With the early defection last summer of Matt Greene to professional hockey, the Edmonton Oilers are left with eight collegiate prospects. Here is a brief look at those players with comments from Edmonton’s VP of Hockey Operations and head scout Kevin Prendergast with input from a handful of scouts from around the amateur leagues.
Taylor Chorney, D – North Dakota Fighting Sioux
Rookie rearguard Taylor Chorney has had a strong, albeit fairly quiet, season with North Dakota. Playing alongside the much flashier and better-known Brian Lee (OTT) has sort of pushed Chorney to the edge of the spotlight when it is shining on the Sioux. However, by no means is this a bad thing for Chorney, who quietly goes about his job of being an impressively dependable blueliner at UND.
Chorney had the opportunity to play in the World Junior Championships for the Americans and it would be fair to say that his performance there was much like it has been all year in college, under the radar but far from unappreciated.
“You’re never going to hear a lot either way on him because he’s just steady,” said Kevin Prendergast. “I was happy with him at the WJC and he’s played really well at North Dakota too.”
Chorney currently sits third on the team in defensive scoring with 11 points in 30 games, just one point behind sophomore Kyle Radke and four back of Lee.
Andrew Cogliano, C – Michigan Wolverines
Coming into the 2005-06 campaign, it was hard to pin specific statistical expectations on freshman Andrew Cogliano for the simple reason that he was joining Michigan from a league well below the caliber of most other first round draft picks. Although the Ontario Junior A league is a quality one, certainly Cogliano would have to face some doubters as he began the year with a very young Wolverines squad. Remarkably, Michigan has 11 freshmen in the line-up this year so Cogliano is surrounded by players his own age in a league that averages to be at least a couple of years older.
It didn’t take long for Cogliano to start addressing some of the concerns the experts laid before him. The diminutive speedster has been a consistent point per game player all year for Michigan and also captured a gold medal with Canada at the World Junior Championships in Vancouver. Surprisingly Cogliano’s role at the tournament wasn’t as most pictured but still, the 18-year-old caught plenty of attention from international media.
“I think he adapted to the role that Sutter wanted him to play pretty well and that shows his versatility,” said one scout. “I think after the camps he had that he figured, as I did, that he’d be the go-to guy as a scorer, but Sutter had him playing a different type role and he adapted to it well. I was very surprised he didn’t get any power play time considering he lead both camps in scoring but they won the gold so you can’t argue with what Sutter did.”
In college, Cogliano has performed well enough to impress the Oilers too, with 25 poitns in 27 games.
“Andrew is everything we thought he was going to be so far,” said Prendergast. “In Michigan he started off on the second line and then they moved him up but he’s been down as far as the fourth line but he’s an 18-year-old kid playing with guys who are up to 24 years old and he’s a point a game player so we think he’s doing very good.”
Glenn Fisher, G – Denver Pioneers
The former starter for the Fort Saskatchewan Traders of the AJHL, Glenn Fisher is once again part of the goalie tag team for the Denver Pioneers. Fisher is having another solid year with the winners of back-to-back national champions despite playing in only half the games. But as Prendergast pointed out, the platoon system might not really be that bad a thing for a college player.
“Well you look at the starting goaltender for the Edmonton Oilers right now and he went through that in college so I don’t know if it can be that bad!” he laughed as he referred to former University of Maine goalie Michael Morrison. “Sure we’d like to see (Fisher) play more but that’s their program. When he was in Fort Saskatchewan he played a ton of games so I think the workload increase when he turns pro isn’t going to affect him very much.”
Perhaps the highlight of the season for Fisher was his recent shutout win against top rated Wisconsin during which the Edmonton product delivered a performance that one scout described as “the best display of goaltending I have seen this year.”
He has a 7-5-2 record, a 2.44 GAA and .908 save percentage.
Tom Gilbert, D – Wisconsin Badgers
The forgotten prospect is starting to remind people that not only was Kevin Lowe able to find a taker for Tommy Salo a couple years ago but he was also able to get a decent player back in the deal. Tom Gilbert is having a heck of a senior year for the Badgers and looks as though he could contribute to the Oilers in the very near future.
“He’s in a program where he has a chance to really succeed this year in a very tough WCHA and that’s great experience for him,” smiled Prendergast.
Wisconsin has been at or near the top of the national polls all year and Gilbert has been a key component of the Badger machine since their first game. He is playing in every situation, logs a ton of minutes and has grown into having a leadership role as the only senior on the blue line. Should the Badgers have an unexpected early finish to their playoffs, look for the Oilers to try and find him a place to play out the rest of the year as a professional.
