December 08 2008 04:34PM
Players with more dangle and higher point totals than Rob Schremp have been busts in the NHL because they had skills worth a million bucks, but brains you'd be hard-pressed to get 10 cents for.
How many talented but stubborn prospects have failed to live up to the expectations of draft day because they never figured it out? "It" being the ability to grasp a simple premise -- give them what they want, because if you don't, somebody else will.
If the coach says you have to get stronger, get stronger. If he says you have to get faster, get faster. If he insists you have to be more reliable defensively with no regard for the fact you scored 50 goals in The Dub or the OHL (it's 70 goals in the Q because everybody except fourth-liners gets 35), then get to stepping and figure out how.
In Schremp's case, the coach, Craig MacTavish, has been saying all those things since the Oilers drafted him 25th overall from the London Knights in 2004. Apparently, Schremp's been listening.
That makes him talented AND smart.
Doing it right
"There's confidence building in my game and confidence coming from the coaching staff as well," said Schremp, who has three assists and a plus-2 rating since being recalled from Springfield of the AHL. "I mean, this is the most I've played. It's been a good start."
Three games in his latest NHL stint does not a career make, but it's obvious that Schremp is sharp enough to understand his best chance at long-term employment in the NHL -- and cashing the cheques that come with it -- is to listen to what he's told and provide what's asked for.
At 22, Schremp has it figured out. Given his reputation going into the draft -- an overblown bum-rap as a bad act that contributed to him plummeting out of the top 10 -- he seemed a prime candidate to become one of those guys who blew it because he figured he knew more than the organization that drafted him.
"Hey, MacT, shove defensive reliability up your crack. I'm Robbie Freakin' Schremp, Schrempy, the Schrempmeister. I had 145 points in London, so I'm gonna become a Selke Trophy candidate? Maybe YOU had to backcheck, but me? Skating? Pfft. Get serious." You get the drift.
"Defensive hockey doesn't take away from your offence," said Schremp. "It only adds. It's just learning how to do it.
"I never learned. As a kid, I just played offence. In junior, I just played offence. I always had the puck. I mean, look at our team in London. We always had the puck, you know what I mean?
"Then, when you get thrown into pro, it's like you have to learn. That's been my last two years in the minors."
Now, after taking advice to heart Schremp didn't always want to hear, here he is.
Funny how that works
"This is the last year of my contract," Schremp said. "I want to play some hockey and I don't want to go to the minors. I don't want to be there. I've had enough of it.
"I feel I put in the work down there. I think I can help at this level. My point of view is I want to be here for the year."
It goes without saying Schremp needs to keep doing what he's been doing to stick into the New Year. When Sam Gagner and Robert Nilsson return from injuries, MacTavish will have some decisions to make.
But, by buying in instead of whining that he'd never get a fair shake from MacTavish -- I was one of those people who thought Schremp and MacT would never find common ground and predicted Schremp would be traded at the June draft -- No. 88 might now have an ally.
"In the grand scheme of things, there's a way to play and there's the kind of player he wants me to be," Schremp said of MacTavish. "When he sees that, I get my shot.
"He wants to make sure I'm ready and that I can have a long career and not be up and down. It was frustrating at times, but it takes time to mature and grow and realize what the game plan is.
"It's not the coach not wanting to give you a shot or hating you, it's that they have a game plan. The coach wants to have players succeed and have a career. A couple years ago I guess you could say I was a long shot, now I'm right here and pretty close to being a good player."
Around the rink
-- Dustin Penner, who has been nagged by a knee injury that's significant enough he had an MRI last week, didn't skate today. Neither did Sheldon Souray, an absence MacTavish characterized as a chance to rest some "wear and tear."
-- Gagner (mild concussion) won't play against the Panthers Thursday and Nilsson (shoulder) as listed as very doubtful.
—Listen to Robin Brownlee every Thursday from 4 to 6pm on Just A Game with Jason Gregor on TEAM 1260.