Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Top 5 Tuesday

This week, I am taking a look at the top 5 Oilers drafts picks of the new
Millennium, which is basically since the current management group, minus Steve Tambellini, took over.

5. Theo Peckham-3rd round, 75th overall, 2006
Yes I know he's only played one game, but this one is being based on potential, and will be the only player to make the list because of it. The Oilers didn't have a 1st round pick in 2006 after dealing it to Minnesota as part of the Dwayne Roloson package. After selecting Jeff Petry (who could be on a similar list in a few years) they grabbed Peckham in the 3rd round, 75th overall. Up until that point, the Richmond Hill product had amassed 445 penalty minutes in 128 games with the Owen Sound Attack of the OHL. After getting drafted, Peckham scored 10 goals - including a hattrick - which was 3 more than his 2 previous years combined. He totalled 35 points a career high by 10. But the Oilers didn't draft him for his soft hands. In 59 games last year with Springfield, the stay at home blueliner racked up 174 penalty minutes. So far he hasn't looked out of place at Oilers camp or during the pre-season. He's jumped into fights to protect teammates, dished out a few checks, and worked really well with partner Taylor Chorney. The two could become a pairing for years to come. I asked one member of Oilers management recently if the team wanted to see Chorney and Peckham play together all year in the AHL. To paraphrase the response I received: yes, but he's making a real push to make the team now.

4. Andrew Cogliano-1st round, 25th overall, 2005
He already owns an NHL record for scoring 3 straight overtime goals, and his sticks and gloves from the games are in the Hockey Hall Of Fame. Cogliano was among a pretty good crop of prospects the Oilers harvested from 2005. Taylor Chorney and Slava Trukhno should star in Springfield this season and Chris Vande Velde shouldn't be far behind after he wraps up his 3rd year with the UND Fighting Sioux this season. But the 25th overall pick was the key "Cog" from the 2005 draft for the Oilers. Cogliano was a sniper in Junior A, scoring 62 goals in 86 games, and netting 102 points in his final season with the St. Mike's Buzzers (see left) before heading to Michigan. The Oilers drafted him before he went to college, and while he didn't light the world on fire with the Wolverines, scoring 36 goals in 77 career games, he did play for Canada twice, winning gold at the 2006 and 2007 World Junior Championships. Cogliano had 8 points in 12 career games with Canada.

Last year I made the prediction from rookie camp in Yellowknife that Cogliano was a candidate to fill Fernando Pisani's spot, after the dependable forward was sidelined with Ulcerative Colitis. He did more than that, scoring 45 points and was one of only 6 Oilers to be on the good side of the plus/minus stat with a plus 1 rating. Just 3 years after being drafted, Cogliano played in all 82 games for the Oilers and could be a sniper for years to come.

3. Kyle Brodziak-7th round, 214th overall, 2003
The 2003 draft is considered to be one of the best of all time. Names like Fleury, Staal, and Phaneuf come to mind. for the Oilers it was Pouliot, McDonald and Jacques with their first 3 picks. 5 selections later by the team, and the late Lorne Davis convinced Kevin Lowe and company to take a chance on a St. Paul product named Kyle Brodziak. The Moose Jaw forward had played almost 3 full seasons with the Warriors and was coming off a 32 goal season. Surely it was worth spending a
7th round pick on him. It turned out to be a wise decision.

The next season, which would be Brodziak's last with the Tribe, he upped his goal total to 39, and added 54 assists for 93 points. He also tallied 9 points in 10 playoff games. However, the questions about Brodziak surrounded his skating ability, or apparent lack there of. Guy and myself were in the press box at Rexall Place one evening, when Brodziak, then of the Edmonton Roadrunners had a breakaway from centre ice. He must have had atleast 3-4 strides on the D-man chasing him. We were stunned when Brodziak was caught. It was like he was skating in cement. I think there were a few other media members there as well, and one of them might have bet Robin Brownlee that Brodziak would never play in the NHL, but I might be mistaken on that one. Since that night Brodziak has improved his skating immensely (take note Rob Schremp haters) and notched 56 points in 68 games with Springfield in 2006-2007. Obviously if you watched the Oilers stretch run last year you saw how impactful Brodziak was on the Oilers fourth line. He notched 10 points in the team's final 12 games. It should be noted that he also went on 8 and 9 game pointless streaks throughout the year. But Brodziak is more valuable to the Oilers as a checker, penalty killer and right handed face off man. He could end up in the middle between Fernando Pisani (himself a late pick, 8th round in 1996) and Dustin Penner this season.

2. Sam Gagner-1st round, 6th overall 2007
There's really not a lot I need to say about Sam Gagner. He took the Oilers by storm in training camp after using the Russians as target and dangling practice during the Super Series last fall. Gagner was the first 18 year old to make the club and have a significant impact since Jason Arnott notched 68 points in 1993-1994.

Gagner didn't reach those numbers, but did put up 49 points in 79 games and made some wonder how long it will be until he moves off the kid line and onto the Oilers top line. I think you'll see him on the first power play unit at times this year. He's not the greatest skater, but he's so shifty he's hard to catch. He's also not the biggest guy, but has such a strong lower body, he's hard to knock off the puck. Like last year when Gagner used the Super Series to arrive at camp game ready, he toured parts of Europe with a London Knights alumni team for charity this August, and the biggest benefactor could be the Oilers.

1. Ales Hemsky-1st round, 13th overall, 2001
While it's hard to argue with the first 2 names on the 2001 NHL entry draft list (Kovalchuk and Spezza) you have to wonder if 10 NHL G.M's are wondering how Ales Hemsky slipped past them and fell to the Oilers at 13. I'll admit that hindsight is 20/20, but come on, Hemsky did have 100 points with Hull (now Gatineau) of the QMJHL in his North American season. He followed it up with 97 points then joined the Oilers. Hemsky (seen here with Radim Vrbata) has never played a game in the minors and watched his pre-lock out point total of 34 points, sky rocket to 77 in 2005-2006. He's neared the magical point per game pace the last 2 seasons with the Oilers were ravaged by injuries. A healthy Shawn Horcoff and Erik Cole on left wing, 90 points shouldn't be a stretch this year. The question I'm asking out loud is can Hemsky reach the century mark? After all, according to The Pipeline Show, he is the top draft pick of the new Millennium for the Oilers.

Disagree with our list? Please, by all means chime in.

Monday, September 29, 2008

2009 Draft Performers of the Week - Sept. 28/08

Each week SMWW, ISS, The Pipeline Show and Hockey Now recognize the top 2009 draft eligible player from the QMJHL, OHL, WHL and USHL based on their play over the course of the previous week. Here are the four winners for the week that was...

OHL - John Tavares (Oshawa Generals)

Second week in a row for Tavares who now has 10 points in 4 games with the Generals. Tavares will appear on The Pipeline Show on Tuesday night (Sept 30th) which can be heard live between 7-9 PM mountain time on the TEAM 1260 or via the archived audio files afterwards at The Pipeline Show.

WHL - Evander Kane (Vancouver Giants)

The Giants played 4 games in 5 nights and their 2006 1st round Bantam draft pick came away with 3 goals and 3 assists for 6 points. Kane is projected by many as a player who could go in the top 10 of the 2009 NHL draft.

QMJHL - Gabriel Lemieux (Shawinigan Cataractes)

Born September 28th, Lemieux was barely too young for the 2008 draft. Now in his 3rd QMJHL season he is currently tied for the league lead in scoring by a defenceman. He had 3 points in 3 games last week.

USHL - John Moore (Chicago Steele)

4 points, a +6 rating and 14 PIM... those were John Moore's stats during the USHL preseason tournament that was played last week. He's an Illinois native and at 6'0 and 180 lbs, the blueliner has decent size and speed.

Don't Look Now...

...but the Edmonton Oil Kings are making a little noise and sit atop the WHL's Central Division.

Now before anyone starts planning the parade route, it's only a couple of weeks into the schedule and they have played more games than all the other teams in their division except for Kootenay. Still, give them credit for what they have done; They just earned 5 of 8 points after playing 4 games in 5 days and now they can boast about having the league's top scorer too.

