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.


Jamie said...

Any word on why William Quist isn't among the players in ShPk? Is it expected he'll make the trip for the Rookies camp in August instead?

Guy Flaming said...

Quist isn't here because he's writing exams in school all next week. He should be here in the fall but he has signed with the Nybro Vikings and the Oilers aren't thrilled about that - they'd much prefer to see him in the CHL getting big minutes as a 19 year old than as a spare part in the Swedish version of the ECHL.

doritogrande said...

I'm also a bit concerned about Quist, but I believe there is a loop-hole in his contract with the Swedish team that he can opt out if he's drafted by a CHL team. I have also been lead to believe that Quist would much prefer to play in North America, because of the increased physicality.

I think he'd fit right in playing in the Dub, but I'd love to see him terrorize the Q with his hitting. The scorer-friendly league wouldn't know what hit them.

Guy Flaming said...

Doritogrande: I've spoken with Quist about CHL/Sweden and he seems to feel that playing in a mens league there, even though it's 2 levels below the SEL, is better for him than the CHL.

The Oilers disagree completely because they think he'll be a 13th forward for Nybro and play sparringly when he's not a healthy scratch.

He does have an escape clause though to play in North America I'm told.

Jamie said...

Nybro is actually in the tier II Allsvenska, that is to say, only one step below the SEL.
His team last year, Tingsryd IF, was two steps below the SEL in tier III (the so-called Div 1).

It is a difficult decision: dominate a junior league in a strange new country, or compete against men in Sweden's second best league while living at home.

Nybro features what some say is the best developmentally focused coach in Tier II, Lenny Eriksson. Nybro is Quist's childhood club team, and he's had contact with Eriksson before.