Thursday, January 27, 2011

Oil Kings & the 2011 NHL Draft

The 2011 NHL Entry Draft is now a mere 5 months away. That might seem like a long time but with the local NHL club already 20 points out of a playoff spot (OK, it's only 18), the draft is the next exciting thing on the calendar for Oilers fans. What might make it a little more interesting this year is that there are a number of local WHL players of interest for the big event in June.

There was a quick story in the Edmonton Journal on Thursday about Michael St. Croix's quest to become the all-time leading scorer of the Edmonton Oil Kings. As writer Chris O'Leary pointed out, that mark is held by Brent Raedeke with a measly 117 points after 181 games with the WHL club before he was dealt to Brandon. St. Croix should have little trouble surpassing him this year, perhaps in the next month as he already has 100 points after 112 career game.

St. Croix is an interesting player and one that I get varying degrees of praise for when I poll the scouting community. Everyone seems to agree that his vision and puck control are terrific, few who have watched him would be able to disagree. However, many wonder if St. Croix will be one of those guys who is a star at the junior level but fails to make the NHL. See Peter Sarno for example.

"I don't know what he is at the next level," one scout explained to me during Wednesday night's game between Edmonton and Saskatoon. "He's not strong enough to be a checker and I don't know if he's fast or big enough to be a top-6 guy. So what is he?"

There is no question that he's going to get drafted but there seems to be a wide discrepancy on what round that might happen in. Personally I think he's a mid-2nd rounder, 45th overall give or take a few spots. Yet again, some I've spoken with like him more than that while others have said they'd be more comfortable waiting for him until the 3rd round.

NHL Central Scouting has him currently ranked 36th in North America.

Teammate Travis Ewanyk is a much easier read for scouts - he's being projected as a character, 2-way checker that will play a physical game and contribute points. The St. Albert product is 70th for Central Scouting but I get the sense that he's a "safer pick" than St. Croix who is viewed as more boom/bust.

"The Wrucking Ball"

An Oil King that was completely off the radar screen up to now, might be working his way onto the "take a flier" list. Checking in at a paltry 5'8 and 162 lbs, Dylan Wruck obviously has a major size hurdle to clear. That said, the fact that he's right behind St. Croix in scoring with 51 points, skates on the club's top line, plays with tenacity and passion and wins battles against players twice his size, don't be stunned if someone uses a late pick on him.

There's a better chance he won't get drafted but ends up getting calls from NHL clubs with an invite to their summer camp. Sometimes that ends up being better than getting drafted, just ask J.P Anderson.

When he scores, the in-rink announcer credits the goal to "The Wrucking Ball, Dylan Wruck". I asked him if he likes the moniker: "It could be worse," he said, "I've heard it before, when I was younger they used to call me that too so... it's OK I guess."

The Lowe-down

Keegan Lowe has seen his stock ride the roller coaster this year. Back in the summer there were people who looked to him as a 2nd-3rd round guy, I think due in large part to his final month in Edmonton last year (truly terrific) and his participation with Team USA at the Ivan Hlinka tournament.

I think it's fair to say that he didn't start the year very well, he was carrying a -8 rating at the end of October. He started to turn things around in November and through the 11 games in that month, was a +10 and wasn't a minus in any game. By the end of December Lowe was a +10 and now he's boosted that up to a +16. That really is a remarkable recovery.

Lowe looks much more confident these days. He's scored twice in January, his only two goals of the year, and he made a 70ft pass last weekend that was hard and on the tape. He's been physical but hasn't, in my opinion, been as undisciplined lately as I have seen him earlier this season.

He's ranked 151st by Central Scouting which would put him somewhere around the 6th round. I won't be surprised if he gets taken before that, especially if his play continues on the same curve it's been on for the last two months.

- Jordan Hickmott won't get drafted but don't be surprised if he gets and invite to a NHL camp. For me, he's got CIS written all over him (and that's not a bad thing!), but one scout I spoke with said he could easily see him getting the call from a team this summer, at least to come to camp for a closer look. Hickmott has 21 goals and 46 points through 48 games this year.

- Last summer T.J. Foster (left) was expecting a camp invite from two teams but both fell through. The speedster has been red-hot for the last couple of months after another slow start to the season. He's got fantastic wheels but he's of very slight build; listed at 5'11 and 167 lbs, the 18-year-old (19 in May) has to bulk up and get stronger.

- 2011 looks good for the Oil Kings but they are going to get a ton of scouting action next year. The scouts are already in awe of what Griffin Reinhart can do and there is every reason to believe, at this point, that he could be the club's first bona fide top-10 NHL draft caliber prospect. "He's a stud," one scout told me, "and I think that's an overused term but... this kid really is a stud."

- Another Oil King property getting some hype is US-NTDP forward Henrik Samuelsson. He scored 16 points in 6 games at the U17s in Winnipeg (with Oil Kings GM Bob Green in attendance). The team listed him immediately after the 2009 Bantam Draft as most clubs were afraid he'd follow in his brother's footsteps to Boston College. The last time I took the pulse of the Oil Kings in regards to Samuelsson I got the feeling that they didn't expect him to be coming to the WHL next year but that he'd spend another season with the US-NTDP. Then once he's drafted he'll be able to consult with his new NHL team and perhaps join the Oil Kings for the start of the 2012-13 campaign, one which the team has earmarked as a special one in their cycle.

- The Oil Kings are sitting in 6th in the Eastern Conference and that's exactly where they deserve to be. Their combined record against the 5 teams ahead of them (Saskatoon, Medicine Hat, Moose Jaw, Red Deer and Kootenay) is a dismal 2-15. They've been close in many of those contests, all 6 losses to Kootenay were 1-goal games in the third period. Recent losses to the Tigers featured a lengthy shootout and Wednesday was a 4-3 loss to the WHL's #1 team in Saskatoon. They are competitive but just cannot buy a win against the top clubs... and that's why they deserve to be where they are.

- They are 1-2 against Red Deer though, with 3 more games to go this season including tonight's tilt at the ENMAX Centrium. Unfortunately, the Rebels are red hot and are riding a 9-game winning streak.

(Photos: Andy Devlin/Edmonton Oil Kings, USA Hockey)

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