After losing to Calgary last Wednesday, the Oil Kings came home and snuck out an exciting shootout win over the Red Deer Rebels on Friday night in front of several hundred puking kids (more on that in a minute).

They dropped the second half of the home-at-home with the Rebels on Saturday but stole a point in the O.T. loss. Then on Sunday night, their third game in as many days, they snatched a 2-1 victory from the Ice in Cranbrook.

Brenden Dowd, an undrafted 20-year-old center, now leads the WHL in scoring with 9 points in 6 games - one point ahead of 2009 draft eligible Landon Ferraro of the Rebels.

Winger Brett Breitkreuz is tied in third place (with 11 other players) with 7 points.

Three Oil Kings are tied for third in the league with 5 assists including Dowd, Breitkreuz and defenceman Adrian Van de Mosselear who had a 4-point night earlier this year.

Special teams continue to give the Oil Kings trouble; they rank 19th on the power play with just a 7.4% effective rate while the PK is dead last in the WHL (69.7%).

One thing you know you'll see at an Oil Kings game is a pile of goals - they've score 16 and have allowed 21 both of which are near the tops in each category.

Sunday night saw the debut of 16-year-old netminder Cam Lanigan who both Dean Millard and I agree, will be a solid starter one day in the 'Dub, perhaps sooner rather than later depending on how Dalyn Flette perorms this year.

Czech product Tomas Vincour (right) has 4 point thus far but in the games that I saw, has been fairly average. Robin Soudek, Edmonton's newest import, has been held off of the scoresheet to this point but has an ugly minus-6 on his stats line.

Fan turnout at Rexall Place has been pretty disappointing in my personal opinion. To date the team has announced crowds of 7662 (opening night), 5317 for Calgary the next night and just 3734 for Red Deer's first visit of the year.

That last home game, against the Rebels who are currently in first place, saw the organization get creative and hold an All-You-Can-Eat night for fans aged 12 and under. Basically the premise was that parents, or in my case just dad, would bring their kids to the game and be able to let their off spring pig out on as much as they wanted. Of course parents, or in this case ME, got the risidule left overs so we all got to eat on the house.

The fun promotion was for the first 1000 kids through the door. Unfortunately, the crowd was so sparse that night that I seriously doubt if they hit the 1000 kid mark - they may have but if they did it was probably pretty close.

My biggest complaint about my experiences at Oil Kings games since their inaugural match lasdt year hasn't changed. I still believe that the team is aiming their demographic cannon too low. These days it's teenagers that have all the money - they live at home, have jobs yet pay little if any rent or bills... they should be targeting an age more similar to that of the players on the ice, the 15-20 year olds.

Parents will still come and bring their kids but as of now... that's about all that are coming.

I sat in the seats at the last game as opposed to the press box. To my surprise, my 9 and nearly 4 year old found the music too loud. I was surprised because I felt their music at home was louder but still, something I didn't consider before.

Until the third period when the Oil Kings decided to show up, the most intersting thing to my kids was the bloopers played on the screen during intermissions. Of course once the home team started to play well, they were watching the game.

Now it might seem a bit confusing that my complaint is that there are too many children and yet I myself brought mine. Well I don't normally but I felt the promotion that night was a great opportunity to bring them and not take the hit in the wallet that many parents feel on most nights.

I still think that on a nightly basis they should be quicker on the draw for the in-rink games and annoucements, the 'get ready for another EnMax Power Play' stuff and overall just do more things to get the crowd into it. Someone once told me that they purposely dulled down the music at Oil Kings games so as not to compete with the atmosphere at Oilers games. I find that ironic because I believe it's pretty easy to get the crowd going for the Oilers and so more effort should be put into picking the right music selection for the WHL team.

Less Mini-Pops and Disney soundtracks... more rock!

Anyhow, this has been a long winded venting but overall I think fans should be aware that on the ice, the Oil Kings are doing some good things. Off of it they still need some work but getting more butts into the bulding would be a big help.

Don't get me started on ticket prices; I don't know how many of the $10 game day tickets there actually are but apparently they were all sold out when I took my kids on Friday. The building was two thirds empty so somewhere there is a scalper with about 4000 unused tickets I guess.

Friday night the team is giving mullet wigs to the first 2500 people through the gate. At least they're trying to do something creative and fun... I hope it turns out better than last Friday, especially for the kid that puked a rainbow of yuck all over the main concourse.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Plante Re-Joins Hitmen

Found tonight under the 'Expect the Unexpected' mantra that Kevin Lowe is so fond of quoting is the fact that 2007 1st round pick Alex Plante has re-joined the Calgary Hitmen.

No release from the Oilers on it, he just turned up at the Pengrowth Saddledome tonight, started for the Hitmen on a defensive pairing with Paul Postma (ATL) and assited on the game's opening goal. Calgary beat the visiting Kootenay Ice by a 3-2 shootout score.

For the record, Plante now has half as many points as he totalled in 2007-08. Last year he managed just 2 points (1G-1A) in 36 regular season games.

Dean and I both have calls in to the Oilers and are awaiting response. Once we get some details we'll gladly pass them along.

Interesting change of events though. Does this mean all is forgiven between player and organization? I'm doubtful. Perhaps it's a mutual decision that a trade would be achieved faster if Plante were on the ice playing in the WHL.

We'll see.

UPDATE: My request for an official comment from the Oilers today has been turned down, or at least delayed, as this is another off day for the organization. Of course it won't exactly be breaking news tomorrow but I'll see what I can find out anyway. I would expect to see something on the Oielrs website by then anyway.

Obviously media in Calgary was able to get on the story last night after the Hitmen game. The Calgary Herald and the Calgary Sun had these two offerings this morning.

In Randy Sportak's piece:

Plante wasn't made available for interviews, but Lowry said the return was a case of turning the page.

"It's a case where he wants to play and we want him to play here," Lowry said. "It's something that's been in the works for a while. Yes, there was disappointment on both sides from last year, but time has been good and last year's over.

"As far as we're concerned and as far as he's concerned, last year's over and today's a new day, a new chapter, and we're looking forward."

and from Heather McIntyre:

"(Plante) played a great game," said Hitmen coach Dave Lowry. "I think it's clear that both parties have put their differences behind them."

General manager Kelly Kisio has been working the phones for a while to find a suitable fit for the defenceman, who was unavailable for comment, as well as a suitable return for the Hitmen.

Now, instead of asking where Plante will be traded, many are wondering whether he will be or not.

"He is a part of our hockey team," said Lowry. "And today is a new day."

Random Camp Thoughts

A few things have found their way into my brain cavity recently, I've noticed because with so much room in there I've heard these thoughts running around like my kid at the all-you-can-eat Oil Kings game last night after his second bucket of cotton candy.

Or like that massive run-on sentence... Mrs. Sinclair, my Grade 7 English teacher would be so disappointed.

Anway, I have to come right out and admit something first: Since the Camrose and UofA rookie camp, the only part of training camp that I've been able to get to in person was Wednesday night's game against the Florida Panthers. No practices, no other games.

Why? Not because I've suddenly stopped caring or woke up and decided to half-ass it from now on. No, life has simply gotten in the way recently and I've been occupied with that instead of being down at Rexall.

But enough of Lifestyles of the Moderatley Poor and Famous (to his kids).

Thought #1 - Where the hell is Ryan Potulny? As you know, this is the guy I went out on a limb for when making my 13th forward prediction back in August. So far at camp he's gotten into one game, in Vancouver, and according to the media guys I've asked who were there he played pretty darn well.

He didn't dress for either game against Florida which I took to mean "no worries, the Oilers just wanted to allow some of the farmhands like Goulet, Sestito and Spurgeon to get into another game before they sent them to Springfield". And that sort of makes sense except for one thing: Having not played yet (aside from the one game) no one is talking about him or even mentioning in him as being a consideration for the roster. Well no one except me I guess.

Hell, Wednesday night I must have looked like a fly fisherman up in the pressbox as I kept casting out Potulny's name to anyone and everyone I spoke with.

