The 3rd Annual Edmonton Oil Kings Invitational Pre-season tournament was held this past weekend in St. Albert. There were 6 teams involved although Red Deer only played one game and Moose Jaw played twice. Swift Current, Regina, Medicine Hat and the host side were the other four clubs in attendance.
As always, with so many teams in one place there were a number of scouts around and the conversations that go on in the stands or between periods and games is quite interesting. I had an interesting conversation with some scouts, including one from a NHL club, about the NHL combine interviews from last year - specifically about the "gay" questioning of Tomas Tatar and the Islanders alcohol inquisition of Zack Kassian. The latter seemed to be OK with everyone I asked but the former, everyone agreed that whoever asked Tatar if he was gay was crossing the line.
I missed most of the tournament because of a wedding but being able to take in the event on Sunday still provided me with enough for a Top 5 things I saw and heard about from the weekend.
5. Keegan Lowe
The Oil Kings are going to have some really tough decisions to make over the next few weeks. It's a good problem to have obviously but now, three years into their existence, they genuinely have young players who are skilled and talented enough to give some veterans a real challenge at making the team. Keegan Lowe is one of them.
He's 16-years-old and when he was taken in the 6th round of the 2008 draft, you could hear the skeptics with their calls of nepotism. (Lowe is the son of Oilers president Kevin Lowe). well no one is claiming anymore that Keegan wasn't worthy of being drafted because everyone that I have spoken with over the last week or so is telling me that not only is he vastly improved from a year ago but that they expect him to make the final Oil Kings roster.
For a team that has 9 blueliners still in camp with WHL experience plus two other guys who could factor in somehow, scouts suggesting Lowe is probably going to make the team definitely took me by surprise. (Lowe is wearing the cage in the photo above).
Lowe was injured in Sunday's game so we didn't get much of a read on him in that one but we did speak with him afterwards, a conversation you can hear tonight on TPS, and liked what we heard. He's soft spoken but intelligent and the fact that he has played in WHL exhibition games means that any possible chance of going the NCAA route is now a thing of the past. Normally a 16-year-old doesn't make that choice unless he knows he's got a future in major junior and evidently, Keegan Lowe's could start much sooner than most expected.
4. Tyler Ennis
Another guy that Dean and I spoke with on Sunday was Tyler Ennis who was in attendance as a spectator and not as a player. He still has a year of eligibility left but even Tigers head coach Willie Desjardins told us that his club is moving on as though their star forward won't be back. Ennis hasn't yet signed on with Buffalo but everyone seems to think that will happen sometime this month.
Ennis, or K-Billy as he's known around the TPS studio, hopes to follow in the footsteps of past Sabres who have overcome apparent size issues to have NHL success. Guys like Daniel Briere and prospect Nate Gerbe immediately come to mind. OH, and why K-Billy? Because Ennis sounds exactly like this:
3. Mike Brown
Honestly, one of the guys from the Swift Current Broncos who catches my every year at this tournament is Mike Brown, an undrafted 6'2 200 lb winger. He skates well, uses his body, looks strong and aggressive and in my mind is a guy I would like to see more of. His stats over the last year and a half suggest he might be playing with a ringuette stick, he's only got 16 points in 105 WHL games, but I think this could be a big year for him. Just a guy I'll be interested to watch this year.
2. Torrie Jung to Brandon?
I was talking with a NHL scout recently and was asking him if he was surprised that Tampa Bay didn't sign him. We chatted a bit and then out of the blue he said to me "He probably ends up in Brandon wouldn't you think?". To be honest, the thought had never even occurred to me.
My response was that if the Oil Kings traded Jung, their MVP last year, they'd be screwed. The scout basically agreed with me. However, that conversation was before this past weekend and with the way both Cam Lanigan and Laurent Brossoit played, perhaps Edmonton wouldn't be as bad off as I first imagined. I still would be shocked if Bob Green pulled a trigger though unless we get closer to the deadline and the Oil Kings are clearly not a league contender... getting something for Jung in that situation would be smart asset management but at the same time, this team should be in the top half of the Eastern Conference.
Brandon could definitely use a stud netminder this year as they host the Memorial Cup. They traded away James Priestner last week and are left with Andrew Hayes, former Oil King castaway Dalyn Flette and a pair of would-be rookies. Jung would be a massive step up from what they currently have.
By the way, I floated the idea to GM Bob Green... "Would you even consider trading Torrie Jung to Brandon" and his quick response: "For who... Brayden Schenn?"
1. Drew Nichol vs Geordie Wudrick
This was what everybody was talking about on Sunday - the licking that Oil Kings defencemen Drew Nichol gave Swift Current forward Geordie Wudrick (LA) on Saturday night. As the story goes, Nichol hammered another Broncos player and Wudrick, a tough hombre himself, stepped in to challenge the Edmonton defenceman.
As its been described to me, and I wasn't there so I'm going on second hand information but from about 20 different people, Wudrick was clocked by Nichol above the left eye (see photo above) and immediately started leaking crimson. Nichol, 6'2 and 200ish lb, is on the bubble as one of five 20-year-olds in camp but may have helped his cause with this fight that will undoubtedly make it's way through the league's grapevine.
The damage: Wudrick was taken for sewing and I've heard various reports as to how many stitches it took to close the wound. I've been told somewhere between 28-34 stitches but I asked the trainer from Medicine Hat (always good sources for that sort of stuff, they all talk to each other) and he said that Swift's trainer told him that there were 12 stitches inside and 18 more on the outside to close the cut. Another person told me that the gash went bone-deep which above the eye isn't all that shocking I guess. You can tell from the second photo though that the damage was extensive and the quick fight was certainly on eveyone's hot topic list a day later.
By the way, clicking on the photo gives you a bigger version... you can really get an idea of how that first punch opened up Wudrick's forehead.
(Photos Courtesy: Andy Devlin of the Edmonton Oil Kings and oilkings.ca)