Oilers Top 20 prospects

By Guy Flaming

The following Top 20 list is a snapshot in time of the prospect depth pool currently held by the Edmonton Oilers. Comments from Oilers GM Kevin Lowe, Assistant GM Scott Howson, Chief Scout Kevin Prendergast, 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 it at the time.

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 feedback and insight of the management and scouting staff, the seeding of players is the work of the writer.

Fall 2005 Top 20 at a Glance

1.Rob Schremp, C – 19 – Edmonton Oilers/London Knights (NHL/OHL)
2.Marc-Antoine Pouliot, C – 20 – Hamilton Bulldogs (AHL)
3.Devan Dubnyk, G – 19 – Kamloops Blazers (WHL)
4.Andrew Cogliano, C – 18 – Michigan Wolverines (NCAA)
5.Jeff Drouin-Deslauriers, G – 21 – Hamilton Bulldogs (AHL)
6.Matt Greene, D – 22 – Iowa Stars (AHL)
7.Taylor Chorney, D – 18 – North Dakota Fighting Sioux (NCAA)
8.Colin McDonald, RW – 21 – Providence Friars (NCAA)
9.Brad Winchester, RW – 24 – Edmonton Oilers (NHL)
10.Jean-Francois Jacques, LW – 20 – Hamilton Bulldogs (AHL)
11.Dragan Umicevic, LW – 21 – Södertälje (SEL)
12.Yan Stastny, C – 23 – Iowa Stars (AHL)
13.Kyle Brodziak, C – 21 – Hamilton Bulldogs (AHL)
14.Geoff Paukovich, C – 19 – Denver (NCAA)
15.Robby Dee, C/LW – 18 – Lincoln (USHL)
16.Jesse Niinimaki, C – 22 – Jokerit (SM-Liiga)
17.Zack Stortini, RW – 20 – Iowa Stars(AHL)
18.Liam Reddox, LW/C – 19 – Peterborough Petes (OHL)
19.Viatcheslav Trukhno, LW/C – 18 – Prince Edward Island Rocket (QMJHL)
20.Tom Gilbert, D – 22 – Wisconsin Badgers (NCAA)

The Top 20 is based on peak potential and projected 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 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 mind set and not necessarily on expected potential.

Key: Current Rank, (previous rank), Name, position, age, projected 2005-06 team (league)
Draft Position, Grade, Projection and NHL Comparison.

1. (1) Rob Schremp, C – 19 – Edmonton Oilers / London Knights (NHL/OHL)
Draft: 1st Round, 25th 2004 Grade: 8B Projection: First line skilled forward NHL: Playmaking skills like Doug Weight

Hockey pundits, scouts and fans all fall into one of two categories when it comes to Schremp: ‘love’em’ or ‘overrated’. No one denies the obvious offensive gifts and elite level of puck control the 5’11 center possesses, but those who are his detractors can always find a new flaw to pin on him.

It might be his supposed lack of defensive awareness that is contradicted by one’s eyes when during the Memorial Cup they see Schremp hustling back into his own end to pick up an opposing trailer or break up an odd man rush.

Some criticize his skating, choosing to ignore the leaps in improvement that Schremp has made since the age of 16 thanks in large part to voluntary month-long power skating workouts in Regina, Saskatchewan during each offseason.

Others direct their focus to the fact that the vast majority of Schremp’s points come while on the power play which apparently means that he cannot produce at even strength. Schremp scored 56 percent of his goals in 2004-05 with the man advantage compared to Corey Perry (38 percent), Dylan Hunter (48 percent) and Danny Syvret (65 percent). However, head coach Dale Hunter’s often use of Schremp for nearly the full two minutes is somehow deemed as negative as opposed to a major positive. For some reason, being the main cog in arguably the deadliest power play in CHL history is a fault to some.

The fact is that Rob Schremp has grown up from the self-centered and arrogant 16-year-old he once was. On the ice he has improved his skating, his defensive play and his teamwork and away from the rink he has matured even more so.

Schremp came to Oilers camp this fall as a long shot, down on the depth chart behind half a dozen centermen. Although at press time he hadn’t claimed a NHL roster spot for 2005-06, with his performance this September he has elevated his stock enough that by Oct. 5, he may have forced the Oiler brass into keeping him in town.

The Oilers lack a pure offensive talent, one that can control the power play, find open men with needle threading passes and someone who simply creates offense. Schremp does all of those things and has so far looked anything but out of place or not ready for the NHL. Not only has Schremp put up offensive numbers in preseason, but he’s also spent time on Edmonton’s penalty-killing units as well, a sign that the Oilers recognize a certain degree of defensive reliability in their premier prospect.

If Schremp is not a member of the Oilers this year it will probably be because the club decided not to burn a year of their exclusive rights to him while mostly using him as a power play specialist. But considering that the team’s biggest weakness in the past couple of seasons has been with the man advantage, burning the year might not be any waste at all.

“I don’t care about the CBA right now, nobody does,” said head coach Craig MacTavish when asked that very question. “We want the best players to help us win right now and if we feel like he’s going to be a benefit even in the last half of the year… to me it’s going to be a tough call on him but if he continues to play and create offense it’ll be easy.”

