After talking with last years coach in Hamilton Walt Kyle and watching these youngsters play together in the American Hockey League it was though they might reproduce thier chemistry in the National Hockey League.
Very few people have heard of Brian Swanson, Michel Riesen and Dan Cleary and as of yet, they are not house hold names but all can be changed this year.
With the training camp and preseason over the test is on the trio to come up with similar statistics against the big boys. All three had good statistics over the preseason while showing fine defensive play and a willingness to go in the corners and fight for the puck.
All three come from different hockey backgrounds and each has it’s own talents but they seem to mesh on the ice extreamly well. The centerman of the group is a product from U.S. college hockey at Colorado College where he became a Hobey Baker finalist. Possessed with good playmaking skills and a nack for finding teammates at oppertune times he brings some much needed offensive abilities at the second line center position.
Swiss born player Michel Riesen adjusted farely quickly
to the North American style of play and has found a niche on the line as the trigger man cruising around the net and in the slot finding seems in the defense to use his deadly accurate shot. Currently is the highest drafted Swiss player in history being taken by Edmonton 14th overall in 1997 one spot behind linemate Dan Cleary whom has taken by Chicago at lucky number 13.
This is the season that Dan Cleary drops the rock of his doubters and the rest of the league. Drafted 13th overall in 1997 by the Chicago Blackhawks the world seemed to be smiling on him and was to be the next great power type forward in the organization.
However things soured a little for him for a couple years which stemmed from being brought up to the NHL too early in the 1997-98 and 1998-99 seasons instead of allowing him to stay in the farm system and grow.
All the bouncing around from Chicago to Bellville to Indianapolis back to Chicago than to Portland before being part of a trade that brought him to the Oilers at the trading dead line in March of 1998, stunted his development and confidence.
After a full season in Hamilton with regular linemates Brian Swanson and Michel Riesen where he displayed the reasons why he was picked so high in the draft. After producing 74 points in 58 games in Hamilton and 3 goals and 2 helpers in 17 games in Edmonton he did not look out of place on a line with Doug Weight and Billy Guerin in the playoff’s. His performance was enough to garner a second chance by the brass in Edmonton to crack the line up this season but he had to come in great shape display heart and desire that was lacking in the past.
Strength down the middle is a necessity to succeed in many aspects in the game of hockey and Oilers organization has been lacking depth and talent in area for some time. But that is not the case anymore after top brass got a good look at some up and comers over training camp and the preseason.
A pleasant surprise was the play and maturity of Mike Comrie a 3rd round pick in 1999 who has play the last couple seasons with Michigan. An exceptional playmaker with great vision he often draws players to him to allow his linemates space. Despite his size at 5-9/175 he shows tremendous grit and tenacity and is willing to get his nose dirty and roam in traffic. Has the skills and desire to become a solid center but needs to bulk up to 190 lbs to handle the day to day pounding.
His rival in the college ranks Michigan Spartan stand out Shawn Horcoff received rave reviews as well. Displaying the defensive awareness that made him the defensive forward of the year and showed the spark of offensive prowess he had last season while battling Mike Comrie for the scoring title in CCHA. Has an ideal combination of size and quickness with good face off capabilities and together they should make a solid one-two counter punch at center in the near future.
The third player that came out of the U.S. college ranks was Alaska born Brian Swanson. Had great career at Colorado College compiling 88 goals and 144 assists in four years, solid first year as a pro in Hamilton. Read more»
A few players will make the jump from the farm to play significant roles in the upcoming season. Two of Hamilton’s top point producers Dan Cleary and Michel Riesen are poised to grab vacancies on the top two lines. With Alexander Selivanov and German Titov not being resigned due to inconsistency and salaries their spots could be taken by these two skilled goal scorers.
Both Dan and Michel are having an excellent camp and preseason with Riesen picking up 3 goals and 1 assist in 3 games while showing more resiliency in the physical game than in the past. A power play ace in the Swiss League and in Hamilton Michel may replace Selivanov’s goals on the power play and give Edmonton a legitimate sniper to patrol the slot and perimeter. Even though he lacks the physical grittiness the coach and general manager desire in their players he can make up for it in goal production and being defensively responsible.
Finally it looks like Dan is beginning to take his game to the next level after being brought up too early by Chicago when he was drafted. He possess the size and skill to potentially be a regular 25 goal scorer with grittiness and toughness to complete the package. Has driven to the net with authority and displayed strong play along the boards and down low over the past three games. His desire and determination that was thought to be lacking in the past is bubbling over and that alone is the determining factor that makes him a solid two-way winger.
Keeping it close to home and within the organization has been an Oiler trait since the the team arrived in the National Hockey League. This shows loyalty, not only to the players and staff, but the fans as well.
Both new assistants bring different but valuable skills and experiences which will aid in forming a strong team concept with the emphasis on improving every time you hit the ice. Both coaches believe in the system in place and will add little wrinkles to the plan by bringing out the best qualities in each player.
Adding another former Oiler dynasty teammate in ex-defenseman Charlie Huddy was a fine choice, with his experience with the Rangers coaching staff and five Stanley cup rings, he brings a lot to the table. His first project this year is to personally tutor the likes of Tom Poti, Eric Brewer and Sean Brown which is the perfect opportunity fot the trio to take their individual games to the next level. I would not be suprised to see Poti make it to the All-Star Game this season, while Eric may have the break out year the scouts have been waiting for, since the style of play in Edmonton suits his talents. And maybe most importantly, guiding Sean into a dependable tough defensive defenseman that plays with more discipline.