It sure was great to get back to the rink over the weekend. Not only did the Edmonton Oil Kings tournament provide onlookers with an opportunity to watch several high profile prospects, new Oiler properties and get a feel for how the local WHL is shaping up, but it also let me get back in face-to-face contact with the WHL community.
And there was lots of talking going around between WHL executives and scouts as well as the plethora of NHL scouts who were in St. Alberta as well.
First, at the risk of sound really self serving - I was very flattered with the amount of people who approached me and offered compliments on The Pipeline Show. It's always great to hear feedback from listeners but it's especially encouraging to have a bunch of scouts or hockey executives saying they "tune in regularly" and "love listening to the show".
One scout gave me his card and told me that his boss said to make himself available to us at any time; now that's what I call an endorsement!
Many of them wanted to know what our big announcement is going to be this week and those that I let it slip to were very pleased - also nice to hear.
Prince George Cougars
I think this is a playoff team this year. I'm assuming they'll get Brett Connolly back from the Tampa Bay Lightning and most scouts I spoke with felt the same way. I asked Connolly about that, you can hear his response on The Pipeline Show on Tuesday.
The Cougars played pretty well in the tournament. They beat a very young Medicine Hat team 3-1 but dominated the game at times. Some of the guys that stood out to me included Jesse Forsberg - I know, no surprise there but he was steady on the backend, has decent size and had a level of maturity to him.
Martin Marincin (pronounced Mare-IN-chin according to Czech teammate Jaroslav Vlach) was a tower of power for the Cougars. More than one scout commented on his frame in the sense that he's built much link Chris Pronger - long legs and massive reach. Marincin has lots of room to fill out his 6'4 frame as he checked in at 187 lbs but unlike some of his counterparts, he didn't look like a guy getting used to his size. Marincin was comfortable, wasn't perfect but didn't make a lot of big mistakes and he was physical in an efficient way as opposed to a big demolishing guy. I'm told he has a booming shot but I didn't see it this weekend.
Rookie Troy Bourke, from Onoway, is a lot of fun to watch. He's not big but he's a bulldog, always on the attack and he showed a lot of offensive instinct. This will be a player worth keeping an eye on this year for sure.
Medicine Hat Tigers
The Tigers are a bit frustrating because they never bring their bigger names up for this tournament. The roster was missing Linden Vey, Emerson Etem, Tyler Pitlick and Wacey Hamilton for example. It did provide an opportunity to see some of the young guys in a bigger role though.
The Tiger that stood out the most for me wore #9 - Hunter Shinkaruk, their 1st pick in the 2009 Bantam Draft. That means he's eligible for this season as a 16-year-old rookie. The small skilled forward always seemed to be involved in Medicine Hat's best offensive opportunities.
Tyler Bunz was solid in the net when he faced the Edmonton Oil Kings on Sunday. At one point he was barking at Edmonton tough guy Jesse Pearson after the defenceman tried to get after a Tiger who hit him from behind - I liked it as one of the few older players on the ice for Medicine Hat was standing up for one of the young guys.
I had a good chat with head coach Shaun Clouston after the final game, you might hear that interview on TPS on Tuesday.
Swift Current Broncos
Surely one of the top teams in the WHL's Eastern Conference this year, the Broncos are always a bit tough to gauge for me. However, Stepan Novotny put on a show reaffirming my confusion as to why a NHL has not signed him already. The Czech forward scored a hat trick and had 4 points against the Oil Kings on Saturday showing terrific speed and hands in the process. He's been just shy of a point per game during his two years in the league and could really be a huge player for Swift this season.
Brad Hoban was all over the ice for the Broncos in the one game he played. Both Austin Smith and Mark Friesen were good in my opinion. Cody Eakin was decent but I've seen him play better too.
Swift won the tournament in a shootout against Prince George during which import player Richard Nedomlel scored then taunted the Cougars bench by taking several bows as he slowly coasted by them. Every WHL person around me had pretty much the same reaction: "He'll get his later on this year, that won't go unpunished or forgotten."
I don't know what he was thinking. It was a pre-season game and he scored a goal in a shootout, I'm sure coach Mark Lamb had a chat with him afterward.
Edmonton Oil Kings
They dominated the shots in both of their games, 53 against Medicine Hat's 22 on Saturday, but still came away from their event without a win. Talking to coach Derek Laxdal afterward, there were plenty of positives to take away though. you can hear his thoughts on the show this week.
