Even in Penticton you could sense it was a Battle of Alberta last night, even though most of the players on the ice will likely never suit up in the NHL for the Flames or Oilers, the rookies for both clubs played like it mattered to them.
It was a much more physical game than Sunday’s no-hitter v. the Canucks and a few spirited scraps midway though the middle frame really energized the crowd. Cameron Abney, who’ll play for the Oil Kings this season, had a great tilt with 6’6” giant Chris Breen. Both guys threw some long range, heavy shots, but Abney landed two solid rights late in the 45-second tilt to earn the decision as Breen left the ice leaking from his forehead. On the ensuing faceoff Jordan Bendfeld and Flames rookie Ryley Grantham dropped their lids and went toe-to-toe. Grantham threw a few more punches, and cut open Bendfeld on the back of the head, however, Bendfeld landed the best punch.
Alex Plante had a pair (empty netter), Mike Thomas, Chris Vande Velde and Tyler Pitlick scored for the Oilers. The Oilers had three PP goals, the Flames had two and they combined for 72 shots on goal.
I decided to focus specifically on six Oiler rookies last night, and here's what I noticed.
RYAN MARTINDALE: On Sunday he was the least effective player on the ice, but after a pep talk with Stu MacGregor Monday morning, Martindale responded with a solid game. He won faceoffs, battled hard for loose pucks and chipped in with two assists. He won crucial defensive draws and displayed the ability MacGregor thought he had. On Monday MacGregor told him, “If you want to play in the NHL you need to win battles. If you can’t compete as hard as the opposing player you won’t make it.” Martindale vowed he’d be better last night and he was.
MARTIN MARINCIN: The lanky 2010, 2nd round pick was steady but not spectacular. He plays his defensive positioning incredibly well for a young kid. He gets his stick and big body in the passing lanes consistently. He needs to fill out and that should come with time. He uses his reach very well, and that will be a great asset as he matures. He is not flashy, but when he has the puck he looks to make a play first, rather than just dump it out. He made some great plays in traffic, and rarely looked timid with the puck. He got tired in the 3rd period, which is understandable considering he was playing against men. I'll be curious to see who he handles the older Sharks tonight. It will be a good test for him.
PHILIPPE CORNET: The 20-year-old was a non-factor for the 2nd straight game. He didn’t make any glaring mistakes, but he rarely was involved in the play. The game was a scramble at times, and that didn’t jive with his style of play, but he needed to do something to get noticed or make an impact in the game and that didn’t happen. Considering he opened some eyes at main camp last year, and is one of the older Oilers in the tourney, he has been a disappointment. Unless he steps up his game at main camp, I could see him going back to junior rather than the AHL.
CURTIS HAMILTON: He isn’t a flashy player, but his play along the boards, in traffic and his willingness to be involved physically is exactly why the Oilers drafted him. They think he’ll be a physical, 3rd line type player and after the game Kevin Lowe was very pleased with how he played. Hamilton has decent hands and offensive instincts and like most young players, his first step needs to improve. If he can stay healthy, I expect he is two or three years away from seriously competing for a roster spot with the Oilers.
BRANDON DAVIDSON: He really struggled early and didn’t look like he was in the game, but rather than try to do too much he simplified his game. After the rough start he got himself into the game by making the safe play in his own zone, and just continually dumped it out. In the 3rd period he started to make a few passes rather than just hammer it off the glass. He is a stay-at-home D-man, and even though he didn’t make a lot of plays early, he didn’t turn it over inside his blueline, which shows he can be trusted in his own zone. He battled hard in the corners, and while he isn’t a physical player he is not afraid to take a hit to make a play. He’s been steady in his two games thus far.
TYLER PITLICK: After playing with Magnus Paajarvi on Sunday, he had Drew Czerwonka and Kristians Pelss as wingers and his game didn’t regress. He showed great foot-to-hands coordination on his goal, and once again was physically involved. He was decent on faceoffs, and he was pretty solid in his own zone. Pitlick has been impressive in both games, and I thought he was even better last night with less talented linemates. He is big, strong, skates well, competes hard and has good offensive and defensive instincts.
A few other notes from last night:
Chris Vande Velde was exceptional and along with Martindale they were the two best players on the ice. Vande Velde won draws, was very good on the PK and played a strong two-way game. On his goal, he won the draw cleanly back to Davidson, went straight to the net with his stick on the ice, grabbed the rebound and buried it in the back of the net. One year in the AHL and I bet he will push hard for a roster spot next season. He has great hockey sense.
Free agent Nolan Toigo earned bonus points when he went after Lance Bouma after a dangerous hit on Dominik Schlumpf late in the third period. Toigo and Bouma were teammates with the Vancouver Giants last year, but he defended the logo on the front of the jersey and Steve Tambellini was really impressed by that. Toigo will be a project, but he will go to the OKC camp and compete for a job in the AHL, but if he does get a contract he’ll probably start in the Stockton.
Teemu Hartikainen got lost in the shuffle last night, especially in the 3rd period. The Oilers want to put him with some better players tonoight and see what he can do. He plays with an edge, but they'd like to see him in some more offensive situations to see how he fares.
Alex Plante has been the leader through two games. He has been physical, and he has been a presence in both games. He was going to sit tonight, but he has played very well and combined with Marincin being a little fatigued he’ll wear the “A” again tonight.
GAME THREE V. SHARKS
The Oilers will wrap up the rookie tourney with a tough test v. a mature San Jose Sharks rookie squad. The Oiler scouts and management are very curious to see how their young players will fare against a much older and stronger Shark team.
Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle and Paajarvi will skate as a line tonight, with Hall playing the middle. Don’t expect Hall to play much centre at main camp, but they are curious to see how he’ll do in the middle.
The other change will see Pitlick play the right wing tonight. Pitlick will start the WHL season on the RW in Medicine Hat. He is excited about the move because then he will play with offensive guys and get more icetime. I suspect he will be a centre down the road but he’ll play the wing in the Hat to start the season.
The other lines for tonight look like this:
Bryan Pitton will start in goal.
The Sheldon Souray saga might not be completely over. I got the sense last night that there is a slight possibility he could still come to camp/preseason later this month. I think both sides are being a bit bull-headed right now, and if they can find a common ground you never know. It won’t happen right away, but if Souray says the right things, and speaks with Steve Tambellini there is a slight chance he could find an opportunity to showcase himself and get traded. We’ll wait and see.
I still believe it is in the best of interest of both sides to get him in some preseason games. I don’t think the Oilers want to lose him on re-entry waivers for nothing and then be on the hook for $2.7 million for two seasons.