The Edmonton Oilers are set to begin their annual off-season Orientation Camp this weekend at Millennium Place in Sherwood Park. The on-ice sessions will run in the mornings from July 6th to 10th and as always, are open to the public.
Many of the onlookers, of which there are very few for these sessions, don't know much about who they will see. Most will assume that since it's a prospect camp, they might get a glimpse of the elusive Rob Schremp. That won't be the case this year as the organization has made some changes to the format.
First, there will only be a small number of pro players in attendance - players with more than one year pro under their belt already will not be here so no Schremp, Ryan O'Marra, Devan Dubnyk or Ryan Potulny.
Second, because the camp has been moved back to June from the previous late May or early June, players who were just drafted have all been invited.. more on that in a minute.
Finally, in years past the Oilers have invited several young free agents or undrafted players to have a closer look. There will be a smaller number of those players here this time including a few names that Oiler fans will recognize from the past.
Here is a look at the 25 players who will be attending the prospect camp: [EDIT: the official release from the Oilers omits two forwards who I was told would actually be there, I've made notes in the write up below.]
There will be three netminders at the sessions starting with 2006 draftee Bryan Pitton and his Stockton goalie partner Andrew Perugini (pictured). The duo combined for a 30-32-6 record with 21 of those victories belonging to Perugini. Perugini was a free agent invite to main camp last September and earned a minor league deal with the Oilers which he has made the most of.
The third masked man is Olivier Bellevance-Roy, Edmonton's 5th round pick a week ago in Montreal. The Cape Breton netminder will be making his first appearance in Edmonton. He posted a 35-12-3 record with a 2.84 GAA and .905 save percentage in the QMJHL last season, his second as a starter in the league. The goalie will turn 18 shortly after the camp ends on July 12th.
There will be much interest paid to the blueliners who are at the event, several of which will be making their Edmonton debut. Familiar names and faces include Alex Plante, formerly of the Calgary Hitmen and collegian Jeff Petry from Michigan State.
Swede Johan Motin will be here after signing on with the Oilers back in May. The 4th round pick from 2008 is expected to play in Springfield this year and after 3 seasons in the Swedish Elite League with Farjestads, Motin should make a fairly quick transition to the AHL.
A couple of pros who will be back are Cody Wild and Jordan Bendfeld. Wild had an interesting year, mostly in Springfield, where he collected 18 points in 59 games. On the other hand, Bendfeld's season was a complete write off thanks to a serious knee injury that limited him to only 17 games. TPS last spotted the former Medicine Hat Tigers captain on the ice with the Edmonton Oil Kings during their prospect camp.
Jesse Dudas is back for another audition. As TPS explained last month, the Oilers promised him another crack at it after he was injured in the main camp last fall. The big blueliner has bounced around the WHL over the last two years dressing for Regina, Prince George and Swift Current in that time. He ended last year with Charlotte of the ECHL.
Another free agent invite this year is a first timer - local boy Sean Connauton. The defenceman is a 6'2, 200 lb junior at Brown who has played very sparingly over his first two years at the ECAC school. He's dressed for only 29 games through two full seasons and has yet to register his first NCAA point.
The new guys from the 2009 draft will both be here. Fans will get their first glimpses of Troy Hesketh and Kyle Bigos (pictured) next week as the two future collegians are in town. Hesketh was the surprise 3rd round selection out of Minnesota high school while Bigos "trimmed down" to a mere 230 lbs before leading the BCHL's Vernon Vipers all the way to the RBC Cup this past year.
Denver forward Matt Glasser will take part in his first Oiler camp since the fall of 2007 thanks to the later July start time. Glasser played for Ft. McMurray in the AJHL before heading south where he will be entering his final year with the Pioneers as a senior. Glasser has 10 goals and 15 points in 92 career games with Denver. [Interestingly, Glasser is one of two players who the team ommitted from their offical camp roster, however, I was told very recently that he was to be there. Glasser has missed every summer camp since being drafted because he was tied up with exams in Denver, surely that can't be the case in July?]
Cornell's Riley Nash will be back in town as well before heading back to the ECAC for his junior year with the Big Red. Chris Vande Velde is expected to be a leader on and off the ice with North Dakota now that he's a senior. Both collegians are centers with size so it will be interesting to compare the two against each other as potential future 2nd or 3rd line NHL players.
The CHL group is led by Jordan Eberle. The Regina Pats forward is coming off a good year in the WHL that was far overshadowed by his international play at the WJC in Ottawa. He ended the year in Springfield where he picked up 9 points in as many games.
Philippe Cornet (#15) finally hung his skates up for the year in late May after Rimouski hosted the Memorial Cup. The winger enjoyed chemistry with Eberle when the two played together last fall and although the practices this week won't be game simulations, the two might play together at the World Junior Camp in August. [Cornet's name did not appear on the official release from the team which was sent out a couple of hours ago.]
Edmonton Oil Kings forward Jeff Lee gets to return for another camp after filling in for the Springfield Falcons who were in a pinch for healthy bodies. Lee had a strong season for the local team as he posted a team high 62 points in 72 games. The center stands 6'2 and weighs in at just under 210 lbs.
The newcomer from the 'Dub is Everett Silvertips tough guy Cameron Abney. The 3rd round pick up played 48 games with the 'Tips yet still collected just over 100 PIMs. The Oilers want him to work on his skating, and he'll learn plenty of tricks and techniques for that at this event.
Geoff Paukovich and Jamie Bates will be the returning pro players. Edmonton is encouraged by Paukovich's play under Rob Daum who liked what he saw from the former Denver Pioneer. Paukovich is entering his final year of his entry level contract so the 2nd round pick has a lot on the line this season. Bates had 48 points in Stockton last year.
There are two free agent invites up front - Jesse Todd from Merrimack is a guy that has caught the eye of Development Coach Bob Mancini. Todd will be teammates with Bigos next year. The former Camrose Kodiak forward scored 23 points in 34 games for the Warriors as a freshman, tied for the team lead.
The other invite is an interesting one: William Quist from Sweden. The Oilers drafted Quist back in 2007 but after unsuccessful attempts at bringing him to North America to play in the CHL, they chose not to sign him and relinquished his rights. The free agent (pictured) is hoping to get another chance with the team after failing to hook up with anyone overseas.
Speaking of Europeans, two of the headliners for prospect camp will be forwrds from Finland. It will be the first chance for Edmonton fans to see Toni Rajala and Teemu Hartikainen in person. Rajala is considered by many to be a steal of the entire draft - a 4th round pick when many expected he could go as early as the first round. Hartikainen is coming off of a terrific rookie season in Finland where he scored 17 goals for KalPa Kuopio.
And that is everyone who will be in Sherwood Park next week. Wait... you're suggesting that there are a couple of notable players not on the list? You're right.
Both Anton Lander and Magnus Pääjärvi-Svensson are unavailable for the prospect camp. I have been told that after traveling between Canada and Sweden several times in the last month for the combine and the draft, another trip would be "a bit much" before the players have to report to Timrå on July 17th.
The 25 players will be on the ice from 10:00-11:30 AM under the guidance of Development Coach Bob Mancini, Springfield coach Rob Daum and skating coach Steve Serdachny.
I am told that the list of participants is not likely to change but I suppose there could always be a late addition before Sunday when the players arrive.