Oilers mid-May prospect update

By Guy Flaming

Mid-May Oiler Update

As the focus of the Edmonton Oilers
quickly narrows on the upcoming NHL Entry Draft, the team also has some other
issues still simmering on its front and side burners.  The hierarchy of the club has to examine the overall roster,
speak with players to confirm their plans for next season and then formulate a
plan of attack for Draft Day.


Jeff Deslauriers


The biggest piece of the puzzle that the Oilers
currently have, but as of yet have not placed into their picture, is that of
goaltender Jeff Deslauriers.  The
consensus top prospect in the system needs to be signed to an entry level
contract by June 1st or else the QMJHL stalwart will be added back
to the talent pool in Raleigh.


Contract talks are continuing and both sides agree to
the importance of the deal.  The player
and his agent realize that Edmonton offers an unequalled opportunity for
Deslauriers in terms of fitting into the team’s plans very quickly.  From the Oilers’ point of view, it’s
critical that they lock down the only true goaltending stud they have in their


“Each side has put their (offers) down on the table
and we go from there,” Oiler VP of Hockey Operations Kevin Prendergast told
Hockey’s Future recently.  “It’s not a
ridiculously amount of money that we’re apart but hopefully it will be done
soon.  I think it will probably stretch
on for a little while but it’ll still get done before June 1st.”


A very comparable contract was signed Thursday
between the Carolina Hurricanes and their top prospect, goalie Cam Ward.  That deal will likely be used as the
template for salting the agreement between Deslauriers and the Oil.


“We’re not all that far apart realistically, we are
apart but the Ward deal with Carolina is basically a benchmark to work from,”
confirmed Prendergast.  “The way the
NHLPA likes to work they slot these guys in very similarly and that’s the way
teams often work too.” 


“They were six spots apart in the same draft, Ward
was a first round and Jeff was a second round, but they had very similar
seasons (this past year).” He added. 
“Both took mediocre teams deep into the playoffs and both were cut from
Team Canada.”


A signing announcement could come as early as next
week but other indications are that it will come after the completion of the
Memorial Cup.


Alexei Mikhnov


The plan to have towering winger Alexei Mikhnov in
North America next season appears to be falling through.  Despite the fact that the 6’5” 228-pound
Mikhnov went home with better vision and a brighter outlook thanks to the
Oilers in March, the NHL’s CBA strife is being pegged as the reason for the
turn of events.  Well that and a
boat load of rubels.


“It appears at this point that he will play in Russia
next year because of the uncertainty here,” Prendergast said unable to hide his
disappointment.  “He has an outstanding
offer on the table from Omsk and it’s just something that we can’t match.” 


The Oilers coming up short financially against the
Russian team is not surprising considering that Omsk is owned by ‘the World’s
Richest Man Under 40’, multi-billionaire Roman Abramovich.      


“We’re going to keep talking but at this point it’s
about 60/40 that he’ll be going back to Russia for one year anyway,”
Prendergast said.  “From what we
understand it’s a one-year deal with a (player) option, we’re waiting to hear
back from the agent on that.”


Omsk was a power in the RSL last season so the move
from Novosibirsk could be seen as a positive one from a development
standpoint.  It will also be very
interesting to see how much better Mikhnov plays aided by the contact lenses
the Oilers supplied for him when they discovered the winger’s horrendous vision
after seeing him skate for the first time in Sherwood Park two months ago.


Troy Bodie  


At times earlier this season it appeared that Troy
Bodie was bound to be Edmonton’s representative from their 2003 draft class
named Most Likely To Not Be Signed.  The
lanky right-winger was pretty unimpressive for most of the first half of the
schedule and failed to provide the Oil with much hope that the late round pick
had much of a future.


“Anytime that you take a ninth rounder it’s a shot in
the dark,” stated Prendergast.  “We took
Troy basically on size, he didn’t play a lot last year, and over the course of
the year he was in and out but we were told by (coach) Marc Habsheid that he
was getting better and that he was working really hard.”