2. (3) Marc-Antoine Pouliot, C – 20 – Hamilton Bulldogs (AHL)
Draft: 1st Round, 22nd 2003 Grade: 7.5B Projection: First/second line center NHL: All around skill like Brendan Morrison

A year ago the question facing Marc-Antoine Pouliot was ‘is he too injury prone to play in the NHL?’ The question in front of him now is no longer ‘can he’ but ‘how soon?’

After 90 consecutive games under his belt ending at the 2005 Memorial Cup, the former captain of the Rimouski Oceanic has officially turned pro. Pouliot arrived in Edmonton for training camp as a dark horse to crack the Oiler roster this year, but has impressed with his obvious development from the autumn of 2004. There is no question that having been healthy for the last 12 months has been wondrous for Pouliot’s growth as a hockey player.

“That was one of my goals, to play all the games. I never did that all through junior so that was good for me,” Pouliot told Hockey’s Future at the start of training camp. “I trained a lot with pro guys this summer in Quebec City. I didn’t have to worry about injuries or anything so I was able to train at my maximum.”

Having gained both muscle and speed, Pouliot is now weighing in at 6’2 and 195 lbs, up about eight since the Memorial Cup last May. With his tremendous stickhandling and playmaking abilities, Pouliot is projected as a perfect candidate for a spot on Edmonton’s second line in the future. The fact that he played half of his final year in Rimouski as a winger gives the Oilers some flexibility when it comes to positioning options. Don’t be surprised if when Pouliot eventually reaches the NHL, he’s riding shotgun to a scoring middleman.

3. (4) Devan Dubnyk, G – 19 – Kamloops Blazers (WHL)
Draft: 1st Round, 14th 2004 Grade: 8C Projection: Starting goaltender NHL: Uses size like Olaf Kolzig or Sean Burke.

Coming off a year in which the WHL’s Kamloops Blazers struggled badly before resurrecting their season and eventually making the playoffs, Devan Dubnyk says he is looking forward to a much better campaign in 2005-06.

“We’ll definitely be a better team; we have a lot of guys coming back, just made a trade and we’re a year older and a year more experienced so we’ll be ready to better ourselves from last year,” smiled Dubnyk.

Playing behind a defensively inept squad Dubnyk still managed to post impressive statistics so a true breakout season from that point of view, could very well be ahead for the 6’5.5 netminder. Dubnyk has added new thickness to his tall frame and now fills the crease with 207 pounds, up 13 from a year ago.

Circled on his calendar is the 2006 World Junior Championships being played in Vancouver. Dubnyk was one of four goalies invited to the national team’s August workouts and by all accounts played very well.

“None of the goalies really stood out from the pack, they were good but not great,” said one scout who was in attendance. “Of the four though, Dubnyk was the best. He faced almost 40 shots in the game he played and only let in three goals, none of the other goalies faced even 30 shots.”

The Wookie-sized goalie started training camp slowly but got better and more confident as the days went by. By the time the Joey Moss Cup arrived, Dubnyk was in top form and was clearly the top ‘keeper in the annual intersquad game.

Without any blemishes so far on his young career, Dubnyk takes over top goaltender spot on the Oilers Top 20 ranking. Dubnyk could further cement his standing this season by improving his stats from a year ago and securing one of the two goalie jobs with Team Canada in December.

4. (NR) Andrew Cogliano, C – 18 Michigan Wolverines (NCAA)
Draft: 1st Round, 25th 2005 Grade: 8C Projection: 1st line offensive speedster NHL: Pavel Bure’s combination of speed and hands

The first 2005 drafted player to crack the new top 20, Cogliano does so based largely on his draft status and what he has done since the Oilers chose him 25th overall on July 30th. As an invite to Canada’s World Junior camp in Whistler, the pint-sized junior player turned heads and was hailed as one of the top forwards on the ice.

“He played on the wing with Benoit Pouliot and Guillaume Latendresse and the three of them really clicked in the second game,” said one scout who was in attendance. “That whole line could remain intact.”

Cogliano notched a pair of points in that game and also scored once in the first game as well. Although Hockey Canada has traditionally neglected many of the players skating in the NCAA when it comes time to naming the team, it sounds as though Cogliano is as close to a shoo-in as one can be after just the August camp.

“He’s incredible and an unbelievable skater, he was flying all week, I was very impressed,” said goalie Devan Dubnyk when asked if he could envision the forward not making the team. “I can’t really see that right now, something really bad would have to happen for him not to, I think.”

Unfortunately due to NCAA regulations Cogliano was not able to attend Edmonton’s rookie camp or main camp in September.

“It’s got to be disappointing for him not to be here because I know he would have impressed here too,” said Dubnyk.

After scoring a boatload of points in the Ontario Junior A League, Cogliano has moved on to play for the Michigan Wolverines and is expected to be an impact player even as a rookie. With world-class wheels and a terrific skill set, Cogliano should be a fixture in the upper tier of this list for the next several years.

