Saturday, August 23, 2014

Three's a Crowd

The Edmonton Oil Kings will have plenty of tough decisions to make over the next month as they try to assemble a team capable of making Memorial Cup defence.  GM Randy Hansch and head coach Steve Hamilton need to replace 7 members of that championship team, maybe 9, and a plethora of would-be rookies are vying for their attention as we speak.

One of the toughest choices the organization will have to make will be with the import department. Edgars Kulda and Mads Eller are forwards who would be welcomed back by the club and defenceman Marsel Ibragimov was just added at the end of June. 

However, CHL regulations state that a team can only have two imports on their roster so the Oil Kings could be facing a scenario that they really don't want to. 

After the jump, all of the possible outcomes.

Photo: Aaron Bell
Edgars Kulda is coming off a Memorial Cup MVP performance and even though it's uncommon for a CHL team to play a 20-year old Euro, the Oil Kings would love to have the Latvian back for another season. 

The product of Riga scored 30 goals and 60 points in 66 regular season games for Edmonton last year before adding 22 in 21 WHL playoff contests. His 7 points in London at the Memorial Cup resulted in the photo above and ended with his 7th round selection by the Arizona Coyotes at the draft. 

Until that moment on June 28th, everyone just assumed Kulda would be back with the Oil Kings. There was some notion that an offer from the KHL might come his way but that Kulda was eager to be back in Edmonton for a final year. 

Now the possibility exists that, should he earn it at Coyotes camp, Kulda could being playing in the AHL with the Portland Pirates this year and that would solve any further problem. Of course it's also feasible (and more probable) that the Coyotes will assign Kulda back to Edmonton. It will depend on his play at camp; as it should. 

Photo: Aaron Bell
Meanwhile, Mads Eller is due to return to Edmonton for his sophomore season and the bar of expectations is set high for the 2014-15 season. The Dane took a while to adapt his European game to fit with the Oil Kings but comparing him from last September to the the player he became by May, he was a much drastically improved player. 

Eller plays like a human missile; fast as hell and eager to blow something up. The problem early on was that he had no sense of control or when the smart play was to not throw the hit. By January he'd started to figure things out and had also found some offensive touch as well which led to confidence. 

By the time the playoffs and Memorial Cup rolled around, Eller was more than a bit player; he was part of a valuable third line with Riley Kieser and Luc Bertolucci. 

Eller was not drafted in June but he was invited to and attended development camp in Phoenix with Kulda and the Coyotes. The Dallas Stars have invited Eller to their main camp this fall but even if he blows their socks off and they sign him, I'm told he still can't play in the AHL until he's 20 despite not having been drafted.         

Photo: Edmonton Oil Kings
The third piece to the puzzle is newly added Russian blueliner Marsel Ibragimov who no one in Oil Kings management has seen play yet with their own eyes. The blueliner is in town and will hit the ice when main camp opens on Monday. 

Having just turned 17 earlier this month, Ibragimov is a guy who could play for the Oil Kings for 3 years. Lots of things could affect that obviously but it's a nice age to add a player as you hope he can contribute for more than just a single season. 

I'm told he's a two-way guy although let's be honest, outside of him being 6'2, no one over here knows a heck of a lot about Ibragimov yet. Apparently the list of words in his English vocabulary is shorter than my Russian one and I know all of about 5 words, one of which means "Shithead".

The possibility is there that Kulda is signed and sent to play minor pro in the Coyotes' system but I think most expect he'll be returned to Edmonton by the end of September. That would be a problem. 

Photo: Arizona Coyotes
As I mentioned earlier, CHL teams are only allowed to have a pair of imports with the new exception having been made last year which allowed the Quebec Remparts to have three. That rule is only in effect if one of the imports is a NHL 1st round pick who was returned to the CHL club after the NHL camp - Mikhail Grigorenko was that guy last year. 

That rule wouldn't apply in this case as Kulda was a 7th round pick and Eller wasn't selected at all. 

So, Edmonton would have to move one of the imports to get in line with the import rule. For those that aren't aware, a recent CHL bylaw stipulates that the team cannot trade an import player who would be playing his rookie year in the league. That means that the Oil Kings would not be allowed to trade Ibragimov and would be force instead to deal either Kulda or Eller. 

