ROOKIE THOUGHTS AND GAME THREE PREVIEW

Even in Penticton you could sense it was a Battle of Alberta last night, even though most of the players on the ice will likely never suit up in the NHL for the Flames or Oilers, the rookies for both clubs played like it mattered to them.
 
 
 
It was a much more physical game than Sunday’s no-hitter v. the Canucks and a few spirited scraps midway though the middle frame really energized the crowd. Cameron Abney, who’ll play for the Oil Kings this season, had a great tilt with 6’6” giant Chris Breen. Both guys threw some long range, heavy shots, but Abney landed two solid rights late in the 45-second tilt to earn the decision as Breen left the ice leaking from his forehead. On the ensuing faceoff Jordan Bendfeld and Flames rookie Ryley Grantham dropped their lids and went toe-to-toe. Grantham threw a few more punches, and cut open Bendfeld on the back of the head, however, Bendfeld landed the best punch.
 
Alex Plante had a pair (empty netter), Mike Thomas, Chris Vande Velde and Tyler Pitlick scored for the Oilers. The Oilers had three PP goals, the Flames had two and they combined for 72 shots on goal.
 
I decided to focus specifically on six Oiler rookies last night, and here’s what I noticed.
 
RYAN MARTINDALE: On Sunday he was the least effective player on the ice, but after a pep talk with Stu MacGregor Monday morning, Martindale responded with a solid game. He won faceoffs, battled hard for loose pucks and chipped in with two assists. He won crucial defensive draws and displayed the ability MacGregor thought he had. On Monday MacGregor told him, “If you want to play in the NHL you need to win battles. If you can’t compete as hard as the opposing player you won’t make it.” Martindale vowed he’d be better last night and he was.
 
MARTIN MARINCIN: The lanky 2010, 2nd round pick was steady but not spectacular. He plays his defensive positioning incredibly well for a young kid. He gets his stick and big body in the passing lanes consistently. He needs to fill out and that should come with time. He uses his reach very well, and that will be a great asset as he matures. He is not flashy, but when he has the puck he looks to make a play first, rather than just dump it out. He made some great plays in traffic, and rarely looked timid with the puck. He got tired in the 3rd period, which is understandable considering he was playing against men. I’ll be curious to see who he handles the older Sharks tonight. It will be a good test for him.
 
PHILIPPE CORNET: The 20-year-old was a non-factor for the 2nd straight game. He didn’t make any glaring mistakes, but he rarely was involved in the play. The game was a scramble at times, and that didn’t jive with his style of play, but he needed to do something to get noticed or make an impact in the game and that didn’t happen. Considering he opened some eyes at main camp last year, and is one of the older Oilers in the tourney, he has been a disappointment. Unless he steps up his game at main camp, I could see him going back to junior rather than the AHL.
 
CURTIS HAMILTON: He isn’t a flashy player, but his play along the boards, in traffic and his willingness to be involved physically is exactly why the Oilers drafted him. They think he’ll be a physical, 3rd line type player and after the game Kevin Lowe was very pleased with how he played. Hamilton has decent hands and offensive instincts and like most young players, his first step needs to improve. If he can stay healthy, I expect he is two or three years away from seriously competing for a roster spot with the Oilers.
 
BRANDON DAVIDSON: He really struggled early and didn’t look like he was in the game, but rather than try to do too much he simplified his game. After the rough start he got himself into the game by making the safe play in his own zone, and just continually dumped it out. In the 3rd period he started to make a few passes rather than just hammer it off the glass. He is a stay-at-home D-man, and even though he didn’t make a lot of plays early, he didn’t turn it over inside his blueline, which shows he can be trusted in his own zone. He battled hard in the corners, and while he isn’t a physical player he is not afraid to take a hit to make a play. He’s been steady in his two games thus far.
 
TYLER PITLICK: After playing with Magnus Paajarvi on Sunday, he had Drew Czerwonka and Kristians Pelss as wingers and his game didn’t regress. He showed great foot-to-hands coordination on his goal, and once again was physically involved. He was decent on faceoffs, and he was pretty solid in his own zone. Pitlick has been impressive in both games, and I thought he was even better last night with less talented linemates. He is big, strong, skates well, competes hard and has good offensive and defensive instincts.
 
