The Oilers drafted netminder Tyler Bunz with the first pick of the 5th round, 121st overall, last June and since then Bunz has progressed nicely. He had a stellar regular season for the Medicine Hat Tigers going 35-13-8 with a 2.47 GAA and a solid 0.919 SV%. His best play might have come in the five game upset over the Red Deer Rebels and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins in the 2nd round of the WHL playoffs. Bunz was spectacular in those games, and that along with his consistent regular season play has earned him an invite to the goaltending camp for Canada’s World Junior team this June.
Brownlee and I had a chance to get Bunz’ thoughts on his season, possibly representing his country and the most talked about topic involving the Edmonton Oilers right now; how good is Nugent Hopkins?
Bunz talked about returning from a concussion to stone the Rebels, the disappointment of losing to Kootenay, and how excited he was to get another call from Team Canada.
"Obviously the playoffs went pretty well for me. It kind of took a toll there at the beginning of the first round with the concussion, but I came back strong in the second round and in the third round. In the conference final, Kootenay definitely outplayed us, I think, in that series and they kind of took over. Last Tuesday, I took the call from Ron Tugnutt saying that I got invited to the goalie camp in the summer in June, and then from there it’s kind of whether you show your skills and if they like you, you go to the camp in August. Hopefully I can do that. I got invited last year, but I didn’t make the August camp, so I’m looking to do that this year."
Oiler fans will get to watch the world junior camp live in Edmonton this year from August 3rd to 6th, but I’m sure many of you weren’t aware that the goalies have a preliminary camp earlier in the summer. Bunz gave us the low down on when and where the camp is, and he feels pretty confident he can earn an invite to the main camp in August.
"Well it’s in Calgary on June 9th – 12th, and I think there is about eight goalies that go there for the World Juniors and a couple go there for the U18 team. I think the experience I had last year from it should give me an advantage just because I know what to expect. It won’t be new, it will just be something I went through before and I won’t have to worry about it too much this time."
HOW GOOD IS NUGENT-HOPKINS?
After getting the goods on his own season we wanted his evaluation of Nugent-Hopkins. He has seen Nugent-Hopkins for the past few years, and according to Bunz the Oilers won’t be disappointed if they draft the Rebels’ centre.
"I think he has got every asset of a hockey player to be the first overall pick. He has shown his skill and his compete level for the past couple years here, and even when he was 15 and came up to Red Deer he was putting up points that no one really thought he would, and he just carried on from there.
"Playing against him, he’s really hard to read off of. He can find open guys that a lot of our team can’t see and he can find open ice like no other player I’ve ever seen. He doesn’t use his shot as much as I would if I was him – he has a really good shot – he looks to pass more often than shoot. If he could find a way to use his shot more, he will be an even bigger threat. It was pretty cool to play against him just because of the skill he’s had and for us to shut him down like we did, it was pretty amazing. We knew that he’s a top end guy."
It is interesting to get an opposing goalies’ evaluation. Some reports have said Nugent-Hopkins doesn’t have a great shot, but it sounds like he just doesn’t use it often enough. I’d rather have a player who possessed a good shot, but didn’t use it often enough, rather than a guy who shoots often, but couldn’t break glass from ten feet.
Some thought Nugent-Hopkins’ lack of production v. the Tigers was A red-flag, but according to Bunz the Tigers came up with a game plan designed to shut him down because they knew he was the catalyst to their offence.
"When you play against a guy like Nugent-Hopkins you’re going to be aware of when he’s on the ice and as a goalie you do that as well. In the playoffs our D were more aware of when he was out there, and that we needed to have a good gap against him. I think that was the major difference in playoffs. We didn’t do it in regular season and he lit us up for about seven points. With him you have to take away his time and space and have a really good gap against him because he is so skilled. We played well, but it was only a short window and since he’s such a skilled player, I think he’ll figure out how to beat that in the future, and I really believe that he will go first overall."
OILERS A GOOD FIT
The Oilers organization isn’t loaded with many goaltending prospects. Outside of Olivier Roy and Devan Dubnyk, the Oilers don’t have any other young guys and Bunz feels Edmonton is the ideal team for him to get a chance to continue his development.
"It’s pretty exciting to know that they are not, like you said, loaded up with goalies. You know it’s going to be a young team a couple years down the road. I’m hoping to jump into a position where I can make the team. I just have to keep doing what I have been doing now and not look too far ahead down the road. You know things do change really quickly. You have to be ready for adversity that you endure throughout your career. I’m just really focused on having a good year next year, and hopefully signing in the near future so I can play in the AHL when I’m 20. From there it’s just all about development.
"I think that if you play well in the first few years in AHL and with the goaltending situation in Edmonton it can give you a really good shot at making the team in four to five years. You know it seems like a while, but I’m already through my third year in the WHL and it goes by fast, and it’s going to be a quick couple of years to see where I’m at with my development so I’m looking forward to it."
It is clear Bunz recognizes the goaltending landscape in Edmonton, and I like that he doesn’t have a feeling of entitlement. He realizes it won’t be an easy road to the NHL, but he seems determined to get there and be part of the Oilers. Bunz might even surprise himself and find that in only three years there could be a great opportunity in Edmonton. He’s correct in mentioning that a lot can change between now and then, but the Oilers’ philosophy changed recentley and now it’s about developing from within rather than looking for a quick fix elsewhere. If Bunz continues to progress, he’ll likely get a good look within the organization.
Like any prospect he has areas of his game he needs to work on and Bunz was very honest about what areas he wants, and needs, to work on this summer.
"I think my skating needs to improve. Any goalie really should work on your skating no matter how good you are. I really learned that from Freddy Chabot. He really harps on being a perfect skater and he does that with the goalies they have now. You always have to work on that, and I just want to keep staying consistent. My confidence and overall consistency were the areas I improved the most this year, and I need to keep working and improving in both those areas.
"Obviously playing the puck as well. That’s a huge skill that any goalie really can take advantage of if you are good at it. I got a lot better with it this year. It’s funny when are playing the game and in the first period guys are dumping the puck and you can make a really good play to get your team out of the zone, and then in the next few periods they start changing up their dump ins and start putting it into the corner. I take pride in that and it’s just something I want to keep working on."
A lot can happen in the next three or four years regarding Bunz’ development, but the 19-year-old seems very focused on what he needs to do to succeed at the next level, and if this past season was any indication, then I’d expect Bunz to be in the Oilers’ goaltending mix sometime in the near future.
I suspect Oiler fans will get a chance to see him at the World Junior camp this August, and if he continues to progress early next season there is a very good chance you could watch an Oiler prospect playing goal for Canada for the second straight season.