5. (3) Jeff Drouin-Deslauriers, G – 21 – Hamilton Bulldogs (AHL)
Draft: 2nd Round, 31st 2002 Grade: 8C Projection: Starting goalie NHL: Positional play like Jose Theodore

It was a somewhat disappointing season for goaltender Jeff Drouin-Deslauriers, but the organization and the player are equally to blame for it. Edmonton’s decision to clog up the minor league goaltender position with Tyler Moss, Mike Morrison and JDD meant that the development of the latter two ‘keepers was stunted with stints in the ECHL. Rather than spending the entire season in the AHL facing a higher level of shooters in games and practices, JDD spent half the season unchallenged in Greenville.

While he was with the Road Runners, Drouin-Deslauriers was consistently average with the occasional performance from both ends of the spectrum, an outright stinker for each exceptional outing. Ending the year with an unimpressive .888 save percentage certainly gives JDD an achievable target that he should easily be able to improve on.

However, like last year, Drouin-Deslauriers will find AHL playing time to again be at a premium. Expected to be playing in Hamilton for the Bulldogs, the split affiliation of the Oilers and the Montreal Canadians, JDD will likely play no more than half of the regular season games.

Compared to other goalies in his draft class like Marc-Andre Fleury (PGH), Cam Ward (CAR) and Josh Harding (MIN), Drouin-Deslauriers clearly begins the 2005-06 campaign behind in his development.

Drouin-Deslauriers is still projected to be a starter in the NHL but with a forgettable year on his record book, the 21-year-old gives up the top goaltending prospect position in the ranking to Dubnyk, at least for now.

6. (5) Matt Greene, D – 22 – Iowa Stars (AHL)
Draft: 2nd Round, 44th 2002 Grade: 7B Projection: No. 3/4 defensive defenseman NHL: Aggressive like Jason Smith and Adam Foote

The excitement in Edmonton started to build as soon as news broke that collegian Matt Greene had opted to forego his senior year at North Dakota in order to accept an Oiler contract. Fans who follow the prospects have been eagerly awaiting the arrival of the rearguard whose exploits and apparent domination of the NCAA had gained near mythical status this far north.

While one day sticking with the Oilers right out of camp may look like a stretch, the next day Greene shows that he doesn’t look a bit out of place when skating in a group that includes Jason Smith, Steve Staios and Igor Ulanov.

Perhaps the highest praise from the organization over the past month has come from the head coach.

“He’s a little raw but very coachable and very willing,” said MacTavish during camp. “I don’t anticipate that it will be very long before we see him playing NHL games.”

Greene is certainly NHL size but the biggest question will be whether or not he can make the adjustment to playing against older and more experienced men that are also faster. He will have to drop the gloves from time to time if he is going to play his physical style, but that isn’t something he’s worried about doing.

“That’s a part of the game and you can’t shy away from it,” said Greene.

The 6’3 225 lbs blueliner is still projected to be a top 4 defenseman by the team, the only other concern is how quickly he will adapt to the heavier playing schedule coming directly out of college.

7. (NR) Taylor Chorney, D – 18 – North Dakota Fighting Sioux (NCAA)
Draft: 2nd Round, 36th 2005 Grade: 7.5C Projection: No. 3/4 defenseman NHL: Jordan Leopold

When the Oilers traded Eric Brewer, Jeff Woywitka and Doug Lynch to St. Louis to acquire Chris Pronger, some fans felt that Kevin Lowe quickly depleted the prospect blue line corps in one felled swoop. However, the Oilers knew something that those fans didn’t; the two departed prospects were expendable thanks to the draft a week earlier.

The Oilers selected rearguard Taylor Chorney in the second round of the most recent draft and simultaneously, Edmonton fans quickly scoured their draft guides to find out more about the player many had never heard of before.

“He’s a skilled defenseman with good offensive upside, skates well, has good hockey sense, he’s a solid defending player and he moves the puck well,” described one Oiler source.

Chorney spent part of August at the US World Junior camp in Lake Placid and was very impressive to those that saw him play.

“Other than Eric Johnson and Phil Kessel, he impressed me the most,” said one scout. “I think it was his mobility and his ability to read the game that impressed me the most. He stood right up in the neutral zone and I don’t even know how many passes he picked off coming out. He’s very smart, plays a very simple game, moves the puck, plays the power play, has a great shot, solid one-on-one. I couldn’t believe his poise for such a young guy.”

Off the ice Chorney’s character is top rate as well.

“We took him out for supper one night,” said Oiler scout Bill Dandy. “We brought him his sweater because of course he wasn’t at the draft, and he was just like a little kid at Christmas time, he couldn’t believe that his name was on the back.”

It was at that meal that Rob Schremp first met the new Oiler draftee.

“I didn’t even know who Chorney was until we got to camp and we went out for dinner with the Oiler staff,” said Schremp. “He played unbelievable, he was the best defenseman on our team. He’s solid, he moves the puck well and I think he’ll be an Oiler in the next five years for sure.”

Knowing that he had committed to North Dakota was a definite selling point for the Oilers at the draft and the Fighting Sioux are equally excited to have him join their program.

“He’s going to be a big part of our team,” said Brad Berry, Associate Coach from North Dakota. “We have four freshmen defensemen this year so he’ll get a lot of ice time and he’ll play in all situations. He’s kind of a throw back player in that everything is about hockey, he’s always thinking about hockey and working on the little things.”