"Has to be in the mix doesn't he Matty?"... "Hey how were your holidays Rob Tychkowski? You know Potulny has to clear waivers eh?"... "Doesn't it make sense to you Corey?"...

Instead all the talk is about Schremp and Brule and considering the way they've played so far, I can sort of understand it. I just have to believe that Potulny is going to play the next few games in order to get a fair shot at showing what he can do. No one is talking about him yet because no one knows much about him. I still think he makes sense but I'll admit that right now... it's not looking too good for him.

Thought #2: Can a guy on the farm be the fan's 'whipping boy'? Holy cow the venom that has been directed Ryan O'Marra's way on some of the message boards, blogs and call in shows has been absolutely corosive. It seems like today every 1st round pick better be in the NHL by the time they are 20 or 21 or else the fans are going to be all over them.

I'm not going to make excuses for him - he didn't play as well as he needed to in order to stay longer in camp. His speed was not good enough and he wasn't hitting the way he needs to in order to grab people's attention but there are some things the critics should keep in mind.

As Dean wrote, O'Marra was pretty ill during rookie camp. Cody Wild commented to me after the Florida game that he was feeling sick and I asked him if it was the same thing O'Marra had. "No I just have a cold but he had the flu, it was disgusting. He was throwing up between periods and stuff." All in all O'Marra lost 10 pounds and considering how he felt he must have played a bit like this guy from Slap Shot...

Many people seem to be in an uproar over the fact that he doesn't appear to be a player that will put up much for points. Quite honestly, the Oilers don't care... they are the ones who asked him to concentrate on defence and hitting. The Oilers have gone on the record as saying if Ryan O'Marra is going to play for them in the NHL, he'll be a 3rd liner - someone to shutdown the opposition and win key draws.

He only got 4 minutes of NHL exhibition before being sent down so it's pretty hard to tell how he did against NHL competition but in the UofA game he was dominant at the dot against the Bear's top centers.

He's got a lot of work to do to be ready for the NHL but the people who are jumping all over him at this point in his career need to relax. He might be a guy who follows the Kyle Brdoziak timeline - 5 years since draft day before playing as a regular in the NHL.

Thought #3: I'm not a fan of the Moreau/Pisani/Penner combo. Again I say that I've only watched the one game in person so it's a limited sample size... but I thought Penner was out of position way too often, especially in his own end. I was sitting with a couple of other media guys, one of whom brought it up first (I won't name him in case he doesn't want me to) so I can't claim to have originated this one.

Dean was guest co-hosting Just A Game on Friday and suggested a guy like Brule could center the 4th line with Moreau and Stortini on the wings bumping Brodziak up between Penner (on the left) and Pisani. To me, that makes much more sense than trying to convert a winger to the middle, especially considering how deep the franchise is right now with middle men.

Thought #4: Who is booking Florida's pre-season schedule? I want to assume that it's Jack Birch, he's Florida's Kevin Prendergast, but I like him and have a hard time believing he's to blame.

If you didn't know, FLA's schedule this week was CGY-EDM-EDM-CGY then fly to Prince Edward Island to play the NY Islanders. And rather than have a split squad, one in CGY and the other in EDM... they rode the iron lung back and forth! Hey whatever floats your boat but you'd think a team that could benefit from some public appearances back home might find a way to play some exhibition games back there.

Thought #5: Why is the season starting so late? I like the way they have condensed the pre-season but it makes no sense to me why the NHL can't just mandate that every year the opening night will be October 1st. Wouldn't providing fans that exact start date every year be better than what we have right now? Hey, this way the playoffs might actually be over by the time my kids are done school at the end of June.

Thought #6: Captain in Springfield - No insider information here because I haven't asked anyone but if there is a better guy to wear the 'C' for Jeff Truitt than Tyler Spurgeon I don't know who it would be. I suppose a veteran like Carl Corazzini or another heart-and-soul grinder like Tim Sestito wouldn't be bad choices but considering their history together, the fact that Spurgeon was proclaimed the most fit player at Oiler camp... what better example is there for other guys to follow? Plus Spurgeon was captain in Kelowna under Truitt during his tenure as the Rockets' bench boss. Makes sense on all fronts to me which is why I mentioned it here.

That's it. See? Lots of room inside my cranium for other random thoughts... I'll share'm when they come to me.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Selling Schremp Short?

If Rob Schremp was paid by the amount of opinions people have of him, he wouldn't need hockey. He would simply live on a pile of money, in a house made out of dollar bills.

Before he was drafted 25th overall by the Oilers in 2004, there was a lot of talk about him around the junior hockey world. Was he too cocky? Was he too skilled to pass up? Did he work hard enough? Did his immense skill outweigh his lack of defensive awareness? Since he was drafted, those same questions have been asked, but now it's mostly by Oilers fans and observers of the copper and blue.

Of those players drafted ahead of Schremp, 7 have played more than 150 games in the NHL. Alexander Ovechkin (245), Evgeni Malkin (160), Andrew Ladd (157), Rostislav Olesz (190), Travis Zajac (162), Wojtek Wolski (162), Andrej Meszaros (246). There are 2 players knocking the door of 150 games, and 4 players who were drafted after Schremp who have surpassed the milestone. All the while Rob Schremp has played in just 3 NHL contests.

So is the lack of NHL time the player's responsibility in this case or the team's? I think it's 90 per cent Schremp. Until this past summer he hasn't put in the time or work to become a pro player, although last summer he was recovering from a serious knee injury. The other 10 per cent is certainly on the team though. Last season in a call up from Springfield, Schremp received a paltry 2 games, playing 3:12 in one game, and 10:42 in another.

This season he has said all the right things off the ice, and tried to do all the rights things on frozen water. He still makes mistakes as young players do, and has only produced stat wise on the power play and in the shoot out, but has looked better than at any other training camp in the past. It still isn't likely to earn him a full time job with the Oilers to start the season but you have to think if he's called up, he'll play more than 13 minutes and change over two games.

I have heard various opinions about Schremp over the past few years, ranging from "he should be playing with the big club..." to "he should be playing with another club...." But do the Oilers really want another Dan Cleary on their hands? A player who scored a ton in junior, bounced around the NHL, before becoming a productive player with the Stanley Cup champion Detroit Red Wings this year, 5 years after the Oilers decided he didn't fit into their plans and they bought him out.

I'm not saying Schremp will round out his game like Cleary, but this is a contract year for him, and despite his ability to crack the Oilers line up in the 4 years since he was drafted, I still think he deserves another deal at the end of the season. If J.F. Jacques earned one, Schremp has.

ROB TYCHKOWSKI, who is the Oilers beat writer for the Edmonton Sun, made a nice potential comparison for Rob Schremp the other night in the press box. Robert Nilsson. A player the Islanders gave up on to get Ryan Smyth, who is now an exciting player with the Oilers. I agree with Ice T...Schremp has the ability to bite the Oilers in the butt with another team, if they give up on him.

(uncredited photos courtesy London Knights and the Edmonton Journal)

Thursday, September 25, 2008

2009 Top Prospects Game Will 'Rank' High

The Pipeline Show has learned that The 2009 CHL Top Prospects Game will be hosted by Generals - The OHL's Oshawa Generals.

In conversation with someone who would know, the as yet unannounced deal should be main official in the coming days. Lending credibility to the insider's tip is this story our of that neck of the woods in Ontario from earlier this month where CHL head honcho David Branch confirmed that Oshawa was a leading candidate.

Last year's game was held at Rexall Place in Edmonton and gave the local interest level in junior hockey a nice boost as the Alberta Capital is still apparently figuring out that there is a WHL franchise in town.

Now the game reverts back to a long-time junior hockey market one where big names like Bobby Orr, Eric Lindros, Jason Arnott and Nathan Horton all got their start.

Current General and potential #1 overall pick John Tavares will headline the event. Whether or not he's still a member of the Generals when January roles around is a different matter. As Dean Millard broke on The Pipeline Show a couple of weeks ago, rumors are abound that Tavares has asked for a trade out of Oshawa and that both the Kitchener Rangers and the London Knights have expressed an interest.