Gilbert has 22 points in 28 games.
Colin McDonald, RW – Providence Friars
Twenty-one-year-old Colin McDonald is having an inconsistent but productive year under new offensive minded coach Tim Army. The adjustment from the strict defensive system employed by the former Providence coach has taken longer than it probably should have, but McDonald is coming along.
“Their team is in a transition going from a defensive one under Pooley to more of a run and gun with Tim Army and sometimes they look like a million bucks and sometimes they look pretty ordinary,” said one eastern scout. “That’s a good reflection on how Colin’s season has been too.”
He’s set new career highs in assists (13) and points (20) in 26 games, but his lack of scoring is worrisome as it is his ability to score goals as a power forward that initially attracted the Oilers.
“I would have thought he’d be much higher in scoring, but he’s getting lots of shots in games and opportunities but they’re just not going in for him,” said another scout. “I don’t think it’s due to a lack of ability but he’s not getting any breaks, none of the fluke goals here or there. He is playing lots on the power play and getting chances, he’s just not scoring.”
Patrick Murphy, LW – Northern Michigan Wildcats
Since the day the Oilers drafted him, Patrick Murphy’s stock with the organization has been on a steady decline. Murphy had only garnered 17 points over the course of his first three college seasons and needed a major breakthrough this year to grab Edmonton’s attention. That hasn’t happened and while no one within the organization will publicly admit it, Murphy won’t get signed after graduation.
“He really just hasn’t developed and I don’t know what it is if it was in his mind that the hard work part that we drafted him on didn’t have to be there,” said Prendergast. “He’s turned into a banger and a smasher and he physically competes hard, but we just don’t see any hockey sense or ability to finish coming out of him.”
Typically the Oilers extend a token camp invitation to their college grads even if they haven’t earned a contract. The same will happen next fall for Murphy, the son of former Leafs coach and current league executive Mike Murphy.
“We’ll give him the invite to camp if he wants to come, yes,” Prendergast confessed. “In some cases kids go through school and hit the pro ranks and are different hockey players. I’m not saying he’s going to be a big scorer, but we might see something at a pro camp that we haven’t seen in college.”
Geoff Paukovich, C – Denver Pioneers
“I think if there’s one guy aside from Erik Johnson who came away from the WJC experience as a better player it was him,” said one scout in regards to Pioneer centre Geoff Paukovich.
Prior to the tournament, Paukovich was playing sound defensive hockey but had not registered a goal all year long. Sure enough, upon his return from Vancouver where he found the back of the net once, Paukovich quickly potted his first three markers of the college year. He now has seven points in 26 games.
“He was really pressing by not scoring going into Christmas,” said Prendergast. “It didn’t affect his play at all because he was still going against the other team’s top lines but he just couldn’t get the puck in the net. But he got the winner in that 1-0 game against Wisconsin and he was a presence on the ice every time he was on and that’s what we want from him; a physical player that’s able to go out against tough lines and shut them down.”
So while compared to his statistical performance as a rookie, Paukovich the sophomore seems to be struggling in Denver this year. However, by all accounts the beefy 6’4 center is playing as well or better overall than he did as a freshman.
“Sometimes stats aren’t always the telling story, the work ethic and everything is there.”
David Rohlfs, RW/D – Michigan Wolverines
Having been converted from the wing to the blue line last year, David Rohlfs began the 2005-06 schedule as a defenseman having made the transition rather easily. The former fifth round pick of the Oilers from 2003 has had an impressive season with the Wolverines, enough so that Edmonton has begun to regard the 21-year-old as a blueliner for them as well.
“He’s an excellent skater and still learning that part of the game as far as how to be a defenseman, but our scouts have said that every week he seems to be getting better at it,” Prendergast to HF recently. “He has a chance to be a really good player.
“He’s a monster and a really effortless skater, he’s still learning defensive coverage and things but as for clearing guys out in front of the net he’s not going to have any problems with that as a pro,” the head scout continued. “He’s going to bring a lot of versatility with him as a pro. I think we feel that if we’re thin at any one position right now it’s on defense so when he comes out, if he keeps on improving as he has, we might just keep him in that position.”
However, just as suddenly as he was dropped back to the blue line a year ago, Head Coach Red Berenson recently threw Rohlfs back up on the forward lines, but it was unclear if the move would be temporary or permanent.
Rohlfs has nine points in 28 games played.
DJ Powers contributed to this article. Comment on this story at the Oilers section of the Hockey’s Future Message Boards. Copyright 2006 Hockey’s Future. Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without written permission of the editorial staff.