Training camp is an exciting time for fans. With the exception of the entry draft and the first couple of days of free agency, there isn’t much in the summer to keep hockey fans following the game (barring acrimonious disputes over restricted free agent offer sheets). Training camp gives fans their first looks at some prospects, and showcases others.
There is, however, a group of players who are threatened by training camp. These are bubble players—generally, players who had a spot last year, but either underachieved, or have both trade value and a younger player angling for their job. These guys come in all types:
“It’s never easy to trade a player but, in this case, it was even more difficult because of the contributions Mike has made to our team over the past six seasons. He has been an extraordinary leader for us, but the time has come for us to make room for our young prospects.”
Travis Green, 2003—I can’t find a link, but after waiving Green, Pat Quinn said something to the effect of “training camp having meaning,” and he pretty strongly implied that Green had shown up expecting to be handed a spot and hadn’t put the necessary work in.
Ryan Potulny, 2007—Potulny spent a good part of 2006–07 playing with the Flyers, but when the team underwent radical improvement over the summer, Potulny found himself in the minors, although there’s a pretty good case to be made that he wasn’t any less deserving of a spot than he had been the year before.
Which players are in some danger of losing their spots this fall? Here are my picks:
Nilsson had a very nice season last year, and there’s every reason to expect that he’ll continue to improve. On the ice, however, he’s very comparable stylistically to Rob Schremp, a guy who has spent his entire summer lifting heavy things for Chad Moreau. If Schremp has a stellar training camp, he could very well play his way on to the roster, and a guy like Nilsson, who has excellent trade value, could be moved to shore up a position of weakness.
Erik Cole is the player that people hope Dustin Penner will turn into. Although Cole is widely expected to test free agency, if the Oilers feel they can sign him long-term, Penner is the logical candidate to leave town. That said, he’s probably going to get more time after a disappointing initial season in Edmonton, and there’s no reason the team can’t carry two players of this type.
When healthy, Moreau brings unique skills to the roster (size, willingness to use it, experience) and is obviously a leader in the dressing room. However, he hasn’t been healthy in two years, and despite J-F Jacques’ continuing health (and performance) woes, the Oilers may decide that a player like Gilbert Brulé can replace some of the physical element that Moreau provides. It really isn’t very far from 4th line LW to being off the team.
This is the third year in a row that Marc Pouliot has been penciled in for a spot in the lineup. The last two seasons, he’s lost that spot with uninspired performances in both training camp and actual NHL games. Given the improvements elsewhere on the team, the Oilers can’t afford to give a roster spot to a player who is clearly spinning his wheels; thus it’s imperative that Pouliot show his best from the very beginning.
The Oilers have a truck-load of defensive prospects, and with the premium on puck-moving defenceman right now, Grebeshkov could attract a very decent return. I imagine that he’ll probably stay, but a strong camp by a guy like Josef Hrabel might make Grebeshkov expendable. Also playing into this equation are the possible KHL concerns for Grebeshkov down the road.
The trade of Matt Greene indicates that the Oilers are not content to spend development time on prospects who aren’t improving. While Smid still has time and has taken encouraging strides, he really needs to have a strong camp to stay ahead of the prospects directly behind him on the depth chart.
I generally agree with Lowetide’s suggestion that Strudwick will see heavier levels of responsibility than the vast majority of observers expect, and that he’ll likely perform above his career norms in that role. However, if Strudwick doesn’t look great in camp, a player like Theo Peckham could grab his job.
The smart money says that all of these players are on the ice when the Avalanche come to town on October 12th. Still, the possibility exists that one or more of them are moved, and it certainly shouldn’t surprise anyone if it happens.
—Jonathan Willis is the force behind Copper and Blue, and a frequent OilersNation contributor.