Monday Tavares was one of four players to be named a 2009 Draft Prospect Performer of the Week, an award handed out by Sports Management Worldwide, ISS, The Pipeline Show and Hockey Now.

Each week on The Pipeline Show we will speak with one of the winners of the award, available only to those players eligible for the upcoming 2009 NHL Entry Draft. Tavares will make his first appearance on TPS this coming Tuesday night.

Week 1 winners: OHL - John Tavares (Oshawa), QMJHL - Guillaume Goulet (Baie-Comeau) and the WHL's Cody Eakin (Swift Current). The USHL will also have a weekly winner but the American junior league has not started their regular season.

Fun On The Farm

After watching training camp and 2 pre season games, I have come to one conclusion; Life in Springfield will be extremely entertaining this year.

While the Oilers should be able to compete for the Northwest Division in the big show, the Falcons could fly high in the AHL as well. Springfield basically bought property at the .500mark last year and finished with an even steven record of 35-35-5-5, they were 8 points out of a playoff spot. That shouldn't happen this season with the amount of tools at the disposal of new head coach Jeff Truitt.

Players like Colin McDonald (pictured), Slava Trukhno and Ryan O'Marra up front will be entering their second pro season and should be ready to play more of a roll on the team. Factor in Rob Schremp and/or Gilbert Brule should they be sent down to the farm and add in Bryan Lerg who's impressed at Oilers camp, and the Falcons will boast an impressive first 2 lines. Big Geoff Paukovich and versatile Davild Rohlfs may also factor in for the Falcons.

What Springfield didn't have last year, was a mobile defence. That won't be a problem this season. Taylor Chorney and Theo Peckham will be the top pairing, which will be blend of stay at home toughness from Peckham, and the smooth skating, heads up play of Chorney. Cody Wild, Josef Hrabl - when healthy - and Rob Bina will also be able to move the puck, meaning the Falcons won't have to employ the "chip it off the glass and out" breakout they used for most of last year. The increase of puck movers on the back end will add to the offence and should prevent Springfield from getting outshot by a large margin, something that happened way to often last year.

Lastly, this team will not be fun to play against. With old school body checkers Theo Peckham and Bryan Young as well as a tough AHL veteran in Jake Taylor on the back end, crossing the blueline into the Falcons zone will require some courage. And don't expect opposing players to take liberties with the birds top gunners. That's where body guards, Hans Benson, Guillaume Lefebrve, and Sean McMorrow will be cracking their knuckles in anticipation.

Lefebvre came to Oilers camp without a contract, and told me after Wednesday's game against Florida that he wasn't sure how many games he would get in so he knew that he had to make an impression. Mission accomplished - he fought twice and dished out some big checks. Anyone that's watched Hans Benson in camp thus far knows he's a decent skater and is willing to scrap anyone. The great thing about the pugilists is they are ready to start fights, and stick up for their teammates as has been proven so far in the pre season.

On a side note, I think the Oilers have to be leading the league in inviting players to camp who played in the infamous Ligue Nord Americaine de Hockey (LNAH). Or simply put the "Quebec fighting league." Both Lefebvre (pictured) and McMorrow played there last year and neither are shy about shedding their gear and throwing the skin hammers... a refreshing sight for skilled players in the Oilers system.

Put all the tools together, and it gives the head Carpenter, Jeff Truitt a good foundation to build upon, and Truitt should open things up a little on the farm and let his horses run. If he does, the Falcons and the Oilers might be playing well into the spring this year.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Top 5 Tuesdays: 5 Goalies to Know in 08-09

This year several teams seem content heading intot he season with unproven or largely unknown backup goaltenders. Here's a few, in no particular order, that you'll get to know this year.

Joey MacDonald - New York Islanders

Passed over in the NHL draft despite a decent (but not great) junior career with the Peterborough Petes, MacDonald came up through Detroit's minor league system. He spent 4 years playing in AHL Grand Rapids then was moved to the Boston Bruins organization during the 2006-07 season. Last season he jumped to the Islanders sytem and spent most of the year with their minor league affiliate, the Bridgeport Sound Tigers.

With Wade Dubielewicz moving on there is a vacancy on Long Island behind starter Rick DiPietro. The battle for the job falls to MacDonald and Yann Dannis but the Nova Scotia native appears to have an edge. With DiPietro's health a concern, MacDonald could see more playing time than expected.

Erik Ersberg - Los Angeles Kings

L.A. has been the place goalies went to die but that may be slowly starting to change. Jason Labarbera has claimed the starter's job after a fairly decent year with the Kings. Several goalies played last season but it appears that unless the team goes out and acquires a veteran like Nikolai Khabibhulin or Dwayne Roloson, the back up job will fall to Swede Erik Ersberg. According to the Kings website... that might be the sensible plan to take:

In only 14 appearances last season, Ersberg had a modest 6-5 record, but his .927 save percentage was anything but. His best appearance came in a 40-save shutout of the Ottawa Senators on March 6, 2008, followed closely by a 39-save 2-1 shootout loss to the Anaheim Ducks on March 26.

Tobias Stephan - Dallas Stars

With Mike Smith gone to Tampa Bay the Dallas Stars will have a new second string keeper behind former Michigan Wolverine Marty Turco. That appears as though it will be Tobias Stephan, Dallas' 2nd round pick way back in 2002.

Stephan has been playing in the AHL for Iowa the last couple of years after leaving his native Switzerland back in 2006. His numbers are fairly ordinary, barely a .500 goalie with pretty pedestrian stats, but the Stars seem willing to give him the job. It's not like he's going to have to play much unless Turco happens to get hurt...

Pekka Rinne - Nashville Predators

He has been a standout in the minors for the past few years but Pekka Rinne's AHL career looks to finally be at an end. He was a 8th round selection by the Pres in 2004 and has spent the last 3 seasons in Milwaukee going all the way to the Calder Cup Finals in 2006. He was also a 2008 AHL All-Star as well.

Rinne is big at 6'4 and nearly 200 lbs, and although Dan Ellis should be the starter, should he falter under the pressure you can expect Nashville to not pause long before getting Rinne in. They like him and have confidence in his ability to be another in a long line of Finnish born NHL goalies.

Curtis McElhinney - Calgary Flames

He's got the 1-way contract on his side so most people expect the former Colorado College netminder to win the reliever job behind Miikka Kiprusoff in Cowtown. Playing second fiddle there will be a lot like the same workload in Vancouver... as in pretty light but the 25-year-old London, ON product should be ready for the next step. He'll be pushed by Matt Keetley but the competition should bring out the best in McElhinney as well. He only played five NHL games last year but has been one of the best 'tenders in the AHL over the last 3 seasons.

Now, while none of these guys are expected to be starters this season but circumstance and fate could lift them into bigger roles than most expect. Last year Chris MAson was supposed to be the guy in Nashville and he lost his gig to Ellis... it's not unthinkable to believe the same could happen for one of these five in 2008-09.

Monday, September 22, 2008

O'Marra On The Mend

Since the Oilers hit the ice for training camp, I've had a number of media members comment to me that Ryan O'Marra looked out of place. The most common theme was his skating ability, or apparent lack there of. While I'll admit O'Marra isn't the fleetest of foot, I didn't think it was as bad as everyone had said. I watched him a little more closely during the Bears vs. Oilers Rookies game and will say he seemed to be a half step behind.

I think though there is a reason for this.

O'Marra told me today, he was ill during all of rookie camp, and actually was sick during the game against the Bears. He said he lost about 10 pounds due to what he thinks was the flu. He said he was even "shut down" for 2 days in order to recover.

The 15th overall pick from 2005 has pronounced himself healthy now and ready to resume his quest to impress the coaching staff. O'Marra is set to play on a line with Hans Benson and Liam Reddox tonight, which is an interesting combination. Reddox is a spark plug, a do-it-all kind of player and we all know what Benson can do. O'Marra will hopefully run a few guys over, play responsible defence and force a few turnovers. If he does that, the Oilers will be happy, if he doesn't finish his checks, then he'll earn a ticket to Springfield sooner than he hoped.