Berry, a native Albertan, chatted briefly with Hockey’s Future while on an AJHL recruiting trip in Edmonton and said he expected a bright future for the blueliner.

“Thinking about the Edmonton way of life with hockey, he’ll fit right in here,” he said, “(College) will be a big step but everywhere he’s gone he’s adjusted to it. He’s just a focused young man, goal-oriented, he has his priorities set and I think he’ll have a great career.”

8. (9) Colin McDonald, RW – 21 – Providence Friars (NCAA)
Draft: 2nd Round, 51st 2003 Grade: 6.5B Projection: Second/third line scoring power forward NHL: Hits and shoots like Bill Guerin

It should be a breakout season for 2003 second round pick Colin McDonald. The Providence College forward is entering his junior year with the Friars and is expected to be the offensive leader on the team. After a year where he spent six weeks on the injured list with a wonky knee, McDonald is in a perfect situation this year.

Providence has a new head coach in Tim Army and with that come new expectations and a new focus on offense that the Oilers believe factors well for McDonald. There is some question in regards to what position the 21-year-old will play this season after spending some time as a center in the second half of 2004-05. The Oilers would prefer that he play on the wing, because that’s where they envision using him, possibly in combination with Rob Schremp and Andrew Cogliano.

McDonald was scoring at a goal per game pace prior to his knee injury and it is reasonable to expect a similar contribution from the powerful player again this year. His combination of size, speed and scoring touch make him a valuable commodity to the Oilers who consider the second-generation hockey player as somewhat the sniper that they covet.

9. (8) Brad Winchester, RW – 24 – Edmonton Oilers
Draft: 2nd Round, 35th 2000 Grade: 6.5B Projection: Second/third line power forward NHL: Uses his size like Joe Thornton

The second piece of the power forward trifecta Edmonton holds in high regard is former Wisconsin captain Brad Winchester. After catching the attention of the organization last year while with the Edmonton Road Runners, Winchester was rewarded with a two-year NHL contract that basically locks him into the opening night 23-man roster for the coming season.

The imposing 6’5 and 230 lbs Winchester is at his best when he is unloading booming hits or dropping the gloves and that’s a role he’s learning to play with more consistency.

“It’s a part of my game and bringing that aspect to the table is something that I have to do,” he admitted recently.

It’s not an easy switch for Winchester to flick though as the friendly and soft-spoken 24-year-old is anything but aggressive and antagonistic away from the rink. However, as assistant coach Craig Simpson explained, making the adjustment and learning to play mean is critical for someone in Winchester’s situation.

“I think what you have to learn as a young player is what it’s going to take to have success in this league,” said the former NHL sniper. “When you look at Brad, at his size and his weight and the type of game that he brings onto the ice you have to understand that you have to play in that type of game to be an impact on the ice. You’re not always going to impact by putting the puck in the net, but you can impact by doing exactly that.”

Slotted into the top 14 forwards to begin the year, Winchester will have to prove that he deserves his ice time but so far so good for the third-year pro.

10. (10) Jean-François Jacques, LW – 20 – Hamilton Bulldogs (AHL)
Draft: 2nd Round, 68th 2003 Grade: 6.5B Projection: Second/third line power forward NHL: Speed and hitting of Ethan Moreau

In Baie-Comeau they called him ‘Crazy Train’ and it’s not hard to figure out why. With the strength and power you would expect of someone 6’4 and 225 lbs, Jean-François Jacques separates himself from the rest of the power forwards with his fantastic speed. There is little that compares to seeing Jacques flying in hard on the forecheck and landing a thunderous hit on an opposing defenseman.

“He’s the hardest hitter that we’ve seen here in a long time with that combination of strength and power,” said Craig MacTavish recently during Oilers training camp. “He gets a couple big hits every game so he’s been able to provide a big physical presence for us.”

Jacques had an enormously successful offensive season in 2004-05 largely because of his short fuse reputation and his obvious physical attributes. One QMJHL scout told Hockey’s Future that the strategy some teams in the league employed against him last year when he had the puck was basically ‘don’t go into the corners with him and don’t try to hit him’. It’s no coincidence that Jacques’ penalty minutes rapidly decreased over his four-year junior career because eventually no one in the league wanted to mess with him.

“In my first year in junior I had 16 or 17 fights so when the time comes I’m for sure not going to back off,” Jacques said.

Jacques played a handful of games with the Road Runners last season and will likely be a regular with the Hamilton Bulldogs this year, but don’t be surprised if his name is on the short list to be an injury replacement call up before too long. Jacques is expected to seriously challenge for a NHL job a year from now.

11. (14) Dragan Umicevic, LW – 20 – Södertälje (SEL)
Draft: 6th Round, 184th 2003 Grade: 7C Projection: Scoring forward NHL: Offensive prowess of Patrik Elias

The Oilers have not had much success with their European selections over the last decade, not necessarily in terms of the player’s ability to play the game but rather with seeing them fulfill their potential in North America. At this juncture, that alone is the only concern with Dragan Umicevic.

The only Oiler prospect who did not lose his Elite League roster spot last season as the European leagues were overrun with locked out NHL stars, Umicevic thrived while playing with high class talent. Now the question is whether or not last season was the product of whom he was playing with or was it the natural progression of Umicevic as a player.

