing outside of a two-week stretch in Sweden at the World Junior Championships. 

An Oiler source told Hockey’s Future in December that Bumagin’s struggles were due to the fact that he broke a bone in the palm of his hand early in the year and although he continued to play, the diminutive Russian could barely hold his stick let alone play up to his normal abilities.

Bumagin was one of the point leaders at the WJC and had seemingly recovered from the hand injury enough to play an important role for his country.  However, upon his return to the RSL he disappeared again and ended the year with just 2 goals and 5 points in 41 games.

One source indicated to HF that Bumagin’s rock star lifestyle off the ice may have contributed to his lack of success this past year. 

Denis Grebeshkov, D

Expendable in the minds of the New York Islanders, Grebeshkov was acquired by the Oilers at the NHL trade deadline in the midst of a strong campaign with Yaroslavl Lokomotiv in the Russian Super League.  Grebeshkov notched 8 goals and 18 points in the RSL before then moving on to the international stage and playing for Russia at the World Championships in Moscow.  Earlier the defenseman also wore his national colors in the Swedish Games.

Described by Eugene Belashchenko of HF and RussianProspects.com as being the top Russian blue line prospect in the RSL this year, the Oilers are very eager to see what Grebeshkov can contribute to their team next season.  With reports that a verbal agreement has already been reached on a one-way NHL contract, Grebeshkov is expected to not only be at camp in the fall but to make the team and play a regular role with the Oilers.    

Josef Hrabal, D

As a former eighth-round pick of the Oilers back in 2003, the fact that Hrabal is still even on the radar should be considered somewhat of a success.  The Czech product has gotten better each and every year since he was drafted and 2006-07 was no exception.  Hrabal began the year playing for Vsetin in the top Czech league but ended the schedule in Russian skating for Severstal.  Combined, the defenseman had 19 points in 45 games – a higher point per game ratio than Grebeshkov had despite being two full years younger.

The Oilers tried to ink Hrabal’s name to a contract before June 1 in order to keep his NHL rights but were unable to do so and therefore the Czech product will re-enter the 2007 draft. 

Alexei Mikhnov

Like Hrabal, Mikhnov also joined the RSL season halfway through after beginning the year playing in North America with the Oilers and Wilkes-Barre in the AHL.  The 6’5 Ukrainian only got into 18 games with Yarolslavl but still managed to record 12 points, a pretty decent scoring pace by RSL standards. 

Refreshed by his return home but with far better conditioning thanks to his North American tenure, Mikhnov was able to assert himself better than he had in years previous.  Whether he will return to Edmonton for training camp in September is still unknown although it is fairly certain that if he did and failed to make the NHL roster, a return to Russia would immediately follow. 

Mikhail Zhukov

The career of Mikhail Zhukov has been a disappointment. Zhukov, or Misha Joukov as he was known when drafted, left Russia as a teenager to play for his father who coached in Sweden.  There, the forward opted to pursue Swedish citizenship, but confusingly returned to Russia once his paperwork was completed.  The RSL offered him very little ice time and his development quickly stagnated to the point where over the course of the three seasons he has accumulated all of 21 points. 

Although drafted out of Sweden, the fact that Zhukov is playing in Russia and holds citizenship there, he is unaffected by the 2-year mandatory sign or lose policy.  Edmonton has not signed him this summer but will continue to hold his rights, although he is very low on the depth chart and would not have been signed if the deadline was for this summer.

HF staffer Johan Nilsson contributed to the information in this article.

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