The Great Perugini!

OK so maybe he's got the name of a magician but Andrew Perugini's greatest trick has come on the ice with his solid play which has in turn earned him a pro contract with the Edmonton Oilers.

Maybe. Depends on who you ask I guess.

News today from Sarnia where the head coach of the local OHL club has been quoted talkng about how his goaltender has signed with the Oilers. You can read that article here. Coach Dave MacQueen is quoted saying all the right things; about how the Sting are happy for Perugini and how they had a hand in helping him realize his lifelong dream of playing pro hockey.

There's no reason for coach MacQueen to say anything different because he's right. Although Perugini spent the vast majority of his career with the Barrie Colts, he ended it in Sarnia playing behind Steve Stamkos and company. And, like in the picture above, has apparently done just enough to make a great save... but instead of a puck, this time he's snagged a contract.

Or has he? Noticing a lack of announcement from the Oilers I placed a call and was told that while there has been discussion about doing so, no formal announcement can be made yet about signing Perugini. (pronounced with a soft 'g' like a the genie in a bottle).

So what's going on here? Sarnia's coach is talking openly aboutlosing his starter, someone he would have welcomed back as an overage tender this year, but the Oilers can't confirm that they've signed him yet?

Seems odd to me but hardly unprecedented is it? Remember Cody Wild and Bryan Pitton? We told you about those signings several days before the Oilers made it official, in fact I think we even had Wild on the show talking about joining the Falcons before the NHL club confirmed it.

Suffice to say, I'm more than confident that it's a done deal but the fact that the official word from the team is silence... isn't that big of a surprise to me.

Speaking with Dean Millard earlier today we were debating on where Perugini fits into the big picture. Where will he play assuming he doesn't go back to Sarnia as an overage goalie?

My first thought was that they'd rotate he and Bryan Pitton between the starting job in Stockton and the back up spot in Springfield behind Devan Dubnyk. That way one would always be playing while the other was at least practicing at the AHL level with AHL shooters. You could switch them out on a regular basis so that they could both get ample playing time, but the negative to that is all about the travel. It's not like Stockton and Springfield are close to each other, it is a cross continent trip.

Dean came up with the idea of keeping Glenn Fisher in Springfield as Dubnyk's saftey net and having both Perugini and Pitton in Stockton playing exactly half the games each. The downside being that should Dubnyk struggle, you're relieving him with a goalie most have come to think of as the lowest guy on the depth chart (Fisher).

It will be interesting to see how the team handles it, especially considering some think they will test the waiver wire with Jeff Deslauriers (not my opinion but one other media guys have mentioned).

Can the organization just sever ties with Fisher now that he's on a 100% minor league contract? I don't know for certain but that would be another way to clear the log-jam.

Interesting times ahead.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Top 5 Tuesday

This week on Top 5 Tuesday, we'll explore what we think will be the top 5 stories to watch with the Oil Kings this year. The season begins this Friday as the OK kids host Medicine Hat at Rexall Place. You can win a pair of tickets Tuesday night on The Pipeline Show during Bad Ass Trivia, so without further babbling, here is the TPS Top 5 Tuesday:

5. Where will goals come from? The good news is 4 of Edmonton's top 4 scorers are back from last year. The bad news is, none of then had more than 16 goals or 39 points. You would have to expect Tomas Vincour, who led the way in the points department, will be on top again, and could hit the 75-80 point mark. Fellow Czech forward Robin Soudek will be expected to put up some numbers, as will Brendan Dowd, Craig McCallum (pictured) and Brett Breitkreuz. They will all have to be better, as will some others like Brent Raedeke, and Jeff Lee, who potted 11 points in his final 11 games last season. If lee uses his size down low properly, he might be able to notch 20-25 goals.

4. The Evolution of Mark Pysyk. I first watched Mark Pysyk skate at a practice in Sherwood Park as a bantam, and was amazed at his effortless stride and take over the play ability. The Oil Kings snapped him up 3rd overall. Once his midget season ended, Pysyk joined Edmonton for a 14 game run. He didn't look out of place at all, registering 1 goal 2 assists and 8 penalty minutes. While he was -8, not one player with Edmonton was a plus player. Pysyk at times ran the power play during his 14 game stretch. He'll do more of that this year, and will learn from offensive blueliner Brandon Lockerby along the way. Touted as a high 2010 draft pick, Pysyk should help the Kings transition from their own end this year, whether he skates it out with smooth strides, or passes with precision. The only concern is his youth and the Kings will have to be careful not to put to much pressure on his young shoulders.

3. What impact with Robin Soudek have? Last year as one Robin went, so did the Oil Kings, and Steve Pleau are hoping that happens again, albeit with a new Robin in town. Robin Figren had 31 points in 35 games last year, the Islanders prospect battled through injuries, signed with New York in the off season and will play this year in his native Sweden. Edmonton grabbed Robin Soudek from the Czech Republic in the CHL import draft this summer and when it comes to first impressions, he gets top marks from me. During the team's pre season tournament a game against Regina turned rough. Soudek didn't hide in the corner, rather he engaged in a fight. He was physical all game long, and looks to have a potent shot. What will make the transition off the ice easier for Soudek is having countryman Tomas Vincour around.

2. How will Tomas Vincour handle pressure? It's a big year for the big Czech winger who some think has power forward potential. Her certainly doesn't shy away from driving to the net or battling in the corners. Vincour led the team with 16 goals and 23 assists last year, and really seemed to step up when Robin Figren was out of the line up due to injuries and the world junior tournament. It was similar to what Evgeni Malkin did when Sidney Crosby went down. This year Vincour will be the main target of oppositions, he'll suit up for the Czech Republic at Christmas for the world junior championship in Ottawa and it's his draft year. It will be up to head coach Steve Pleau, and G.M Bob Greene to make sure Vincour keeps a level head and doesn't get weighed down by the pressures of expectations. The Oil Kings have a few other players that are hoping to get drafted this June as well. Robin Soudek-RW, Lougan Proulx-LW, Rhett Rachinsky-LW, Michael Burns-RW, Jesse Pearson-D, Henrik Tervonen-D

1. Who will end up as the #1 Goaltender? Daylyn Flette has been handed the starters job. He saw action in 28 games last year compiling a record of 6-15-2-1, a hefty goals against average of 3.50 and a leaky .890 save per centage. But let's remember he was playing behind a team that struggled mightily in the second half. Can Flette carry the mail as a starter for the first time in his WHL career? I don't think so for the whole season. Luckily Edmonton has a top notch back up, who will eventually be their main man. Cam Lanigan has grown 3 inches since last year's training camp. His lateral movement is terrific and his positioning rarely leaves him having to make a desperation save. Lanigan will start the year as the back up, and the Oil Kings hope they don't have to turn to him to often, and that Flette will take the starters roll and run with it. Unfortunately for them, I think Lanigan will overtake Flette for the starters job at some point this season. And when you look at the pipeline for this team, you see some real strength between the pipes. Patrick Terris was in camp, and will play Junior A this year so as to not ruin any college eligibility he has, but he could be a contender for the Kings crease down the road. And the team drafted Laurent Brossoit this year in the 2nd round, he was the highest rated goalie in the bantam draft. It gives Edmonton a similar situation to what the Red Deer Rebels were in during the 2001 season where they were able to trade Michael Garnett to Saskatoon for Martin Erat, because they had Cam Ward coming down the pipe. With Erats help, Red Deer went onto win The Memorial Cup, and who knows maybe it's a situation the Oil Kings find themselves in down the road.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Charity Auction: Autographed Falcons Sweater

As you know, last week Dean and I announced that The Pipeline Show is going to be holding our first ever silent auction, live on the air this coming Tuesday night (September 16th).

***Important Update at the bottom of this post***

You can hear the official announcement by clicking (here) where you will have two options; the Kevin Karius or the Bad Ass Trivia segment, we talk about the event at the start of both of them.