One source within the organization told Hockey’s Future that he wouldn’t be surprised if Umicevic turned out to be the best prospect from the new top 20 ranking. The playmaking skills the young Serbian-born Swede has shown already through the preseason indicates that he has taken his game to another level and is ready to become a dominant offensive player in the SEL.

The Oilers have plans to bring the talented winger to North America for next season and they feel that he will be very capable of stepping into a NHL roster spot playing an offensive role. Umicevic has expressed his desire to one day play in the NHL, but has gone on the record to say that he is not in a hurry to leave Sweden to do so. It will be interesting to see how the new CBA rules concerning European draft selections impacts the negotiations next summer between Edmonton and Umicevic’s camp.

12. (NR) Yan Stastny, C – 23 – Iowa Stars (AHL)
Draft: 8th Round, 259th 2002 Grade: 6.5C Projection: Skilled depth center NHL: Shawn Horcoff’s versatility

It cost the Oilers a fourth round pick next summer to acquire the eldest son of Peter Stastny, but most pundits believe the club came out of the transaction with a heck of a bargain. Yan Stastny, originally drafted by the Boston Bruins in the eighth round back in 2002, needed a change of scenery after spending two seasons in Germany and feels like the move to Edmonton is exactly what the doctor ordered.

“I was very pleased to come here because it’s a hockey town with great hockey tradition and some great names in the past,” Stastny said in his first meeting with Hockey’s Future. “They play with intensity, that tenacity, I love it. It’s up and down hockey and it fits me well because I consider myself to be a pretty good skater. It’s a good fit.”

He’s not big, but at 5’11 and 195 lbs, Stastny isn’t so small that it’s a problem. With very good speed and impressive skills with the puck, the Quebec-born center stood out in the early stages of rookie camp upon his arrival in Edmonton. The Oilers certainly like what they see in him and expect good things from their newest recruit.

“I think he could be a second liner,” said Kevin Prendergast when asked in August what Stastny’s projected ceiling could be.

“He’s a really heady player, I was having trouble getting him the ice time I wanted to get him, but at the end of the night he had 18 minutes because he can play in all situations,” said MacTavish after an exhibition game against Vancouver. “A guy with his versatility will be a very valuable guy. He’s very responsible, he’s been schooled very well and he has a real professional mentality.”

Stastny showed by finishing third in German league scoring last year that he is more than capable offensively but it’s his defensive reliability that will help him play in the NHL. The Oilers have traditionally favored players who were sound in both ends of the rink and Stastny is very much that kind of player.

13. (12) Kyle Brodziak, C – 21 – Hamilton Bulldogs (AHL)
Draft: 7th Round, 214th 2003 Grade: 6.5C Projection: Third/fourth line forward NHL: All-around ability like Rem Murray

This is a pivotal year in the career of Kyle Brodziak. After finishing his rookie year off as one of the Edmonton Road Runners’ top forwards, Brodziak will have to prove that it wasn’t a fluke but rather a natural progression in his development. He’s in the same boat this year that Brad Winchester and Joe Cullen were in last September and while Winchester continued to climb up the depth chart, Cullen went the other direction and was traded out of the organization by Christmas.

Sporting jet black hair and a bit more muscle, Brodziak will use his ability to play all three forward positions once he gets to his split affiliate team in the AHL, probably Hamilton.

Brodziak carved out a niche for himself a season ago by becoming very accomplished in the faceoff circle thus earning a lot of special teams opportunities. He’s a smart player and isn’t prone to making many mental mistakes therefore he has the confidence from the coaching staff to be able to play in all situations.

A well-rounded and down to earth prospect, Brodziak is a safe and reliable player that will get a NHL look provided his development curve doesn’t unexpectedly plummet this year.

14. (15) Geoff Paukovich, C – 19 – Denver Pioneers (NCAA)
Draft: 2nd Round, 57th 2004 Grade: 6.5C Projection: Third/fourth line power center NHL: Toughness of Joel Otto

Winning a national championship in your rookie season happens only to a select few, but Geoff Paukovich accomplished that last year with the Denver Pioneers. The mammoth centerman was a reliable performer in his support role to the school’s top offensive lines but is counting on broadening his responsibilities this year as a sophomore.

“With some of the guys who are leaving, the rest of us are going to have to step up and carry a bigger offensive load and I’m looking to be one of those guys,” Paukovich told Hockey’s Future in the offseason.

Paukovich is the biggest center the Oilers currently have in the organization and the common projection is to one day see him lining up between J.F. Jacques and Zack Stortini. The brute strength of such a combination would be enough to wreck small towns let alone the defensive corps of an opposing hockey team. The rough and rumble aspect of hockey is one that Paukovich relishes.

“I’m a physical two-way forward,” he began. “Obviously being 6’4 and 220lbs I can’t shy away from physical contact; I like to get physical and I can play at both ends of the ice and be a hard working two-way forward for my team.”

Paukovich was invited to Team USA’s summer camp at Lake Placid where he played his role very well. The Americans will be icing a very strong team again this year and many talented players will not make the squad. Paukovich is considered a dark horse by most, but one scout who witnessed the summer sessions feels the Colorado native has something the national team needs.

