Saturday, May 31, 2008

The Mind It Is A Changin'

Yesterday I reported that Taylor Chorney was not going to attend Oilers prospect camp this weekend. Today the Oilers are saying he is coming. In an earlier entry I penned that this was what I thought would happen in the end. Was it just posturing from the Chorney camp? In my opinion yes.

I have been told that there is no change when it comes to contract negotiations, but there is time to get that done, and maybe by being in Edmonton it will give Chorney the incentive to get one done, despite what he might be hearing from his advisor and others.

The main thing is that the promising 2nd round pick from 2005 will be in attendance and will get some guidance on the kind of off season training he'll need for next year, which let's hope is in Springfield and not back at the University of North Dakota.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Who's Who at Prospect Camp

The Edmonton Oilers have 26 players coming to town to take part in their annual summer prospect orientation camp and included in the mix are a handful of free agent invites and others making their first ever appearance at an Oilers session.

Need a bit of a refresher or an intro to some of the names? Here we go...

Let's begin in net where the two masked men will be Glenn Fisher and Bryan Pitton. Both players recently signed new contracts with Pitton definitely headed to Stockton next year to be the main man for the Thunder and Fisher expected to be the back up to Devan Dubnyk in Springfield as long as he shows he is capable of the promotion.

The 6 blueliners will be an interesting group to watch for sure. Jeff Petry, who I have ranked as the #1 prospect in the organization at HF, will be making his second appearance but first full one. Last year he missed half of it when he went to Colorado to receive the Top USA Junior of the Year award. After a strong freshman campaign at MSU it will intriguing to see if there is a noticeable difference in him on the ice here.

Theo Peckham, ranked #7 by me, will be a player that the media gravitates to for certain after making his NHL debut last year in a 1-game call up. The Toronto native has been described to me as a 'man-child' and it was clear to me at the Fall 2006 camp just how much GM Kevin Lowe admired him.

Providence College's loss is Edmonton gain. Cody Wild, ranked 8th and pictured here in his old Jr. Bruins gear, finished 2007-08 with Springfield in the AHL. He'll be returning to the Falcons this season and should play a huge role as a go-to offence provider from the backend.

2007 1st rounder Alex Plante will make his summer camp debut and after 3 weeks of training in California with Chad Moreau he should be one of the most prepared players on the ice next week. Like Col. Steve Austin (that's a 6 Millon Dollar Man TV show reference for you kids)... Plante has to get "bigger... stronger... faster". I like the dedication he's shown already and have a good feeling going forward that this is a guy who has a heck of a rebound year. I currently have Plante ranked 12th by the way.

Sebastien Bisaillon was having a breakout year last season, at least in AHL terms, until a severe injury knocked him out for most of the second half. I have him ranked 18th and admittedly it's a bit of a leap of faith in that he can recapture his pre-injury form and pick up where he left off from. That might be too much to expect but he's a kid with a great attitude and a ton of determination so I wouldn't bet against him.

The unknown on the backend will be free agent invite John Schwarz who played at Michigan Tech. He's a 6'3, 210lb native of Calgary and comes to camp on the recommendation of Walt Kyle (Northern Michigan) and Jamie Russell the head coach of the Huskies. Schwarz was an alternate captain for 'Tech' and just completed his junior season. It's the first camp invite Schwarz has ever had so he's coming with nerves and excitment in tow. "He's got offensive tools, his skatings a little rough but with a couple years in the minors he might be OK," said one source.

There are 18 forwards in all coming to camp including the player The Pipeline Show has given official 'Prospect to Watch' status. Chris Vande Velde has completed two years at North Dakota and has rapidly climbed the depth chart there and is now sitting 6th on my Top 20 list at HF. He had 32 points in 43 games and was a big reason the Sioux returned to the Frozen Four despite losing Jonathon Toews to the NHL last summer.

The other player all media will be watching for is Riley Nash; he was the third 1st round pick the Oilers made last year. After winning pretty much every award he was eligible to win last season as a freshman at Cornell, Nash will make his debut at an Oiler camp giving fans their first opportunity to see for themselves what the player looks like on the ice. He's slotted into the #4 spot on my list.

It wasn't a banner year for Ryan O'Marra on or off the ice as he struggled to find his place in the organization after bouncing around between the AHL and ECHL. Now healthy and ready to play for the new coaching staff in Springfield, it's expected he'll get a much bigger role with the Falcons than he had last year. O'Marra is currently #10 on the top 20 list.

Like Pitton, Plante and O'Marra, former Denver Pioneer Geoff Paukovich is also coming to camp fresh off his training stint in California. The big forward was deemed out of shape by pro standards last year so it will be interesting to see how he looks after a full season at this level. While most fans seem to have already discounted 'Pauko' the Colorado native is one of the few big forwards the Oilers have in their system right now and that was a weakness they had in Springfield last year.