Here's the gist; last year we talked to Springfield about the possibility of getting a jersey donated to us so that we could auction it off for charity. The Falcons were excited to help us out and with help of their Media PR genius Damon Markiewicz, we were even able to get a number of the players to sign it as well.

All the proceeds that we take in from the auction will go to the Cross Cancer Institute here in Edmonton.

I think it's safe to say that we've all be affected by Cancer in some way either directly or through a friend or family member. Cancer sucks. This is our small contribution to the fight and we hope you'll help us out.

So what we're going to do between now and the 16th is promote the heck out of the auction as best we can. We're going to set the minimum bid at $100 which is basically the cost of the jersey. You'll hear me on the morning show with Jake Daniels and I'll remind everyone listening about it at the time. Later on that same day Dean is going to drop in on Just A Game with Jason Gregor and mention it to the afternoon crowd.

At 7:00 PM that night we'll open the phone lines so you can call in with your credit card at hand and make your bid. We'll update the leading bid as we go to and return from commercial breaks so you'll always be in the know of where things stand.

If you're a fan of the Edmonton Oilers and especially the prospects, this is a pretty cool item to have. It might not be something to wear around because with the autographs, there's obviously some value there that you don't want to ruin by spilling your beer on it.

What you probably want to know is whose names are on the sweater right now. Here is the list that I can identify for sure:

Tim Sestito, Theo Peckham, Devan Dubnyk, Jeff Deslauriers, Colin McDonald, Brad Farynuk, Troy Bodie, Ryan O'Marra, Slava Trukhno, Tyler Spurgeon, Bryan Lerg, Cody Wild, Stephane Goulet, Sebastien Bisaillon, Glenn Fisher and 4 or 5 more that I can't identify.

It is an authentic RBK Edge jersey, as seen in the photos here although not as dark in real life as in that bottom picture, it is blue and dark blue, not black as it appears. If you have any questions, please leave a comment and Dean or I will give you an answer.

Good Luck and... Thanks!

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Oilers VS Flames - line combinations

As the Oilers skate in front of me this morning, here are their line combinations for the first game of the mini-tournament here in Camrose. I'll post the Flames combos once they skate in a couple hours.

LW - C - RW

Slava Trukhno - Jordan Eberle - Ryan O'Marra
Phillipe Cornet - Bryan Lerg - Colin McDonald
Stephane Goulet - Geoff Paukovich - David Rohlfs
Ryan MacMurchy - Ryan Huddy - Hans (Calibos) Benson

Theo Peckham - Taylor Chorney
Cody Wild - Sebastien Bisaillon
Josef Hrabal - Jesse Dudas

Devan Dubnyk / Glenn Fisher

Calgary brought a little bit more than they can dress for the game and they all skated so this won't be perfect; some have to be scratched.

Kyle Greentree - Mikael Backlund - Greg Nemisz
Brett Sutter - Mitch Wahl - Aki Seitsonen
Ryley Grantham - Dan Ryder - Adam Cracknell
Hugo Carpentier - John Armstrong - JD Watt
Lance Bouma - Jon Tremblay

Keith Aulie - John Negrin
TJ Brodie - Matt Pelech
Brad Cole - Gord Baldwin
Ryan Wilson - Per Jonsson

Matt Keetley / Leland Irving / Kevin Lalande

Deked out of Their Jacques?

On day 1 of rookie camp in Camrose the media had a chance to talk with (one of the) Assistant General Manager Kevin Prendergast. I asked him for an update on the status of winger J.F. Jacques, the big body banger who missed much of last year with wrist and back issues.

Well the response was guarded but if you read through the lines, it doesn't sound very good.

"We have one [an update] but we're not going to release it yet," said Prendergast.

Kudos to Joanne Ireland of the Journal for the follow up... "Well that means it's not good!"

The remaining media got a chcukle out of that one because it's true. If the news was in fact that Jacques was gettng the greenlight, surely there would be no cloak and dagger and the team would be thrilled to say so. But with the official team response still being considered a matter of national security... well, you decide for yourself.

From my corner of the rink, it looks like the battle for the last roster spot got a bit easier for Schremp, Potulny, Brule and a wild card like Ryan O'Marra. (I still say Potulny gets it).

More from Camrose on Day later in the day.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Millard's Thoughts From Day 1

Just a few things to add to what Guy had to say...for some reason can't stop calling Hans Benson...Hanson...maybe it's because he resembles all 3 Hanson brothers rolled into one...just get him some taped up glasses, throw a tire iron at him and he'll call the pizza man when he's in jail. Seriously though, like Guy said, he is an intimidating man. Just one of many in camp.

Here's a list of tough customers, the team they played with last year and their PIM totals:

Hans Benson- Peoria (AHL) 265
Garet Hunt-Vancouver (WHL) 239
Adam Huxley-Stockton (ECHL) 200
Sean McMorrow-St. Hyacinthe (LNAH) 527 - not a typo, see Joanne Ireland's story in today's Journal.
Milan Maslonka-Youngstown (ECHL) 298

A whopping 1529 minutes spent in the box last year from just 5 guys. Might make some pre season games and training camp very interesting.

I agree with the Flaming Guy...Alex Plante struggled...at one point looked like Bambi on ice. Now I'm a big supporter of Plante, I think with some patience he can become a poor man's Sheldon Souray, although he could do without emulating Souray with his injury problems. It's obvious he's thinking about things quite a bit. As John Tortorella recently told Jason Gregor on "Just A Game", the worst thing a player can do on the ice is think. I had wondered allowed if Plante could just skate with the Oilers all year, but was told by a member of the Oilers management team that can't happen. He can though play junior A, if the Hitmen release him to that league. But obviously can't play in the WHL without being traded.

Thought Taylor Chorney looked confident out there, you can see for yourself tonight at 11 on Global Sports (cheap plug I know), also Jordan Eberle looked almost as good as he did during the Oil Kings pre season tournament where he scored 2 very sweet goals. Ryan O'Marra gave me a couple of interesting answers about his approach to training camp this year.

"It's how you come through adversity, and adversity builds character."

"now I come in here with a level head, but with similar expectations."

Nice to see, if O'Marra plays like he did for Brent Sutter at the 2006 World Juniors and as Sutter once told me, "skate up and down the ice and throw atleast one hit per shift" then he could be something special. I think Ryan O'Marra could be Ethan Moreau with more offensive upside.

Man am I glad hockey season is here, can't wait to see tomorrow night's game vs. the flames...hilites at 11.

Oilers Rookie Camp: Day 1

The NHL camp season officially got underway today in Camrose with what were two pretty up-tempo sessions of pracitce with the Oiler rookies.

Some quick first impressions:

Ryan O'Marra - Much bigger than he was this time last year, weighing in on Friday at 222 pounds. Without sounding too interested in his physique, his arms and chest are much more developed than when he first came to town as an Oiler. I was razzing him after his session because Jordan Eberle had set him up with a pass that O'Marra received inside the crease and still managed to miss the net with. His reply: "Hey man, my job here is to make room for guys like Eberle not to score goals!" He was only half joking. That's exactly what the Oilers want from him and kudos to O'Marra for making that mental adjustment. Still... you're in the blue paint you might as well hit the net!

No question the guy who made the biggest impression on me on day one was Hans Benson (or Ben Hanson to some of us on press row). It's only day 1 but already he's ready and willing. After Taylor Chorney 'stepped up' on him during a drill, Benson gave Chorney a whack in the shins and started jawing with him. That drew the attention of Theo Peckham who was paired up with Chorney on the drill. Peckham and Benson continued their verbal exchange for about a minute after. I spoke with all 3 of them afterwards about the first attention grabbing moment of rookie camp:

"He's a guy that plays a physical game and I just made a read and stepped up a bit and he's the type of guy that likes his space out there and he didn't like that too much," said Chorney. "He's definitely a guy out there that you want on your team and I'm sure he's going to do some damage out there tomorrow night [against Calgary]."

"It's a lot easier to put those [fires] out than to start them up," said Peckham, "It's good to see that the intensity is there but thank God things didn't get out of control out there."