A few other notes from last night:
 
Chris Vande Velde was exceptional and along with Martindale they were the two best players on the ice. Vande Velde won draws, was very good on the PK and played a strong two-way game. On his goal, he won the draw cleanly back to Davidson, went straight to the net with his stick on the ice, grabbed the rebound and buried it in the back of the net. One year in the AHL and I bet he will push hard for a roster spot next season. He has great hockey sense.
 
Free agent Nolan Toigo earned bonus points when he went after Lance Bouma after a dangerous hit on Dominik Schlumpf late in the third period. Toigo and Bouma were teammates with the Vancouver Giants last year, but he defended the logo on the front of the jersey and Steve Tambellini was really impressed by that. Toigo will be a project, but he will go to the OKC camp and compete for a job in the AHL, but if he does get a contract he’ll probably start in the Stockton.
 
Teemu Hartikainen got lost in the shuffle last night, especially in the 3rd period. The Oilers want to put him with some better players tonoight and see what he can do. He plays with an edge, but they’d  like to see him in some more offensive situations to see how he fares.
 
Alex Plante has been the leader through two games. He has been physical, and he has been a presence in both games. He was going to sit tonight, but he has played very well and combined with Marincin being a little fatigued he’ll wear the “A” again tonight.
 
GAME THREE V. SHARKS          
 
The Oilers will wrap up the rookie tourney with a tough test v. a mature San Jose Sharks rookie squad. The Oiler scouts and management are very curious to see how their young players will fare against a much older and stronger Shark team.
 
Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle and Paajarvi will skate as a line tonight, with Hall playing the middle. Don’t expect Hall to play much centre at main camp, but they are curious to see how he’ll do in the middle.
 
The other change will see Pitlick play the right wing tonight. Pitlick will start the WHL season on the RW in Medicine Hat. He is excited about the move because then he will play with offensive guys and get more icetime. I suspect he will be a centre down the road but he’ll play the wing in the Hat to start the season.
 
The other lines for tonight look like this:
 
Livingston/Martindale/Pitlick
Thomas/Kytnar/Hartikainen
Abney/Schraber/Czerwonka
 
Schlumpf/Motin
Plante/Blain
Marinicin/Bendfeld
 
Bryan Pitton will start in goal.
 
FINAL WORD
 
The Sheldon Souray saga might not be completely over. I got the sense last night that there is a slight possibility he could still come to camp/preseason later this month. I think both sides are being a bit bull-headed right now, and if they can find a common ground you never know. It  won’t happen right away, but if Souray says the right things, and speaks with Steve Tambellini there is a slight chance he could find an opportunity to showcase himself and get traded. We’ll wait and see.
 
I still believe it is in the best of interest of both sides to get him in some preseason games. I don’t think the Oilers want to lose him on re-entry waivers for nothing and then be on the hook for $2.7 million for two seasons.
  • ubermiguel

    When will the Souray Saga end? Now we’re back to what I was thinking months ago: a heart-felt public apology from Souray would get him back in. Not the half-assed comments he made about professionalism the other day.

    But if Tambo’s made a great move by sticking to his guns by tellimg Souray to stay home, how is waffling going to make him look?

    Glad to hear about Vande Velde, he was pretty lousy in game 1. Can never have too many capable centremen in the system.

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  • Crackenbury

    I agree with you about Souray. I have a feeling the common ground is going to end up being tied to his agent. Something doesn’t smell right with the way things have gone the past week.

  • Ender

    Jason:

    A couple Pitlick questions:

    (1) How good would Pitlick have to be at camp before EDM might decide to send him to the AHL? Is there anything he can do in camp that see EDM keep him, as COL kept O’Reilly last season?

    (2) Do they have the ability to move him freely between the AHL and WHL, or once he’s down in Medicine Hat, that’s where he is for the year?

    • Jason Gregor

      They have told me zero chance he goes to the AHL. He didn’t play much last year in NCAA and they want him to develop against kids/young men his own age and play more.

