The 2004 NHL Entry Draft has had some interesting story lines. For the first time ever, Russian players were selected 1–2, with Alexander Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin going at the top of the draft. Phoenix made a big reach and took Blake Wheeler (who has since signed in Boston) 5th overall. There were a couple of Oilers selected in that first round too, with Devan Dubnyk going at 14, and Rob Schremp at 25. Ladislav Smid had already been selected, 9th overall, by Anaheim.
Looking a little further down the draft, at 238th overall, Tokyo-born Yutaka Fukufuji was selected by the Los Angeles Kings. He was only the second Japanese-born player ever drafted, and on January 13, 2007 he became the first Japanese player to appear in an NHL game. He is currently with the Reading Royals of the ECHL.
Four selections later, the Edmonton Oilers took Tyler Spurgeon from the Kelowna Rockets with the 242nd overall pick. Only four years after being drafted, Spurgeon has dealt with two major shoulder injuries and a concussion in November of 2007 that left his career in jeopardy. Guy Flaming did a nice post on Spurgeon’s injury on his blog back in August, and Spurgeon described the play where he got hurt:
“There was a puck rimmed up the boards and their defenceman kind of counter-pinched me. I fell down to my knees but the puck was still within our zone so I chipped it out from on my knees and then a player finished me from behind and I was on my knees against the wall so…”
There’s an article up on the Oilers official website right now that summarizes the top end of the fitness testing that just occurred in training camp. Spurgeon was named the fittest player, and Craig MacTavish had this to say about him:
“He’s a hard working guy. There are some guys that don’t leave a stone unturned in terms of their preparation to get into the NHL or their preparation for training camp, and he’s obviously one of those guys. He thinks the game incredibly well and does literally everything in the game that he can.”
Craig MacTavish does not dole out praise like that on a player who isn’t in the long-term plans. Spurgeon was the captain of his junior team, and here’s what Hockey’s Future says about him:
Spurgeon is a player who plays with a lot of heart and determination which is what attracted the attention of GM Kevin Lowe. A gritty forward, despite his size, Spurgeon is a gutsy, balls-to-the-wall type of player who gets things done through effort often times more so than talent. A coach’s favourite, Spurgeon is used in many situations but especially as a checker and a penalty killer.
Spurgeon is still with the Oilers, surviving the first two rounds of roster cuts. I’d imagine he starts the season with Springfield (he played only 12 games all of last year, after all), although it isn’t out of the question that he makes a cameo as an injury replacement later in the season.
Next season, however, I would picture Spurgeon as a guy getting attention for a spot on the fourth line; he’s the kind of player that Craig MacTavish loves, he’s obviously in excellent shape, and the coach has already made it clear how he feels about this player.
—Willis –noun: 1. the proprietor of Copper and Blue; 2. A frequent OilersNation contributor.