April 22 2011 07:54AM
In a draft cluster that features Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle, it's easy for an enforcer like Cameron Abney to get lost in the shuffle. A meandering season filled with injury and growing pains didn't help, but a strong showing in the playoffs probably saved Abney's status as an Oiler prospect. Can Abney help the Edmonton Oilers?
BEAUTY IS ONLY SKIN DEEP
On his draft day, Stu MacGregor told us about Abney: "He's a big kid who had a huge growth spurt in the last couple of years. A kid that has to improve skating, obviously, when you grow that much you're going to have to improve your skating. We needed to try and get some physicality and he's a young guy who we think is going to be a huge advantage for us."
Abney's independent scouting report talked about a large frame, good fighter, surprisingly good skating ability and a hitter. Doing things to help win hockey games would be the major negative for him in any assessment that projected him into the future.
Abney had an uneven junior career. This past season he set personal bests in goals (7) and points (20) while fighting less due to injury.
Kent Simpson, commentator for Oil Kings broadcasts on Team 1260 had some interesting thoughts when we chatted on Nation Radio in late March. Simpson: "Abney's playing some of the best hockey I've seen in a year and a half. I think the biggest thing that's changed is he's starting to move his feet. He's starting to realzie that if he moves his feet and makes a good pass he might get it back. It's night and day the way this guy is skating. Early in the year he was a little to late getting in on the forecheck, but now he's playing like the light's turned on."
Abney was battling a hand injury for most of the season and there was also a much repeated theory that even when healthy the kid wasn't going to get into too many fights because his reputation preceded him. It may be a blessing in disguise, as the young man appears to have devoted time to improving foot speed and thinking the game at a higher level. In his last 18 regular season games, Abney scored 3-7-10 points. As Simpson stated, a light appears to have turned on.
I think it's likely Abney spends at least some of next season in the ECHL. Although the WHL is a strong junior league, the speed and size of the AHL has ground a lot of new pro's into a fine white powder. 40 games in Stockton to adjust to the rigors of the pro game might be just what the doctor ordered.
Abney's possible roles as a pro player (enforcer, tough winger with some skill) rely on his ability to move his feet and adjust to new challenges as he moves up the ladder.
He's got an opportunity. Coach Tom Renney sent away Zack Stortini because of foot speed issues and the organization has only Steve MacIntyre (a UFA July 1st) as a real NHL enforcer option. Unless someone already in the system starts to fill that role (Alex Plante has been fighting more, as an example) there's a major void. The quicker Abney learns his lessons in the minors the faster track he's on for an NHL career.
The kid has a shot.