“They’re going to play on a smaller ice surface, he’s a physical player, he’s good on faceoffs, he kills penalties, he’s got size and they’ll need that to play against the Canadians and the Finns because of the way they are going to play,” said Prendergast.

Rob Schremp said, “Paukovich is a big solid guy and he can motor so that’s good, plus he’s a physical force.”

Whether he gets the opportunity to represent his country or not, Paukovich is entering a year that holds a lot of potential for him to take his game to another level. If his development continues on the up slant it did during his rookie season, he could realistically consider leaving school early to turn pro and pursue his hockey dream.

15. (NR) Robby Dee, LW/C – 18 – Omaha (USHL)
Draft: 3rd Round, 86th 2005 Grade: 7D Projection: Second line offensive forward

One could characterize Robby Dee as a boom/bust prospect with a fair amount of accuracy according to those who have seen him play. At 6’1 and just a hair less than 185 lbs, Dee already has decent size with plenty of time to grow some more yet. The gifted goal scorer found the back of the net 49 times in his senior year at Breck, tops in all of Minnesota high school hockey. Dee nearly hit the 50-goal plateau and totaled 87 points while only playing in 28 games.

“It’s high school sure, but still, somebody has to lead the league in scoring and I was told once that if a guy is scoring 50 goals then I’d better go and see him because not everybody is doing that,” commented one area scout. “He’s a real offensive talent, a really good skater with lots of speed plus he’s tall and slim so if he develops physically that will really help his game.”

Dee recently sustained a shoulder injury at the USHL’s BUC bowl tournament and is expected to be out of action for as much as six weeks. The separated shoulder will prevent Dee from debuting on schedule with the Omaha Lancers this year as the USHL regular season begins.

Now that he has moved up to the next level it will become a little clearer as to whether Dee’s performance in high school helped to inflate his worth or whether the offensive forward was a steal in the third round. Dee will head to the University of Maine next fall where he will join the Black Bears, one of the NCAA’s premier programs.

16. (13) Jesse Niinimaki, C – 22 – Jokerit (SM-Liiga)
Draft: 1st Round, 15th 2002 Grade: 7D Projection: Second line forward

If anybody ever needed an example of why the lack of their own AHL affiliate this year is a negative for the Oilers, look no further than Jesse Niinimaki. In less than ten months of training with Daryl Duke, Edmonton’s fitness expert, Niinimaki was able to add 20 lbs of muscle to his once pencil-thin frame.

While an unmitigated disaster on the ice as a Road Runner, Niinimaki has been remarkable when out of skates and was truly headed in the right direction while under the watchful eye of the Oilers. However, with no room for him at the minor league level and certainly no cause to offer him an NHL-only contract, Edmonton opted to allow the Finn to return to his homeland this year to play with Jokerit of the Finnish Elite League.

“We couldn’t work out a deal, he wanted a one-way deal and we weren’t prepared to give him one,” Prendergast confirmed to HF in August. “He’s put on a lot of weight and this will give us an opportunity to see him over there and see where he (fits in).”

Although they would prefer to have Niinimaki much closer, the Oilers recognize that he will still be playing against men in a talented league so they feel that it’s not really a step back. However, they will need to make a decision on Niinimaki before June 1st of 2006 as per the new rules outlined in the current CBA.

17. (16) Zack Stortini, RW – 19 – Sudbury Wolves (OHL)
Draft: 3rd Round, 94th 2003 Grade: 6B Projection: Third/fourth line enforcer NHL: Kelly Buchberger’s heart with the personality and smile of the WWE’s Mick Foley.

“We always value toughness and we have a lot of that now,” began Craig MacTavish in a recent media scrum during training camp. “The other guy that always slips through the cracks is Stortini; he always finds a way to be a physical factor in the game and he’s in the mix as well.”

Zack Stortini is an interesting example of just how split the personality of a hockey tough guy can be. During a game the 6’4 225 lbs wrecking machine will be rearranging noses with his knuckles or denting the boards with the bodies of his opponents but then after the buzzer Stortini is completely different. Off the ice it doesn’t take much to get Stortini giggling and more often than not he’ll be wearing his jersey with bloodstains from some poor schmuck he’d pummeled 15 minutes earlier.

Pigeonholed as a small-minded thug, Stortini bucks the stereotype having twice been named Sudbury’s Academic Player of the Year. A dedicated and hockey knowledgeable player, Stortini has his sights set on being an Oiler and is already talking like a veteran of the Battle of Alberta.

“I think Edmonton is a little more skilled, faster and tougher than Calgary, but we have to go out on the ice and prove it each and every day,” he said prior to a preseason game against the Flames. “I’m just trying to do my job and my part to make the Oilers a better organization.”

Stortini scored in his first preseason game and through two contests he had registered 20 minutes in penalties including a spirited tilt with 30-year-old veteran pugilist Garret Burnett. With a heart that barely fits his chest cavity and an infectious personality, Stortini will quickly become a fan favorite in Edmonton one day, sooner rather than later.

