When the Edmonton Oilers selected Greg Chase late in the 2013 entry draft, observers agreed that it was a great selection for that point in the draft, a hidden gem near the end. However, that and $1.50 will get you a cup of coffee these days–the proof is on the ice and in every shift. We’re so early it’s barely sunrise, but there’s an interesting story emerging and the arrows are heading in a nice direction.
BEFORE THE DRAFT
Although the Oilers got him at #188 overall, Chase was rated much higher on several scouting lists, including notable hard markers Redline Report. They had the youngster 70th in the entire draft.
- Redline: “A real Red Line favourite who flies under the radar. He’s a fine puck distributor who shows great patience and possesses the touch to constantly find linemates off the cycle. Keeps feet going after making a pass to sustain pressure in offensive zone. Versatile forward has spent time on every line and been effective in every role. Shows up every shift and his play away from the puck is impressive, makes things happen by constantly filling open ice. Refuses to back down in contested areas; first player into the corners. Wide skating stance helps him maintain balance and uses edges well to maximize glide. Hungry player has a great compete level and looks to make a difference every shift. Not as dynamic offensively as other prospects on this list, but plays a well-rounded, consistent game.”
- Corey Pronman: "Scouts praise his offensive mind and vision. He can slow the game down when he has the puck, hit targets through small lanes, and move the puck quickly when need be. He also has good hands, and when he is on, his offensive upside is apparent."
The underlined portion points out (I think) a very important item in the "we need more toughness" debate. I love skill–for me, the best deterrent against being intimidated by enforcers is the powerplay goal–but have NO issue with toughness being added by the bushel. However, that toughness has to come from players who can also play the game, who can be on the ice when things of import are happening. The orechestrated thug shifts we see (less often, mind) are miles from where the game is decided and only serves to clog up the end of the roster and keep extremely one dimensional players on the club.
Greg Chase–if he makes it–is a different item altogether. He’s a hockey player with toughness and skill, plus an extra little something in the mean department. I have no problem with that–Mark Messier is my favorite player! The key is to get players with physical elements who can play, and this Chase fellow might be that type of player.
WHAT ARE THEY SAYING ABOUT HIM AT THE ROOKIE CAMP
Good things all. Chase has had a nice camp, showing some nice hands (on the Khaira goal and on his own) and getting more touches than older prospects on the Oilers side. When he has the puck there’s a sense it’s going to be heading to a good place in the offensive zone, the play isn’t going to die on his stick (to borrow an age old MacT phrase).
- Jonathan Willis. Aside from Marco Roy, Chase was the only Oilers forward to generate a real chance in the first period with a nice 2-on-1 rush that was stopped by Laurent Brossoit. His hard work also led to the Oilers’ first goal, as he won a battle in the corner and set Gernat up in the high slot. Also took Laurent Brossoit out by going hard to the front of the net and getting pushed into him, then triggered a third period scrum by doing much the same in the crease again. Looked like a lot more than seventh round pick.
- Kevin McCartney: Chase had an impressive game, and I think did well if we were to track zone entries on the game. He protected the puck well and played a possession offensive game on a team with a lot of forwards whose skills are best suited to not having the puck. (Or maybe there not being a puck.)
The phrases that are important here are Willis’ "won a battle" and "generate a chance" and McCartney’s "protected the puck well and played a possession offensive game" because these are elements that will be useful all down the line. In yesterday’s press conference, Dallas Eakins talked at length about having possession of the puck, and when losing it having an aggressive and immediate strategy to get it back.
That strategy will no doubt involve many of the things Chase brings to his game. The trick for Chase–and any prospect–is to learn how to do it at each step along the way. Easier said than done, but he’s got the toolkit and that’s the biggest requirement on the list. It’s early, and two rookie games isn’t even a sample size, but it’s encouraging to see the performance match the scouting report and confirm what our eyes see when he’s in town with the Hitmen.
WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN?
The new coach is all about possession, the new GM is bringing in talent that pushes for possession and is aggressive, the game in Edmonton is going to be more uptempo. Greg Chase (and Jujhar Khaira and Marco Roy) represent an exciting development in Oilers scouting, drafting and procurement.
Hockey players who bring a wide range of skills that includes a physical edge. This is miles–MILES–more productive than drafting Coke Machines and hoping they’ll improve at hockey.
I don’t know if Greg Chase makes the NHL, hell any number of things can derail a prospect (or any young person) along the way. I do know that the Oilers have improved their chances of success by taking this player type, because the game you see in Penticton will be infinitely more valuable if it arrives in the NHL than another 4th line enforcer.