Edmonton Oilers prospects on display at 2010 Young Stars Tournament

By Glen Erickson

In front of a pro-Canucks crowd at the South Okanagan Events Centre, the Edmonton Oilers and Vancouver Canucks faced off to open the 2010 Young Stars Tournament in Penticton, B.C.

The Canucks, sporting their blue jerseys, appeared undersized up front as the Oilers dressed a lineup of bigger, physical forwards. Even on the back end, Edmonton appeared bigger than Vancouver.

Early on, it was former Calgary Hitmen defenseman Alex Plante who set the tone, lowering the boom on ‘Nucks rearguard Aaron Volpatti near the midway point of period.  Volpatti, 25, played junior hockey in this area with the Vernon Vipers of the BCHL and then for Brown University. After slowly making his way to the bench, he was later able to return for his next shift. Soon afterward, Plante earned the decision over Taylor Ellington in what turned out to be a less-than-spirited, one-punch affair. Ellington, who patrolled the blue line for three seasons with the Everett Silvertips of the WHL, spent much of last season with the ECHL’s Victoria Salmon Kings,

On the scoresheet, Magnus Paajarvi, skated through the Canucks crease and stuffed the puck past goaltender Eddie Lack to give the Oilers and early lead. Paajarvi would later add a second tally and would have scored a hat trick with an empty net goal late, if not for the hard work of Canucks defender Kevin Connauton. Connauton, who played last season with the Vancouver Giants of the WHL, swatted the puck away from the Swede as he was about to deposit it into an open cage.

It was also Connauton who got the ‘Nucks on the scoreboard in the first period when he threaded a wrister through traffic from the blue line.

At the other end, the Canucks goaltending deserves credit, as they frequently were left to stare down the likes of Jordan Eberle and Taylor Hall. Swedish keeper Eddie Lack played the first 20 minutes before giving way to Michael Houser, who played last season for the London Knights. Houser was able to stand his ground during a two-on-one in close with Hall and Eberle, who was forced to lift a high shot over the glass as Houser shut the door. But next time round, Eberle converted on a feed from to give the Oilers a two-goal cushion after 40 minutes. An empty net tally by Tyler Pitlick nailed down the 4-1 decision.

For Edmonton, this night presented an opportunity for the organization to unveil its past four first round draft picks in Plante (15th overall in 2007), Eberle (22nd overall in 2008), Paajarvi-Svensson (10th overall in 2009) and Hall (1st overall in 2010). Hall and Eberle skated together from the outset, with Mylan Kyntar and Paajarvi taking turns on the wing. Kyntar has cut his teeth on North American ice as a member of three WHL teams, the Kelowna Rockets, Saskatoon Blades and Vancouver Giants.

In fact, the Oilers dressed eight of their 11 picks from the 2010 draft. Each of the three second round selections, including Tyler Pitlick, Martin Marincin and Curtis Hamilton, were in uniform. Marincin is expected to suit up with the Prince George Cougars this season while Hamilton will return as an important leader with the Saskatoon Blades.

For Vancouver, Connauton was by far the best player on the ice, contributing at both ends of the rink. The Edmonton-area native collected 72 points in 69 WHL games last season, along with 107 penalty minutes. A defenseman who always seems to get the puck on the net through traffic, Connauton had Bunz beaten cleanly in the second stanza, only to have a second tally turned away by the iron.

In the first period, Jordan Schroeder was a frequent offensive threat. Schroeder had a busy year, collecting a gold medal for Team USA at the 2010 WJC before completing his second NCAA season with the University of Minnesota Gophers. He then joined the Manitoba Moose of the AHL and chipped in with nine points in 11 playoff games. The Canucks 2009 first round draft pick has an outside chance of starting the NHL season in Vancouver due to injuries to forwards Cody Hodgson and Alex Burrows. Schroeder is a speedster.

Another speed merchant vying for a NHL job is Prab Rai. The 20-year-old is a prolific skater who toiled with the Prince George Cougars and Seattle Thunderbirds during his WHL career. He is from Surrey, B.C. and could add some local flavor to the Canucks lineup. However, the smart money has Rai penciled in for a developmental stint Manitoba.

Next up for the Canucks is a date with the San Jose Sharks on Sept.13. The Oilers have a day off before entertaining the Calgary Flames on Sept. 14.

Notes…Magnus Paajarvi-Svensson has apparently dropped “Svensson” from his name. His younger brother, who plays for Timra IK in Sweden, is Bjorn Svensson…Curtis Hamilton of the Saskatoon Blades was in the Oilers lineup and looks to be 100-percent after an injury-plagued season last year. Hockey Canada has the Kelowna, B.C.-native firmly in their crosshairs for the 2011 WJC…The Oilers’ Cameron Abney, selected in the third round, 82nd overall at the 2009 entry draft, knows he is likely to be playing in Edmonton this season. However, he’ll be donning an Edmonton Oil Kings jersey for this, his third season in the WHL.