18. (17) Liam Reddox, LW – 19 – Peterborough Petes (OHL)
Draft: 4th Round, 112th 2004 Grade: 7D Projection: Scoring forward NHL: Darter like Justin Williams

If it weren’t for his back-to-back lackluster training camps and his average performance in Whistler BC during Team Canada’s summer camp, Liam Reddox would probably be rated higher on this list. However, for some reason that even he can’t explain, Reddox is slow out of the gate and it’s a problem he is hoping to correct immediately.

“Last year was a slow start for me,” Reddox admitted to HF during training camp. “I wasn’t playing my game, I was trying to do too much but this year I know what I have to do, I’m focused and I think I’ll get off to a great start.”

Reddox has the 100-point plateau set ahead of him as his finish line for the season and considering he increased his point totals from 64 to 82 in his first and second seasons, another 20-point increment seems reasonable.

“I know that would be quite the feat and I’ll have to work very hard but if I do the things that I’m good at I think it’s achievable,” he said. “I always have high expectations for myself and I hope I can reach that goal.”

What he is good at is finding holes and capitalizing on opportunities when they suddenly arise. Reddox doesn’t have blazing speed or size but he’s competitive enough that he’s not afraid to go into the trouble areas on the ice, like in front of the net or in the corners. Reddox is still considered a sleeper, there are many players who were able to put up big numbers in junior who couldn’t duplicate them as a pro, but if he is able to reach his goals this year it would mean leading his team to a Memorial Cup appearance and that would be very noteworthy.

19. (NR) Slava Trukhno, LW/C – 18 – Prince Edward Island (QMJHL)
Draft: 4th Round, 120th 2005 Grade: 6.5C Projection: Playmaking forward NHL: Hustles like Ryan Smyth and has the mullet too.

Born in Russia but raised in Denmark, Viatcheslav Trukhno is one European player the Oilers do not anticipate having any problems luring to the NHL, especially since the talented forward has already begun his second season on this side of the Atlantic.

Contrary to some reports, Trukhno is not seeking Danish citizenship, as he is quite proud of his Russian heritage. That said, the 18-year-old was extremely happy to be selected in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft, especially to be chosen by the Oilers.

“I was back home in Russia when my agent called me to tell me that I had been drafted; it was a big day for me, I was really looking forward to it,” Trukhno recently told Hockey’s Future. “I was hoping it would be one of the Canadian teams. Hockey is so big here, I came to P.E.I. last year and there it is big too.”

As a rookie with the QMJHL’s P.E.I. Rocket, Trukhno had the experience of playing for former Montreal Canadiens head coach Alain Vigneault which one area scout said was a mixed blessing.

“Last year he played for Alain Vigneault, a defensive-minded guy so Slava had a hard time adjusting,” explained the scout. “This year they have a new coach in Yanick Jean, the former assistant coach in Chicoutimi, and he likes more of a run-and-gun game. I think (Trukhno) is looking forward to playing for him because he’s going to give him free rein.”

In fact, Trukhno is expected to lead the offensive attack of the Rocket this season and build considerably on the 25 goals and 59 points he recorded as a rookie last year.

“I’m a two-way forward and a playmaker, I like to pass the puck more than shoot,” Trukhno said of himself. “I’m probably going to be on the top line this year.”

“He reminds me a bit of (Ales) Hemsky when he first came to North America, he tries to make that perfect play all the time,” one scout described. “He started to shoot the puck a lot more in the second half and it worked for him because he finished off with 25 goals. At Christmas time he only had seven or eight, but then they put him up on the top line and gave him some power play time and he did great.”

Trukhno feels he has a very realistic chance of playing for the Russians at the World Junior Championships in Vancouver this winter and that spending his second season in the CHL should help his case. It could be a very productive one for the Russian and a year from now 29 other teams could be asking themselves how they ever allowed him to fall so far in the draft when most publications had him slotted to go in the second round.

20. (NR) Tom Gilbert, D – 22 – Wisconsin Badgers (NCAA)
Draft: 4th Round, 129th 2002 Grade: 6B Projection: Third pairing defenseman NHL: Jason Woolley

The Oilers are expecting big things this season from the collegian they picked up from the Colorado Avalanche two years ago. In an exchange of Tommy’s, Salo went to Denver while Wisconsin defenseman Gilbert simply saw his NHL rights change hands. Now a senior, Gilbert is in his final year in school and is in a prime position to lead the Badgers defensive squad towards a successful outing.

Gilbert is coming of a somewhat disappointing junior season in Wisconsin having recorded just 17 points, his lowest thus far while at college. However, the eight goals he scored did establish a new career high and it should be noted that the Badgers were in somewhat of a rebuilding phase having lost Ryan Suter from their backend.

Gilbert is projected by the Oilers to be a played they can use on their power play, not necessarily as the quarterback but definitely a player with an offensive upside. Compared to Roman Tesliuk, at this point in time, Gilbert is higher on the depth chart thanks to his skilled side.

Gilbert, an alternate captain for the Badgers, is the only senior amongst the team’s rearguards and one of only five total on the team. The 22-year-old will be counted on to provide a lot of leadership and guidance to a very young line-up in one of NCAA’s toughest conferences.

