Hartikainen. Hartikainen. Hartikainenhartikainen. Hartikainen. Hartikainenhartikainenhartikainen. Hartikainen.
(Modified slightly from the "Malkovich" scene in Being John Malkovich, and dedicated to Derek.)
Oilers' summer development camp wound up this morning with an extended session of 3-on-3 scrimmages at Clareview's Arena A. Not sure if the team preferred the Olympic-size ice surface for this particular drill, or if it was a logistical reality that this was the side that could fit more fans. I arrived just as things were getting underway at 09:00, only to find the stands completely full, people sitting on the aisle stairs, the areas behind the net standing two or three deep, etc. Had to be at least 1000 people in there. After spending a few minutes on tiptoes, looking over shoulders and so on, I was lucky to nab a spot of the type once favoured by the Turofsky brothers, famous for their hockey photography in Maple Leaf Gardens - ice level, right on the goal line. (My picture above would be just like one of theirs if only it was captured on a decent camera by a real photographer. But the angle is perfect!) During the Zamboni break I was able to find a seat on the top row deep in the one end.
The format was four teams of six skaters, with two simultaneous "games" going on at either end of the ice. Three attackers would try to score, while the defenders were tasked with not only stopping them but actually skating the puck out over the blueline. Dumpouts would result in no change of possession, so there were often puck battles just inside the line. Once a team skated it out they would pass off to their three waiting teammates who would then go on the attack, while the threesome that had failed to score would then be forced to play defence. Thus every shift was attack first, then defend, so the attackers were always a little fresher and the defenders were often sucking wind. Quite ingenious.
Teams would match up for games of three five-minute periods, all at the same end, so it was luck of the draw who we saw to some extent. There was no sane way to track both games at once. We saw the greys (Harski's team) early, but then they went off to the far end and never came back. I think they were keeping score, given that one or two games featured a single round of shootouts at the end, but there was no attempt to communicate that information to the audience.
There were a couple of hits but not a whole lot in the way of real physical play. That said, the puck battles were for real and got pretty intense at times.
After the jump I'll have a few vignettes of individual players/moments followed by a short photo gallery.
I made a point early on of watching Teemu Hartikainen. He's a better skater than I had expected, and is extremely strong and tough to knock off the puck, at least among this crew. He made some real solid power moves coming off the boards in offensive situations, or staying on (and up) the boards while defending. At one point he took a slash on the hand and lost possession, wheeled around looking for an invisible referee, and seemed to be sulking for a short time when the change of possession was allowed to stand. Nothing serious, I'm sure it probably hurt. Later he scored on a beauty deke in a shootout situation.
Jordan Eberle was the star of the day, at least at our end of the ice. He scored three or four goals, sniper quality stuff, including one sequence that caused me to applaud spontaneously for the only time all week. I was totally impressed by his stickhandling skills; buddy has velvet hands and is quite comfortable dangling at close range to the checker. He could hold the puck in a small space waiting for a play to develop, and made a few creative passes into open spaces that always seemed to end well. His panic point is impressively low for such a young player.
Magnus Pääjärvi-Svensson impressed in limited viewing, on a unit with Hartikainen and Rajala. He's a beautiful skater, and while the format didn't allow him to really wind it up in the manner I've seen on the tube a few times, MPS was flying effortlessly around the zone both with and without the puck. He scored one goal on a nifty backhand deke (see the photo up top).
This was the first good look I had at Tyler Pitlick, and I saw him real good. The RH-shooting pivot has got a heavy shot that he unloaded a few times, scoring a couple of times and rattling one rocket off the crossbar. I liked how he created space or took advantage of what was there, skating wide to open up a passing lane to the front of the net which he exploited. He made one beauty inside-out move that made me gasp. Buddy's got first-round talent, for sure.
Taylor Hall had an in-and-out day. The play died with him far too often for my (or his!) liking, especially two consecutive possessions that both ended right off the bat due to careless plays by Hall. (That too is reminiscent of a young Mark Messier, who always had some thorns among the roses.) At one point Taylor's frustration seemed to be bordering on petulance as he tried to go it alone a couple times, but he regained his equilibrium and started to show his quality later with some solid offensive work, especially teaming with Pitlick.
Cameron Abney looked like a player except when he had the puck, when his hands betrayed him on more than one occasion. But just after a guy behind me commented to his friend, "That number 32 doesn't impress me at all", Abney broke into the zone on his off (left) wing, beat the first checker wide, then the second with a nifty move before finishing the play with a perfectly-placed shot top shelf. Right out of the blue, but for those 5 seconds he looked terrific.
Of the blueliners, by far the most impressive yet again was Jeff Petry, a dominant figure who won a large number of one-on-one battles. Of course the 23-year-old should dominate against what was largely teenaged competition, but dominate he did. He's got some nice instincts which were on display on one sequence when he walked the blueline to maintain possession, beat his man, then walked in to score on a nifty deke. Strong all-around skater, good size and reach, quick stick, the kid's got a nice basket of talents and is certainly a prospect to watch.
It was hard to get much of a fix on the goalies, and it didn't help that they weren't assigned a team per sé but simply cycled through. Each had his moments, and his other moments. Over the four days I never saw/noticed a goalie-specific drill, it just seemed like they were sent out there to stop shots and play in game situations. Shades of that Howie Meeker Hockey School I attended eons ago. Maybe there was stuff going on behind the scenes, or in the corner with the third goalie at times, but it was subtle if so.
All too soon the time was up and the prospects gathered at centre ice to salute the crowd, Chicago-style. While the action in summer camp likely concealed at least as much as it revealed, the four days of action confirmed to my satisfaction that the Oilers have accumulated a very solid group of prospects that will be changing the face of the team both sooner and later.
A more than capacity crowd packs Clareview Arena A (the larger one) for Friday morning's 3-on-3 scrimmages ...
... hoping to see action like this. Magnus Pääjärvi-Svensson (28 in grey) plays keepaway from Taylor Hall (19, blue) on the outside, Cam Abney (32) and Mike Connolly (34) block the passing lanes to Toni Rajala (14), while the key player is obviously Teemu Hartikainen (grey shoulder at extreme left foreground).
Teemu Hartikainen doesn't just shadow Jordan Eberle, Harski makes Mr. Clutch disappear completely.
Taylor Hall (left) finds twine through a screen ...
... and here makes a goal mouth feed to Mike Connolly as Philippe Cornet (27, white) defends.
Head Coach Tom Renney consults with Coordinator of Player Development Billy Moores and Some Random Dude (right), who may be one of the equipment managers. I am extremely pleased to see Coach Moores back in the mix; he adds hockey know-how, experience and class to the Oilers. (Photo credit: Lisa McRitchie)
This is a terrible picture of an absolutely beauty move by Hall around Eberle (25, red), that drew oohs and aahs from the faithful.
An enormous mob hung out afterwards hoping to get autographs from the Big Three, who are all facing the crowd under the words "Dressing Rooms". From L-R. MPS (grey shirt), Hall, Eberle. The crush was such that an Oiler spokesman had to warn the crowd on several occasions about pushing.
Magnus Pääjärvi-Svensson signs for a young admirer. There's no truth to the rumour that MPS is going to anglicize his name to Billy-Bob-Joe-Carl-Danny-Frank Pääjärvi-Svensson. (Hat tip to George Carlin and his diatribe on hyphenated names.)
Oilers prospects acknowledge the crowd at the end of today's on-ice session. School's out!