Colin McDonald will be a second year pro this season and will definitely look to improve on the performance he had as a rookie. With only 1 point to his credit in the last 2 months of the schedule, McDonald was obviously not happy with his offence especially considering he was a guy expected to score in the AHL last year. Like many collegians though he seemed to hit a wall half way through the season.

Robby Dee (or just Rob as the Oiler site seems to suggest) returns for the second straight summer and after a rather uninspiring freshman campaign wth the Maine Black Bears the former 3rd rounder is trying to reload and refocus for the coming year. He had just 3 points with Maine and prompted development coach Bob Mancini to suggest that Dee hasn't figured out his role yet which should be to go to the net and plunk his big 6'1 frame in front and bang in garbage goals. I personally liked what I saw from Dee at this same camp last year but he's well off my Top 20 list.

Michigan State Spatans captain Bryan Lerg will make his first appearance in Edmonton as well next week. After winning the NCAA National Title in 2007 and signing with the Oilers earlier this spring, Lerg will get his first taste of what the organization expects from it's prospects when it comes to training over the summer.

Tough guy Adam Huxley may be small in stature but he's got big respect from anyone who has seen him willing to tangle with anyone. He's spent the last two seasons defendig his mates in Stockton but could be a guy in the mix for an AHL job this coming year. The 6'0 pugilist had his second consecutive 200 PIM season with the Thunder.

Slovakia's Milan Kytnar was a 2007 draftee by Edmonton and so he'll get his first taste of the summer camp as well. Kytnar played in a checking role with the Kelowna Rockets and got a passing grade from the WHL club's coaching staff and 2008 eligible players like Luke Schenn and Brandon MacMillan. The just turned 19-year-old had 22 points last season.

And speaking of Kelowna, Troy Bodie and Tyler Spurgeon are back for another go at summer camp. The pair of former Rockets will be playing for their former WHL tutor as Jeff Truitt is expected to be the head coach in Springfield this season. Bodie is coming off a growth year in the AHL after spending the majority of his rookie season in the ECHL. Spurgeon is hoping to find that he's fully recovered from his severe concussion issues that kept him out of the majority of 2007-08.

Stephane Goulet will also be back in town and after finding some success as last seaosn went on he'll be bringing some confidence with him. This is a player who was described as a major long shot when Edmonton drafted him back in the 7th round of 2004 but so far Bill Dandy's find has at least eanred more opportunity.

The lone Swede attending camp is Linus Omark who won't be back for the regular season but could make the jump to North America in 2009-10. Omark had a solid year in Sweden's Elite League putting up 32 points in 55 games. I recently had a brief conversation with Omark and he's very much looking forward to the camp. I'm told he arrives on June 1st which is also the first day.

That leaves the five free agent forwards, well four really since Les Reaney is already singed to a minor league deal for next year. Reaney played in Stockton last year after 3 decent campaigns with Niagara in the NCAA's ECAC conference. He's big a 6'2 and 220 lbs and in his first two seasons he was more than a point per game player.

"He won the scoring title in the BCHL one year too," said Prendergast, "He's got hands and he's really good on faceoffs and I think if we can get him in half decent shape we could have a good player on our hands."

And that right there would be the knock; Reaney's conditioning has been questioned so getting him here at this camp is really important for him if the 23-year-old wants to take his game to the next level.

Information wasn't as available on Blair Riley who attended Ferris State. The former BCHL player also had decent numbers in that league and had 24 points in his sophomore season with Ferris State which plays in the CCHA, a respected NCAA Conference. He's a good skater but plays in a checking role and might top out as an ECHL player down the road.

Jamie Bates has completed his tenure with Quinnipiac University where he had three terrific offensive years although it's noteworthy to point out his stats declined each year. He went from 41 to 37 to 34 points in that same time. Bob Mancini had noticed Bates early on in the year and after a bit of back and forth with the player's agent an invite to prospect camp was agreed on. A good showing here will likely earn him an invite back to main camp in the fall and a possible minor league deal. He has a 6'3 frame, decent hands and some skill to go with them.
Mike Radja is another NCAA free agent and might be the most offensive of that group coing in for an audition. He had 43 points as a senior at New Hampshire, second best on the team for the Wildcats. According to one source, the 22 year old really had to be patient to get playing time in his early Wildcats career but it paid off in the end.

"In his freshman year he didn't really get to play much," said one source, "But by the end I think he was one of [coach] Umilie's favorite guys. He went from the third line as a freshman, grew and filled out over four years and really developed. He's got good hand skills, can make plays and although he's a pretty good scorer I think he's a better playmaker."