"It's all about respect. I just tried to make a statement that if you're going to step up on a guy like me it's going to come back on you that maybe you were barking up the wrong tree," said Benson, "It's a game of respect and if you're going to do that then... you might as well go."

Two notes in regards to the Chorney/Peckham/Benson thing: While I was talking to Chorney, Benson walked by and gave him a friendly tap in the shins so clearly no hard feelings. Secondly... Benson is a monster! He's not tall but he has a chest like a barrell and he's covered in tattoos and he has a curly red semi-afro. Quite frankly he kinda scared me. Ever see Clash of the Titans when you were a kid? Think of Calibos.

In the second grouping, a much weaker group in my opinion, things were a little less intersting. It wasn't a great start for Alex Plante who seemed to be falling a lot in the first half of his on-ice testing. He looks like a guy with a lot on his mind and he does.

"Between the Oilers my agent and myself we felt that it would be better for me to come here first," Plante said when I asked him for an update on his situation with the Hitmen, "With the Hitmen, I'm not really looking at that right now, I'm more focused on the Oilers camp and in trying to set a good impression here."

Plante has no idea where he will be in three weeks if after the Oilers camp he still hasn;t be traded from the Hitmen. According to him he cannot go back to Jr. A if the Hitmen suspend him and he cannot play in the AHL. Tough scenario for him but he made a point of telling me "I'm not out to burn any bridges".

In my opinion the best player in group two was Tyler Spurgeon who told me afterwards that he felt like he really had a lot of pop to his game. "I felt surprisingly fresh out there," he said, "My shots were going where I wanted them, I thought I was moving the puck really well and there wasn;t too much rust to knock off thankfully."

I thought Milan Kytnar was pretty decent too and with his move to Saskatoon from Kelowna he's going to be taking on a much bigger role. "I will have a lot of ice time, I've already had a lot in the two exhibition games that I played so it's a good sign." I asked him whether he expect Colton Gillies back from Minnesota's camp and although he'd like to think so he said it didn't seem liekly. That will be a huge loss for the Blades.

Tomorrow night as Calgary comes to town you can expect the Oilers to dress the first group from Saturday's activities so you'll see the likes fo Chorney, Eberle, Trukhno, O'Marra, Dubnyk, Hrabal, Bisaillon and yes... Benson.

I asked Craig MacTavish today how many goalies he felt would be a good workable number for main camp and he suggested 6 or 7 which would mean all of the four at rookie camp will proceed on or perhaps one will get cut before next Friday.

That's about it for Day 1.

Interesting New Teammates

Hey just wanted to give you all a heads up about rookie camp. One of the great stories surrounds Robbie Bina and Geoff Paukovich. You can read Guy's story about it at The Hockey News. You will also be able to see a story on Global Sports this Monday at 6 and 11 PM, with footage of the injury, just an FYI. (photo courtesy John Daul SiouxSports.com)

Guy and I will post our thoughts about day one of rookie camp a bit later.

One other Oilers note, Geoff Sanderson has earned a training camp invite from the Chicago Blackhawks. The Nashville Predators were also said to be interested in the veteran. Good to see a nice guy have the chance to play another year. Without Robert Lang the Hawks have a spot up front, and with Sanderson's experience around all the kids in Edmonton last year it might be a good fit in a young windy city.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Rule Changes for The WHL

The CHL and subsequently the WHL has introduced some new rule changes for the upcoming season (link). Basically the top junior league in the world is doing what the NHL will likely be doing next year.

The biggest change will be where faceoffs will take place after a penalty. Here's and example.

Let's use the Edmonton Oil Kings and, I don't know...the Brandon Wheat Kings for no particular reason as examples.

The Oil Kings take a penalty anywhere on the ice. The ensuing faceoff would then come back into their own end. The exceptions to this are after a goal, at the end or start of a period- the faceoff would then take place at centre ice. Or if the Wheat Kings had iced the puck (not sure why that would ever happen) then the puck would be dropped just outside the Wheat Kings blueline.

Now this obviously is an attempt to increase offence, but as Guy and I discussed one time on TPS I'm not sure I'm up for this one. I think you're penalized enough by having a guy in the box. I am interested in watching how this plays out and who knows maybe I'll come around on this one, but as of right now, I'm not a big fan.

On the flip side, it will increase offence, and should cut down on dumb lazy penalties. Can you imagine taking a lazy penalty with 2 minutes to go? The psychological effect of watching the officials skate back to your own end would be killer enough. It will also mean faceoffs will be that much more important.

I have not heard whether the NHL is going with this system this season, but expect them to implement this next year. The AHL used it last year, and some WHL management people I spoke to today said it was a positive experiment and they're looking forward to it this year.

The other change is that, for example Oil Kings D-man (and top draft prospect for 2010) Mark Pysyk wires a shot off the goalpost, crossbar or any other part of the Wheat Kings net, the puck will be dropped in Brandon's zone instead of coming outside the blueline like in the past. This I have no problem with, as the Oil Kings created a scoring chance and shouldn't be penalized for it. If it goes off an Oil KIng forward, then I don't have a problem with the draw coming outside to the off side dots.

In other junior hockey news, the first CHL Mosaic Mastercard Top 10 Rankings have been released:

Rank Team
1 Windsor Spitfires
2 Spokane Chiefs
3 London Knights
4 Rimouski Oceanic
5 Belleville Bulls
6 Cape Breton Screaming Eagles
7 Kelowna Rockets
8 Brandon Wheat Kings
9 Chicoutimi Sagueneens
10 Shawinigan Cataractes

A few thoughts on this. Nice to see the Windsor Spitfires starting out on a good note this year, after what had to be an incredibly painful season last year, after captain Mickey Renaud passed away. The Spitfires will retire Renaud's #18 this year, and his memory should spur on first round picks from last June Greg Nemisz and Joshua Bailey, as well as possible first overall pick in 2010 Taylor Hall to great things.

Spokane will be battling Windsor all season for that top spot. The Chiefs were supposed to be a year away when they won it all last year, and have both barrells loaded for a repeat this year.

As Nathan from www.theworldofjuniorhockey.blogspot.com - an excellent ready by the way - pointed out recently, the London Knights will be a force should they pick up John Tavares, who's in his own battle with Victor Hedmen this year to be the top draft pick in June. Nathan says the rumour is Tavares for London for a package that would include Akim Aliu. Another team I've heard in the Tavares trade sweepstakes is Kitchener, as we spoke about on The Pipeline Show on August 26th in our ICU video Focus of the week, it's near the end of the segment.

And of course good to see the prairies represented with Brandon slotting in at #8. The rookie line from last year of Scott Glennie, Matt Calvert and Brayden Schenn is now a year older and should be even more dangerous this season.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

TPS Top 5 Tuesdays - 5 Ways to Change Junior/College Hockey

Every week The Pipeline Show will have a new Top 5 on various issues and to start it off we're going to tackle a trendy topic but with our own unique slant. Lately we're seeing a lot of lists of how people would change the NHL, well with our focus we're setting our sights on a different age group. This week we offer up our Top 5 ways we'd change Junior and College hockey.

Dean's List

1) Allow players time to make a decision - Kids shouldn't have to decide at 16 what their hockey future is. I think you should be able to play in the CHL until you are 18, and still have your NCAA eligibility. Of course this is an NCAA issue and they consider CHL like a pro league because players get paid (I guess they don't realize that Junior A players also get paid) Let's not rush kids into making a decision at 16.

2) Year end league battles - I would like to see league champions face off when their season is over in at least a 1-game showdown, if not a best of 3 series. For example, the Memorial Cup champs would take on the NCAA Frozen Four winner. How about the top USHL club skating against the RBC Cup victors (awarded to the top Junior A team) Or the Air Canada Cup champions given to the best Midget team in Canada battling the best high school team from the States. At the very least, Notre Dame should take on Shattucks in a mid season classic on a pond in Saskatchewan in the middle of February.

