A lot had happened over the last couple of weeks and that's provided me with a few topics worth touching on in another variety column. These are just some quick notes, observations, nuggets from eavesdropping with some random speculations thrown in for good measure.
The U18s, the Alberta Cup, the Doyle Cup, the recent Edmonton Oilers "culture changes" and some Edmonton Oil Kings news as well.
The significance of the picture above? None. It just makes me smile.
Let's start with the U18s...
- A contact who was over in Belarus for the event raved about how strong a tournament it was which took me a little by surprise considering the lack of star power that was playing.
- Russian Evegeny Kuznetsov impressed enough to get one WHL executive to tell me that "I think he's 90% certain not to be coming over to play in the CHL... but he's so good that he might be worth taking in the import draft just in case."
- Another U18 watcher declared that the subject of which goalie will go 1st at the 2010 NHL draft shouldn't even be up for debate anymore - "Jack Campbell is unbelievable. That's not to say there is anything wrong with Calvin Pickard because he's a really good goalie but... Campbell is just unreal. Windsor is going to love him next year."
- I had a chance to chat with Everett Silvertips GM Doug Soetaert over the weekend. He couldn't say enough about his 16-year-old defenceman Ryan Murray whose name came up to me a few times this year in conversations I had with NHL scouts down at Rexall Place. The White City, Saskatchewan native was Everett's 1st selection (9th overall) in 2008 and had a terrific year for the 'Tips. Playing as a real underaged player in Belarus, I'm told he was first pairing and one of Canada's top performers. Not draft eligible until 2012 thanks to his Sept 27, 1993 birthday, remember the name - might be a top 10 guy for that year already.
The Alberta Cup
The best bantam aged players in the Province gathered in Leduc over the past weekend for a showcase event in front of the entire WHL. 8 teams played each other for 3 days while scouts for the 22-team league scribbled last minute notes for the Bantam Draft which will be held this coming Thursday here in Edmonton.
- The top scorer in the event was Johnathon Merkley of Calgary. He ended up with 11 points after 5 games. Teammate Morgan Klimchuk was next with 9 points.
- The tournament high in goal scoring was 5, shared by a trio of players - Klimchuk, Luke Philp from Canmore and Edmonton's Josh Sinatynski. The two games I saw Sinatynski play had me coming away with a favorable impression; on top of his goals he also recorded 24 PIMs. His older brother Jesse made his debut this year with the Brandon Wheat Kings and had 10 points in 27 games.
- Of the goalies that took part I have to say that Eric Comrie was the one that impressed me the most. He ended with a .940 save percentage, second best in the event, but made a bunch of high quality saves when peppered by the opposition.
- Defenceman Keegan Kanzig from Athabasca stood out. At 6'5 he towered over most players in the tournament and although one person I spoke with said his skating was a major weakness, I actually thought he was fine. It will be hard to pass on the size for long at the draft on Thursday.
- One of Kanzig's teammates, Jake Mykitiuk was a pint sized dynamo. He might have been the smallest player at the tournament, I could be wrong on that but he looked like the minor hockey kids that come out with the NHL teams for the national anthem. Well with one exception; this kid can play! Super skilled, quick hands and a real battler's attitude.
- The forward who kept getting my attention was Calgary North's Chad Labelle - slightly below average in size but he looks solid and strong; threw a bunch of big hits and ended up with 5 points in 5 games.
- There were a bunch of interesting blueliners and for me, none more so that Josh Morrissey from Calgary South. TEAM 1260 morning show host Kyle Chase advised me to keep and eye on him and I have to admit, it was hard not to. Good size, terrific skater, no panic, seems to be really smart and moved the puck well all weekend. I also liked that he was prepared to lead the rush on more than one occasion.
- As for Chase, his kid Greg (Northeast) is a pretty slick player too. Really good speed and looks to me like a pretty smart, creative offensive player. He didn't get much done production wise but I think he's better than what he showed this weekend. Feisty and apparently willing to get his hands dirty if need be.
The Doyle Cup
A miraculous comeback that just fell short; that's how things ended this year for the AJHL's Spruce Grove Saints. Down 3-1 to Vernon with all remaining games being played in B.C., the Saints stole games 5 and 6 to force a deciding 7th game yesterday. The final tally ended up being 7-3 that includes two empty net goals to close out the scoring.
Spruce Grove had a 2-1 lead late in the 1st period but surrender 3 goals in just over 2 minutes which put them down 4-2 heading into the intermission. That's a big swing in momentum that the club never recovered from.
The Vipers will now go to Dauphin, MB seeking their 2nd consecutive and 7th National title. The other four teams in the tournament are the Brockville Braves, LaRonge Ice Wolves (SJHL), Oakville Blades and the host Dauphin Kings. By my count, the winner of the Doyle Cup has played in the final 28 times and captured the national crown 17 of 39 times.
Edmonton Oil Kings
- With the news that former Wisconsin Assistant coach Mark Osiecki is now the head coach at Ohio State... how will that affect Troy Hesketh's situation as a future Badger? He told us that Wisconsin's reputation and track record of manufacturing NHL caliber defencemen is what drew him to the program. Now that the guy who is viewed as responsible for that success is no longer there, might Hesketh consider his CHL route?