      First of all he has to sign a contract, and I don’t see that happening in camp, so no AHL until that happens. And you can’t recall a player up and down freely from AHL to WHL. Similar rule to NHL and WHL. When you send a player back to junior he is there until his junior team’s season is over. You can’t call him up and send him back down. Same goes for AHL. I think there is a slight rule tweak if a player is 20, but I’m not certain. I will get exact answer about 20 year olds..

      But Pitlick will be in the Hat all season long. He has looked good here, but he still needs to develop. Good question.

      • Ogden Brother Jr. - Team Strudwick for coach

        Thanks for the reply Jason.

        The contract thing is a non-issue, IMO. It’s not THAT uncommon for prospects to sign during camp, whether it’s because the team wants to see them in NHL games of whether they are a year or two away. O’Reilly did just that last year.

        http://avalanche.nhl.com/club/news.htm?id=499264

        Sounds like the following isn’t in the cards, but I’m not sure it would be such a bad idea, if Pitlick continues to look (really) good in camp, to sign him, assign him to the AHL for 5-10 games and see how he looks. If he’s ready for the AHL, great, keep him there, if not, you can always still send him to the WHL, but now he’d have an idea which areas he needs to improve to play at the pro level. In terms of physical development, it sounds like he’d be able to handle the AHL, so the “he’s too small and at too big a risk of getting hurt in the AHL” argument is probably less valid for him than it might have been for, say, Eberle right after his draft (if Eberle were AHL eligible at that time).

        • Jason Gregor

          I like how Pitlick has played here, but I don’t see any benefit from him going pro now, and I think when we see him in preseason we will see he still needs to develop in the CHL. No need to rush him to pro, and no need to waste the first of potentially seven years of a contract(before he becomes an UFA)for him this year in my opinion.

        • Valid points – but in a rebuild why rush a pick into the line-up when you don’t need him? Let him score 100 points in Medicine Hat & develop. The guy has a solid chance at an NHL career, no need to hurry him.

          • Marc

            It’s a fair question, one you could (reasonably?) ask of Paajarvi and Hall as well.

            I certainly don’t have a problem with developing Pitlick slowly, but I’m not suggesting rushing him. If he’s ready for the AHL, stick him there – it doesn’t count as a year against his ELC. If he’s not, send him to the WHL.

          • Dan the Man

            This is not a problem, Pitlick’s ELC would “slide” if he plays in the AHL all season. A year would only tick from his contract if he plays more than 9 NHL games, he can play the entire year in the AHL without losing a season towards UFA, or one of his 3 ELC seasons.

          • I’m not sure entirely sure why they decided to include that, but that’s why the 10 game mark is so significant for players aged 18 and 19 – once they play more than 10 games, their contract irrevocably starts. Even if they are sent back to junior, it counts as a contract year. Further to that, years 2 and 3 run off in the subsequent two seasons whether the player plays in junior, the AHL, or the AHL. Sbisa is an example of this.

            My guess would be that there were two reasons the 10 game rule was put in place. One, it allows teams a way to get a player under contract at any time in the two years before draft re-entry without the penalty of losing contract years when the player isn’t NHL ready (at least, before age 20). IE. Why sign a guy at 18 and play him in junior for two seasons before he makes the NHL if the two junior years count as ELC years. It doesn’t make a lot of sense to treat two players completely differently simply based on when they sign.

            Player A: drafted 27th overall, signs an ELC at age 18 plays two years in junior. Signs ELC at 18.

            Player B: drafted 26 overall, plays two years in junior, then NHL. Signs ELC at 20.

            If the ELC didn’t slide, Player A’s contract ends at 21, but player B’s doesn’t end until 23.I think the league and union just wanted those players to be treated the same.

            Two, to give teams a tryout period to assess 18 and 19 year old players.

            Ladislav Smid is an example of a player who had his ELC slide. He played in the AHL at age 19 for ANA, yet when he was traded to EDM he played the next 3 seasons on his ELC.

