Last summer, on June 1st, the Oilers held a development camp for some of their prospects and a few undrafted college players. Guy Flaming did up a complete list of the attendees, while I focused on the five NCAA players who were undrafted free agents.
One of those five, Les Reaney, had left college earlier in the year after battling with his coach (apparently over weight issues) and signed a two year contract with Springfield/Stockton. The other four players were looking at making the jump to professional hockey. They were as follows:
- Jamie Bates – a good sized forward who was captain of his NCAA team and had a reputation for hard work and intelligence
- Mike Radja – a talented goal-scoring forward with a history of disciplinary problems
- Blair Riley – a strong forward with an edge and goal-scoring ability
- John Schwarz – a big shutdown defenseman
The Oilers elected to only keep one of those four players (Jamie Bates), and I thought it might be interesting to see if they made the right choice. Here were the four players’ numbers entering development camp:
- Jamie Bates (ECAC) – 22, 6’3”, 195lbs – 34GP – 11G – 23A – 34PTS
- Mike Radja (H. East) – 22, 6’, 180lbs – 36GP – 19G – 24A – 43PTS
- Blair Riley (CCHA) – 22, 6’, 210lbs – 36GP – 14G – 10A – 24PTS
- John Schwarz (WCHA) – 23, 6’3”, 210lbs – 37GP – 1G – 3A – 4PTS
The Oilers passed on Mike Radja who statistically looked like the best option (and also played in the most competitive division) and kept Jamie Bates, who was assigned to Stockton. Mike Radja ended up signing in the Chicago Blackhawks system, while Blair Riley and John Schwarz went back to college. Here are their numbers (combined regular season and playoffs) this season:
- Jamie Bates (ECHL): 77GP – 22G – 39A – 61PTS, -1
- Mike Radja (AHL): 58GP – 11G – 12A – 23PTS, +8
- Blair Riley (CCHA): 37GP – 7G – 9A – 16PTS
- John Schwarz (WCHA): 28GP – 0G – 3A – 3PTS
Radja had an interesting season; he got off to a torrid start in the AHL but slowed down considerably afterwards. Here’s a look at the splits:
- First 15 games: 7 goals, 4 assists, 11 points, +3
- Final 43 games: 4 goals, 8 assists, 12 points, +5
Despite that it would seem logical that a player in the AHL is in a better position than a player in the ECHL, but I’m really not convinced the Oilers made the wrong decision in electing to let Radja go. Radja is most famous for being arrested after an off-ice altercation with T.J Oshie. After his NCAA career ended, he signed a tryout contract with the Syracuse Crunch, scoring three points in two games, but was then released despite the fact that Syracuse was going on a playoff run.
Aside from Radja, Riley was returned to college and had a subpar season, while Schwarz also failed to land a professional contract. It seems to me that the Oilers made the right decision in keeping Bates, who not only has size on Radja but was highly spoken of by his coach in Quinnipiac:
“He’s been a great player for his four years at Quinnipiac and has worked very hard to get where he is today. He’s also a model student-athlete and this is a testament to his character.”
Of course, Bates is still an extreme long-shot for an NHL career, but I think that has more to do with the quality of unsigned college players still available in June than it does with the Oilers scouting staff, and he was able to play a useful depth role in the Oilers’ system.