Oilers 2007-08 junior prospects season review

By Guy Flaming

Edmonton only had a trio of CHL players in 2007-08 and they had very different results during the most recent campaign. One was a goaltender, another a blueliner and the third a forward. Two are Canadians and one a European import from Slovakia. All three made it to the post-season, but two saw their playoff drives die off with first-round losses.

The goaltender in question is 2006 fifth-round selection Bryan Pitton of the Brampton Battalion.  A high ankle sprain suffered during Oiler training camp kept Pitton on the shelf for the first month of the OHL schedule.  Upon his return to action, Pitton established himself as one of the best goaltenders in the league, at least from a statistical perspective.

“I was happy with the way [the season] started, I had a great first ten games and continued to roll a little bit,” said Pitton. “Over the Christmas break I kind of went over a bit of a slump there for a couple of games.  [Goaltending coach] Pete Peeters came down and it was fortunate that it was during my slump and we worked for a couple of days and he seemed to get me out of it.”

Pitton did not get the nod to represent the OHL in the ADT Canada-ams/russia” id=”HFlink” class=”HFlinkstyle”>Russia Challenge as he’d hoped, but realizes that his late start basically eliminated him from contention.

“I hadn’t played very many games, I think I had only played 11 games when the team was made,” Pitton explained. “Although I had been playing well up to that point I think they needed to see a little more.”

That disappointment faded though and was replaced with elation when his name was added to the OHL All-Star game played in Sault Ste. Marie.

“Obviously I was really excited and coach [Butler] and I had a meeting and he told me ‘you deserve it and to go have fun’ which I did,” said the 20-year-old. “It was a great experience to get out there with some of the great players and when I came back from there I think it had helped with my confidence a bit and I started to play like I was at the beginning again.”

Pitton helped backstop the Battalion to a first-place finish in the OHL’s Central Division, but Brampton was upset and ousted by Barrie in the opening round of the playoffs.  Pitton was strong between the pipes with a 1.80 GAA and .932 save percentage but still the Battalion could not get past the upstart Colts.

“I was happy with the way I played, I feel like every game I gave my team a chance to win,” Pitton said. “Obviously we would have liked to have scored a few more goals.  When you have a 1.80 average, you’re hoping your team can at least pop in two a game.”

Pitton ended the year in the AHL after signing a short-lived amateur tryout contract with the Springfield Falcons.  The Toronto native saw 12 minutes of action and allowed a single goal during that time but earned kudos from those who played in and watched the game.

Milan Kytnar’s North American debut earned him fewer accolades than Pitton’s All-Star season but the Slovak’s performance pleased his coaches and the Oilers as well.  The two-way center became a key player for the Kelowna Rockets in a checking role, something that is obviously an important job on any quality team. 

In 62 regular season contests, Kytnar contributed 9 goals and 22 points.  His most productive stretch of the year came in the 14 games between Dec. 29 and Valentine’s Day where he struck for 10 points, but again, offensive production is not what the Rockets were looking for from the import.

Kelowna ended the regular season with the fifth-best record in the Western Conference which meant a tough opening round match-up with the Seattle Thunderbirds.  Although they surprised the T-Birds with two road wins to open the series, the Rockets dropped the three straight games before stealing Game 6, forcing a final game.  The Rockets lost 4-2 and saw their season end; Kytnar had no points in the seven post-season games.

The final Oiler prospect who played in the CHL this past year reached the WHL’s Eastern Conference Final with the Calgary Hitmen.

First-round selection Alex Plante has had a year to forget.  A serious training camp charlie horse that morphed into long-term back pain led to several months on the sidelines.  Shortly after he returned to action, Plante was hit from behind and suffered a concussion after going head first into the boards.  Perhaps most unfortunate is that during his long absence from play, the Hitmen went out and replaced him with veteran players who did not relinquish the ice time they picked up. 

Plante ended the regular season with just two points in 36 games, spent mostly on the third pairing and without the benefit of the power play time he enjoyed during his draft year.  That trend has continued in the playoffs where the top-seeded Hitmen had the luxury of depth, which kept Plante limited to 10-12 minutes per game.  During the Hitmen’s lengthy second-round overtime contest against Swift Current, Plante didn’t see the ice after regulation time; a clear indication that head coach Kelly Kisio was content riding a short bench even five periods into a game.

Into the third round, Plante doubled his regular season production to 4 points in 15 games. Only two Calgary defensemen have more than six points and they (Karl Alzner WAS and Paul Postma ATL) both play significantly higher minutes including on the power play.  Plante has a plus-3 rating.

Members of the Oilers organization, although clearly disappointed with the way things went for Plante this year, reminded HF that the player was seen as a project when he was drafted.  In that sense, a one-year setback, although problematic, may not be something Plante cannot overcome with a great deal of offseason training.  The Oilers expect Plante to greatly increase his leg strength, which will automatically help his skating, but will also improve his defensive play in the corners and in front of the net.  The summer of 2008 may be pivotal for Plante’s future with the Oilers.

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