Well I never been to Heaven
But I been to Oklahoma
Well they tell me I was born there
But I really don't remember
In Oklahoma, not Arizona
What does it matter
--Three Dog Night, "Never Been To Spain"
A round of training camp cuts this afternoon have sent at least four guys - and probably five - on their first trip to Oklahoma City. Steve Tambellini sent Taylor Chorney, Colin McDonald, Jeff Petry, and Alex Plante down and has also waived Martin Gerber. All of them may beat Philippe Cornet to Oklahoma; as Neal reported earlier today, Cornet is stuck in Edmonton finalizing the details of his immigration paperwork. While it must be extremely frustrating for Cornet that he's been kept off of the ice and his first chance at the pro game has been forestalled by paperwork, the pent-up energy and tenacity might end up helping him make an impression in Oklahoma City should he ever arrive.
But those aren't the only players on the move. Tambellini has also waived Sheldon Souray (again), but has not made Souray's destination known. CBC Sports is reporting that Souray has no idea what the Oilers have in store for him and that he's willing to fulfill his contract "wherever". This is Souray's second time through waivers, so it's doubtful that the Oilers will find any takers in the next twenty-four hours. What remains to be seen is whether the Oilers will expose him to re-entry waivers, allowing a team to pick up Souray at half-price and force themselves to eat half ($2,700,000) of his $5,400,000 cap hit. Whether a team is willing to pick him up at a $2,700,000 cap hit has yet to be seen, but an overwhelming number of fans believe he's worth that price. One thing Souray has going for him is the difference between his salary and his cap hit. His remaining salary over the next two years is $9,000,000 while his cap hit is $10,800,000, which means that any team picking him up in that scenario would pay him $2,250,000 for each of the next two seasons, a $450,000 difference compared with his cap hit.
Chorney, McDonald, Petry and Plante all have to be disappointed in being sent down - they all performed admirably, and though most of the games came against AHL caliber talent, each of them showed well. McDonald was in tough in this camp no matter what. Tambellini stocked the roster with bottom five forwards on one-way contracts and hot-shot rookies. On top of that, McDonald doesn't even have a two-way deal (it's an AHL only contract), and with the Oilers already close to the fifty-contract limit, it would have been very surprising to see them burn another deal on McDonald.
Taylor Chorney heads to the AHL to spend a season developing his defensive game, something he should have done last year. Chorney has never had success at the AHL level, and yet he was fast-tracked to the NHL. Chorney's performance was brutal, and it was disheartening to see a prospect's development flushed like that. The performance was so bad that Chorney fell out of the Top 25 Under 25 altogether. I don't think it's been established who within the organization fancied Chorney so much that he ended up in Edmonton last year - although the early demotion now suggests that it wasn't Renney - but it was a wrong-headed and possibly damaging decision. As David Staples said:
Why did they rush this kid to the NHL? It makes no sense.
It does make sense to send him to the AHL now, though, even if he's played better in recent games. His performance last season shows a young player in over his head. He needs to spend a full season in the American Hockey League, a full season where he dominates play at that lower level.
Chorney may need more than one full season to learn the defensive side of the game, and in Oklahoma City, he's going to be pushed by a number of peers, including the rest of the group cut today. His performance this preseason seemed to show that a light went on for him - he was physical, he passed well, and he was able to win pucks and move them in the opposite direction. He didn't rely solely on his skating ability to play the game. He showed that, just maybe, the player we saw last year was buried in defensive zone starts and a poor partner still has some potential.
Alex Plante's game excited fans more than anyone except Richard Petiot. Like Pavlov's dog to a doorbell, Edmonton fans slobber uncontrollably when they see one of their own players laying a big hit and rush to proclaim that player "the next." Plante was on the giving end of a couple of monster shots this preseason, including a prairie throw reminiscent of Dustin Penner disposing of Robyn Regher. Plante also showed improved skating, and controlled the puck well, though he was caught out of position a couple of times. The biggest risk with Plante remains injury. If he's able to avoid back problems for a year or two, he's going to end up in Edmonton's bottom two.
Finally, Jeff Petry showed everyone why he was playing thirty minutes a night at Michigan State and why the Oilers, and Kevin Lowe in particular, have been so high on him for so long. Petry came in at #12 in our Top 25 Under 25 and the ratings show I'm much higher on this young defenseman than most. He showed an NHL game during the preseason - he was calm on the puck, and he moved the puck extremely well on both outlet passes and in other situations. His defensive zone passing was calm and effective. He may not be ready to handle the speed of real NHL players coming at him, but in those preseason games, we didn't see the patented Edmonton "hard around" that we've all come to know, love, and expect out of Oiler defensemen not named Gilbert or Visnovsky over the last few years. His physical game needs some work as he seemed overwhelmed a time or two, but technically, he showed that he can play in the league.
The big story on the back end in camp has been Richard Petiot, with many fans and local media already proclaiming that he's earned a spot on the roster with his play. Remember Pavlov's fans from above? Petiot is a perfect example. He's thrown a couple of huge hits, and in fact Ieads the team in hits in the preseason. He's a daisy in the eye of the crowd now, even though there remain significant faults in his game. He's been caught out of position, he's been rubbernecking on a couple of goals and he's not as steady on the puck in his own end as Petry, or even Plante. But he hits, and he's earning fans because of it. Given the ascension of J.F. Jacques to Edmonton's power-versus-power line last preseason, don't be surprised if he's making fans in management as well.
Lastly, you have to feel a bit badly for Martin Gerber. He's outplayed each of his opponents in camp, and while the rallying cry for the crowd that wants Taylor Hall and Magnus Pääjärvi in the NHL this season has been "the best players must play", I've heard no such screams about Gerber's demotion. He was, of course, signed to be a stable, veteran presence in the AHL, so it's not a surprise that he's probably headed to Oklahoma City, but if this training camp were really about the best players, except for a misplay on a beautiful lob pass against, he's made his case in a way that no other goalie in camp has.