Lastly, and quite possibly most interestingly is newcomer Garet Hunt. At 5'8 and 190 lbs, the former Vancouver Giant is built like a fire hydrant is isn't afraid to dance with anyone. Hunt played 4 full seasons in the WHL, all of them with Vancouver, and obviously was with them when they won the 2007 Memorial Cup. This past year he collected 18 points and a whopping 239 minutes in penalties, many of which came in the fashion of the picture to the right.

"Every time I've seen this kid play, something has happened," said Kevin Prendergast, "He's a pit bull. He's vicious when he's on the ice and we didn't have that in Springfield this year and we got pushed around. He's not a heavyweight but every time he's on the ice he's going to make sure people know that he's out there. He's a real energy player and everybody is going to be on their toes when he's around."

The Oilers are one of only 2 teams that I am aware of that holds their summer rpsopect camp before the NHL Entry Draft (Florida being the other). It's their belief that because most players begin their off seaosn training right around this time, getting them in to see Chad Moreau and Steve Serdachny at the start of that will set them up better for the rest of the summer. It's unfortunate for the players Edmonton will draft on June 20th but the team does bring those players in privately and make sure they know the program as well.

Camp opens Sunday night with the first on-ice session on Monday at Milenium Place in Sherwood Park. For a full schedule click here.

Hrabal in, Chorney out...for now

It's a good news, bad news day for the Oilers when it comes to prospects. The news that the Josef Hrabal camp decided the offer the Oilers were making was indeed good enough, means a new 2 year-2 way contract for the Czech blueliner with some good offensive instincts. I was told today that Hrabal is a poor man's Denis Grebeshkov and with some AHL seasoning could turn into a valuable commodity for the Oilers. He skates really well and can move the puck effectively. Hrabal will not be at this week's prospect camp, but will come over for main camp and is expected to stay for the entire season, regardless of where he ends up playing.

Now for the bad news.

Taylor Chorney will not be in Edmonton this week for prospect camp, and there's a chance he won't be here for training camp in the fall as well. The negotiations between the Oilers and Chorney's advisor (he can't have an agent yet as it would ruin his college eligibility) are not going well. So bad in fact, there's a good chance the D-man might be returning to UND for his senior season.

In my opinion, it sounds like Chorney is getting some bad advice. What else does he have to accomplish at the college level. If anything his development will likely take a step back by playing for the Fighting Sioux one more year. And now with a guy like Hrabal about to get a full year of pro hockey in North America, it means another guy who will be ahead of Chorney on the development track.

I have been told the Oilers have made their final offer, and a deadline might soon be put in place for the Chorney camp to sign, or the Oilers will pull it off the table and he will have to return to college, which is something neither side wants.

Hrabal Signs With Edmonton

News today out of Oilerville that Edmonton has reached an agreement with defender Josef Hrabal and signed him to a 2-year 2-way contract. Many of you have probably never heard the name Josef Hrabal so allow me to give you a bit of background.

The Oilers drafted the Czech born rearguard (in the picture he's the player on the left wearing the dark NASCAR uniform) back in 2003 using an 8th round pick to do so. Credit should go to scout Frank Musil for finding Hrabal who had played 6 games in the top Czech men’s league during his draft year at the age of 18. Hrabal played parts of the next four years in the league before bolting for a bigger opportunity and a bigger pay cheque in Russia. There he hooked up with Severstal Cherepovets, the club he has played the last year and a half for.

Hrabal made his first appearance in Edmonton back in June of 2006 when he attended prospect camp at Rexall Place. Sitting with Kelly Buchberger that week I remember clearly how Hrabal surprised us by dominating a shootout drill with finesse moves no one was expecting.

Just three weeks ago I’d contacted Kevin Prendergast for an update on Hrabal’s contract status and this brief report is what I was given.

“He's got to be signed by June the 1st and if he's not signed then he'll become a free agent," said Kevin Prendergast, "We have made an offer and we're just waiting to hear back."

Shortly there after I received word that negotiations had fallen through and that Hrabal would indeed become a free agent June 1st. Well Something obviously changed in the last 14 days as the player and the team have reached an agreement. More on that when I get it.

Hrabal has some offensive abilities but it would be better to describe him more as a Ladislav Smid than a Denis Grebeshkov. His career high is the 13 points in 56 games (including playoffs) that he just earned this past year in Russia.

One thing the Oilers have learned over the last two injury plagued years are that you can’t have too many d-men in the system. With former UofA Golden Bears captain Harlan Anderson opting to playing in Germany next year instead of in Edmonton’s system, there is definitely room for Hrabal.

