Oilers: Class of 2003 makes training camp debut

By Guy Flaming

Teaser: Edmonton’s draft class of 2003 is performing well at their<br />first pro training camp


Five of the Edmonton Oilers selections
from this past June’s NHL Entry Draft are experiencing their first professional
training camps and are making their marks. 
With thousands of curious fans on hand as well as all of the
organizations top brass, not to mention the scrutiny of the ever-present media,
it can be a nerve-racking time.


“That can be expected: a guy comes in,
especially an 18-year-old kid, and he’s a little nervous, he starts to get more
and more comfortable and with that comfort level comes confidence,” Head Coach
Craig MacTavish commented on Day 4 of camp.


Edmonton’s first round selection, Marc-Antoine
, has caught the eye of the organization a little more each day.


“I thought Pouliot played his best game
(on Day 4) and he’s gotten consistently better through the first four days,”
described MacTavish. “He got a nice goal and I think that really spurred his confidence
on and he started being a little more conservative.” 


Kevin Prendergast agrees that Pouliot has been
improving more as the camp progresses.


“Pouliot was a hell of a lot better today
than he was yesterday.  He said (on Day
1) that he was just so pumped up that he was almost tired,” recalled
Prendergast, the Oilers VP of Hockey Operations.


“It’s tough and any 18-year-old kid who comes to camp
and shows that he’s going to compete for a job is a real accomplishment,”
MacTavish added. “Up until today he was kind of feeling himself in and now
today he’s started to compete.”


Even the rather large physical specimens who are
newcomers can feel the butterflies fluttering in their bellies at their first
camp.  6’3” 216-pound Zack Stortini
admits to being more than a little wide-eyed at first.


“I was a little nervous at first but I
think that’s to be expected at my first pro camp,” said the Captain of the
Sudbury Wolves.


Stortini celebrated his birthday on September 11th
and says he could have imagined a better place to do it than here in Edmonton.


“It’s right where I want to be,” beamed
Stortini. “Spending my birthday out here in Edmonton at the Oilers’ training
camp was awesome.“


Destined to return to Sudbury, likely in the next few
days, Stortini has tried to make a positive impression with the coaching staff.


“I’m here to work hard and try to play
for a spot on the team and go out with the attitude that I belong here,”
Stortini declared, “I’m a power forward so I’ve just got to go out there and
play the body, skate, move the puck and shoot, bang and crash and just play my


Stortini scored a goal in a losing cause
on Day 4 of the Joey Moss Cup tournament on Monday.


Speaking of big prospects, they rarely
come much bigger than 18-year-old 6’4” 220-pound Jean-Francois Jacques.  The power forward who played for Baie-Comeau
of the QMJHL last season and totalled 33 points says this camp is a lot
different than the prospect camp back in June.


“It’s very fast on the ice, faster than
in Junior or at the mini-camp in June,” confessed Jacques, “They’re all
veterans here so you just gain experience playing with them.”


“It’s hard at this camp because the guys
are more mature than me but I try to play a very physical game,” said the large
winger when asked about his strengths. “I can play very good defensively and
put up some numbers offensively too.”


It’s Mathieu Roy’s second time in
Edmonton for a September training camp and he says the previous experience
definitely makes things easier.


“I already signed my contract in June so
that takes off a little bit of pressure but I’m trying hard to make my place,”
Roy said.


Roy, selected in the seventh round, was
cut by an errant stick between the eyes on Day 1 of camp but knows his place
amongst his peers.


“High stick,” recalled Roy who was taking
numbers in the incident. “It was Staios so…”


But when asked what he was going to do
about the veteran’s carelessness Roy was honest.


“Nothing!” he exclaimed with a laugh. “If
I was going to do something then all of his runs would be coming at me from
then on!”


The fifth and final 2003 draftee to be in
camp is Troy Bodie.  The 6’4” Bodie was
the last player snapped up by Edmonton at the draft and the tall lanky winger
will be returning to Kelowna of the WHL later this week.


It’s a fate that all of these players
know is coming but one that is not easier to accept.


“Probably yeah.  I’ve got one more year in junior for sure,” signed Jacques. “I
have to prove something more in Junior by getting more points and being more offensively
skilled than I’ve been for the last two years.”


“I’ve talked to the coaching staff quite
a bit and Kevin Lowe and there’s still a lot for me to work on,” confessed
Stortini, “I’m a long way away.”


Pouliot and Roy, though, do have more
than just the same old Junior season to look forward to this year.


Roy, no longer eligible for Junior, will
begin his first pro campaign.   


“Maybe not here, but I want to play in
the AHL in Toronto at least,” Roy said.


As for Pouliot, the blossoming star might
have the whole world ahead of him, or at least the World Junior Championships
that is.


“My goal is to make the team but the
season hasn’t started yet,” announced Pouliot. “I’ll need to prove what I can
do and that’s what I’m going to do.” 


A hip flexor sustained at the Calgary
camp limited his effectiveness but Pouliot says he’ll be ready to answer the
call for Canada when the time comes.


“I didn’t have a great camp (in Calgary)
because of the injury but if I go to the camp in December I will be ready for


The class of 2003 is well on its way to
being one of the best draft years the Oilers have had and if their first camp
is any indication of what’s to come, the future certainly looks bright indeed.


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