Dealing Kulda, even with his Memorial Cup MVP, would not be easy. Certainly GM Randy Hansch would not be seen as dealing from a position of strength and his options would be limited to teams that not only have room for a Euro but also for a 20-year-old. The return might be a fraction of Kulda's actual value so I would expect Edmonton to explore other options first. 

Photo: Andy Devlin
The other obvious option would be to trade Eller which should, in theory, be easier because he's 19 but that still might only bring back a draft pick instead of a warm body. It may be more feasible to see Eller packaged with another player in a 2-for-2 or 2-for-1-and-a-pick type of swap. Purely speculation on my part.

However, there is a third scenario worth considering as well. The Oil Kings could simply drop the rights to Ibragimov thus exposing him to league waivers. 

Everything I have heard makes me believe that the team is really interested in having the big Russian on board this year but what if his play in camp isn't up to standards? The team has 8 or 9 defencemen in camp, including a couple of 16-year-olds, who could push for consideration so a spot for Ibragimov isn't necessarily a lock.  Especially if keeping him means losing one of Kulda or Eller for less than their true value to the team.

I'm also told that Ibragimov's agent was told of that possibility weeks ago so should it actually happen, it shouldn't come as a shock to he or to the player.  

Yet it's easy for me to envision the veteran Kulda helping Ibragimov get acclimated to North America as the two can actually communicate. Kulda is a great teammate and would excel in that sort of a role. 

That said, nothing is for certain and you could make a paint a reasonable picture that would have any of the three no longer with the organization in a month. Eventually one will have to go but who that will be won't be known for weeks yet.

Camp Notes

I spent Friday morning in Ft. Sakatchewan at Oil Kings rookie camp and came away with a few thoughts and tidbits.  Keep in mind that this was after the first practices on the first day of rookie camp... lots of practices and games still to go.
  • I'm told as many as 30 of the 86 players at rookie camp will continue on to Monday's main camp. Most are drafted and listed players but there may be an invite or two that carry over from the weekend. 
  • There is early camp buzz around goaltender Carter Phair. He was a 10th round pick back in 2013 and doesn't turn 16 until December but the Saskatchewan native has already come a long way from a year ago. From 5'9 and 145 lbs when he was drafted, Phair is easily 6'2 now and looked down right imposing on Friday.
  • Conventional thinking would see 2012 1st round pick Patrick Dea a near automatic for the roster this year behind Tristan Jarry but the St.Albert goalie will have to earn it. Other than Phair, Dea will be tested by Sherwood Park Crusaders keeper Zac Klassen who will attend camp by invite.

Photo: Andy Devlin
  • Also back for main camp will be last year's back up Tyler Santos. Held in high regard by everyone in the organization, Santos isn't in the picture for the Oil Kings this year but just having him around will be a positive for the club. Also, while Jarry is away at Pittsburgh Penguins camp, Santos can dress and thus bank another year of WHL scholarship support so it's a win-win.
  • A handful of 15 and 16-year-olds left me wanting to see more of them today. Big Kyle Yewchuk looks ready to pick up where he left off last year's camp and that's a very good thing. At 6'4 (if not more), the Calgary kid is already a handful. 
  • Two listed players stood out in a good way as well. The first was Tyson Gruninger who scored 30 goals and 54 points with the MMAAA Leduc Oil Kings last season. 
  • The other was 6'2 Braeden Nesbitt who showed an intriguing combination of wheels and hands. Nesbitt was an invite last year that worked his way onto the Oil Kings protection list.       

Oil Kings rookie camp is underway in Fort Saskatchewan with inter-squad games running until Sunday night. Main camp opens on Monday, also in Ft.Sask, with the annual Red/White game on Wednesday. The Oil Kngs Pre-season Invitational goes next weekend in St. Albert with the home team taking on both Swift Current and Saskatoon. 

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Matthews looked good last night in goal. 2014 1st round pick Kobe Mohr looked good as well.Grayson Constable was trying to hit everything, liked what saw of him.