Chris Vande Velde is exactly the sort of player the Edmonton Oilers desperately need. He's a big (6'2, 204), grinding, two-way centreman with faceoff skills who projects into that 3C role the Oilers have been unable to fill with the likes of Andrew Cogliano, Marc Pouliot, or Ryan Potulny.
A fourth-round flyer five years ago, Vande Velde has progressed very nicely indeed through a year in the USHL and then the full four years with the University of North Dakota Fighting Sioux. He showed steady progress throughout, and blossomed in 2009-10, scoring career highs in assists and points despite a drop-off in quality of linemates. Vande Velde delivered in the crunch, scoring the winning goal in the WCHA Final Five championship game and being named to the all-tournament team. The honours hardly stopped there: Chris was voted team MVP by his teammates, was named UND's Male Athlete of the Year (all sports), and made the All-WCHA Academic Team. A very nice mix of smarts, leadership, and performance.
Vande Velde has moved up in the C&B rankings from #19 to #15 despite the injection of the 2010 draft class. Derek has been bullish on him all along, and is starting to convince the rest of us that the youngster is a strong prospect whose profile fits a major need on the big club. The kid also made a strong impression with this C&B interview back in February.
Five years removed from his draft date, the 23-year-old Vande Velde signed a two-year entry level deal with the Oilers this past spring and immediately injected himself into the mix of strong young prospects bubbling under. He made a strong first impression at the recent development camp.
It seems reasonable to expect he will start the upcoming season in OKC as he acclimatizes to the pro game, but if all goes well it could be a short apprenticeship in the manner of a Shawn Horcoff, Matt Greene, or Tom Gilbert, four-year NCAA players all who were in the NHL to stay before the end of their first professional season. Perhaps that's a trifle optimistic, and Vande Velde's path to the bigs is a little more protracted in the manner of a Fernando Pisani, who needed 2½ years of seasoning in the AHL before emerging as a complete, NHL-ready player. But I have high hopes that young Mr. Vande Velde is destined to wind up in the show.