In fact, by the end of the season Bodie did
begin showing signs of improvement and actually surprised some who went to
watch him play.


“I saw him right at the end of the season and he’s really
improved,” Oiler scout Chris McCarthy told Hockey’s Future in April.  “I don’t know if he’s anything more than a
depth player but he’s done some things that surprised me as far as, I didn’t
think he could do them.  He’s really
taken the next step so it will be interesting to see how he plays next year.”


Before he gets to next year though, Bodie is
concentrating on the Memorial Cup.  As a
member of the host Kelowna Rockets, Bodie is the last Oiler prospect to still
be skating this year and has really turned it on through the WHL


“He seems to have come into his own in the playoffs
and I think part of Troy’s learning process was that he wasn’t sure how to best
use that size of his,” said Prendergast. 
“I think over the course of the year Habsheid has worked on that with
him a lot.  Now in the playoffs, and
with that type of grinding hockey, the light went on hopefully and now he’s got
a big week ahead of him at the Memorial Cup.”


Bodie and the Rockets were eliminated in the semi-finals
of the WHL playoffs but the 6’5” 205-pound native of Manitoba was the team’s
fifth leading point getter and the Rocket’s second highest goal scorer with
seven goals up to that point.


“He’s an up and down player, there is nothing finesse
about his game,” described Prendergast. 
“We feel that if he’s got a chance to play down the road it’s as a third
or a fourth line checking player.  We’re
not even sure of his hands to be honest with you because he’s never really been
put in that position.  He’s spent some
time on the first line this year but mainly to be in front of the net to create
room for the other guys.  The playoffs
have put him in a position where maybe he has found his niche.”


Perhaps the 19-year-old is finally showing his true


Jesse Niinimaki 


Any talk about Finnish center Jesse Niinimaki
switching teams in his homeland or coming to play in the AHL have now been
answered because the player has resigned with Ilves Tampere for another season.


“I think it’s good,” Prendergast stated simply.  “He got off to a great start there last


Getting back to playing, no matter where it is, is
the first priority for the 20-year-old who missed almost an entire season with
a demolished shoulder.  The second thing
Niinimaki must do is put on weight.


“He was talking to TPS Turku and a lot of that
depended on Mikko Koivo coming over to play in North America next year and I
think (Jesse) sort of felt that he couldn’t wait any longer,” concluded
Prendergast.  “Ilves is going in the
right direction, it’s his hometown, and from our standpoint he’s just got to
get back to playing.”


Quick Hits 


  Talks with Kyle
and his camp have yet to get serious but it is definitely a
priority for the Oilers to do more than simply offer the center a contract by
June 1st.


“We’ve basically just touched base with
his agent and I think right now we’re just waiting to get a proposal from them
to get the ball started,” Prendergast confirmed.  “We have to tender him an offer but it’s one of those things that
we’d like to get it out of the way so we can find out whether Kyle is ready to
play in Toronto next year or if he’ll go back to Moose Jaw as an overage


  Talks with
Swedish rearguard Mikael Svensk in regards to coming to the AHL next
season are basically on hold until another prospective blueliner decides what
he is going to do.  North Dakota’s Matt
will let the Oilers know very soon if he’s opting to turn
professional or return to school for next season.  If Greene stays in school, the door will be more open for


expect the Oilers to be making any free agent signings in terms of a recent
college graduates or overage junior players. 
While the Oilers did so when they recruited Nate DiCasmirro and Mike
, they feel they are deep enough at the moment to not have to go out
and find another player who may have slipped through the draft. 


  Oiler brass
including GM Kevin Lowe, Assistant GM Scott Howson and Prendergast are all
spending some time at the Memorial Cup in Kelowna.  The scouting staff had to submit their draft lists to Prendergast
by May 10th and commencing June 3rd, the brain trust will
hammer out their final plans for draft day. 
The meetings will take place at Kevin Lowe’s summer retreat in Salmon Arm,
British Columbia and involve the entire staff of scouts.


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