The fact that he has a 2-way contract means you can pencil him in for Springfield unless one of two things happens: he shocks the world and makes the Oielrs out of camp or he heads back to Russian instead of playing in the minor leagues of North America. I assume that the Oilers have some assurance that he won't do that but I have yet to confirm that. Keep in mind that Alexei Mikhnov had a similar deal except his was only a 1-year agreement whereas Hrabal has singed up for two.

I am still trying to confirm whether or not Hrabal will be at camp next week.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Workin' For A Livin' Part 2

A couple of weeks ago I updated everybody on the list of prospects who were traiing in California with Oilers fitness coach Chad Moreau. I've had a chance to talk with a couple of the players just to get a sense of what it was like, how long they were there, who may have come and gone and which vets were down there too.

Most of the prospects from the list (Dubnyk, Schremp, Paukovich and Rohlfs) arrived around the 12th of May. Two players went down earlier than that; Alex Plante was the first to arrive and may have been the last to leave and Ryan O'Marra opted to go 10 days earlier as well because of a planned family vacation after the 14th.

Plante, who missed most of last season due to injury, has really dedicated his off season to building strength and improving his skating. With Karl Alzner now signed by Washington and overage players like Ryan Gillan and Dan Mercer leaving the team, Plante will be counted on to return to his top pairing role with the Calgary Hitmen. It's also a season where at its conclusion, the Oilers will have to decide to either sign or release his rights so clearly there is a lot at stake for the Brandon native. One source told me that Plante spent a full 3 weeks in California which should give him a great leg up come prospect camp next week.

A knee injury hampered O'Marra's training schedule last year and he had an admittedly below average training camp in September as a result. The forward completed his 8-day session and then left for his vacation with the full approval of the organization. O'Marra will be in Edmonton next week for prospect camp.

Goaltender Bryan Pitton also joined the group in California arriving sometime after the 14th.

Veterans who were taking part in the training sessions included Ethan Moreau, Shawn Horcoff, Raffi Torres and New York Islander farmhand Kip Brennan.

Training typically last 2-2.5 hours a day with only Tuesdays and Sundays off.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Spokane's Smashing Success

The Spokane Chiefs have done what no American based CHL team has managed to do in the last decade - win the Memorial Cup. Not only did they wreak havoc on the competition but they pretty much destroyed the trophy in the process.

No seriously.

All jokes aside, and you can be sure that captain Chris Bruton will hear a ton of them over the next few weeks, the Spokane Chiefs are worthy champions and have done the WHL proud.

We expect to be speaking with tournament MVP and 2008 NHL Draft eligible goaltender Dustin Tokarski on Tuesday's show. More later on about the Chiefs and their big win.

Friday, May 23, 2008

No Taylor Made List

The Oilers announced the roster for their annual prospect camp starting June 1st, and there was one name noticably absent. North Dakota D-man Taylor Chorney, who did attend last year wasn't listed.

Now Chorney did injure his knee in the Fighting Sioux's final game during the NCAA Frozen Four tournament, but at the time it wasn't considered a serious injury and I'm told it's pretty much healed by now, so we should be able to rule that out.

I have spoken to several sources on this issue and have been told it is a contract issue, and that the agent is using whether Chorney comes to camp as a negotiating tactic.

I have also been told the first offer made was a little high and suprised the Oilers quite a bit.

Talks are continuing and I'm sure things will be taken care of before June 1st and Chorney will be on the ice at Millenium place. I'm sure he wants to be there, as much as the Oilers want him there.

Meanwhile there are some interesting players that will be there for sure.

Ryan O'Marra and Alex Plante both had seasons to forget and will be hoping to make good impressions for the Oilers brass.

Cody Wild and Bryan Lerg - signed after the NCAA season ended from Michigan State - will be trying to make the jump from college to the pro game.

And Chris Vande Velde is starting to look like a great find by the oilers, drafted in the 4th round of 2005, the power forward looked like a man among boys at times last year with UND.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Great Danes!

How far down your list of developing hockey powers is Denmark? Yes Denmark, the home of the Little Mermaid, Vikings and Metallica's drummer is also slowly becoming a legitimate hockey nation.

OK before you start in on me here, I'm not suggesting that the Danes are going to win the 2010 Olympics or win the next World Junior tournament. What I am saying is that like Switzerland, Germany and even Latvia... Denmark is getting to the point of credibility in the tier below the true hockey power nations.

Canada, Russia, Sweden, Finland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and the United States have been the 7 hockey powers for the last couple of decades and really, Slovakia hasn't been a member in the club for all that long and not on an annual basis either.