The Edmonton Oil Kings listed Hesketh a few months ago but knew it was probably a long shot. I wonder if that still holds true. Probably a bigger factor is whether the Badgers lose a couple defencemen to the pro ranks or not. Ryan McDonagh is apparently returning for a senior year but what about Brendan Smith? If they both stay in college then there won't be room for Hesketh. I wonder if we'll see the Minnesota kid at Oil Kings summer camp at the end of May - attending won't affect his NCAA eligibility and he'd get a sense of what the WHL is all about. It's always a good thing to explore your options.
- I'm told that Henrik Samuelsson will not be joining the Oil Kings this coming season. Instead, the American/Swede dual citizen is headed to Ann Arbor, Michigan to play for the US-NTDP. While disappointing for the Oil Kings because the scoring forward could have stepped into a top-6 role this year as a 17-year-old rookie, the growing trend (or is it?) of US-NTDP players leaving for the CHL may mean he turns up in Edmonton a year from now. Samuelsson's brother Philip just helped Boston College win the national title but was then charged with an alcohol related incident with two other freshmen. Both players are listed by the Oil Kings.
- Here's a name that Oil Kings fans night have an interest in: Max Gaede. He's ranked 104th in North America by NHL Central Scouting and is slated to join Minnesota State-Mankato in the fall of 2011. However, the Oil Kings listed him at some point this past year and the 6'2 forward is deciding where he wants to play next year. He had 44 points in 27 games with Woodbury in Minnesota high school play this past season.
- There could be quite the goaltending battle in Edmonton this year. Cam Lanigan played in 39 games for the Oil Kings, mostly in the second half of the schedule and is now ranked 9th a month NHL goalies for the 2010 Draft. On his heels is incoming 17-year-old rookie Laurent Brossoit who, one scout told me recently, is so good that he "will be the starter by Christmas".
- Edmonton has the 4th overall pick in the CHL Import Draft as well as Chilliwack's selection at 19th overall. To use them both it would me dropping Robin Soudek and Sebastian Svendsen from the team and I don't think that's going to happen. I don't expect Soudek to be back but Svendsen was very good for the team after coming over from Vancouver at the trade deadline. His performance on the ice was almost as valuable as his affect off of it - I'm told he's a great guy in the lockeroom, well liked and a pleasure to be around for the team. Unless GM Bob Green can lock up two stellar Euros to WHL commitments before the Import Draft, I'd be surprised if they didn't decide to deal one of those top-20 picks and just keep Svendsen.
- As for the coaching candidates for the spots previously held by Steve Pleau and Rocky Thomson, I asked Bob Green if he felt the need to hire a big name coach, one with maybe NHL experience along the likes of Craig Hartsburg (Everett), Marc Habscheid (Chilliwack), Don Hay (Vancouver), Mike Johnston (Portland), Lorne Molleken (Saskatoon), etc. "The quality of coaching in our league is so good now because of those guys that in order to win, you have to find someone on that same level," he said. That might not mean that non-NHL background coaches shouldn't apply but it sounds to me like the next coach of the Oil Kings will be a name that people recognize.
In the wake of last week's dismissals of long time members of the organization, many Oiler fans are now wondering if the axe has been rehung in the shed or if GM Steve Tambellini is still sharpening it for another round of cuts. As I said back in January, I fully expected Kevin Prendergast to be let go and that I think others on the scouting staff will share the same fate after the draft.
I have to wonder what the atmosphere will be like at the team's meetings in late May/early June as the staff meets. The meetings to establish "the list" is always peppered with arguments and disagreements because guys are lobbying for guys they want in certain positions. This year I think it's fair to suggest that some of the staff will be attending the meeting feeling great uncertainty about their own future plus the disgruntlement over the release of the man that hired them all.
- Back when Glen Sather left for the New York Rangers, a number of scouts followed him to the Big Apple. I wonder how many on Edmonton's current staff will do the same should Kevin Prendergast opt to take on a job this summer that would give him the ability to hire a scouting staff. I expect there would be a bunch... and that Tambellini wouldn't lose any sleep over them leaving.
- I thought the Oilers had to sign Finnish prospect Teemu Hartikainen and Quebec product Phil Cornet before June 1st or their rights will be lost and the players tossed back into the draft pool. The guys at The Copper & Blue blog suggest a Cornet signing is right around the corner. I requested an update from the Oilers... "Cornet is the only one who needs to be signed before June 1st; Hartikainen is under contract in Finland and we can't sign him until he is relieved of his contractual obligations over there." (I am looking to confirm when his deal in Finland expires but perhaps one of our CBA-guru readers will be able to explain why they dn't have to sign him by June 1st).
- The annual summer prospect camp was created by Kevin Prendergast and as far as I know, he's been n charge of organizing it, inviting free agents and whatever else is involved behind the scenes. Obviously that won't be the case this year. I have a request in to the organization to see if there are dates booked yet and if there are any free agent confirmations yet: "No dates set for Prospect Camp at this point... Probably early July again."
- Speaking of the prospect camp, you'll recall that last year's free agent list was very short; I want to say there were only 5 or 6 non-Oiler properties there. I'm told that wasn't because the scouting staff didn't have a list of players they wanted to bring in and get a closer look at. None of the players brought in were of any significance and one, according to a source, got the invite as a favor to a friend of the owner. Hey, it's his team and Daryl Katz can do whatever he wants to with it but I wonder if we'll see any other strange free agent choices at camp like last year when the son of his accountant (or so I'm told) got the call despite being a healthy scratch half the time at Brown University.