With the Edmonton Oilers making news across the National Hockey League in recent weeks for many of the wrong reasons, one wonders what the effect might be on prospects eyeing up opportunities to break into the organization. The recent history suggests it’s a tough gig for players selected beyond the first round by the Oilers.
Indeed, something has got to give. There simply has to be a prospect out there that will force their way into the mix. Perhaps that player is Jackson Houck of the Vancouver Giants?
Houck has been involved with the Oilers without much fanfare since his name was called at the 2013 NHL Draft where Edmonton had seven picks in the first four rounds. Houck was the Oilers’ fifth pick that day, 94th overall, at the same festivities that yielded the likes of Darnell Nurse, Marco Roy, Bogdan Yakimov, Anton Slepyshev, Kyle Platzer, Aidin Muir, Evan Campbell, Ben Betker and Greg Chase.
“I’ve been to a couple of their development camps and both rookie camps since the draft,” Houck explained during a chat with Hockey’s Future at the Pacific Coliseum in Vancouver. “That first year, I was going in trying to feel things out and was just making sure to compete. The second time around, I really felt more comfortable.”
Coincidentally, the 2013 NHL Draft actually marked the second time in team history that the Oilers opted to call the name “Houck” in the fourth round. Back at the 1981 edition, Jackson’s father, Paul Houck, was selected by the Oilers 71st overall. The elder Houck never did suit up with the Oilers, as he was traded to the Minnesota North Stars for goaltender Gilles Meloche. A few months later, Meloche was jettisoned in a deal that netted the Oilers a pair of its all-time stalwarts on the blue line in Marty McSorley and Craig Muni.
For his part, Jackson likes what the Oilers are doing today to help aid with his own development, especially through some regular online communications.
“I think they’re doing a great job helping me to develop as a player,” Houck said. “I had an opportunity to play at the Young Stars Tournament in Penticton and they have a great system online that enables us to talk about things. I think the system is kind of led by Rick Carriere.”
Carriere, the Oilers’ Senior Director of Player Development, has been in place since July of 2012 after a lengthy association with the WHL.
While Houck acknowledged that he is aware of the tough times the Oilers are experiencing at present, he remains committed to becoming a contributor in Edmonton one day.
“I’m not sure right now,” Houck said when asked if the Oilers have laid out any firm plans for him. “But I’m just going to compete here and continue to develop every day. If I can continue to get better every day, hopefully that will help me to make an impact with that organization. The goal is to get better everyday as a player and as a person. If I can do that and if they like what they see, I’d love to be a part of helping them turn things around.”
When Hockey’s Future was in Vancouver to meet with Houck, it was the Saskatoon Blades who provided the opposition for the Giants annual Teddy Bear Toss game. The Blades struck for the game’s first goal in the second period before it was Houck who scored early in the third frame to tie the game. His even-strength tally certainly did get the fur flying, as the fans showered the ice with more than 8,000 teddy bears that will be distributed by the Lower Mainland Christmas Bureau.
Houck would later score the only goal of the shootout as the Giants dispatched the Blades by a count of 3-2.
“Obviously it’s nice to get the win,” Houck said. “Early on I think we put a lot of pressure on ourselves to win, and to get that Teddy Bear goal out of the way. I thought the guys did a great job of responding after we got down a goal.”
Houck, from North Vancouver, has scored 11 goals and added 15 assists in 28 games so far for a Giants team that, in fairness, has struggled during a 12-18-0-0 start this season. Just last week, head coach Troy Ward was dismissed and replaced by former Winnipeg Jets bench boss, Claude Noel. As one of the leaders in Vancouver, Houck, an assistant captain, is open to doing whatever it takes to see things turn around.
“I’m looking to support every way that I can,” he said, “whether it’s defensively, physically, offensively. I do feel like I’m finding my game right now and am trying to get used to a new coach right now and the way he’s preaching things. It’s just working out really well right now.”
During his WHL career, Houck has shown the ability to score in bunches, an attribute that fits nicely with his determination on the physical side. But the 6’1”, 195-pound forward has also suffered through prolonged scoring droughts along the way. All told, he has collected 170 points in 229 WHL games, along with 220 penalty minutes.
Of late with the Giants, Houck has been skating with fellow veteran Carter Popoff and rookie sensation Tyler Benson (2016). The latter, who is only 16 years old, arrived in Vancouver via the WHL Bantam Draft where he was the first overall selection in 2013. Benson has fit right in so far among WHL rookies, along with a couple of other 16-year-olds from the first round of his draft class, namely Sam Steel of the Regina Pats and Jake Kryski of the Kamloops Blazers.
Of Benson, Houck really likes what he sees so far.
“We just got thrown together for the game in Calgary last week,” said Houck, who has scored four times in the last two games. “We’re clicking right now. They’re both strong players, strong on the puck and they’re smart players. It’s seems to be working.”
“It’s nice I think,” Houck said when asked about playing alongside Benson. “When I was a 16-year-old, I maybe got one shift or two shifts every couple of games with the top line, so it’s probably a bit of a humbling feeling for Benson. But he’s a man-child out there, he’s not afraid of anything, he just plays his game.
“It’s nice for us to have a guy with that kind of skill level on our line and we also just want to do our best to lead him in the right direction and keep focused on our intensity.”
The current experience enabled Houck to reflect briefly on his own introduction to junior hockey when he joined the Giants as a 16-year-old.
“It was Brendan Gallagher back then,” Houck said. “We just all watched Gally, in games and in practices. We watched what he did and how he’d compete. I know that really helped me, especially with my work ethic and my compete level.”
Houck has been fortunate during his young hockey career, which included stints with the North Shore Winter Club and the North West Giants. He’s played alongside some high-end talent, and has surely added to their cumulative successes as well.
“Yeh, I grew up in the North Shore Winter Club program, through pee wee and bantam,” Houck said. “It’s just over the bridge from here (Pacific Coliseum). I grew up coming to a lot of Giants games.”
Vancouver selected Houck in the third round, 57th overall, at the 2010 WHL Bantam Draft.
“All of those minor hockey experiences helped me to get kick started on the offensive side,” Houck continued. “Nic Petan (WPG) was my linemate for three years from pee wee to bantam and then Adam Rockwood, too. He’s at the University of Wisconsin now. It was fun to play major midget with Sam Reinhart (BUF) with the NW Giants, and then I arrived here as a 16-year-old.”
Houck and defenseman Mason Geertsen (COL) are currently the only drafted players on the Giants roster, while young forward Alec Baer and defenseman Dmitry Osipov are firmly on the radar for the 2015 NHL Draft. Fellow veterans Dalton Sward, Matt Bellerive and Arvin Atwal are also part of a core group that is now firmly focused on moving the team back into the thick of the WHL‘s Western Conference playoff race.
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