Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Top 5 Tuesday: Oil Kings To Watch

The Edmonton Oil Kings have quietly made some more cuts as they prepare for the start of the 2009-10 season this Saturday against the Calgary Hitmen. There has been no official release from the team but The Pipeline Show has learned that the team has gotten down to the three 20-year-olds that they will begin the year with and have also sent a couple other players out of camp.

I'm told that defenceman Drew Nichol has won the final overage roster spot and that the team has sent fellow blueliner Garret Thiesen back to the BCHL where he will play with the Prince George Spruce Kings.

Netminder Laurent Brossoit has also been cut from camp but I was not able to ascertain where he will actually end up yet - the team maybe looking for a new home for him as we speak. The 16-year-old had a good camp but his WHL career will really begin next season after 20-year-old Torrie Jung has played out his eligibility.

With Jesse Pearson still a scratch due to concussion symptoms carried over from last season, the Oil Kings are down to 7 defencemen. Mark Pysyk, Tyler Hlookoff, , Adrian Van de Mosselaer, Henrik Tervonen, Braeden Laroque, Drew Nichol and 16-year-old rookie Keegan Lowe.

With Colton Stephenson also sidelined with concussion symptoms and 15-year-old Mitchell Moroz too young to stick, the Oil Kings are also down to 14 forwards to start the season with.

Here now are my own personal Top 5 Oil Kings of interest in 2009-10:

5. Keegan Lowe - Defence

Yes... he is the son of the Oilers president, the same NHL team that falls under the ownership umbrella of Darryl Katz. However, throw your preconceived notions of nepotism aside - this Lowe is here because he's earned his place on the roster all on his own. It's kind of fitting that during the exhibition schedule the team wore jerseys without name bars because no one I have spoken with (WHL scouts, team sources, etc) has even slightly suggested that Keegan Lowe is getting any sort of preferential treatment because of his last name.

Personally, he makes my list of interesting layers to watch simply because I haven't gotten to see him play yet. Aside from 10 minutes or so in St. Albert against Medicine Hat before he bruised a shoulder, Lowe has been scratched whenever I've been in attendance.

Will be be an impact player at 16? Probably not. There is no reason to expect right now that he'll be anything more than a 6-7th guy for the Oil Kings this year unless injuries come into play. But that fact that he bumped some guys with WHL experience off the roster has definitely peaked my interest.

4. Brett Breitkreuz - Forward

A few moments before the first Oil Kings game I saw this pre-season, I had a conversation with GM Bob Green where I asked the inevitable question: "Who has impressed you so far in camp?" He told me that Brett Breitkreuz had clearly dedicated himself over the summer because he had reported to camp looking like a completely different player.

To some degree I took his comment with a bit of salt - of course the GM is going to pump up one of his key guys this year. Give credit where its due, Breitkreuz has delivered.

He earned an invite to Oilers rookie camp and opened some eyes with the NHL club and is now really and honestly on their radar as a player to follow this year. What may have begun as a token gesture to the Oil Kings, and I think it was actually more than that but you never know, Breitkreuz has taken and capitalized on. A strong season this year as an overage player could lead to another audition with the Oilers, or another NHL club, down the road.

3. Michael St. Croix - Forward

Obviously this is one of the key guys who will help determine the amount of success the Oil Kings enjoy this year. He's only 16 but Michael St. Croix could very well be one of the top rookie scorers in the league. Top line? Second line? Maybe the latter to start with but it will be up to him to see if he can carve out a bigger role for himself as the year goes on.

I don't know who his linemates will be (I'll tell you if I get the expected call/email/text from A.J. Jakubec) but you know he's going to put up some points this year. He's not NHL Draft eligible until 2011 but there will be scouts watching him this year in order to get an early feel for him. He'll have the World U17s like he did last year so the team will have to live without him for a couple of weeks.

2. Dylan Wruck - Forward

Another new face to the team but coming in as a 17-year-old should be a bit of an advantage for the diminutive forward. Wruck is an offensive dynamo that always seems to be on the score sheet every time I hear the summary from an exhibition game this fall.

He's playing with a lot of confidence, which is exactly why Green, Randy Hansch and Steve Pleau sent him back to the Beardy's Blackhawks last year. He dominated the league and now joins the 'Dub club knowing nothing but how to win and produce a ton of points.

I think that it will be very interesting to see who actually finishes the season with more points - Wruck or St. Croix. At this point I might throw my money behind Wruck

1. Mark Pysyk - Defence

This one really should have been obvious. He'll be the first Edmonton Oil King chosen in the 1st round of the NHL Entry Draft, the only question right now is how high he'll go. Recently I've been told that after the way he played in the Ivan Hlinka tournament, Hockey Canada might invite him to the December WJC camp if he gets off to the start they think he will. I'll believe it when I see it but hearing that rumor from someone in the know but with no vested interest in the Oil Kings was very interesting.

I first met Pysyk in the TEAM 1260 golf tournament back in 2007. He was in my foursome and, no word of a lie, was our designated ringer - the kid could spank the golf ball a mile and straight as an arrow. He comes across as a bt of an introvert although maybe that's just around media types. On the ice he's a workhorse that never seems to tire. Green once told me that Pysyk doesn't come off the ice because he's tired, he only comes off because his 45 or 55 seconds are up.

Pysyk is an exceptional talent but like a lot of high caliber blueliners, he doesn't always standout because he's so efficient that he doesn't have to make a lot of flashy, highlight real plays. Positionally strong, a terrific skater, crisp and accurate passer, unquestionably high hockey IQ and a quality individual. He's the real deal.

Honorable Mentions: I got done my list and laughed out loud wen I noticed that two of the team's bigger names aren't even in my top 5 right now. Torrie Jung and Tomas Vincour are probably MVP candidates for the team this year but I left them off of this particular list simply because we know so much about them already.

If Jung is only as good as he was last year then the Oil Kings are going to be in great shape. If, as a goalie with another year under his belt, Jung is somehow better than last season then Edmonton could legitimately be a team that strikes fear into other clubs in the Eastern Conference.

As for Vincour, reports out of Dallas have included a quote from GM Joe Nieuwendyk who called the Czech forward one of the most pleasant surprises from their prospect tournament in Traverse City. Health will be a question mark. He's battled shoulder problems on both sides but if he can stay in the line up this year, he could set new franchise records for points.

Season #3 gets underway on Saturday when the Calgary Hitmen visit Rexall Place.

Photos courtesy: Edmonton Oil Kings and Andy Devlin

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