Oilers Top 20 prospects

By Guy Flaming

As the 2004-05 schedule heads towards the halfway point, there are Oiler prospects who have clearly taken the next step in their development as well as those who have either regressed or simply hit a plateau.

The following Top 20 list is a snapshot in time of the prospect depth pool currently held by the Edmonton Oilers. Comments from Oiler GM Kevin Lowe, Chief Scout Kevin Prendergast, Road Runner GM Scott Howson, anonymous scouts from around the leagues and various players were collected over the last few months and while they appear in this project, they were not necessarily given for this purpose.

The player ranking is property of Hockey’s Future and should not be considered the official opinion of the Edmonton Oilers or anyone associated with the organization. While the list certainly could not be constructed as accurately without the input of their management and scouting staff, the seeding of players is the work of the writer.

December Top 20 at a Glance

1. (C) Rob Schremp – 18 – London Knights (OHL)
2.(G) Jeff Drouin-Deslauriers – 20 – Edmonton Road Runners (AHL)
3.(C) Marc-Antoine Pouliot – 19 – Rimouski Oceanic (QMJHL)
4.(D) Doug Lynch – 21 – Edmonton Road Runners (AHL)
5.(D) Jeff Woywitka – 21 – Edmonton Road Runners (AHL)
6.(D) Matt Greene – 21 – North Dakota Fighting Sioux (NCAA)
7.(C) Jesse Niinimaki – 21 – Edmonton Road Runners (AHL)
8.(G) Devan Dubnyk – 18 – Kamloops Blazers (WHL)
9.(RW) Tony Salmelainen – 23 – Edmonton Road Runners (AHL)
10.(LW) Jani Rita – 23 – HPK (SM-Liiga)
11.(RW) Colin McDonald – 20 – Providence College (NCAA)
12.(LW) Alexei Mikhnov – 22 – Sibir Novosibirsk (RSL)
13.(RW) Brad Winchester – 23 – Edmonton Road Runners (AHL)
14.(LW) Dragan Umicevic – 20 – Södertälje (SEL)
15.(D) Marc-Andre Bergeron – 24 – Edmonton Oilers/Road Runners (NHL/AHL)
16.(LW) Jean-Francois Jacques – 19 – Baie-Comeau Drakkar (QMJHL)
17.(D) Roman Tesliuk – 18 – Kamloops Blazers (WHL)
18.(C) Kyle Brodziak – 20 – Edmonton Road Runners (AHL)
19.(D) Joe Cullen – 23 – Edmonton Road Runners (AHL)
20.(C) Mike Bishai – 25 – Edmonton Road Runners (AHL)

The Top 20 ranking is based on long-term impact on the organization and is not a reflection of who is closest to making the NHL. Players are assigned a grade (HF Prospect Rating) based on the projections and comments from both inside and outside the organization. Other factors that help determine ranking order to varying degrees include: player age, draft position, current league and team quality, location (North America or Europe) and foreseeable opportunity. Players are removed from the prospect list due to NHL experience or simply age; those details can be found here (HF Prospect Criteria). The NHL comparisons mentioned are based on similarities of playing style, attributes and mindset and not necessarily on expected potential.

Key: Current Rank, (previous rank), Name, (position), age, 2004/05 team (league)

Draft Position, Grade, Projection and NHL Comparison.

1. (2) Rob Schremp (C) – 18 – London Knights (OHL)
Draft: 1st Round, 25th 2004 Grade: 8.5B Projection: 1st Line Skilled Forward Similar to: Doug Weight

When it comes to player development, there is nothing quite like being in a winning environment. With that in mind, there couldn’t possibly be a better scenario for Rob Schremp this year. As a member of the London Knights, the OHL team that recently rewrote the CHL record book, Schremp has taken his game to the next level.

Schremp has put the negative criticisms and unwarranted character attacks of last year in the rearview mirror and after a summer of incredibly hard work he is force-feeding his critics a rather large slice of humble pie. After three months of OHL action, no one can doubt the 18-year-old’s offensive ability and many are now commenting on Schremp’s exceptional defensive play as well.

“In one game I saw London play, Robbie was caught at the end of a three-minute shift and still chased down Cody Bass and pushed him right into the net knowing that he had to catch the trailer because he was going to get the puck,” said one scout. “I’ve seen him do this night after night; every game he has come back and pushed somebody who was a real possible threat into the net.”

The charismatic center points to practice sessions with Kelly Buchberger during the rookie camp for much of his newly found defensive awareness. Everyday, despite being the first forward on the ice, Schremp could be seen spending extra time with the former Oiler captain going over the finer points of defensive play. The extra work has paid huge dividends.

Schremp has been playing with linemates that vary from Dylan Hunter, Corey Perry (ANH) and David Bolland (CHI) to lesser-known rookies like Jordan Foreman and Kelly Thompson so the fact that he is third in league scoring cannot be solely pinned on being a part of the top line.

Undeniably, many of his points and the majority of his goals, are coming while on London’s power play which may be the most potent special teams unit seen in Canada since Swift Current’s prowess in the late 1980’s.

After attending the Oilers rookie camp in September, the organization told Schremp that they would like to see him shoot more often. Clearly he has taken that advice to heart as he is already nearing his career best for goals in a season, 28, a mark which he will utterly destroy this year.

His play this year made it impossible for Team USA to keep him off of the host team for the World Junior Championships. With that tournament on the immediate horizon as well as a guaranteed birth into the Memorial Cup this spring, the rest of 2004-05 could be the stuff dreams are made of.

2. (1) Jeff Deslauriers (G) – 20 – Edmonton Road Runners (AHL)
Draft: 2nd Round, 31st 2002 Grade: 8.5B Projection: Starting Goalie, Possible Franchise Player Similar to: Jose Theodore

He’s been labeled ‘the Goalie of the Future’ by many publications, including Hockey’s Future, but Jeff Drouin-Deslauriers’ drop from the top spot is not an indication that anything has changed in that regard.

The Edmonton Road Runners have chosen not to throw their showcase rookie into the deep end of the pool to see if he’ll float but rather they have chosen to let him wade in at his own pace. Through the first 23 games of the current AHL schedule, JDD had started just nine of them earning victories only three times while suffering multiple one-goal losses.

Though his introduction to professional hockey hasn’t been easy or remarkably successful on the surface, onlookers feel that Drouin-Deslauriers is still on pace to achieve his lofty projections of being an outstanding NHL starting goaltender.

“I think the biggest thing I’ve noticed is that he looks a lot more in control and a lot more poised in the net and that was a big part of his development,” commented a non-Oiler scout. “It’s always tough for a young goaltender to turn pro and what I’ve seen in him is a goalie that has settled and is able to keep a consistent level of play. As a junior there was an inconsistency to his game, the skills were there but he was really inconsistent. I’ve seen a really consistent player this year right from the get-go and that’s a real positive for him.”

