Junior hockey works in cycles and there isn’t really a way to avoid it. For a few seasons you’ll be good then once your top players graduate, you’ll go through some tough seasons before beginning the climb back to the playoffs.
It’s been pretty clear what part of the cycle the Oil Kings have been in these past few years. They haven’t won a playoff series in four seasons and are coming off a year in which they mustered up just 22 wins.
During the offseason, the organization made some massive changes. Randy Hansch is out as GM, replaced by Kirt Hill. They also have an entirely new coaching staff with Brad Lauer and Luke Pierce.
But what about the players? Well, let me introduce you to the 2018-19 Edmonton Oil Kings.
TREY FIX-WOLANSKY: Finished 18th in the WHL in scoring last season as an 18-year-old. This year, I think he has the potential to hit the 100 point mark. He will without a doubt be this teams leading scorer and will be there best player on most nights.
JAKE NEIGHBOURS: The Oil Kings selected him 4th overall in the 2017 WHL Draft, and it’s looking like he will live up to the hype. With Fix-Wolansky in Columbus, Neighbours was their most effective forward in the preseason games I saw. He’ll be leaned on to contribute a lot in his rookie season, and he should deliver.
DAVID KOPE: At just a hair under 6’5, his size will immediately grab your attention. Don’t let that size fool you either, Kope has some of the best hands on the team and can keep up with the quickest players in the league. I wouldn’t be stunned if the former 8th round pick hits the 50 point mark.
VLADIMIR ALISTROV: He was taken 2nd overall by the Oil Kings in this year’s import draft and his offensive skill is absolutely incredible. You’ll hear his name called at the 2019 NHL Draft but until then, I expect him to be one of the Oil Kings most consistent offensive producers.
QUINN BENJAFIELD: Acquired from Kamloops early in the offseason, the 20-year-old Benjafield brings an element of consistency to this Oil Kings lineup. He’s coming off back-to-back 40 point seasons and there’s no reason to suggest he won’t improve on that in his first year in Edmonton.
LIAM KEELER: Isn’t the type of player who will make a huge impact on the scoresheet but he plays solid, mistake-free hockey and that will be valuable to this Oil Kings team. Will be interested to see if he morphs into one of their regular penalty killers as well.
CARTER SOUCH: He played in 38 games last season and while I could tell he has tremendous offensive ability, he just wasn’t physically mature enough to compete in the WHL. When I saw him for the first time in the preseason my jaw almost hit the floor. Souch appears to have grown four or five inches and put on some weight, he looks like a different player. Expect him to play top-six minutes and be a fixture on the powerplay. Another entertaining 16-year-old.
BRETT KEMP: He finished sixth on the team with 36 points last season, and I’m expecting big things from Kemp as an 18-year-old. He can make an impact away from the scoresheet as well and he showed that in the preseason. He’s a high energy forward with above-average offensive skills. Doesn’t mind playing a little physical.
TY GERLA: Physical forward that isn’t necessarily known for his offense. He had 18 points in 59 games last season. The fact he’s going into his 19-year-old season is a decent enough reason to believe he should be able to contribute more offense.
VINCE LOSCHIAVO: One of the 20-year-old players that GM Kirt Hill acquired this summer. I got my first look at him during the preseason and I was very impressed. He skates very well, goes to the tough areas of the ice, and isn’t afraid to mix it up with the opposition. He was a near point-per-game player as an 18-year-old, would be huge for the Oil Kings if he finds that form this year.
SCOTT ATKINSON: A solid two-way centre who played a lot of tough minutes for this team last season. He might get passed on the depth chart by some more offensively skilled players, but he’s still an important ingredient to this teams success.
BRENDAN SEMCHUK: After being acquired from Vancouver at last years trade deadline, he notched 7 points in 16 games with the Oil Kings. He’s not a “driver” per say, but I expect him to be a solid bottom-six forward. If he clicks with someone and gets some looks higher in the lineup I wouldn’t be surprised either.
ANDREI PAVLENKO: He missed 75% of last season due to an injury so I’m not sure what to expect from Pavlenko this season. He was very good in the preseason though scoring two goals and adding an assist in four games.
Rounding out the teams forward are rookie forwards Logan Moon, who spent last with the Grande Prairie Storm in the AJHL, and Jalen Luypen, who was a point per game player with the Okanagan Hockey Academy last season.
MATT ROBERTSON: Not only is he the most complete defender on the Oil Kings, he’s one of the best in the entire WHL. Bob McKenzie has Robertson ranked #11 in his preseason rankings for the 2019 NHL Draft and there is no doubt that you will hear his name called very early next June in Vancouver. Former Head Coach Steve Hamilton told me last year that Robertson is the best player this organization has seen since Griffin Reinhart. He’s physically mature, has elite puck skills, and has the legs to keep up with anyone. An absolute stud.
WILL WARM: There are a lot of offensive options on this Oil Kings blueline so I think we’ll see Warm be counted on to go up against the other team’s best on a nightly basis. He has the potential to be a solid shutdown defenseman in my eyes.
CONNOR McDONALD: He finished fourth on the Oil Kings in points, and was 20th in scoring among WHL defensemen. He has a cannon of a shot and is an elite powerplay quarterback. I expect the offensive numbers to grow once again, but he’s prone to making mistakes with the puck when he isn’t in his own end.
WYATT McLEOD: Injuries took a toll on McLeod last season, so I’m excited to see if he can stay healthy this season and find some consistency with his game. He has the potential to be a top-four guy in the WHL.
ETHAN CAP: He appeared in all 72 games last season with the Oil Kings, registering 12 points. There’s room for growth in his game, but just looking at the depth chart, I would expect him to be a 3rd pairing guy for this team.
JACSON ALEXANDER: The undersized defenseman was acquired from the Swift Current Broncos over the summer and had a solid training camp. He moves well, and while he won’t “wow” you with any one part of his game, he will give this blueline some stability.
Rounding out the teams’ defensive core are a pair of rookies. Aidan Lawson got into two games with the Oil Kings last season but spent the majority of the season playing minor midget in Colorado. Logan Dowhaniuk was the teams second round pick in 2017 and will be looking to become an everyday defender this season.
BOSTON BILOUS: His numbers weren’t pretty in his 16-year-old season, but just the fact he played close to 20 games at that age speaks to how the organization views him. He’s their goalie of the future and if they want to make the playoffs, he’ll need to take a major step forward.
TODD SCOTT: The plan was for Scott to be part of the 1A/1B tandem with Bilious, but his injury obviously forced the teams hand. Despite his 0.883 SV% with the Oil Kings last year, I liked what I saw from him. Not sure if he’ll get another start in Edmonton.
DYLAN MYSKIW: He was acquired on Wednesday presumably because the injury to Todd Scott could be long-term. Last year he posted an 11-5-2-0 record with a 3.41 GAA and a 0.887 SV% in 22 starts. Will be interesting to see if he can push Bilous.
THE OIL KINGS BEGIN THEIR SEASON FRIDAY NIGHT AT ROGERS PLACE, WHEN THEY HOST THE RED DEER REBELS.