But back to the Danes and why I believe they're ready for permanent promotion up the ladder. Just look at the number of Danes being drafted in the last 5 years alone. Sure they might not be everyday NHL players just yet but all are still with the teams that drafted them and many have played in the NHL already, are on the farm or are still playing junior.

In 2002 the New York Islanders drafted Frans Nielsen in the 3rd round and has played 31 NHL games to date but appears in the loop for a regular job next year. In 102 AHL games with Bridgeport, Nielsen has 30 goals and 82 points.

Two years later a pair of Danes were drafted starting with Peter Regin by Ottawa in round 3 and then Jannik Hansen by Vancouver in the 9th round. Regin has completed 3 straight years in the Swedish Elite League but rumors are he may be ready to make the change to North America and the Sens still own his rights. He compiled 31 points in 55 games with Timra, 3rd best on his club.

Hansen has spent the last two seasons in the AHL with the Manitoba Moose and has 77 points over the two seasons. Many felt that Hansen would crack the Canucks roster last fall but an injury kept him on the farm and he lost his spot.

There were 3 players drafted in 2005 that have ties to Denmark. Morten Madsen was plucked by the Minnesota Wild in the 4th round and after scoring 100 points in the QMJHL with Victoriaville, he spent 2007-08 in Houston with the AHL Aeros. Although he only scored 3 times in the AHL, the 32 goals that he netted with the Tigres suggest an offensive upside yet to be tapped into.

Russian born but Denmark raised forwards Kirill Starkov and Slava Trukhno were drafted by the Columbus Blue Jackets and Edmonton Oilers respectively. Starkov spent a season in the WHL with the Red Deer Rebels and had 71 points in 72 games. However, this past season the Yekaterinburg native bounced between the ECHL and the AHL but produced with both teams.

Trukhno was a dominant force in the QMJHL and had 3 straight 25-goal seasons and ended his junior career with 106 points last season in Gatineau. This past season he developed slowly in the AHL with Springfield before having a burst of production late in the year.

Last June the St. Louis Blues stepped up and made Lars Eller the highest drafted player from Denmark when they snapped him up with the 13th overall pick. Eller split his time between the SEL and the top junior league and may be a player who comes to the CHL next season or plays a bigger role in the SEL.

The trend is going to continue this year when Mikkel Boedker of the Kitchener Rangers is selected, likely in the top 10. His head coach Pete DeBoer recently told us during our 3rd Annual Memorial Cup Coach's Show that he felt Boedker was the most NHL-ready player in the draft next to Steven Stamkos and predicted that he'd be in the NHL next year. Boedker was a standout at the Top Prospects Game and has been all year with the Rangers too and certainly has been in the sights of scouts all season. Vetern blogger James Mirtle mentions Boedker a couple of times at his site recently (link).

Lesser known defenceman Philip Larsen will also get drafted after playing in Sweden this past year. Both he and Boedker were on Denmark's entry at the 2008 World Junior Championship in Prague.

There is also OHL netminder Sebastien Dahm worth mentioning. Dahm has now completed his junior eligibility and will likely get pro offers from both sides of the Atlantic. The 20-year-old has played for 4 different OHL teams and has been a populare trade deadline asset for teams looking to add a stronger netminder.

Collectively that's a lot of talent and worthy of respect. This is a group that should be able to contend with the Germans and the Swiss for the next several years and if development back home continues, who knows how far the Scandinavian country can go. Maybe 15 years from now we're looking at Denmark on a level close to or equal with Finland and Sweden.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Workin' For A Livin'

Training sessions in California with Oilers fitness guru Chad Moreau have been going on for a couple of weeks and this year several Edmonton prospects are taking part.

Zack Stortini (picture courtesy Back To Function) took part last year and it clearly paid off for him.

Looking to share in that success are a half dozen Oiler prospects who played in the minors this past season. Goaltender Devan Dubnyk, defenceman Alex Plante and forwards Rob Schremp, Ryan O'Marra, Geoff Paukovich and David Rohlfs.

All are players the organization has targetted for speed and conditioning improvement. Plante is coming off as injury plagued campaign with the WHL's Calgary Hitmen and is taking full advantage of the summer to train and recover some of that lost time. Both Paukovich and Rohlfs are in the 6'4 and 230 lbs range so conditioning and mobility are keys for their future. Both Schremp and O'Marra have dedicated themselves to being in top condition for training camp in the fall after having reduced workout time last summer due to knee injuries.

All are still in California with the exception of O'Marra who left for personal reasons. The soon to be 21-year-old will be in Edmonton for mini-camp which begins June 1st.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Coaching Carousel

Seeing as Kevin Lowe has come out and said Rob Daum won't be back with the Oilers in his assistant coaching position, I figured I would throw my 2 cents on the situation.