At many times during the games he has played in, Drouin-Deslauriers has displayed agility and flexibility in order to make saves that even his idol Dominik Hasek would be impressed by. JDD likes to tempt shooters with a large five-hole opportunity but then takes it away in the blink of an eye with his remarkable leg speed. His ability to scramble, to handle the puck and also to make the big save at the right time make the 20-year-old an exciting keeper to watch.

Critics have pointed towards JDD’s glove hand as a weakness, citing recent shootouts or breakaways where snipers have targeted that side with success. In his personal opinion, there is no glove hand weakness, but perhaps another issue exists that Drouin-Deslauriers still struggles to perfect.

“Maybe somebody said my glove is weak but for me, my glove is fast; maybe it’s just an angle or positioning question.” began the 6’4 goalie. “If I am in the perfect spot maybe I will never be beaten on my glove, but sometimes I give too much on my glove side and they score. That’s why people think that my glove is bad but I don’t think that, it’s just a positioning question and with Pete (Peeters) we work on that very hard.”

‘Runners head coach Geoff Ward likes what he has seen from his rookie goalie thus far in the season.

“I think that Jeff’s really stepped in during the games he’s played and established himself as a real calm customer,” the bench boss said. “The fact that he’s done that, the guys are already playing with a great deal of confidence in front of him and when he’s needed to make the big stop, he has.”

It is expected that playing time will be much more balanced in the second half on the year and that by the end of the season, JDD will have played close to 35 games.

3. (3) Marc-Antoine Pouliot (C) – 19 – Rimouski Oceanic (QMJHL)
Draft: 1st Round, 22nd 2003 Grade: 7.5B Projection: 2nd Line Forward with Solid 1st Line Potential Similar to: Brendan Morrison

Perhaps no Oiler prospect has needed to have a strong season quite as badly as Rimouski’s Marc-Antoine Pouliot. Coming off a forgettable injury plagued year, Pouliot was under the microscope as 2004-05 began. Could he stay healthy? Was last season’s misfortune simply bad luck or an indication of something more?

Suffice to say that the Oilers are extremely pleased by what they have seen so far this year from the Quebec born Pouliot. Not only has Pouliot not missed a game yet this year, but the 6’2 center has overcome off-season abdominal surgery, and the resultant slow start, to currently sit third overall in QMJHL scoring, fifth in the entire CHL.

“This is the first time in over a year and a half that he’s been 100 percent healthy and he’s starting to get the ice time, and starting to be able to handle the ice time which he had difficulty doing at the beginning of the year because he wasn’t in game shape,” said Kevin Prendergast. “Now he is and he’s out there in every situation.”

His exceptional season earned Pouliot the right to represent the QMJHL recently against the Russians in the ADT Hockey Challenge and the Oiler prospect was named as a game star in game 2.

“In the Russia game he was one of the best players on the ice,” said one scout. “I think he’s really starting to find out what kind of player he can be and I think (Sidney) Crosby is taking some of the pressure off of him and he’s working on his offensive touch.”

Playing with the consensus top undrafted player in the world is obviously a great situation for Pouliot but according to Crosby, the positive benefits are definitely reciprocal.

“As a team, we’re totally different when he’s in the line up and it’s a lot harder for teams to play against us because we have that 1-2 punch,” said Crosby. “It’s nice when he’s in the line up because it spreads it out for both of us and to have a guy like that out on the power play is such an added bonus and when he’s not there, you can definitely tell and he’s really missed.”

“He’s a great player with speed and skill, he’s a great playmaker too so he’s a very good offensive player,” Crosby continued. “He’s also a very good captain and he shows a lot of leadership out there, definitely a good guy to have on your team for sure. We’re put together when we need a goal but he makes other players around him better so sometimes it’s also better to have him with other guys too.”

Pouliot did not receive and invite to tryout for Canada’s World junior team this month but by all accounts, he was near the top of the list of players who were in serious contention.

4. (5) Doug Lynch (D) – 21 – Edmonton Road Runners
Draft: 2nd Round, 43rd 2001 Grade: 7A Projection: Top 3/4 Defenseman Similar to: Jason Smith

Few prospects can be regarded as ‘sure things’ but Doug Lynch has been considered an NHL destined defenseman for more than a couple years. As a rookie with the Toronto Roadrunners last year he was both an All-Star and an All-Rookie Team member and in his second year he is continuing to get rave reviews from both inside and outside the organization.

“Doug Lynch is a guy that I think really initiates things,” said a scout from an Eastern NHL team. “He jumps into the attack and I think he’s been much smarter and that’s all a part of growing. He tries to make a difference in every game. If you’re comparing him from last year to this year, I think that Lynch has taken a significant step forward in his play.”

“He has pretty strong leadership skills; he’s a very mature kid, no question about it,” commented Red Deer Rebels Head Coach Brent Sutter. “He’s a very intelligent person.”

For Lynch, his focus this year is to build on his successful rookie debut in order to be prepared for the eventual return of the NHL.

“I just want to make sure I’m consistent and bring the same game every night and fortunately I had a good year last year but I want the team to do better,” Lynch said. “If I need to do anything different then I’m willing to do that and I still want to work on my weaknesses too. At the end of the day it’s all about the team winning; we had a tremendous second half last year but we should have had better fortune in the playoffs.”

Partnered with Rocky Thompson, when the latter is healthy, Lynch has been a reliable blueliner that can play in any situation. A week into December, the 6’3, 210 lb rearguard was the club’s leading scorer amongst defensemen and had a respectable +7 rating. Not only has Lynch continued chipping in offensively but he has also shown the willingness to drop the mitts whenever he felt it would benefit his team.

5. (6) Jeff Woywitka (D) – 21 – Edmonton Road Runners
Draft: 1st Round, 27th 2001 Grade: 7A Projection: Top 3/4 Defenseman Similar to: Eric Brewer

Never far behind in any conversation about Doug Lynch is his old Red Deer defensive partner Jeff Woywitka. As a former member of Canada’s National Junior team and a Memorial Cup winner, expectations are high for the Vermilion-born Woywitka and if anyone believes the 21-year-old doesn’t have an NHL future, that critic is in the vast minority.

At the September rookie camp, Woywitka was clearly the best player on the ice and many felt that he would challenge for an NHL roster spot had the league not gone on hiatus.

Since his outstanding performance that week Woywitka has played 23 AHL games collecting a disappointing 5 points. While the immense talent and ability Woywitka possesses is quite evident at times, the defenseman is struggling to find consistency in his game and when he does struggle, it usually ends up in a scoring chance for the opposition.

Known as a smooth skater and an offensive minded player, Woywitka can be forced into making bad passes by a strong forecheck. There seems to be no in between; Woywitka’s passes either seem to be excellent break out feeds that generate odd man rushes or else they are dreadful turnovers inside his own end. Simply put, Woywitka’s decision making isn’t yet at an NHL level.