3) Less hockey in the Summer - We need to stop burning out our kids. No more summer evaluation camps for our national team. So many kids are playing year round and now some - see Stefan Legein - are packing it in. Do we really need a summer evaluation camp when we have all star games, the top prospect game lengthy playoffs in both the CHL and NCAA and the December camp? I might be okay with the Ivan Hlinka which is a U-18 tournament but that's it. Let kids have a break and not skate all year. Besides some kids who have a bad summer camp, head into the season without confidence, so why do we want to add more pressure to 17 and 18 year olds?

4) Bring back All Star game format - Years ago the CHL had league wide all star games, where different divisions from different leagues would face off against each other. Let's get rid of the Canada/Russia travelling tour and instead put bragging rights from different leagues on the line. I remember years ago the OHL's Western Conference took on the WHL's Eastern Conference in Red Deer, and it gave me the chance to see a young Dustin Brown and Rick Nash in person. Give fans a chance to see players they've heard about and will see in the NHL, rather than an inferior Russian team with guys who will be pumping gas in a few years.

5) Raise the draft age up - Especially in the Western Hockey League, draft kids that are 15, not 14, you'd be surprised what an extra year will do for a kids development. Look at Cam Lannigan of the Edmonton Oil Kings. As a 14 year old goalie he was 5 foot 11 inches tall. A year later at training camp he was 3 inches taller. Lannigan was drafted in the 6th round as a 14 year old, but would likely be in the top 2 rounds had he been selected a year later. I would also entertain the idea of upping the NHL age to 19. Although there does seem to be a youth movement going on right now in the NHL, how many 18 year olds really make an impact their first year in the NHL. On the flip side, there are a lot more cases of kids getting rushed - Marc Andre Fleury, Gilbert Brule - and stunting their development. Drafting at 19 gives NHL teams a better indication of a players development and will cut down the "bust picks" by a greater number.

Guy's List

A couple of mine are going to follow in line with some of what Dean said, partly because he’s so smart but mostly because we agree that they are issues that really need to be addressed.

1) Raise minimum age of NCAA commitment to 17 – Like Dean said, right now kids are having to give verbal or written commitments to schools at ages as early as 15 or else they risk losing their spot at a premier NCAA program. But honestly, what kid at 15 really knows what he wants to study at college or what institution is the best to get that education? For that matter, how do they know at 15 that they need to go the college route instead of the quicker CHL path? A 17 year old would have a much better idea as to which path makes the most sense for him. If you legislate it so that NCAA programs can’t recruit high school kids until they are seniors (17-years-old in most cases) then it would be an even playing field on both sides of the border.

2) NCAA allow 18-year-olds from CHL to play – For #1 to work you have to make another NCAA change and that, like Dean suggested, is to allow players to play in the CHL up to the age of 18 and still be considered eligible to play in the NCAA. The thought that the CHL is a pro league while the CJHL is not is just hypocritical. Are there players in the CHL that get paid extra? I’m sure there are but there are also players in the BCHL or the AJHL that do as well but the NCAA conveniently turns a blind eye. Why? Because if they cut off the flow of CJHL players heading south they’d be losing a third of their talent pool (maybe half), much of which are key players. Allowing players a couple years of experience in Major Junior would be beneficial to the player and to the NCAA program he eventually joined. It makes sense if only the NCAA would get off its flawed high horse.

3) Minimum 2-year mandatory commitment to play NCAA – Dany Heatley, Paul Kariya, Erik Johnson, Kyle Turris, Kyle Okposo… the list of 1-year-and-out collegians is massive. When you ask players why they chose the college route the predictable answer is “it was important to me to get a college education”. Well, it seems to me that unless you're Doogie Howser, you're not graduating in 1 year. How many of those types of players actually go for the education and how many go to enjoy the college lifestyle? Personally I see players bolting from college after a year as really detrimental to the NCAA program that recruited them. Plus, somewhere out there is a player who lost out on his chance at a scholarship when one of these guys moved in for a year. Therefore, I think it should be mandatory that if a player is going to commit to a NCAA program that he has to show some actual commitment to that program by staying a minimum of 2 years.

Dean brought up two good arguments against this idea when I talked to him about it yesterday; what about those players who grow up in, let's say Minnesota, and dream about playing for the Golden Gophers? To that I say great! Play for them but don’t cut out on them after a single year! If they really care so much about those programs they should realize the damage they do by leaving early. The other point Dean brought up is that forcing some guys to stay a second year might be detrimental to their development. Fair point but at the same time, in my world a player would know before committing whether or not 2 years in college would be too much or if he should be going the Major Junior route instead (because he'd be at least 17, see point #1).

4) Alter the ADT Challenge – Dean mentioned getting back to the old All-Star format and while I don’t disagree and think that would be great, another option would be to simply change the ADT Challeneg games a bit. The Russian team that comes over is normally so outmatched that the event is seriously flawed and few fans are even following it anymore. I say punt the Russians and bring in American competition.

I don’t know that a USHL All-Star team would be competitive against a WHL or OHL All-Star squad but perhaps if it was played using only draft eligible and un-drafted 19 and 20-year-olds it would provide another event for the scouting community. Not the stacked, already drafted WJC calibre teams that routinely demolish the Russians. I'm not sure how Hockey Canada would feel about that as the ADT games are often a type of dress rehearsal for the WJC camp in December.

The US National Team Development Program often has top draft prospects on it, maybe that would be another option. The one obstacle that might preclude this is again, NCAA regulations. Would playing in an exhibition against Major Junior teams violate eligibility rules? Not sure. It doesn’t seem to matter for international competitions like the WJC or the WJAC so maybe this would be accepted too.

5) NHL teams retain the rights to CHL players who commit to CIS programs – Right now NHL teams have to make a decision on whether to offer pro contracts to CHL players just 2 years after they drafted them. In some cases late bloomers get dropped because the NHL team can’t afford to be that patient with them by keeping them on their reserve list. NHL teams retain the rights to their NCAA draftees until after they graduate so why should it be any different with players who opt to go to Canadian University programs?

Just for the sake of argument I’m going to use Oilers defenceman Alex Plante as an example. He missed most of last year with an injury, is embroiled in a dispute right now with his WHL team and will not be playing for who knows how long? The Oilers have to make a decision on him before June 2009 and they have barely been able to watch him play since they drafted him! In 2009-10 Plante might have pro opportunities but I’m sure the Oilers would prefer to protect his rights without having to offer him a pro contract before he’s proven to be deserving of one. My solution would allow Plante to continue to develop his skills in the CIS while still having that safety net of a NHL team owning his rights. He’d still have the opportunity to participate in training camps where as he might not if he was simply a UFA playing CIS hockey. This plan would encourage more players to go the CIS route at the end of their junior careers, get an education while doing so, rather than accept ECHL contracts where there is no guarantee of a lengthy career. Considering the CHL will pay scholarships to all of their former players to continue on to CIS, it only makes sense for everyone involved.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Oil Kings Deal Over-Ager

Everyone knew that someone had to go. The Edmonton Oil Kings began training camp with 5 returning 20-year-olds in the mix and only 3 could stay. When forward J.P. Szaszkiewicz left of his own volition to join the University of Alberta Golden Bears, half the dirty work was done. Tonight, GM Bob Green trimmed the rest of the fat when he sent Cameron Cepek to the Prince George Cougars for a 3rd round pick in next year's Bantam draft. (official release here)

Guy's Thoughts: Hey chalk one up for The Pipeline Show because this was the guy Dean and I thought the club would move all along and correctly predicted here, here and here.

I think the team can live better without Cepek than they could have without Brenden Dowd or Jeff Lee missing from the top line and Brandon Lockerby is their top offensive weapon from the blueline. I really thought it was a pretty easy choice.

The fact that a guy like Drew Nichol is willing to fight, Adrian Van de Mosselaer looks bigger and willing to drop'em and newcomer Jesse Pearson appears willing to fight anyone (except maybe Assistant Coach Rocky Thompson) to make the team... Cepek was expendable.

Great move for the Oil Kings, I honestly don't know what he was like in the room or off the ice, he could have been a terrific guy who the rest of the team thought highly of. However, I don't think Cepek will be missed on the ice.