Kristians Pelss takes adjustments to North American game in stride

By Alessandro Seren Rosso

The Edmonton Oilers decided to risk a bit during the latest round of the 2010 NHL Entry Draft as they selected an almost unknown prospect from Latvia in Kristians Pelss. Most likely the Oilers scouted him during the 2010 IIHF WJC U18, in Belarus, where he scored three points in six games. However, it wasn’t the best edition for his national team as they got relegated to Division 1.

Pelss, 18, after the draft decided to report to North America as he was drafted by the Edmonton Oil Kings of the WHL during the annual CHL Import Draft. He is having a good season so far, and as per February 14th he scored eight goals and 20 points in 51 games. He admitted some inconsistence in the results achieved so far in his first year in North America: "[My first season in North America] is a bit shaky for now, very good at times, while at other times I’d like it to be better," Pelss told Hockey’s Future in Russian. "But as a whole I think I improved my level [of play]," Pelss added.

The native of Preili, a small city in eastern Latvia with a large Russian presence, had to face most of the troubles European players face in their first season in North America. Things like the new language: "When I left Latvia I thought I knew English, but then I quickly realized I didn’t. Now I’m trying to learn new words every day and now it’s definitely better than before."

The winger also wanted to share his impressions about his new life in Canada, a country that he said he likes: "I like my new life in Edmonton a lot, but sometimes it’s boring. No one to talk with in my mother language."

With that said, Pelss enjoys usual teenager activities in his free time: "Usually I go to the cinema with my teammates, or we go shopping, but more often we play to the Xbox." Pelss also enjoys reading, having just started "The Alchemist" by the popular Brazilian writer Paulo Coelho.

The Latvian forward is now settling into a solid role with the Oil Kings. His task for his first North American season is to help the team to go as far as possible in the post season. The Edmonton-based franchise is now the sixth seed of the Eastern Conference, with 57 points earned so far. They shouldn’t face many problems in getting a playoff spot.

As Pelss said earlier, since the start of season, a lot of progress can be seen in his game. However, he admitted that he still has "a lot to work on." Pells considers his skating and shooting abilities his best assets, and also considers himself more a goal-scorer, preferring to score goals over registering assists.

Pelss’ most memorable game in his first Major Junior season was probably the December 3rd, 2010 game against the Brandon Wheat Kings, in which he had a Gordie Howe hat trick, getting the assist for the 2-3 goal, scoring the tying goal seconds later, and getting involved in a fight against former NHL Draft first rounder, center Scott Glennie (DAL).

Shortly after he was one of the top players for Latvia at the Division 1 WJC, in which Latvia won the gold medal and was promoted to 2012 Elite level WJC. In that tournament Pelss scored four points in five games.

Pelss is definitely satisfied with his first season with the Oil Kings, even if he had to undergo some scoring droughts. Just like most eastern European players, Pelss had also to adapt to a very different kind of hockey. But unlike players hailing from that part of the world, he said that he "didn’t find any major difference between the small and the large ice surface."

The 6’0, 198 lbs player also declared that Russian and North American hockey have both pros and cons: "For me it’s easier to play the Russian way, personally talking. There is less physical play, less fights for the puck and for now this is easier. But on the other hand the North American hockey is different. It’s much faster, due to the smaller ice surface. Moreover, it’s more interesting to watch due to this."

The 18-year-old just started his career, and he hopes that 15 years from now he’ll be "still playing hockey." His talent level and squeaky clean injury history certainly giving him a chance to do so.