“I haven’t been impressed with Woywitka,” said a visiting team scout. “He’s got ability and I have no question that he’ll play in the NHL one day but I don’t see a lot of assertiveness to his play. I don’t see a guy who takes control of the aspects of his game that I think could make him very good. I don’t know why that is. This is his second year pro, he’s smart and he knows how to play the game but I think he could have a greater impact on the game than I have seen from him.”

“Jeff basically looks more like a first year pro player rather than a second year player who you see building on things.”

If Woywitka can put it all together, he will be a dominant player at the AHL level and a very good one with the Oilers but so far the 2004-05 campaign hasn’t been as successful as anyone had hoped for.

“I think Jeff and Doug are very similar,” Geoff Ward told Hockey’s Future recently. “Early in the season there are nights where they aren’t as good as they want to be but both guys last year had better second halves than first halves and now they’re just trying to take that to the next level.”

6. (7) Matt Greene (D) – 21 – North Dakota Fighting Sioux (NCAA)
Draft: 2nd Round, 44th 2002 Grade: 7B Projection: Top 4 Defensive Defenseman Similar to: Jason Smith/Adam Foote

No one is saying that Matt Greene made a mistake by opting to return to college rather than turn pro this past fall, at least not directly. However, hearing about the trials and tribulations the powerful defenseman is going through in North Dakota this year, a person couldn’t blame Greene if he was having second thoughts.

“I think the minute Dean Blais left the school he probably was second guessing himself, but that was the commitment he made to the players on that team, to go back there and he’s now the captain,” Prendergast suggested. “Matt’s an honorable kid and he’s going to stand behind the decision he made and we’re going to stand behind him too, but, he’s in a tough situation. The rules are different in college hockey and when you play the way that he plays, he’s going to spend a lot of time in the box.”

“Unfortunately the college rules are just killing him, the NCAA has gone to zero tolerance for any obstruction and college is full of 5’8, 5’9 and 5’10 guys buzzing around and he’s so big that when he goes to hit somebody he gets called for contact to the head and roughing and stuff and he ends up in the penalty box,” sighed one college scout. “I saw him against Boston College and he was just wrecking guys, running over everybody and moving the puck well.”

The fact that Greene is the captain of the Fighting Sioux this year should not be discounted though. The leadership experience that the Michigan native is gaining will undoubtedly help him at the next level, which everyone expects will come next year as a pro. Greene is one of those players that the Oilers really expect to be a better pro than collegiate player simply due to the fact that as a pro, the kid gloves can come off. Many feel that when it comes to toughness, Greene will come out ahead of better-known NHL prospects like Calgary’s Dion Phaneuf.

“I think Phaneuf’s offensive ability makes him a better player, but I know if I were playing, I’d rather battle Phaneuf in front of the net than Matt Greene,” declared one scout. “I think I could handle Phaneuf but Greene would end up crosschecking the back of my head off!”

Expect Greene to sign an Amateur Tryout Contract and join the Road Runners the first day after North Dakota’s season officially comes to an end. Knowledgeable Edmonton fans have been awaiting the arrival of this Greene monster, the biggest since the one who roared “Hulk Smash!”

7. (4) Jesse Niinimaki (C) – 21 – Edmonton Road Runners (AHL)
Draft: 1st Round, 15th 2002 Grade: 7.5C Projection: 2nd Line Forward with some 1st Line Potential Similar to: Olli Jokinen

Marc-Antoine Pouliot’s and Jesse Niinimaki’s status within the organization are surprisingly similar. Both are skilled centers, the kind of player the team has been searching for over the last few years, and both are looking to establish themselves after injury shortened seasons. While Pouliot has been enjoying a very impressive year, Jesse Niinimaki’s has been simply average.

The season began for Niinimaki in Finland where the 6’3 center was expected to be an impact player for Ilves Tampere. However, as more and more locked out NHL veterans began their exodus to Europe, playing time for Niinimaki started to drop. Atlanta’s Patrik Stefan joined Ilves and a few weeks later Niinimaki accepted the Oilers offer to play with their AHL affiliate.

After five games, Niinimaki is still looking to record his first points with his new team, but after sporadic playing time he is slowly being used more regularly. So far Niinimaki’s North American highlight has come during a shootout against the St. John’s Maple Leafs where he had two opportunities to score. The talented Finn made good on the first attempt but lost control of the puck the second time around. Coach Geoff Ward says the decision to use the newcomer at that pivotal moment was a no-brainer.

“Yeah that was an easy decision,” smiled Ward. “I mean, he’s a skilled hockey player and I think he showed a pretty good move on the goal.”

Having Niinimaki in their own building will enable the Oilers to really keep a thumb on his training, an area of concern for the organization. Apart from health concerns, which appear to be behind him now as the shoulder has given Niinimaki no trouble, the biggest hurdle for the center is simply getting acclimated to his new surroundings.

“Everything is new; I have to get used to the guys in practice and the systems we use here are so different then we use in Finland,” explained Niinimaki. “The forecheck is a lot more here, the ice is smaller and that makes the game much different. I hope I can get used to it soon.”

Having a familiar face in the room will help make the transition a smoother one though.

“Tony and I are friends from when we played on the same team in Finland and we were in the army at the same time,” he said. “The first pro game I played I was on the same line as Tony.”

On the ice, the similarities to Pouliot are still there, but obviously there are differences too.

“Both make plays and think the game very well; Jesse is a better skater than Pouliot is but Marc’s a grittier player than Jesse,” outlined Prendergast. “They both have tremendous stick handling skills and they both are able to find open people. That’s why we drafted them, because they’re centers and they can think the game. They have slightly different styles but they have similarities in their way of passing the puck. Jesse is more of a playmaker, while Marc is a playmaker who can shoot it too.”

“They’re both very high prospects in our estimation.”

8. (8) Devan Dubnyk (G) – 18 – Kamloops Blazers (WHL)
Draft: 1st Round, 14th 2004 Grade: 8C Projection: Starting Goaltender Similar to: Olaf Kolzig

After the first half dozen games of the new season, some finicky Oiler fans were already tossing around phrases like “bust” and “wasted pick” towards 2004 first round choice Devan Dubnyk. The goaltender got off to a slow start, as did the entire Kamloops team; a 1-5 beginning to the year that statistically put all the Blazers in a deep hole.

Dubnyk’s personal stats plummeted as a result of the tough times Kamloops found this year. Although his save percentage and goals against average are far from horrible, Dubnyk’s winning percentage is less than inspiring but then again, it takes a team effort to win and clearly the Blazers are a weak team as their home in the Western Conference cellar would indicate.

“It’s similar to what JDD went through last year in Chicoutimi; if the team is going to have a chance to win, Devan’s going to have to stand on his head,” Prendergast told Hockey’s Future in November.

Only two goalies in the WHL have played more games than Dubnyk has and both of them, Prince Albert’s Rejean Beauchemin (PHI) and Vancouver’s Marek Schwarz (STL), have considerably weaker personal stats than the 6’5 keeper. The other side of the coin is the fact that Dubnyk was not asked to represent the league against the touring Russian squad while Beauchemin was.