It seems pretty obvious to me (and likely many others as well) that the Oilers will bring Kelly Buchberger up to the big club as an assistant coach next season. I think this was decided before last season. Rob Daum's one year contract tells me that, and so have some other people in the last couple of weeks.

Where that leaves Rob Daum is the million dollar question. I have heard from more than one person that with Buchberger leaving Springfield, the job was going to Jeff Truitt, an assistant coach in Springfield this year. That is until Daum threw his hat in the ring. Daum should likely get the job if he wants it, which I'm told he does. Truitt is a good young up and coming coach. He spent 5 years as an assistant coach in the WHL before getting the head coaching job in Kelowna and guiding the Rockets to a Memorial Cup berth in 2005. His time will come, but it might not be now if Daum is in the running.

Rob Daum has coached at the WHL level and has excelled at the CIS level. He also won 50 games as the bench boss for the Houston Aeros. But all of these credentials makes me think he won't be coaching in Springfield. I think Rob Daum might get scooped up by an NHL team. After all, it happened to Geoff Ward last summer (joining the Boston Bruins as an assistant coach) and he only has one more year of head coaching experience at the AHL level than Daum. I know it's all about connections, but I find it hard to believe that Rob Daum doesn't know enough people in the league to atleast warrant a few phone calls or an interview.

What puzzles me is how the Oilers did this. On August 1st, 2007, Geoff Ward joined the Bruins, saying goodbye to his job as head coach in Springfield. 2 Days later the Oilers handed Ward's old job to Buchberger. Then on August 13th, they hired Daum as an assistant coach. If their plan all along was to bring Buchy up to the big club, why not do it then, offer Daum the minor league position and you don't have to make an awkward switch this year?

In a sense, Daum was a lame duck coach this year, possibly knowing when he was hired that he wouldn't be back next year and that this was Craig Mactavish's plan all along. MacTavish is the head coach, and he should get to choose his staff, but it still seems odd that he would bring a guy knowing he wouldn't be around the next season.

In the bigger picture, I think Rob Daum will be the best thing for the Oilers prospects on the farm, if he makes it there. If not, then Truitt will likely get the gig and probably to a great job, but the Oilers will lose a brilliant mind in Rob Daum should another NHL team snap him up.

4 Key Players

The Memorial Cup kicks off tonight with the host Kitchener Rangers taking on the Gatineau Olympiques. Before the tournament begins we wanted to offer up the names of 4 players we think get overlooked and yet could have a major impact on the success or lack their of for their particular squad.

P.K. Subban - Belleville Bulls

Belleville's offensive leader from the backend is the epitome of a team player according to head coach George Burnett. Subban became nationally recognized after making Canada's World Junior team as the 7th defenceman. Drafted 43rd overall in 2007 by Montreal the Toronto native had 8 goals and 46 points in the regular season but has added 8 more goals and 23 points in the OHL playoffs. He's got a big shot and that makes him a threat.

Judd Blackwater - Spokane Chiefs

5th on the team in scoring during the regular season with 31 goals and 60 points but the 20-year-old has stepped it up even more so in the playoffs for the Chiefs. 10 goals and 18 points in 21 games for the Lethbridge born Blackwater helped earn him WHL Player of the Week recently. Head Coach Bill Peters has a ton of confidence in his second line which consists of Blackwater, Ondrej Roman and David Rutherford. The un-drafted Blackwater is 6'0 and 195 lbs and with the way he's played this season it would be hard to believe that a pro tryout somewhere isn't in the future for him.

Patrik Prokop - Gatineau Olympiques

The trade deadline acquisition has paid huge dividends for the Olympiques as Prokop led all QMJHL defencemen in playoff scoring with 28 points in 19 games. The native of the Czech Republic played for his country during the 2008 World Junior Tournament in his homeland. The 20-year-old is also undrafted but could make for a fine free agent signing this summer as every NHL team would like to add a puck mover to their backend. At 6'0 and 190 lbs, Prokop has average size.

Mike Duco - Kitchener Rangers

Duco has been with the Rangers his entire OHL career and the 20-year-old would like nothing more than to cap of his junior days with a Memorial Cup win. He's 5'10 and 195 lbs and when he hits he uses evey inch and ounce to his advantage. Duco is feisty and can be down right nasty; think Steve Ott at the junior level. He set new career highs in goals (32) and points (54) this season but in the playoffs has 16 goals and 22 points in 20 games. He's a leader and he's come to play.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Goaltending Wins Championships

Looking ahead to the Memorial Cup this weekend and one thing is clear; the team that gets the best performance out of their netminder will probably win.