In Saturday's game I thought the line of Mike Piluso, Josh Lazowski and Josh Koper was Edmonton's top. I've coined them the AJP line as in AJHL + Peluso as both Josh's were part of Steve Hamilton's Spruce Grove Saints last year. If I was Bob Green I would be considering very strongly the idea of keeping that line together but I get the sense the team values a 20-year-old blueliner in Adrian Van De Mosslaer more than what a 20-year-old in Koper can provide them in terms of a penalty killer and potential leader.
It might be impossible to talk about Griffin Reinhart without sounding like an Edmonton homer but this really could be the WHL Rookie of the Year for 2010-11. It's ridiculous how relaxed he is on the ice when being pressured by the opposition. Simple plays, always gets his shot through traffic and is big body on the defence. He's going to be a treat to watch over the next couple of seasons.
I really liked to see Jesse Pearson and Colton Stephenson on the ice and showing no tentativeness or hesitation to play their style. Both having missed most of last year with concussion problems, it's nice to see them both back to form.
- Curtis Lazar is going to be a player. He was terrific at times and it's unfortunate that the WHL drafts 15 year olds instead of following in line with the OHL and QMJHL - it's a shame that he can't play for Edmonton as a regular this year.
- I like Cam Lanigan but he didn't play all that well for me over the weekend. Laurent Brossoit was better in my opinion.
- Mitch Moroz was better this weekend than he was earlier in camp.
I spent the weekend watching the event with Corey Graham, fellow TEAM 1260 on air guy and new voice of the Oil Kings. At one point we got involved in a conversation a NHL amateur scout was having with a career coach in regards to a CHL player last year who did not take part in morning game day skates with the rest of his teammates. It was an interesting topic to say the least.
The scout wasn't sure it would be a problem, certainly not at the NHL level where the player will definitely take part with the rest of the team. The coach found it absolutely reprehensible that a single player was allowed to have such special privileges like that. He felt that it did the player a dis-service and would simply help breed a sense of entitlement in the young star.
Out of curiosity, Corey and I followed up with a WHL GM and the captain of a WHL team and asked their opinion - would it be a problem if one player was excused from morning game day skates with the rest of his team.
The feeling was unanimous; unless it was an optional skate, it definitely would not be OK with the team or the management.
The reason this was so interesting is because it came up last season as Dean and I spoke with scouts about players eligible for the 2010 draft. You might recall that this quote stirred up a lot of controversy when Dean first posted it last year: "Hall has been prepped for the number one spot like Tavares was but there are some red flags....he might have problems following 'team' roles."
That's right... the player was Taylor Hall.
He's far from the first CHL player to get special treatment. Dale Hunter reportedly flew a select few of his Knights (including Patrick Kane and Sam Gagner) during the 2007 OHL playoffs while the rest of the team rode the bus to the next game... or the way Leland Irving didn't speak with media on game days (in the WHL!)...
I agree with the coach from above - I don't see how it's beneficial for the player at all and could actually have adverse effects in the long term.
I'd be absolutely stunned if a rookie was able to get away with that in the NHL and I fully expect Hall will be on the ice every morning the Oilers play. But what about 5 years from now, or 10?
This 'n That
- One NHL amateur scout about Martin Marincin: "He's going to be way better than Mark Pysyk. He's a scout's dream." Pysyk was taken 23rd overall by Buffalo, Marincin went 46th to Edmonton. (Photo: Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images)
- I expect the Oil Kings to carry 25 players this season, 8 or 9 will be blueliners after the experience they went through last year.
- It sounds like one Edmonton rookie this year will be David Stephens, a list player that has seemingly earned his way onto the roster.
- Regina GM Chad Lang, Vancouver GM Scott Bonner and Kamloops GM Craig Bonner were all in attendance despite their teams playing elsewhere.
- The Edmonton Oilers were well represented both on and off the ice. GM Steve Tambellini, coach Tom Renney, assistant coach Ralph Krueger, President Patrick LaForge and scouts Jim Crosson and James MacGregor were all out at one point or another. On the ice, Tyler Bunz, Cameron Abney, Kristians Pelss (pronounced 'Pelsh') and Martin Marincin were all there.
- Former Oiler Sebastien Bisaillon was in attendance both days. In town visiting his girlfriend, the former Val d'Or standout played in Germany last year but has hopes of landing in Hamilton this season. He's been invited to Montreal Canadiens camp where he hopes to earn an AHL deal.
- Also around the rink was Toronto Maple Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf who was watching little brother Dane who plays for Prince George.
Coming up on The Pipeline Show on Tuesday: The player Dean and I believe will go #1 overall at the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, Minnesota Golden Gophers head coach Don Lucia, AJHL President Craig T. Cripps and a number of sound bites from the Oil Kings Invitational tournament.