“There was disappointment to a degree but Devan is such a mature young gentleman, very intelligent and extremely talented and he just said ‘well, I’m just going to play for the Kamloops Blazers’ and he’s played extremely well,” said Pete Peeters, Edmonton’s goalie coach, who was visiting Dubnyk at the time the ADT announcements were made.

Dubnyk has been invited to partake in Canada’s camp next week and as Peeters puts it, the fact he’s been asked to try out should be a sign that all is still right in the world for the 18-year-old puck stopper.

“There’s only going to be two guys and only one will play on any given night,” Peeters said. “When you think you’re in the final four to be invited to something like that, that in itself is something you should be very proud of. You’re considered the elite in junior hockey, how many guys did they have to knock of to be where they are? I think Devan is such a mature individual, he has great character, and he’s a leader. He’s going to do fine, no matter what happens because he’s got nothing to hang his head about one way or the other, not a thing.”

Nothing since the draft that would indicate Dubnyk cannot reach the starting goaltender status that he is projected for, but clearly he is a long-term project and Oiler fans should allow for several years of development.

9. (11) Tony Salmelainen RW – 23 – Toronto Roadrunners (AHL)
Draft: 2nd Round, 41st 1999 Grade: 7D Projection: Top 2 line Scoring Forward Similar to: Todd Marchant

In many respects this has been a breakout year for Tony Salmelainen, and with his world-class speed, ‘breakout’ is a very appropriate adjective.

“He’s like a cartoon,” quipped GM Kevin Lowe in regards to the winger whose feet are so quick, they’re like a blur beneath his body.

No one on Edmonton’s roster could more aptly be called a roadrunner as one could compare Salmelainen to the familiar cartoon character that zooms across the countryside leaving a dust trail in his wake saying “Meep! Meep!” Unfortunately, speed isn’t the only similarity Tony has with the animated bird; he also has the same hands.

“He’s an exciting young player; he gets chances, he skates, he competes and he works,” a scout visiting Rexall Place told Hockey’s Future recently. “With the chances that he generates in a game, if he had any type of offensive hands or finishing ability, he might have 30 goals by now. I guess that’s more of a testimony of his ability to get into the open and create those chances but he really doesn’t have a lot of finish.”

“You have to ask yourself with a player like that ‘is it enough for him to advance to the NHL?’” the scout continued. “When he’s on the ice you have to be really aware of him because he might not get the goal but he takes the play to the net and someone else gets the goal. He brings a real element of excitement to his play.”

As the leading scorer on the Road Runners, it might seem wrong to accuse Salmelainen of not being able to capitalize on his offensive chances but the scout’s comments are very accurate; Salmelainen gets at least two breakaways every game but rarely scores on them. The vast majority of the 23-year-old’s goals come from scrambles in the offensive zone or on odd man rushes.

In every shootout the Road Runners have had to take part in, Salmelainen has been one of their shooters and every time the end result has been the same; he barrels in on the goaltender at top speed, throws a head fake or two and then fumbles the puck at the edge of the blue paint because his hands aren’t as fast as his feet.

“Sometimes with Tony, he moves so quickly laterally anyway that I think part of his problem is that he gets going to quickly towards the goaltender and handcuffs himself to some degree,” explained coach Ward. “I think he just goes so quickly that the holes close for him much faster than for someone who is going slower.”

Another fitting adjective for Salmelainen is ‘streaky’, in more ways than one. His speed is well documented and truly it is by far his greatest attribute but another way that the Finn is streaky is in his offensive production. He leads the team in points, but he’s earned those numbers in clumps, collecting four points one night, a couple more the next game and then going dry for three or four nights before getting back on track. In his defense, even on the nights when he isn’t denting the score sheet, Salmelainen is still getting his chances; they just aren’t going in for him.

“We keep talking about it, that he’s probably one of the hardest guys to play one-on-one in our league,” Ward added.

If Salmelainen can ever put it together offensively, he’ll have a long and prosperous NHL career but at this juncture, that is still a very large ‘if’ indeed.

10. (9) Jani Rita (LW) – 23 – HPK (SM-Liiga)
Depth: 1st Round, 13th 1999 Grade: 7C Projection: 2nd Line Forward Similar to: Jeff Friesen

Speaking of uncertain quantities, Jani Rita still heads that particular list, but there has been some pleasant signs from the power forward as he plays back home in Finland. With his first one-way NHL contract safely stored in a desk some place, Rita has returned to his homeland to play while the NHL and the NHLPA stare at each other.

As a member of HPK, Rita has scored 20 points in just under 30 games and reports suggest that he has been playing inspired hockey. It was a little surprising that Rita would turn up where he has instead of with Jokerit, the team he grew up with but as his agent Craig Oster points out, this year is different all around the hockey world.

“Jokerit had signed a whole bunch of players and they weren’t that excited about doing a lockout contract,” Oster told Hockey’s Future in October. “For Jani we wanted to make sure that wherever he went he was going to get an optimum opportunity to develop and play a lot. It was a combination of factors but HPK was interested and pursued him very actively and that’s where he felt the opportunity was best for him.”

That all sounds well and good but in reality, what Rita does in Europe this year means squat compared to how his training camp and first few weeks go once the NHL resumes operations. Edmonton and the Rita camp were able to agree on a one-year contract, which provides both parties a single season to feel each other out.

“I think both sides felt comfortable with it; it gave Jani the security of being on a one-way contract and getting a legitimate opportunity in Edmonton,” said the agent. “It gave both Jani and Edmonton an opportunity to see exactly where he is and where he’ll go before making a long-term commitment either way.”

The sense from the general public is clearly that the shine has long ago worn off the prospect status of Jani Rita and that more and more people have labelled him a suspect if not already a bust. According to Oster, the feeling he gets from the Oilers is that the club isn’t ready to close the door on his client just yet.

“I think the Oilers feel that he’s a prospect that will contribute for a long time and everything they’ve told us reiterates that and this commitment is probably the biggest statement they could make in that regard,” he said. “I don’t think we look at it as a tryout in any regard, but everybody wants to see exactly how good he is, how much of an opportunity he is going to get and how much he’s going to contribute to determine where he fits in the pecking order going down the line. I think this was just a way of bridging the gap until we have more certainty after he’s played for a while.”

No one is saying it but in many ways, Rita’s upcoming single year with the Oilers will be a one year test for both parties involved and if either are unsatisfied with the season it could very well mean the Finn’s tenure with the organization will be over.

“There’s no question that he’s got all the tools to be there and I hope for his sake that he does find that consistency and can step it up because he’s a great talent, a great kid and he’s done everything I think we could have asked of him in the minors,” said Road Runner coach Geoff Ward. “He’s paid his dues and now it’s time to see if he can play at the next step.”