We see it year after year in the Stanley Cup playoffs and it's no different at the minor league, NCAA or junior level. A hot goaltender is more often the not the deciding factor in whether a team wins or loses. In an event like the Memorial Cup where you have 4 teams where there is very little seperating them, at least on paper, it could all come down to which masked man makes the best stand.

It doesn't always work out that way though. Last year Jonathon Bernier and Matt Keetley were the top netminders at the Memorial Cup and yet Vancouver came away with the win. However, Tyson Sexsmith wasn't exactly a shrinking violet in net. Perhaps further to the point, the Plymouth Whalers were completely sunk because their goalie, Michal Neuvirth, really shit the bed and the club paid the price.

With that in mind, here's a look at the four goalies in the 2008 Memorial Cup.

Ryan Mior - Gatineau Olympiques

The un-drafted 20-year-old just set a new record this year with 270 QMJHL games played in a career surpassing Jacques Cloutier's 30-year-old record. Mior also set the new record for career shutouts (15) and a new team record for goose eggs in one season (6) which was previously held by Jose Theodore.

Mior got his start with the PEI Rocket but was dealt to Gatineau days before Christmas in 2006. The native of St. John's Newfoundland was chosen by the Rocket 7th overall in 2003. At 6'0 and 181 lbs he's an average sized goaltender.

Mike MurphyBelleville Bulls

Like Mior, Murphy is also un-drafted but in this case the goaltender is just finishing the first year as the bona fide starter for his team. You wouldn’t know it though with the way he’s played for the Bulls. This season Murphy was named OHL Goaltender of the Year twice and capped that off by winning the league Goaltender of the Year award as well. Recently on The Pipeline Show’s 3rd Annual Memorial Cup Coach’s Show, Belleville bench boss George Burnett talked about the importance Murphy has had for the success of his club this season. He ended the OHL campaign with the best GAA (2.24) and save percentage (.929).

“The sign of a top goaltender in any league is that he gives you an opportunity to win each and every night and we didn't respond to the effort that he put forth [in Game 7]", said Burnett after his club lost the OHL final to Kitchener.

Murphy was hurt early in Game 1 of the series and did not play in Game 2. With the Bulls down 3-0 to the Rangers, Murphy's play was a big reason Belleville was able to force a 7th game.

"Murph's been outstanding," Burnett added, "I think he's a young man that is motivated by the lack of attention. I expect he's going to be a huge factor for our team over the next two weeks."

Josh UniceKitchener Rangers

The rookie has been a fantastic addition to the Rangers this season and has had top 5 stats all year long. Some of that will be attributed to the quality of the team in front of him but there is no denying that the Chicago Blackhawks prospect is a contributor to Kitchener’s strength and not someone along for the ride.

Unice, a 5'11 and 175 lb goaltender, played for the US national Development team last season. The Ohio native was a third round pick by Chicago which looks like a steal of a deal with the way he's played. He was ranked as the 15th best North American goalie heading into the draft but was the 6th masked man snapped up once the actual draft took place.

Unice ended the OHL season with the 3rd best GAA (2.45) and share of the top spot for shutouts (4).

Dustin Tokarski - Spokane Chiefs

Unbelievable. That's the word to describe how Spokane's netminder has played in the post season. Tokarski's 1.38 GAA and .944 SV% is outstanding and a major reason why the Chiefs have reached the Memorial Cup. The 2008 eligible netminder hails from Watson, Sk and is currently listed by Central Scouting as 7th in North America... but that's going to change, guaranteed.

Tokarski is 5'11 and 185 lbs so pretty much par for the course compared to the other 3 netminders at the Memorial Cup. In the WHL's Western Conference series against Tri-City the clubs went the full 7 games but 5 of them needed extra time. Tokarski allowed a total of 10 goals against in that series and just 5 more in the 4-game sweep over Lethbridge to claim the WHL crown.

Another strong performance at the Memorial Cup could lift Tokarski into top 5 contention for goalies in the class of 2008.

This past Tuesday we were pleased to present or 3rd Annual Memorial Cup Coach's Show. If you missed it live you can click the archive... right here.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Joe's Journey

During the Royal Bank Cup it was The Pipeline Show's pleasure to have Joe Colborne give us an insiders look at what playing for a National Championship was like. We would like to thank Joe for his great daily updates, and wish him the best in the future, especially this June when he is expected to be selected fairly high at the NHL draft. Here is Joe's final entry. In our opinion it speaks to his character, that even after a tough loss, he is willing to share his thoughts with hockey fans. Enjoy we certainly did during the entire Royal Bank Cup...thanks again Joe, for giving us an inside look at your Journey:

