Oilers: Three nearly forgotten prospects

By Guy Flaming

Teaser: 3 Nearly Forgotten Prospects Making Strong Comebacks In<br />Oilerville

From The Past


With so much attention being placed on the team’s future, the Edmonton
Oilers are getting reacquainted with three players from their recent past in
the early days of training camp.


The Oilers selected Michael Henrich in the
first round (13th overall) at the 1998 NHL entry draft in Buffalo,
New York because they coveted his goal scoring abilities.  In his draft year, playing for the OHL’s
Barrie Colts, Henrich compiled 63 points including 41 goals. 


Henrich’s first year in the AHL was far worse than
both the player and the organization had hoped it would be.  But in his second year with Hamilton,
Henrich rebounded and doubled his offensive output from the previous season and
renewed hopes that his development was back on track.  That feeling was short lived, however, as Henrich’s bout with
mononucleosis all but destroyed his 2002-03 season.


Now back in Edmonton and eager to show what he can
do, Henrich is reminding the Oiler brass that they can’t overlook the player
that they may have begun to write off as a bust.


“I feel pretty good out there, I’ve got some jump, and I’ve put some
points up on the board so I’m feeling all right,” Henrich summarized.


Craig MacTavish welcomes Henrich back again and recognizes that even
for high draft picks, development sometimes comes later.


“It’s a fresh start for him again and he still has, as all
first-rounders do, he has the luxury of the benefit of the doubt and you say
‘who knows when they’re going to figure it out?’” described the coach. “He
falls into that category and we’re going to watch him closely and see where he
fits in.  If he has a good camp he’ll
get an opportunity.”


It’s not the first time that the Toronto native has impressed the
Oilers in September.


“He always has good camps,” commented Edmonton’s VP of Hockey
Operations Kevin Prendergast. “I think a lot of it’s going to depend on when we
get Michael into an exhibition game.”


Henrich’s early success this year has a lot to due with the rekindled
connection with his old Hamilton Bulldogs line mate Peter Sarno.  After spending last season playing in
Finland for Espoo at a near point-a-game pace, Sarno returns to North America
with a new two-year contract and a rejuvenated attitude.  Edmonton is looking for a player who can
contribute offensively, if not in the NHL, then certainly at the AHL level.


“Obviously I’m an offensive player, I’ve scored at every level I’ve
played at and I think I’ve been pretty consistent with that,” Sarno confirmed.
“I think I just need to be more consistent in my all around game and hopefully
I’ll get a crack (in Edmonton).”


Playing together in Hamilton two seasons ago, the duo of Henrich and
Sarno was an effective combination for the Bulldogs.  It would seem their long history together is enabling them to
pick up again right from where they left off.


“I’ve known Michael since our Junior days in Barrie,” revealed the
5’11” 185-pound Sarno. “We’re pretty good friends and we’re both from Toronto
so it seems like we’ve click on the ice and off the ice.”


It’s a friendship that has, and is again, paying dividends on the


“Me and Pete are buddies,” agreed Henrich. “Even away from the rink
we’re still good friends so it’s good to come here and feel comfortable with
your linemates and knowing what to expect.”


The other player who may have disappeared from many radar screens in
the last couple of seasons is Jan Horacek.  The hard-hitting blueliner was the forgotten man the Oilers received
along with Marty Reasoner and Jochen Hecht on Canada in 1991 from St. Louis in
exchange for Doug Weight. 


The 24-year-old Czech native played for Havirov Femax last year after
toiling for one season in the AHL in Hamilton. 
It wasn’t a great year for Horacek though in large part because of his
North American style of play.


“I am used to playing a physical style but in Europe I had to push the
volume down because the referees are not used to that so I got too many
penalties,” explained Horacek. “I had a little bit of trouble with making the
change after being used to the physical style, it took me a while.”


“It wasn’t good for the team.”


Horacek has been showcasing his hitting abilities over the weekend,
most notably on a Day 1 collision with fellow countryman Ales Hemsky.  The Oilers are counting on Horacek to
stabilize the back end, most likely in Toronto this year but neither they nor
the defenseman himself are discounting him quite yet.


“I’m trying my best to make the big club but even if it doesn’t work
out, then being down in Toronto I’ll work hard and try to get back up to the


A desire to play for his national team is what drove Horacek to return
to Europe last year.


“I wanted to play for the National team there and work back from there
but it didn’t work out for me that way.”


So now Horacek returns to this side of the Atlantic where some feel he
is better suited anyway.


“A couple of (European) teams that had him didn’t want him because of
(his hitting) but when he played in North America he’s more adapt at playing
our style,” Prendergast theorized. “I think the year of playing away from North
America probably did him a lot of good.”


Did Horacek ever feel extra pressure because of the Weight deal?