11. (12) Colin McDonald (RW) – 20 – Providence Friars (NCAA)
Draft: 2nd Round, 51st 2003 Grade: 6.5B Projection: 2nd Line Power Forward Potential Similar to: Bill Guerin

Expectations were high for Colin McDonald this year. As a sophomore, the Providence Friars were counting on the power forward from Connecticut to be a leader for the college in a division packed with NCAA powerhouse schools. There was no reason to expect anything but success from McDonald this year; all reports were that he was primed to deliver on those lofty expectations until a knee injury knocked him out of commission.

The injury came in a game in Amherst against the Minutemen of Massachusetts on October 30th. Until that game, McDonald had been doing everything right and the Oilers were very pleased with what they had seen.

“We talked to his coach before that game and he was really happy with his progress,” said Prendergast. “He’s at 190 lbs, playing on the first line and plays first line power play; for a second year kid to step into that role, we’re very happy.”

McDonald had recorded five goals in as many games prior to the injury, including two the night before against the same school. Unfortunately, McDonald hasn’t played since but is expected back shortly after the Christmas break.

“Colin is going to be a big loss for them,” said Jason Platt, the current Road Runner defenseman who was sharing a place with McDonald last year. “They need him because he’s a top-notch player; by the end of last year he was probably our best forward as a freshman.”

“He’s at his best when he’s playing physical, he can handle the puck, he sees the ice really well, he can make great plays and he’s just an all around tremendous kid,” continued Platt. “He came in and probably overhandled the puck a bit at first, but that’s going to happen and you learn. He learned quickly and he was a really big asset for our team going into the playoffs.”

One scout in the area says that McDonald has developed nicely from the previous year, but that he would also like to see more improvement in his skating. However, there is no denying the offensive abilities of the young Providence winger.

“He scored a goal against Clarkson by coming down the off wing, gave the defenseman a little shoulder, cut inside and rifled a snap shot top corner far side,” the scout recounted. “It reminded me of a Cam Neely goal, it was great. He’s definitely got a nose for the net and he can score.”

With McDonald in the line up, Providence was off to a 4-1-0 start but since the knee injury that put him on the shelf, the Friars have only won two games. Obviously Providence is missing a major cog in the machine as long as McDonald is unable to play.

12. (10) Alexei Mikhnov (LW) – 22 – Sibir Novosibirsk (RSL)
Draft: 1st Round, 17th 2000 Grade: 7C Projection: 2nd Line Power Forward Similar to: Nik Antropov

One of the few major disappointments thus far in the 2004-05 schedule has come out of Russia with the performance of Alexei Mikhnov. After his trip to Edmonton last September earned him better vision and a better understanding of what awaits for him in North America, Mikhnov has not put together a season that anyone would call inspiring.

After 25 games the 6’5 winger has just 5 points amid reports that he has been a healthy scratch on more than one occasion. There are no transplanted NHL players for Mikhnov to be competing with in Novosibirsk, although there is a new coach this year.

“The situation was that they fired their old coach and with the new coach he didn’t hardly play at all and when he did it was on the third or fourth line so he never had opportunity on the top two lines,” explained Prendergast. “He did for a couple games and then he got hurt. Ice time has been a problem because they’ve gone with all their older players.”

Mikhnov, who was married in the offseason, has not been the same player he was last year when he was second in team scoring. If there is any correlation that could be made between his disappointing year and being married, it would be purely speculation, but Mikhnov wouldn’t be the first player affecting by developments in his personal life.

Considering how bleak the season looks from the outside, one would have to think that Mikhnov might be having second thoughts about returning to Russia for the year rather than having pursued playing with the Road Runners in Edmonton. However, according to the Oilers, negotiations never really got past the small talk last summer anyway.

“Both parties made general preliminary enquiries about it, but we didn’t get very serious about it,” Oilers Assistant GM Scott Howson told Hockey’s Future last week. “There was an intention on both parties that if it could be worked out it probably would have been the preferable course of action, but we just couldn’t get there.”

Surely in light of this throw-away year there is clearly the need to find out once and for all if the former first round pick is of any use to the organization’s future plans though.

“Yeah, I think everybody realizes that he needs to come over and get adjusted to the culture and style,” Howson agreed, “I think it is a priority for him to come over for next season and get a deal done this summer.”

As Mikhnov told Russian journalist Mikhail Zislis recently, even he knows the time has come and that maybe he made a mistake by not coming to North America for this year.

“Yes, maybe that would have been better but what happened, happened,” said the Kiev native. “But who knows what could have been if I moved there? There are a lot of NHL stars came to RSL this year, but not to our team so it’s a very interesting experience to play against them. And if there was no NHL this season, I thought it would be better to stay here.”

Despite the lack of an IIHF agreement with Russia, Howson does not feel there are any serious roadblocks preventing any contract signings with Mikhnov.

“I haven’t seen the contract that he signed this year yet, but so far in any of our conversations we’ve had with (Mikhnov’s agency) that hasn’t been an impediment that he’s going to get stuck over there because of an exorbitant transfer fee or anything like that.”

Recently rumors of an impending trade from Sibir to Yaroslavl have come to the fore.

“His name is on the table to be traded” confirmed Prendergast. “I guess the general manager and the coach had a meeting a few weeks ago at which time he was hurt with a bad ankle. At that time they basically agreed that if they were out of the playoffs that any guys making money on their team, high-end guys, they would try and trade them. He’s one of the guys making a lot of money so they are trying to blow him out.”

A move to Lokomotiv Yaroslavl, a team that has NHL content on it, could prove to be a tough one for Mikhnov to get ice time on.

“I would think so but if Yaroslavl is looking at him they must have some interest and feel he can help them,” said Prendergast. “It’s a winning situation so just from a mental standpoint this should help him out.”

If every cloud has a silver lining, perhaps this one is the thought that the Mikhnov situation could finally be resolved within a year. The Oilers need to determine one way or the other at last if the former first round pick is going to be a part of their organization. Other than that, there isn’t much happening here to put a positive spin on.

13. (16) Brad Winchester (RW) – 23 – Edmonton Road Runners
Draft: 2nd Round, 35th 2000 Grade: 6.5C Projection: 2nd Line Power Forward Potential Similar to: Joe Thornton

There are only two things standing in the way of Brad Winchester and NHL success: intensity and consistency. When Winchester is playing with a physical edge, banging and fighting, he’s a dominating player at the AHL level. In a game earlier this season against San Antonio, Winchester scored twice and also had a tussle with Greg Jacina of the Rampage. More recently, against Milwaukee, Winchester recorded a Gordie Howe Hat Trick by collecting a goal, an assist and a fight. On both occasions, the 6’5 power forward from Wisconsin was the emotional leader for his team.

On the nights when Winchester isn’t asserting himself physically, he’s largely ineffective and plays seemingly uninspired hockey.

