The Edmonton Oil Kings are off to a red-hot start to begin the 2018-19 WHL campaign. After sweeping Red Deer in a home-and-home, outscoring them 8-3 in the process, the team hosted the Medicine Hat Tigers on Wednesday night.
The Tigers presented a much tougher task than the Rebels, and it was rather apparent early on. After Medicine Hat got an early goal, albeit one that probably shouldn’t have counted as goalie Dylan Myskiw appeared to have kept it out of the net, the visitors would take advantage of a mental lapse by the Oil Kings and add another one to make it 2-0.
Last season, we probably would have seen the Oil Kings crumble after going down 2-0 and they wouldn’t have fought back. But what happened Wednesday was a shining example of what this group is capable of doing now that they’re a year older and more experienced.
Brett Kemp got two chances in the final five minutes of the second period and capitalized on both of them, evening the game before the third period began.
In the final frame, it was Andrei Pavlenko who would jam home the game-winner, and the Oil Kings would hold on to improve to 3-0 on the regular season.
“Guys are a year older and they know what it takes to win in this league. We have a good mindset in the room” said captain Trey Fix-Wolansky when asked about the feel of this year’s Oil Kings squad.
It’s been a fantastic first week for the Oil Kings. Here are three stories from the week that was:
TREY FIX-WOLANSKY READY FOR ROLE OF CAPTAIN
It was hardly a surprise when I saw that the organization had named Trey Fix-Wolansky their 12th Captain in modern franchise history. The 19-year-old is the definition of a game-breaking player and on most nights, he will be their most impactful skater.
“He was ready for his next challenge in junior hockey and I believe that was the captaincy and I think he deserves it,” said Head Coach Brad Lauer when asked about the decision to give Fix-Wolansky the captaincy, “It’s a credit to him because he took the time this summer to make some changes to his game and it’s going to pay off for him”.
Fix-Wolansky was taken in the 7th round of the NHL Draft by the Columbus Blue Jackets and got a chance to head to his first NHL camp earlier this month.
“You go there and you see what it takes to be a leader and a pro. I’m going to use that to my advantage” said Fix-Wolansky, reflecting on his experience in Ohio.
There’s no doubt he comes to camp a more mature player than what we saw last year, and I think the organization made a fantastic choice in naming him captain.
“If you’re leading by example I think that’s the most important thing. Always showing what it takes to win and to battle hard. That’s the most important thing,” added Fix-Wolansky when asked about his style of leadership.
Defenseman Wyatt McLeod and Matthew Robertson will wear ‘A’s’ on their jerseys this year, while Ethan Capp will wear a letter on home ice and Conner McDonald will wear one on his road jersey.
THE NEW KIDS ARE ALRIGHT
Honestly, I said “alright” because I thought it made for a catchy headline, but the reality is the new players are much more than “alright”.
Vince Loschiavo stands amongst the group. He was one of their best forwards in the handful of preseason games I saw and through two regular season games, he has four points. He also notched the game-winner in the season opener.
He’s found himself centering the top line with Trey Fix-Wolansky and there’s no doubt that’s contributed to his statistical success, but he’s far from a passenger on that line. Loschiavo goes to the tough areas of the ice, burns defenders with his deceptive speed, and with over 250 WHL games under his belt, his experience is incredibly valuable to the group.
Goaltender Dylan Myskiw was acquired from the Brandon Wheat Kings just days before the start of the season and made his Oil Kings debut in their second game of the season against Red Deer. By all accounts, he was very impressive. He grabbed the win and stopped 28 shots in the process.
Myskiw would earn another start against the Medicine Hat Tigers and once again played a key role in the victory, stopping 33 of the 35 shots he faced and grabbing third-star honours.
Two new faces both played key roles in the teams first three wins of the season.
Quinn Benjafield was acquired from Kamloops over the summer and while he didn’t get his first point until Wednesday against the Tigers, I’ve really liked what he’s brought to the group. He’s been spending time in the top six with Carter Souch and Brett Kemp, and they’ve formed a rather efficient line for the Oil Kings.
Vladimir Alistrov hasn’t been as impactful as the other two new faces I mentioned, but I still think he has the highest ceiling. In terms of raw skill, I think he’s close to the same level as Fix-Wolansky and fellow rookie Jake Neighbours, it’s just a matter of adjusting his game to North America, which can be very difficult.
THE IMPACT OF IMPORTS
Andrei Pavlenko, who had his rookie campaign cut short due to a shoulder injury, returned to the Oil Kings for a second season. This year his role is a little different, both on and off the ice.
Last year, Pavlenko was the young Belarusian forward who was trying to break into the league while also learning the culture and the language that comes with living in Canada. This year, not only is he expected to be a key offensive contributor for the Oil Kings, but a mentor for fellow Belarusian Vladimir Alistrov, who is in his rookie season.
“I have more experience from last season and now I can speak better. It’s really helped me,” said Pavlenko after Wednesday’s win over Medicine Hat. He also went on to add how much more comfortable he is being able to communicate with his teammates in the locker room.
“Right now, 90% of our speech (is Belarusian)” added Pavlenko when asked how much he’s helping Alistrov with his English, “he’s still improving and it will improve more in the next couple of months”.
No doubt they’re getting more comfortable off the ice, and after a bit of a slow start to the year for the pair, they were put on the same line for Wednesday’s matchup against Medicine Hat. It was clear that the two have some natural chemistry, and it paid off for the Oil Kings as Alistrov assisted on Pavlenko’s first goal of the season, which would turn out to be the game winner.
“I think having two guys who are from the same country might fast-track them. We’re going to play them together and as the season goes, hopefully, it works out for us,” said Head Coach Brad Lauer.
Next up for the Oil Kings is another home date tonight against the Swift Current Broncos, puck drop goes just after 7 pm.