If there is one thing the modern-era Edmonton Oil Kings haven't had a lot of over their 4-year existence it's big, impact centermen. Yes, Jeff Lee had a 62-point season in 2008-09 but that's about the end of the list. Can Travis Ewanyk become that guy? Maybe, although offensive production isn't what most are expecting of him. Jordan Hickmott was good for the team last season but at 6' and 185 lbs, he wasn't the kind of center we're talking about here.
What the Oil Kings have lacked is a 6'2, nearly 200 lb pivot that can step in and anchor the second line spot and give the team a pair of effective scoring lines. Unfortunately for them, that guy appears to have chosen the BCHL and NCAA over just such an opportunity here in Edmonton.
The Pipeline Show learned last week that despite their best efforts, Edmonton was probably going to fail to lure Steven Fogarty to the WHL. General Manager Bob Green flew to St. Paul, Minnesota to take in the NHL Entry Draft and met with Fogarty and his representation to express the club's interest in having him play in Edmonton.
Fogarty, who was drafted in the 3rd round (72nd overall) by the New York Rangers, has a verbal commitment to play for Notre Dame if he decides that the NCAA path to the NHL is the right one for him.
I'd heard that the Rangers were keen on the WHL option, seeing the rapidly improving Oil Kings as more than a viable fit for their new prospect, especially compared to his USHL alternative. That said, I've never heard of a NHL team outright forcing a player to choose between the NCAA and the CHL; they'll offer their opinion and give advice of course, but if a player has his heart set on one choice or the other... they'll allow him and his family to make that final decision.
I touched base with Fogarty last week who confirmed that the Rangers had expressed their desire for him to consider the WHL but suggested the BCHL if his inclination was to still pursue the NCAA route.
I was actually trying to book Fogarty as a guest for our Saturday show but the timing didn't work because, according to the Minnesota product, he would be in Penticton looking at what the Vees program was like. We have tentatively agreed to have Fogarty join us on this Tuesday's edition of The Pipeline Show.
By the sounds of it, we won't be talking about how he will make his choice but rather, how he did make it. According to a press release relayed by an East Coast blog called "The World of Junior Hockey", Fogarty has agreed to join the Jr.A club for the upcoming 2011-12 season.
Head coach Fred Harbinson is quoted in the release saying "Steven is a two way player that brings more size and scoring ability to our lineup. Our organization has been fortunate to have had 3 of the top 100 players from this past NHL Draft commit to play for us this upcoming season".
This will certainly be disappointing news for the Oil Kings who likely envisioned a New York Rangers 1-2 punch down the middle of Michael St. Croix centering the top line with Fogarty right behind him. Fogarty had 23 goals and 17 assists in 24 games last season for Edina High School in Minnesota and then finished the year with the USHL's Chicago Steel (2 goals in 6 games) where, I'm told, the Rangers really did not want him returning to for 2011-12.
It's still a month or so before training camps open so technically, things can still change. However, this news seems to paint a pretty clear picture; Fogarty has his heart set on playing for coach Jeff Jackson and the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame in 2012-13 and, since the Rangers don't want him going back to Chicago in the USHL, it's off to Penticton for one season.
The Oil Kings will continue to be an excellent option if something changes along the way. They now have 7 roster players with NHL affiliations; Mark Pysyk (BUF), Kristians Pelss (EDM), Travis Ewanyk (EDM), Michael St. Croix (NYR), Keegan Lowe (CAR), Martin Gernat (EDM) and Laurent Brossoit (CGY). Cameron Abney (EDM) is eligible to return taking that number up to 8 but most expect him to move on to the ECHL.
Plus, at this point, Griffin Reinhart appears to be a sure-fire lock to be a 1st round pick in the 2012 draft. The Oil Kings hold the rights to Henrik Samuelsson who has decided to leave the US-NTDP and play a season in Sweden, get drafted in 2012 and potentially move back to North America and join the Oil Kings for a Memorial Cup run in 2012-13. Let's not forget Curtis Lazar will play his rookie season this year in Edmonton as well after a record setting performance at the Canada Games last spring to wet the appetite of the local fan base.
This is a club that could realistically challenge for a top four finish in the Eastern Conference this year giving them home ice advantage in the opening round of the playoffs. 2012-13 could be a special one for the team and NHL clubs like the Rangers, will recognize that too.
That's not to suggest that playing at Notre Dame, a program that went to the Frozen Four last year, would be a mistake. But having the opportunity to play upwards of 100 meaningful games from September right through to the end of May is not something to be discounted either and that's what a Memorial Cup contending team can do.
It appears to be a fait accompli, but, it would be wise for all parties concerned to keep their options open.
**UPDATE** - Fogarty is now confirmed to be joining Dean and I on TPS tomorrow evening (July 12th).