“He really understands now what the role of a power forward is and we’re starting to see that consistency in his game in terms of being a physical force and driving to the net and the things those guys need to do in order to play on a regular basis,” said Road Runners coach Geoff Ward.

“You don’t like comparing young guys to older established NHL players but he does show us traits of Todd Bertuzzi,” Ward said in the summer. “Joe Paterson coached Joe Thornton in his last year in junior and noticed an awful lot of similarities between them.”

Not everybody is sold on Winchester yet though because, as one scout visiting Rexall Place recently said, you don’t get his best effort on a regular basis.

“If he played like Ethan Moreau he could be in the NHL tomorrow, but I don’t think he’s got it in him to play that way,” the scout criticized. “I’ve watched this kid play since he was 17 years old and he’s the same player now as he was back then. He’s big and he can skate but I don’t think he’s got any competitive spirit or drive. I think he’s very consistent in terms of his inconsistency! I don’t think he’s got a competitive bone in his body. When you watch him play he’s just a big passive player.”

Currently sixth in team scoring, the Road Runners are not overly worried about a lack of consistency by Winchester in the first quarter of the season.

“We have to understand that he’s still a young player and they all go through these stages; as a coach you’d rather have it happen early than late,” said Ward. “He proved last year that he could put together long stretches of consistent play, so we’re not panicking about it but we have to spend some time now to cut some clips and let him take a look at them.”

When he’s on his game, Winchester is a more than formidable opponent. The biggest hurdle in his path to the NHL is Winchester himself.

14. (NR) Dragan Umicevic (LW) – 20 – Södertälje (SEL)
Draft: 6th Round, 184th 2003 Grade: 7C Projection: Scoring Forward Similar to: Patrik Elias

Is it a breakout season or is Dragan Umicevic simply the flavor of the month? Only time will tell but certainly the 20-year-old’s performance this year in the Swedish Elite League has garnered a lot of attention in hockey circles and especially with the Oilers.

After an unspectacular 2003-04 campaign that saw Umicevic playing mostly in the second league, the young Croatian born winger has taken off with Södertälje this year. Umicevic has had stints in the SEL over the four years but none as significant as what has occurred in the last few months.

“I think what worked against him last year was that his conditioning wasn’t as good as it should have been and he didn’t work very hard,” said Prendergast. “Over there in that league if you’re not in top condition they don’t give you a second look. He’s very close with (Oiler scout) Kenta Nilsson because he and Kenta’s son are good friends. Kenta really pushed him and told him he had to work really hard. He came into camp with a good attitude and I think he basically won a job there.”

After a sluggish start and the arrival of some key NHL players, Umicevic’s coach delivered him a message by demoting him to Södertälje’s junior team. In three games Umicevic recorded 11 points proving to everyone that he definitely was too good to play with boys anymore. Recalled by the SEL club and placed on the top line along side NHL players Olli Jokinen and Mikael Samuelsson, Umicevic hasn’t looked back.

“He’s a kid that finishes when he gets into position and he doesn’t put the puck on the net to put it in, he puts it on the net to put it through it,” smiled Prendergast. “He’s got a really good shot and a quick release. He has that Brett Hull type ability where when he shoots the puck he knows exactly where it’s going. I’m not comparing him to Hull, but he has that type of shooting ability. He’s a gunner and that’s exactly what we need.”

The Oilers are envisioning Umicevic’s upside as being an offensive contributor to a scoring line.

“His checking is only a little bit better than average, but from our standpoint for down the road, we’re looking at him as a top two line, power play guy and a finisher,” the head scout continued. “Dragan’s one of those guys who wants the puck all the time to shoot it; he’s not a great playmaker but he thinks the game well enough to make things happen but his strong forte is finishing off plays.”

No one on the outside really knew what kind of player the Oilers had drafted in the sxith round of 2003 but all along the Oilers have been crossing their fingers that they plucked a real sleeper.

“He was one of the kids that I really liked in his draft year and I know Kenta did too,” Prendergast summed up. “Last year was a bit hard on the organization because I thought he would play better than he did but boy this year he has come back gangbusters!”

“Of all the kids we have in Europe right now, he might be our best one.”

15. (Graduated) Marc-Andre Bergeron (D) – 24 – Edmonton Oilers (NHL)
Draft: Free Agent 2001 Grade: 6.5B Projection: PP Specialist 5/6th Defenseman Similar to: Brian Rafalski

Rumors are persistent that Oilers blueliner Marc-Andre Bergeron will follow in the footsteps of Raffi Torres and sign on to play the remainder of the 2004-05 schedule with the AHL’s Edmonton Road Runners.

It would be a good fit for both Bergeron and the Road Runners. The 24-year-old would obviously benefit by playing at a high level rather than in charity or men’s league games back in his home province of Quebec. The ‘Runners could certainly use his offensive playmaking abilities on their backend, especially on the power play.

One source told Hockey’s Future that it was practically a done deal and that the blueliner would join the team in the New Year, however, until the team officially announces something, the discussion is purely speculation. That said, Bergeron himself told Robin Brownlee of the Edmonton SUN in November that he was leaning towards returning to Edmonton to play.

“We’re probably going to make the move after Christmas, I would feel comfortable with that,” he told the local paper several weeks ago.

From the Oilers end, all is quiet but that doesn’t mean it’s a dead issue by any stretch of the imagination.

“We’ve had talks with them and both of us decided to wait a few more weeks before anything was settled,” said ‘Runners GM Scott Howson. “I haven’t talked to them in the last couple weeks. All we said was that we’d talk later and if something could be worked out after Christmas then we might try and pursue that.”

Bergeron had 19 points with the Oilers last year, the bulk of them coming in the last two months of the year after a temporary reassignment to Toronto that served its purpose of kick-starting the likeable defenseman.

Still eligible for HF’s prospect status by a mere 14 games, it is assumed that Bergeron will rejoin the Oilers as soon as the NHL begins regular activates again. The Quebec native recently signed a long-term contract with the big club and figures to be a part of the team for the foreseeable future.

16. (17) Jean-François Jacques (LW) – 19 – Baie-Comeau Drakkar (QMJHL)
Draft: 2nd Round, 68th 2003 Grade: 6.5C Projection: 3rd Line Power Forward Similar to: Eric Daze

One of the brightest developments this year comes out of the Quebec Junior League in the form of power forward Jean-François Jacques. The 6’4, 217 lb captain of the Drakkar has surprised everybody with his new found offensive touch. The Oilers knew they had drafted a powerful winger who had some scoring ability, but never dreamed it would blossom as it has this year.

Prior to this season, Jacques best offensive output was in 2003-04 when he totaled 44 points in 59 games. At last check Jacques had already captured 36 points in just 30 games, a pace that would see him finish with more than 80 points this year.

A person has to wonder where this offensive prowess suddenly came from.