Missing the Cut

A number of players were very close to cracking the Top 20 list but find themselves just short on the depth chart. One such player is former London Knights captain Danny Syvret, drafted by Edmonton in the third round this past summer. Syvret is a smooth-skating blueliner with excellent passing skills but slips outside the Top 20. With a glut of defensemen in the system already including the more seasoned Marc-Andre Bergeron, opportunities could be few and far between. In his defense, Syvret has played very well during training camp and likely raised his stock inside the organization. There are some scouts though who do not agree that the 5’11 Syvret will have a significant NHL career.

“At his size, maybe in the new game he can play but to me he looks like maybe a great AHL player,” said one scout. “Sometimes those guys go on to be great NHL players too but…”

Another player the Oilers just drafted enters the list at 22nd but with a definite bullet. Swedish-born Fredrik Pettersson was the talk of the rookie camp by more than just fans in attendance. The tiny winger plays with a ton of heart and courage but has enough skill and touch to avoid being labeled a one-dimensional agitator.

Edmonton GM Kevin Lowe took to Pettersson very early in rookie camp and singled him out on more than one occasion as a player he enjoyed watching.

“His speed is obviously his biggest asset because at his size he needs to be but like a lot of Swedish players, they’re strong skaters and he has good overall ability,” said Lowe who really admired the fact that Pettersson was dedicated to playing in North America this year for the WHL’s Calgary Hitmen. “He could play pretty high up in the junior level in Sweden and maybe even get some SEL games in because of his ability but it looks like he wants to be a North American player so it’s good that he’s coming to Calgary.”

Oiler scouts were extremely impressed with Pettersson’s performance during the August Three Nations tournament in Lake Placid and came away from the week believing he was the best player in the Swedish camp. The World Junior Championships would seem to be a definite probability for Pettersson this winter.

“You know, I quit school to come over and play hockey so I’m really committed to developing as a hockey player,” Pettersson revealed. “I really want to be a better hockey player and I think that this is the best way for me to become better.”

Joining Syvret and Pettersson on the honorable mentions list is Moncton Wildcats winger Stephane Goulet. After enjoying a resurgence in his offensive abilities last year in Moncton after being used sparingly the year prior in Quebec, Goulet is poised to have a huge season in 2005-06. Moncton is hosting the Memorial Cup this year so Goulet will automatically be involved in the annual event, plus the addition of former NHL Coach of the Year Ted Nolan to the bench of the Wildcats should boost his responsibility list as well.

“He’s a 6’4 kid and with hands like that you just have to give him some time,” described one scout. “He’s put on eight pounds this summer, he worked out this year in Quebec with Marc-Antoine Pouliot at the University of Laval, he played in a summer league with pros in Montreal so he’s focused and ready to go.”

Goulet will play on one of Moncton’s top two lines and is expected to skate alongside Adam Pineault (CLB) and Ian Girard, a combination that should produce a lot of points.

Peterborough defenseman Bryan Young scored rave reviews during rookie camp for his hard-hitting and aggressive play. The 19-year-old was far more noticeable this year than last when he made his debut at an Edmonton camp.

“I don’t know what it is, but ever since body contact started I’ve liked that part of the game and I haven’t really had too much of a problem learning when to step up and when to back off,” said young of his best attribute. “It seems to come natural I guess.”

Young isn’t flashy but word spread quickly at this camp that he certainly was a player you had to be aware of when he was on the ice. Teammate Liam Reddox knows exactly what Young brings to the table for the Petes each game.

“He’s one of the hardest defensemen to play against in our league,” said Reddox. “He uses the body so well and really punishes kids so other teams don’t like going down his wing.”

Another honorable mention is Russian-born defenseman Roman Tesliuk who appeared much higher in the ranking at the end of last season. Why the sudden drop in status? Tesliuk had a horrendous training camp which, to his credit, he fully acknowledges and takes responsibility for. Tesliuk spent the summer back in his native land where he could not practice on the ice unless he first signed a deal with various Russian clubs who were willing to take him on. The result of the inactivity showed in September and there were some in the organization who expressed concern with his fitness levels and on ice effort.

While the potential is certainly still there, Tesliuk is going to have to buckle down and work himself out of the doghouse to regain the favorable light he was in a year ago.

Other prospects on the rise include forwards Troy Bodie, Chris Vande Velde, Tyler Spurgeon and Swedish center Jonas Almtorp. Players that have slid the opposite direction for various reasons are Dan Baum, Eddie Caron, Brock Radunske, Fredrik Johansson and Ivan Koltsov.

Eligibility Watch

There are a couple Oiler prospects now entering their final year of prospect eligibility under the Hockey’s Future criteria guidelines.

Twenty-four-year-old Brad Winchester, expected to be with the Oilers at the start of the season, will be removed from the list permanently next August, but should see his status shift to ‘graduated’ sometime during this season.

Eddie Caron, as first reported by Hockey’s Future back in August, has retired from hockey, but the Oilers will continue to hold onto his professional rights for another season in case the 23-year-old decides to return to the game.

Recent deletions from the prospect list on the Oiler page at Hockey’s Future due to age include Jani Rita, Tony Salmelainen, Kristian Antila, Bjorn Bjurling, J.J. Hunter, Nate DiCasmirro as well as the defensive duo traded to St. Louis, Jeff Woywitka and Doug Lynch.

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