Early on Thursday afternoon, the Edmonton Oilers announced the signing of free agent forward Hunter Tremblay to a one-year contract. At twenty-five, Tremblay is old enough to avoid the entry-level system altogether, the second free agent of that kind the Oilers have signed in the last couple of weeks (the first was Tanner House), which means that even though Tremblay has yet to play a professional game, he's already in what is traditionally the prime of a pro hockey player's career.
This should already be some cause for concern. Generally speaking, players who haven't seen the NHL by age twenty-five aren't going to make it. When the player is a little on the small side, that makes the odds even longer, and Tremblay is just 5'11'' (although at about 200 lbs. he must be pretty thick). Tremblay also hasn't played forty games in a season for four years, and a look back to Tremblay's draft year (2003-04) shows just 27 points in 67 games with the Barrie Colts of the OHL.
So why did the Oilers sign this guy? Limitations aside, it's pretty clear that this is a man with some offensive talent. In 2004-05, Tremblay was able to score at a point per game pace in the OHL, and he improved on those totals in each of the next two seasons before going to play Canadian University Hockey with the University of New Brunswick. There, Tremblay has been one of the most dominant players in the Atlantic University Conference for four straight years with a plus/minus rating of +20 or better each year to go along with a top five finish in the scoring race, including a Player of the Year award in 2010. He leaves the school having won two National Championships and as the team's all-time leading scorer.
Does that make him likely to be any good as a pro? He certainly seems to think he's got a shot:
It's a great opportunity for me. Everyone in that organization has, or should have, the mindset that there is a possibility of going up to the big show. Signing a contract is the first step in a long process and I am looking forward to the steps ahead. Hopefully I will have a good next couple of weeks with Oklahoma City, then a good summer of training and we will see what happens at training camp.
There aren't a whole lot of CIS players that end up coming through the ranks to the NHL, so a look at a couple of the recent top five scorers in the Atlantic University Conference might be instructive. Marc Rancourt, for instance, was second in scoring in 2009-10, and has been a point per game guy for the Landshut Cannibals in the German second division. Justin Donati was a top five guy in 2008-09, and he's torn the cover off the ball in the ECHL for the last two years, finishing second in the scoring race in 2009-10, and leading the league in scoring this season. If Tremblay is in that range, he may well be a useful player in the AHL right now. And it's not like it's impossible for the player to turn out. Joel Ward came through the University of Prince Edward Island to the pro game, played a couple of years in the AHL, and then found his way to the NHL at age 28.
In that this is just a one-year deal, this seems like a decent bet. If Tremblay isn't the best player in the CIS he's certainly close, so why not give the player a look. If Tremblay doesn't work out, he's not going to sit on the Oilers' reserve list beyond next season, and if he does work out, the team has found a player.