          • I understand the whole 10 games & return to Jr. thing, but do not understand when a guy plays in the A. What is he making in year 1? His year 1 AHL salary, no? Or is it for free? Or a made up arbitrary number? He’s getting paid, so wouldn’t a 3 year deal still be a 3 year deal?

            Just seems kind of weird to me. For instance, if Jordan Eberle played in the A this year, as far as I know, year 1 of his contract would be underway… so why wouldn’t it be the same for Pitlick (IF he were to also play in the A, which we know Gregor has already shot down)?

          • He makes the AHL salary he is scheduled to make in year 1 of his ELC, and if he plays less than 10 NHL games, it’s as if year one starts again (except – I believe – you only get your signing bonus the first time).

            Eberle is 20, so his contract kicks in either way, whether he plays 0, 10 or 70 NHL games. Paajarvi is 19, and his ELC would “slide” if he plays less than 10 NHL games this season. If EDM assigns both Eberle and Paajarvi to the AHL for the entire season, Paajarvi will still have 3 years left on his ELC starting next fall (and, because he’ll be 20 for CBA purposes it would start in 2011/12 whether he’s in the NHL o AHL, just like Eberle this year), Eberle will be down to two.

          • Ogden Brother Jr. - Team Strudwick for coach

            ELC start while you are in the AHL. Both Eberle and Paajarvi will be in year one this year whether it’s AHL or NHL.

            Hmmm, maybe not.

            Filatov would be the example of this whole slide rule.

          • I know speeds is usually up to snuff when it comes to CBA/cap issues, which is why I defer to his explanation. I was unaware of this scenario & didn’t think that to be the case, but speeds seems to know more than Rick Olzyck, so like I said, I’ll defer to him.

          • Ladislav Smid is a great example. He same over to NA at 19, played the entire year in the AHL with ANA’s farm team. He was then traded for Pronger, and played 3 seasons in Edmonton on his ELC because his year in the AHL “slid”, leaving 3 years on his ELC once he became an Oiler.

          • First overall picks don’t go back to play junior, at least not in the last 7 years; Fleury went back to play junior. MPS has played against men for the past couple of seasons.

            If Pitlick makes it so that they can’t send him back I think that would be a huge surprise to everyone. Especially after playing only 1 season of NCAA with UM-Manakto. Ryan O’Reilly played 2 seasons of OHL hockey & he was a surprise.

            Without watching these guys play, I can only assume that Pitlick, while looking really good he isn’t in the same league as an Eberle, MPS or Hall.

    • Skidrow Gutterbum

      Correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe Pitlick would need to be 20 by Dec 31st of this year to qualify to play in the AHL this year. He will only be 19 then so no AHL option until next year.

      • Craig1981

        speeds,

        If a player has played in the the CHL there is an agreement between the CHL and AHL that that player is ineligible to play in the AHL well he is eligible to play in the CHL(not counting over age players) during his teams current season. This keeps the talent pool up in the CHL.
        But in a case like Pitlick’s and Marincin’s, since they have never played in the CHL, this agreement does not affect them. So they can play in the AHL anytime they want.

  • Ogden Brother Jr. - Team Strudwick for coach

    The whole putting Teemu Hartikainen with better players kinda gets me. You’d think if he any sort of offensive talent that he wouldn’t need to be with better players. It’s not like he is playing against pros and is having a hard time adjusting.

    After hearing the build up on Hartikainen the past year or so this is quite disappointing, but it is still early in his career.

    • I don’t know.. I am excited about him playing, but I have no thoughts about him being a top six guy at all, actually. Just thinking he’ll be a bottom six, checking line guy with some limited offensive upside. What I saw of him at the WJHC’s was just that he’s an aggressive, gritty player.

      What I’ve seen of him at the YS is he’s still gritty/aggressive but the questions around his skating seem to be true. He generated a couple of quality offensive chances though. But really my expectations with him are pretty low… quality bottom six if he gets better at skating.

    • Jamie B.

      In fairness to Teemu, he was on the fourth line last night (which surprised me, but he had played on Sunday too), so once all the penalties and power plays started he just wasn’t being used.

      I think it’s more giving him ice time than needing better players.