Oilers sign several prospects

By Guy Flaming

The Edmonton Oilers have been active in the past couple of weeks in regards to signing prospects from within their system as they begin to gear up for the fall.

On July 15th the Oilers announced that they had come to terms with former collegian rearguard Jason Platt on a two-year deal. Now graduated from Providence where he was an anchor on the Friars’ blueline, the 6’1”, 210 lbs Platt will hope to join AHL affiliate Roadrunners on a full time basis this coming season. Platt joined the squad late last year on an amateur tryout contract and made an impression with head coach Geoff Ward.

“He showed us in a short stay that he can be competitive at the AHL level,” Ward told Hockey’s Future recently. “He plays with an awful lot of fire, he’s a physical player, he shows an extreme amount of smarts defensively, and he really pressures the puck well. We’re not going to put pressure on him to lead our blueline; we’ll let him feel his way.”

That same day Edmonton made it official and released news that they had inked Finnish winger Jani Rita to a one-year, one-way contract. With the previous trading of Jason Chimera to Phoenix, the road was cleared in order to allow Rita an almost certain spot on the opening day roster as at least the 14th forward in Edmonton.

“I think it was a mutual thing,” said VP of Hockey Operations Kevin Prendergast when asked about the one-way agreement. “We wanted to see if Jani is ready to play and I think they want to see if he’s going to be given a fair opportunity to play. If he plays well enough then he’ll get paid well enough and if not, then he’ll probably be able to go home and play.”

It certainly appears that this coming season is Rita’s make it or break it year. The Oilers would allow Rita to return to Europe next summer if both parties feel it is for the best but the club would definitely retain the player’s NHL rights in such a scenario.

The Oilers then revealed on July 19th that they had signed Harvard captain Kenny Smith to a two-year contract. The Stoneham Massachusetts native completed four years at Harvard and then joined the Toronto Roadrunners at the end of their schedule although he did not dress for any action. Due to the lack of games played by schools such as Harvard, it is expected that Smith will play in Greenville for Edmonton’s new ECHL affiliate.

“Kenny still has a ways to go as far as making it in the AHL but he plays with a lot of heart and emotion and we like that in him,” Prendergast complimented. “He’s got to work on zone coverage in his own end, just getting on the right side of players defensively. He’s one of those kids who will find a way to play but we’ve got to get him into a position where he’s going to play and play a lot.”

“The schedule in the ECAC certainly hurts a lot of players because practicing is one thing but playing a lack of games hurts their development,” he added. “He’s got lots to learn to play at the AHL level, and before even considering the NHL level, so it might be in Kenny’s best interest once we get through training camp that he should play in the (ECHL).”

With Smith now on the books, the Oilers have decided to let Swedish rearguard Mikael Svensk stay in that country for one more year but expect to bring the banging blueliner to North America in about 12 months.

In a somewhat surprising move the Oilers also came to terms with Michigan State winger Brock Radunske who had only completed his junior year at the school. Radunske’s development had seemed to stagnate under coach Rick Comely’s defensively-oriented system so both the Oilers and the player felt it best for the power forward to turn pro.

“(Radunske) had troubles adapting to the style they were playing, it was a defense first style and they just barred the door when they got up and that’s not how we felt Brock was going to improve on his game,” admitted Prendergast. “He’s got to be able to create, use his size, reach and strength to his advantage and when you’re playing in your own end for 35-40 minutes a game because you’re trying to protect a lead, the offensive development isn’t going to come.”

Radunske had originally approached the Oilers a year ago with a request to leave school then but at that time the club felt he was not ready to play professionally.

“We wanted to see him play one more year in college and make a decision from there so at the end of this past year they approached us again with that same interest,” Prendergast said.

Back home in New Hamburg Ontario, Radunske finds himself in close proximity to the coach of the Roadrunners who is hoping the winger will attend a summer camp that he organizes.

“I’m looking forward to seeing him, I run a conditioning camp every year here in town for pro players and I hope to see Brock out at it this year so I can get a read on him,” said Ward. “He’s a big forward and I think there’s something to be said about size up front, especially come playoff time, so let’s see what he brings to the table.”

In much quieter news, Edmonton also signed ECHL All-Star forward Jean-Francois Plourde to an agreement that could see the Quebec-born center challenge for a position with the Roadrunners.

“(Plourde) is a skilled player, not very big but he’s a darter,” described Prendergast. “He’s in and out of the tough areas, he gets control of the puck an awful lot of times and he knows how to finish when he’s there. There wasn’t a place for him to play in Toronto last year but he went to Columbus and played very well for them, even went to the All-Star game. He showed a lot to himself last year that he can play with bigger guys at a tougher level and we’re hoping he’s going to get an opportunity to play in (the AHL) this year.”

Plourde managed to get into just a single game with the Roadrunners in 2003-04 but even in such a short time he was able to make an impression on the coach.

“He’s a little guy that plays big, he’s got no fear and he’s a goal scorer, there’s no doubt about that because he’s got a nose for the net,” Ward characterized. “He’ll take the body and he’s tenacious on the forecheck. He wants to be a player and takes his game really seriously and keeps himself in good shape. Talking with our ECHL affiliate coach he said that day in and day out he was the hardest worker and he’s the guy that really wants to get to the next level the most and proved it with his work ethic.”

The Oilers are still in the hunt to add as many as three or four more bodies to their minor league depth chart. According to Prendergast, the club has their eye on a pair of unnamed players who have recently completed their Canadian junior eligibility and they also would like to add a veteran forward to the mix too.

“We’re going to have more than enough bodies, we still need one more, what we’d call a ‘high-end forward,’ to play and we’re still negotiating on that part,” he said.

The club has also had limited discussions with New Hampshire power forward Eddie Caron but those talks appear to be going nowhere fast. Caron, the team’s second round pick from 2001 who totaled just six points last year after missing all of the 2002-03 schedule, is apparently asking for more than one the Oilers feel is justifiable at this time.

“He’s had his scholarship reinstated but we’re still negotiating and we should know within the next few days (where things stand),” Prendergast told Hockey’s Future recently. “If there’s a deal to be made then certainly we’ll try and make it but if Eddie decides that he needs another year of school then we’ll back that up too.”

Assistant GM Scott Howson still has a handful of prospects to get under contract but with nearly two months before Roadrunners camp opens in their new Edmonton home, time is still on his side. Free agent prospects still looking for new contracts include Mike Bishai, Nate DiCasmirro, J.J. Hunter and Sean McAslan.

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