“I don’t know! We didn’t see it here but we had a talk with him before he left and we told him he had to work on his shooting and obviously he has worked on some part of it!” exclaimed Prendergast. “He started the year with two first or second round picks who were 16-year-old kids and he basically spent all his time protecting them. Now they put him back with some older kids on the team and he’s taken that leadership role to heart. Here’s a kid that we know has to work on the offensive part of his game and he’s getting every opportunity to do that as it is.”

Jacques is fully recovered from shoulder problems that hindered him at times in recent years, but now the unhampered ability to play is proving extremely beneficial.

“I don’t think he’s ever going to be the goal scorer in the NHL that he’s showing he is right now, but everybody I’ve talked to in the Quebec league says he’s not the same kid he was last year; he’s spending a lot more time being a hockey player which is good because nobody wants to fight him anyway,” added Prendergast with a smile.

You want to see a natural progression from year to year while players are in junior and Jacques has increased his point totals every season leading up to this one. This is a player that Road Runner fans should count on seeing by the end of the year under an amateur tryout contract.

17. (18) Roman Tesliuk (D) – 18 – Kamloops Blazers (WHL)
Draft: 2nd Round, 44th 2004 Grade: 6B Projection: 4-6 Defenseman Similar to: Tomas Kaberle

After a solid rookie camp performance, Roman Tesliuk returned to his WHL club team in Kamloops to begin the new season. Things haven’t been going the Blazers’ way very much this year and it’s been a challenge for Tesliuk on a personal level after his defense partner Max Gordichuk was dealt away.

Recently the Murmansk native had the opportunity to play in the ADT Canada-Russia Hockey Challenge for his homeland, something he hadn’t been able to do in a couple years.

“He didn’t play a lot in the first game and he only played late in the second game when it started getting physical,” said Prendergast.

Thanks to an embarrassing blunder by the Russian team, the experience almost didn’t happen at all for Tesliuk as the Oilers’ chief scout recently described for Hockey’s Future.

“He flew into Calgary but the Russians didn’t send anybody to pick him up!” Prendergast said. “Fortunately a Detroit scout was in the airport and saw him standing there and drove him up to Red Deer for the game. He was told on the plane that his gear had never made it, so he was standing around in the airport when it did come out and then there was nobody there to pick him up so he was just standing there with no where to go!”

Still, even after all that hassle Tesliuk said he wants to play for the Russians again at the World Junior Championships. Obviously Tesliuk, who still has some military service waiting for him in his homeland, has no interest in attending the pre-tournament camp the Russians are having in Moscow, but they have told him that he is on their list of potential blueliners for the Championships in North Dakota.

The vocal, puck-moving rearguard has not lit up the score sheet as he would have liked but 10 points in 33 games is a definite increase in point production compared to last year’s 14 point season-ending total.

18. (13) Kyle Brodziak (C) – 20 – Edmonton Road Runners
Draft: 7th Round, 214th 2003 Grade: 6.5C Projection: 3rd Line Forward Similar to: Rem Murray/Marty Reasoner

He may have nearly captured the WHL scoring title last year but Kyle Brodziak is having a hard time finding his way into the line up now as a professional rookie. Early season illnesses to Jarret Stoll and Mike Bishai cleared the way for Brodziak and he quickly recorded three points in as many games, but unfortunately, he went pointless in his next five matches and hasn’t dressed since.

After the first two games in St. John’s in early November, Brodziak has been a fixture on the pressbox catwalk at Rexall Place patiently waiting for his turn to play.

“I think he’s been out of the line up for the last three weeks or so and that’s unfortunate,” said Scott Howson. “He’s a hard worker away from the rink and in practices the coach has been very pleased with him.”

With the recent reassignments of Simon Ferguson and Brock Radunske, any injuries or healthy scratches to the Road Runners’ regular line up will once again open the door for Brodziak. The versatile player can fit in at any of the three forward positions and did see time on the power play in his first stretch of action.

“He’s got more offensive upside then Rem Murray did but they are similar in that they are both very good at both ends of the ice and do the little things really well,” said Prendergast. “He’s a better playmaker than what Rem was. He had 93 points last year but the opportunity to be a pro and distinguish himself hasn’t really come yet.”

If Brodziak can take advantage of whatever opportunity comes his way, he might be one of those AHL rookies who turns it on in the second half of the year and becomes a valuable contributor down the stretch drive.

19. (14) Joe Cullen (C) – 23 – Edmonton Road Runners
Draft: 7th Round, 211th 2000 Grade: 6C Projection: 3rd Line Forward Similar to: Curtis Brown

Flying under the radar again this year is Joe Cullen. He scored the Road Runners’ first goal this season on what was also the team’s first shot, then for a month and a half he couldn’t buy a goal. Luckily for Cullen, offense isn’t what he’s being counted on for.

Cullen has slipped into the center position on the third line, the spot previously occupied by the departed Chad Hinz. Along with his two wingers, the Minnesota-born center has done a very solid job of battling with the opposition’s top lines and his efforts haven’t gone unnoticed.

“I’ve been impressed with Joe Cullen; he’s a player that I’ve watched for a long time,” said one visiting scout. “He’s never going to be an offensive player, but I think that he plays really strong defensively. I think (Nate) DiCasmirro, Cullen and (Sean) McAslan have been Edmonton’s best line. They set a good tempo for their team and I think they spend a lot of time playing in the other team’s end.”

“Cullen is smart, good on faceoffs, has size and I think if he continues to progress he’s got a chance,” the scout continued. “I don’t know if underrated is the right word but he might be a guy where expectations aren’t as high. Based on what I’ve seen I think he’s got a real chance. He’s never been a big scorer, I think he’ll be a third line type player but those guys are really valuable on your team.”

Even with his slow start on the score sheet, Cullen currently sits tied for sixth in team scoring and really could have many more points if he had any good luck. He has hit posts and has had shots slide through the crease; he’s a classic case of a player being snakebitten.

20. (NR) Mike Bishai (C) – 25 – Edmonton Road Runners (AHL)
Draft: Free Agent 2002 Grade: 6.5C Projection: Depth Center Similar to: Doug Gilmour

Few Road Runners had higher expectations put on them at the beginning of the year than Edmonton’s own Mike Bishai. After a memorable 14-game stint with the Oilers last year through the month of February, the predominant thought was that Bishai was primed for a breakout AHL season. Coach Geoff Ward singled Bishai out in September saying he was the player he expected to become an elite AHL level player.

Whether it is bad luck or something more, Bishai’s breakout has not happened and the player is frustrated on a personal level about his lack of offensive point production.

“I’m off to a bit of a slow start here; I was injured a little early on in the season which doesn’t help but I’m trying to battle through it and play solid defense and the offense will come,” sighed Bishai recently. “Bumps and bruises are all right, every player goes through that in a year. To get hurt two or three weeks into the season, it slows you down but I’m bouncing back here, getting chances around the net and trying to shoot as much as I can and sooner or later they’ll start going in for me and I’ll get on a roll.”