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Joe's Journey - Day 9

Each Day of the Royal Bank Cup, Camrose Kodiaks forward Joe Colborne, who's predicted to be a first round NHL draft pick this June will give us a first hand look at what it's like playing for a National Championship. (photo courtesy Camrose Kodiaks) Here's Day 9, Saturday May 10th, 2008:

Friday, May 9, 2008

Joe's Journey - Day 8

Each Day of the Royal Bank Cup, Camrose Kodiaks forward Joe Colborne, who's predicted to be a first round NHL draft pick this June will give us a first hand look at what it's like playing for a National Championship. (photo courtesy Camrose Kodiaks) Here's Day 8, Thursday May 9th, 2008:

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Joe's Journey- Day 7

Each Day of the Royal Bank Cup, Camrose Kodiaks forward Joe Colborne, who's predicted to be a first round NHL draft pick this June will give us a first hand look at what it's like playing for a National Championship. (photo courtesy Camrose Kodiaks) Here's Day 7, Thursday May 8th, 2008:

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Joe's Journey- Day 6

~Joe's Journey- Day 6

Each Day of the Royal Bank Cup, Camrose Kodiaks forward Joe Colborne, who's predicted to be a first round NHL draft pick this June will give us a first hand look at what it's like playing for a National Championship. (photo courtesy Camrose Kodiaks) Here's Day 6, Wednesday May 7th, 2008:

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Joe's Journey- Day 5

Each Day of the Royal Bank Cup, Camrose Kodiaks forward Joe Colborne, who's predicted to be a first round NHL draft pick this June will give us a first hand look at what it's like playing for a National Championship. (photo courtesy Camrose Kodiaks) Here's Day 5, Tuesday May 6th, 2008:

Joe's Journey-Day 4

Each Day of the Royal Bank Cup, Camrose Kodiaks forward Joe Colborne, who's predicted to be a first round NHL draft pick this June will give us a first hand look at what it's like playing for a National Championship. (photo courtesy Camrose Kodiaks) Here's Day 4, Monday May 5th, 2008:

Monday, May 5, 2008

Pitton' Ink to Paper

The Pipeline Show has learned that a contract between the Edmonton Oilers and goaltender Bryan Pitton is as good as done.

One source told me today that the paperwork is all done and that it's just a simple matter of the player scratching his name on the bottom line to salt the agreement away.

That said, expect a formal annoucement from the Oilers in the next week or so. A bit tongue in cheek there but TPS did publicize both the Cody Wild and Pitton ATO signings several days before the organization was heard from.

Pitton was Edmonton's 5th round selection back in 2006. This past season he was an OHL All-Star while a member of the Brampton Battalion where he put together a 22-13-2 record in 39 games (sidelined with a high ankle sprain to start the year). He had a 2.54 GAA and .911 SV% during the regular season and improved both of those in the playoffs where he posted 1.80 GAA and .938 SV% in Brampton's first round loss.

It would seem most logical to slot Pitton into the Stockton Thunder line up for 2008-09 but it remains to be seen what will be done with netminder Glenn Fisher who played there this past season for the Oilers. Fisher's entry level contract expires at the end of June but there are those in the organization who would like to bring him back, perhaps on a 100% minor league deal.

Pitton will be in Edmonton in June for the Oilers summer prospect camp.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Joe's Journey-Day 3

Each Day of the Royal Bank Cup, Camrose Kodiaks forward Joe Colborne, who's predicted to be a first round NHL draft pick this June will give us a first hand look at what it's like playing for a National Championship. (photo courtesy Camrose Kodiaks) Here's Day 3, Sunday May 4th, 2008:

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Joe's Journey Day 2

Each Day of the Royal Bank Cup, Camrose Kodiak forward Joe Colborne, who's predicted to be a first round NHL draft pick this June will give us a first hand look at what it's like playing for a National Championship. (photo courtesy Camrose Kodiaks) Here's Day 2:

Friday, May 2, 2008

Joe's Journey-Day 1

Each Day of the Royal Bank Cup, Camrose Kodiak forward Joe Colborne, who's predicted to be a first round NHL draft pick this June will give us a first hand look at what it's like playing for a National Championship. Here's Day 1:

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Joe's Journey

The Pipeline Show is glad to welcome aboard Joe Colborne for the next 10 days. Ranked 23rd overall by International Scouting Services, Colborne plays for the Camrose Kodiaks, and will lead his team into the Royal Bank Cup this weekend in Cornwall. Aside from finishing 2nd in AJHL scoring with 90 points in 55 games this year, Colborne was also named playoff MVP, and today was given the nod as the Canadian Junior "A" player of the year. Each day during the RBC, Joe will jot down his thoughts right here at Find out first hand what it's like to represent Camrose at the Junior "A" National Championship through Joe's Journey.