This is Tim Thomas. He was at training camp for the Edmonton Oilers 1998 fall. Every NHL team loses quality talent for little or nothing over the years, but the bygone training camp roster serves as "God’s flashlight" and the names can be eye-popping years later. We can also see some wise moves by the organization years before the player arrives in the NHL, and also get some insight into this fall’s invite list. Here are some interesting items 98-07:
- Fall 1998: Let’s be clear: Tim Thomas wasn’t the same goalie ten years ago and in fact his career didn’t get established until 2005. The Oilers signed him as a free agent in 1998 and he played a few games for them in Hamilton, but by season’s end Thomas was in Finland trying to regain his career. I think Thomas serves as fair warning that goalies don’t develop in a straight line, so a wise team should monitor developing goaltenders in Europe and the AHL closely. A current name we might try to remember is Nathan Lawson, who has been building a nice resume in the minor leagues.
- Fall 1998: Eric Perrin had completed one season of pro (IHL) when he arrived in Oiler camp in 1998. The small forward would kick around for almost a decade before having a brief NHL career with Tampa Bay and Atlanta after the lockout. Guys like Perrin are always available, and we should look for his type (undersized 2-way player from the Toby Petersen tree) of player in the "training camp invite" list the Oilers will release in the next few days.
- Fall 1999: Esa Tikkanen played for two NHL teams the previous season and was looking for one more chance at the show. I listed him not so much as a "miss" by the Oilers but as a reminder that sometimes veterans do return for a last chance Texaco with a team that remembers them well. Anson Carter would be a more recent example. Possible invites for the Oilers this fall from this category include Janne Niinimaa, Georges Laraque and Mike York. I kid. Or do I? 🙂
- Fall 2000: Matthew Lombardi attended training camp with the Oilers and was sent back to junior for the 00-01 season. The Oilers didn’t get him signed and he re-entered the draft, and it is painfully obvious they should have signed him. Edmonton was still on the cheap in this era; the new group had some issues with Riley Nash but did get an asset in return. Rem Murray would be an example of a "reverse Lombardi" for the Oilers, in that the Kings drafted him but the Oilers signed the player after his amateur career was over.
- Fall 2001: Marc-Andre Bergeron passed through the draft and was signed three months shy of his 21st birthday. He’s on the list because the Oilers should be more active in this area but have gone away from signing some of the junior kids in the past few seasons. I’m sure teams like the Burke Leafs have driven up the price, but that’s an area of procurement Edmonton needs to improve.
- Fall 2003: Steve Valiquette’s career path had a lot of ricochet in 2003. The Oilers signed him as a minor league free agent in August, but didn’t have room to protect him in that fall’s waiver draft. He was plucked by Florida, who then lost him back to waivers when the Oilers reclaimed him just 6 days later. His travel continued later that season, as Edmonton dealt him to the Rangers for Nedved and Markkanen. I’ve listed Valiquette here because his wonky October those years ago might be the route for either Deslauriers or Dubnyk this fall.
- Fall 2006: Toby Petersen was signed as a free agent in the summer of 2004. Since there was no NHL that fall, Petersen played that season (and the next one) in the minor league system. Petersen found a home in the NHL in the fall of 2006 when coach Craig MacTavish found the other candidates (two-way role players, PK men) less than attractive. I mention his name because the current roster is very similar in this area. The obvious candidate for the Petersen role is Liam Reddox, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Oilers invite a player of this type to training camp. Perhaps Jared Aulin can fill this role.
- Fall 2006: Patrick Thoresen was all around the NHL long before he arrived. A pre-draft Q&A with Redline Report’s Kyle Woodlief went like this: Downingtown, PA: Where do you expect to see two non-CSB rated players, Patrick Thoresen and Jimmy Cuddihy, go in the draft? Kyle Woodlief: At Red Line we have both ranked as second-rounders. I expect Thoresen to go late in the second round. Cuddihy may slide to the third or fourth round, but would be a steal at that level. Thoresen was never drafted and Cuddihy went on to form Blue Rodeo. Anyway, this was 2002 or so, and Thoresen bounced around a while (Bruins TC in 2003) before Edmonton signed him summer 2006. One of 5 men from Norway to play in the NHL, he had an excellent season in the KHL this past season and I’d love to see him in an Oiler uniform again. I mention him here because "coming out of nowhere" doesn’t really happen in hockey at the NHL level. Thoresen was a known item when he signed with the Oilers.
- Fall 2007: Allan Rourke was "only a pawn their game." In July of 2007 Kevin Lowe (Tambellini would be hired a year and a month later) sent a 2nd round pick (originally Anaheim’s) to the Islanders for Rourke and a 3rd round pick (which originally belonged to the Oilers–they sent it away in the MA Bergeron trade the previous deadline). The 2nd rounder the Islanders received turned into Travis Hamonic and the 3rd round pick the Oilers got went to selecting Kirill Petrov. The reason Edmonton had to make this trade? Signing Dustin Penner to the offer sheet. A tangled transaction.
- Fall 2007: Anson Carter had a small part in the Oilers 07-08 season, beginning September 16 when he signed a tryout contract and ending October 1st when he was released with only a headache to show for two weeks work. He would sign HC Lugano (Swiss League) on November 5, 2007. With so many free agents out there I think there’s a good chance one or more would accept a training camp offer from the Oilers. The question is: will the Oilers extend an offer? With Souray’s status up in the air I can’t imagine the Oilers turning down a chance to improve the blueline depth.
The back pages do give us some indication about the future. I think the Oilers may end up calling an Enver Lisin or a Mark Popovic and inviting them to camp. Failing that, it is probably a good idea to watch the waiver wire closely this fall, as they might be able to pick up a useful player that way. I’ll be paying close attention to defensemen who fall through the cracks, Edmonton needs some help there. Picking up an able player might allow them to deal Souray for a pick and a dead contract.