When he’s on top of his game, Bishai is a skilled puck handler and playmaker, a smooth skater with a low, bent over style accented by his flowing black locks; a visual package that had some people watching training camp drawing comparisons to Doug Gilmour. The two goals he scored against the Alberta Golden Bears were exceptional examples of how nifty he can be with the puck, but unfortunately that successful creativity has not come as easily in the AHL season.

The timing for a slow start couldn’t be worse for Bishai because if the Oilers don’t pick up next year’s one-way NHL option on him, the Edmonton native could find himself on the outside of the organization and looking for a new team. And don’t think that hasn’t crossed his mind once or twice.

“There’s always pressure and there might be extra this year but I don’t take it like that; if I think about that too much and worry about the future then I won’t be playing as well as I can,” Bishai said. “I think in the back of every player’s mind they think of the future and what’s ahead for them but it’s hard to think about what’s going to happen, especially with the lockout; you don’t know when the NHL will start up again. All I can do for myself is try to get better every day playing here.”

As frustrated as he might be about his personal play, Bishai refuses to get too down because the team is still having success and that’s priority No. 1.

“Am I frustrated? No, because we’re winning,” he stated. “The thing is I’ll play a solid game, I’m just not putting the puck in the net. What do you call that? Is that underachieving? I guess you could say I’m underachieving in my goals; underachieving in my offense, although, I’m still getting my chances… I just can’t put the puck in the net.”

“I think he’s going to have to be an offensive guy and I don’t think he’s competitive enough or good enough to get by on skill alone,” said a visiting pro scout. “I was shocked that he got called up last year, shocked! He played well and sometimes it’s easier to play at the NHL level. I think he’s going to need to be a top-two line center and I don’t think he’s good enough to do that.”

Nevertheless, in his last season of prospect eligibility according to HF criteria, Bishai has made the ranking list for the first time ever and he was excited to be told the news.

“Are you serious!?” the center asked with a surprised smile and a slight sigh of relief. “It’s a good feeling!”

Missing the Cut

(16) Tom Gilbert (D) – 21 – Wisconsin Badgers (NCAA)
Draft: 4th Round, 129th 2002 Grade: 6C Projection: 5-6th Defenseman Similar to: Patrice Brisebois

Gilbert is not having a very notable year statistically but still is reportedly playing well.

“He’s a smart player, moves the puck well, shoots it well, not overly physical but he finds a way to get in the way defensively and hold his man out,” said Prendergast. “I’m surprised at that his (lack of stats) he’s playing a lot and in all situations. I talked to Mike Eaves a month ago and they were happy with the way things were going and they were happy with his game, so I can’t really tell you why his stats aren’t there.”

Gilbert is the junior-aged player the Oilers acquired from Colorado last spring in exchange for Tommy Salo.

(20) Liam Reddox (LW) – 18 – Peterborough Petes (OHL)
Draft: 4th Round, 112th 2004 Grade: 7D Projection: Scoring Forward Similar to: Justin Williams

Statistically, fans have every right to believe that Liam Reddox is doing everything right and in the sense of getting points, he is. However, scouts who have seen him play are noting that Reddox is not exhibiting the same effort or drive as he did prior to being drafted.

“He’s scoring and his points aren’t bad but I would imagine your readers, if they saw him last year and saw him this year they’d say ‘what’s wrong with Liam?’, said one scout. “If you read the box scores, nothings wrong with him, but he’s far more able than what he is doing.”

“It’s not like he’s struggling that bad, but he’s not doing a lot of the things that he was doing that made him successful; he’s failing to get his legs moving,” the scout continued. “He’s playing with a terrific player in Michael Ryder’s younger brother who has great hands and if Liam starts moving his feet he could certainly get 50 this year.”

(NR) Kalle Olsson (C) – 19 – Frölunda (SWE U20)
Draft: 5th Round, 147th 2003 Grade: 5.5B Projection: Two-way Forward Similar to: P.J. Axelsson

Recently named to the Swedish entry in the 2005 World Junior Championships, Olsson is also coming off of a very good summer 3-nation tournament in North Dakota where he impressed Oiler scouts.

“Certainly a player I think we’ll consider at the end of this year to signing if his progress continues,” Prendergast told Hockey’s Future after that tournament. Clearly, a WJC appearance would suggest his development is continuing.

(NR) Zack Stortini (RW) – 19 – Sudbury Wolves (OHL)
Draft: 3rd Round, 94th 2003 Grade: 5.5B Projection: 4th Line Power Forward/Enforcer Similar to: None

Zack Stortini has not had a statistically successful season when compared to last year but according to insiders, that doesn’t necessarily mean he is disappointing.

“I’m not disappointed in Zack because he always gives you everything he’s got, he’s just snakebitten,” said one scout. “This is a really undisciplined team and he’s killing a lot of penalties so he’s not getting chances to score and when he does, they’re not going in.”

No one is expecting Stortini to make the NHL based on his scoring prowess anyway and in the departments where he excels, everything still seems to be right on track.

“He fought B.J. Crombeen (DAL) and all the scouts in the corner, there must have been 20 of us up there, we were all saying right out loud to the refs ‘Stop it! Break it up!’ because he beat the shit out of Crombeen so badly,” said an OHL based scout. “Crombeen’s the only guy I’ve ever seen actually beat Zack but this wasn’t even close; Zack did whatever he wanted with him.”

(19) Brock Radunske (LW) – 21 – Edmonton Road Runners (AHL)/Greenville Grrrowl (ECHL)
Draft: 3rd Round, 79th 2002 Grade: 5.5B Projection: 4th Line Forward with 3rd Line Potential

After spending the fall in Edmonton as a member of the Road Runners, Brock Radunske was recently reassigned to Greenville in order to get some playing time with the Grrrowl. In his brief stay in Edmonton Radunske played pretty well defensively, but rarely contributed with creating offense. The lanky winger showed he could play physically but he’ll still need to fill out from his present 200 lb size to about 215 lb if he wants to really be as effective as he could be.

Eligibility Victims

Goaltender Mike Morrison is now too old for prospect status and has been removed from the listing entirely. The Massachusetts-born keeper has been playing well for the Greenville Grrrowl and the thought exists that he will return to the AHL on a regular basis next year depending on whether or not the Oilers decide to keep Tyler Moss beyond this year.

Also due to age, checking wingers Nate DiCasmirro and Sean McAslan are no longer eligible under HF’s prospect criteria. Both players are key figures on Edmonton’s third line, but after a season where he was the midpoint goal scoring leader for the Roadrunners, ‘DiCaz’ has yet to find the back of the net in 2004-05 and McAslan currently sports a team low –9 rating. Both have been exceptional players for the farm team in recent years and should still have long minor pro careers.

Forwards Mike Bishai, J.J. Hunter and goaltender Kristian Antila as well as blueliner Brent Henley are all in their final season of prospect status eligibility and will be removed from the listing when it is updated after the current season is completed.

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