“Not really, maybe I did feel pressure two years ago but not right


Now all that matters is making an impression on Kevin Lowe and Co. in
order to stay in Oiler camp for as long as possible.  All three of these players have the potential to contribute to
the NHL club, at the very least by being available for injury call up duty from
the Toronto Roadrunners.


“If I do go down, I’ve got to be the best player,” Sarno simplified.
“They’re not going to call a guy who’s mediocre; they’re going to call the best
player in Toronto and the guy that’s counted on, a leader on and off the ice.”


Although all three are now a few years removed from when they were
originally drafted, they know that time has yet to run out on their NHL
dreams.  The precedent has been set for
them and they don’t have to look any further than another former Bulldog
teammate who finally made his mark last year at the age of 26.


Fernando Pisani was a midseason call up for the Oilers who were, at the
time, plagued by numerous injuries.  A
strong showing in Hamilton boosted Pisani up the depth chart and his work ethic
once he got to Edmonton kept him in the NHL for the remainder of the year.


“I look at a guy like that and see he finally cracked the NHL at the
age of 26, then there’s got to be guys out there that can still make it so why
give up?” reasoned Henrich. “That’s a kind of an inspiration in a way that
there’s really no time frame as long as you keep a positive attitude and keep
working something good will happen.”


Does Pisani realize his success has reenergized his former AHL mates?


“Michael and I are pretty good friends and he’s probably just busting
my balls a bit,” responded Pisani after hearing Henrich’s remarks. “I don’t
really look at myself that way but I guess you could use me as an example and
say that if you work hard you’ll get an opportunity so not to quit.”


Camp Notes


– The first four days of training camp are open to the public and the
suburb community of Sherwood Park is the host site from Friday to Sunday before
the last all access day at Skyreach Center. 
Fans have packed Millennium Place for three straight days, which has
given the practices a tremendous atmosphere, at least for the scrimmages.  However, when there’s a thousand or more
people watching as you try and “shoot the duck” it can make even the best guys


“It can be a little embarrassing when we’re trying to glide on one foot
in a crouch and you see guys falling all over each other,” admitted Jarret
Stoll with a wide grin. “We see people laughing at us in the stands but they
have no idea how hard some of those drills are.”


The balance drills that the Oilers are put through after their
scrimmages are often comical for the fans to watch because the players are
placed well outside their comfort zones as they try to achieve some difficult
feats.  One such drill is called
“shooting the duck” and has a player practically sitting on one heel with his
other leg stretched out in front of him off the ice, all while still gliding on
the one blade.


Marty Reasoner leads all players with 12 points after three inter-squad
scrimmages.  His winger, Jani Rita is
right behind him.

The first round of roster cuts will be announced on Wednesday morning,
the day after the annual rookie game against the University of Alberta Golden


Injury Update


Tony Salmelainen did not take part in on-ice drills until day three due
to a groin injury.  The flying Finn had
a bone scan done but was cleared to join the scrimmages Sunday.  Although Salmelainen says he feels some
soreness in the area it does not appear to be affecting his speed in the

Georges Laraque also injured his groin on the weekend and is currently
listed as day-to-day.

A dislocated shoulder has landed Dallas Anderson on the injured list
for an indefinite period.


“Flaming” Hot:

The trio of Reasoner, Rita and Laraque has been the camp’s best line.

Ryan Smyth centering Brad Isbister and Fernando Pisani has been so good
Craig MacTavish says it’s a line he’ll likely use in a preseason tilt with
Calgary this week.

Jamie Wright has far surpassed any expectations any of the Oiler staff
had for him prior to camp.

Jeff Deslauriers continues to impress in his second Oiler camp.

Ales Hemsky is coming off a terrific rookie season but is already
outdoing himself and scoring some of the prettiest goals thus far.

Jani Rita’s four-goal performance on Saturday has raised his stock
through the roof with Oiler fans.


“Flaming” Not:

There have not been very many low points so far in camp but one sore
spot for the Oilers is with goalie Kristian Antila’s fitness level.  The Oil were very disappointed with Antila
last season for coming to camp in poor condition and this year isn’t much
better according to Kevin Prendergast.


“Well we’re not quite as
disappointed this year as we were last year but we’re still disappointed.”


Antila suffers from
reoccurring back problems and the pain kept him from being as active over the
summer as he needed to be.


“That’s something we’ll have
to monitor very closely,” Prendergast said. “He’s about 218 lbs… that’s tough
when you’re a goalie and you can’t train hard.” 


The Oilers would like the
6-3 Antila to be closer to the 205 lbs range.


Edmonton’s camp now switches
scene to Skyreach Center for the rest of the month during which time they will
host four home preseason games, the first of which is on September 22nd
against Vancouver.  The Oilers will
travel to Calgary for two games this week against the Flames on Thursday and