September 11 2011 08:25AM
Starting tonight, the three week competition for roster spots gets underway. The Oilers rookies--another #1 overall selection among them--are playing in a tournament in BC's interior. Everything counts.
This year's rookie tournament doesn't quite match the impact trio of one year ago, but for Oilers fans this is the second straight season where their team can boast elite level talent that should have long and productive careers once they shave. The beauty of the Magnificent Bastard drafting era is that some of the exceptional stories are buried in the later rounds and may come as a surprise to some.
ITEMS TO KEEP A CLOSE EYE ON
Last year's rookie camp boasted several young men who would see NHL action during the season: Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, Magnus Paajarvi, Teemu Hartikainen, Chris VandeVelde, Jeff Petry and Alex Plante. This year's group doesn't have that kind of firepower but is an extremely interesting group.
- C Ryan Nugent-Hopkins: In an interview with Jason Gregor yesterday on the Nation Radio show (you should also thank Jason for today's photo's btw), he made an excellent point about RNH's weight gain possibly forcing a period of adjustment. RNH looked effective but not dominant in the WJ camp games and it could factor into the young man's performance in the next couple of weeks. Is it enough to keep him out of the NHL for a season? No idea, but it's something to watch for beginning tonight.
- C Anton Lander: There's a different kind of buzz about this guy. Allthough he doesn't possess RNH's elite skill set, Lander does have pro experience and is a little older. As luck would have it, they'll be trying to win employment at the same position through training camp and my guess is that if RNH is sent to junior then Lander will see NHL time during this coming season. Has an insane defensive rep, we begin to see what he can do in Oilers silks this week.
- D David Musil: His resume is a perfect match for what the Oilers need, and I have a feeling Musil will impress throughout training camp. A solid defender who can read the play and make decisions in a heartbeat, Musil has pedigree and was perhaps undervalued at the draft (he didn't play major PP minutes so the boxcars weren't gaudy). Major plus arrows are possible for this player.
- G Tyler Bunz: This is a guy who is coming off an enormous season. A terrific WHL season has put Bunz in the mix for the WJ team and his performance last spring is still fresh in everyone's minds. Bunz could end up being the best goaltender the Oilers have drafted since the Moog-Fuhr era. He's tracking extremely well.
- R Tyler Pitlick: I just hope he's healthy. Pitlick had a strong season in the WHL but an ankle injury has keep him from getting ready for the season in normal fashion. It'll be something to watch, and could impact his turning pro this fall. Should he return to the Medicine Hat Tigers, we should expect a dominant season (if healthy).
- L Curtis Hamilton: Blocked by multiple moves made by ST this summer, an NHL job must seem like a distant bell. Still, solid 2-way play and another healthy season is important, and I think any offense he delivers (even in a camp like this one) is going to bode well for him. Could get lucky and see time with RNH this week.
- D Colten Teubert: Big, strong stay-at-home defender who can intimidate and is an effective puck mover. If we're looking for a DD candidate from this group who is pro eligible, has the ability to play defense and bring it physically, then Teubert is the strongest option on this list.
- D Martin Marincin: Mentioned by the GM as a possible Oiler roster player as early as this fall, Marincin's season a year ago started strong and then faded badly in the second half. He's an interesting prospect in that he's tall and rail thin, so another season in junior may be the way to go just for that reason alone. Still regarded as one of the key long term solutions to a great area of need.
- R Toni Rajala: I'm hoping he is going to get a long look from the organization. Although Rajala is likely to return to Finland for one more season, and we may have forgotten about him a little, Rajala is a quality prospect who could be part of the solution down the line. The hockey Gods owe Oiler fans one after the Rita-Salmelainen experience.
- C Ryan Martindale: Impressive OHL scorer still has no contract, suggesting that he's well behind the other pro eligibles from that crazy 2010 entry draft (Hall, Hamilton, Marincin, Pitlick, etc) and in about the same spot as Brandon Davidson. A big September would help his career in a big way.
- D Taylor Fedun: Important camp for him because he's older than everyone else and therefore should be a big factor at a tournament like this one. I'd expect heavy minutes and some offense in Penticton.
- F Antti Tyrvainen: Signed this summer, what we don't know about him is a lot. Described as being an agitator with skill, and since he's from Finland our minds instantly migrate to Tikkanen. That's an unfair comparison, but he's a player of interest.
- L Brett Ferguson: Impressive invite can score goals in the WHL and that's no easy league. He's also a gritty player, in fact his goals-pims combination (23-111) stands out on the roster. May play with RNH because of familiarity.
- F Tobias Rieder: A depth pick in 2011, Rieder is an interesting player and could be another of Stu MacGregor's hidden gems. It'll be interesting to see what kind of role the coaching staff asks him to play this week. He's a skilled player who could surprise.
WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN?
Game time is 8:30, it's streaming on Oilers site and Sportsnet has it scheduled too.
The 2010 camp and this one are beyond exceptional. This is the Oilers future on display, and it starts tonight. As was the case last season, these young men will improve in fits and starts and there will be times when Oilers Nation openly worries over the group. The point I've been trying to make for some time is this: there's too much, too many who are too good for this Oiler team to be a doormat for much longer.
Stand back, I'm not sure how big this thing is going to get.