A fine looking crop of Oilers Prospects at the 2011 development camp. That's Anton Lander wearing 64 and Ryan Nugent Hopkins in front and to the right. Photo by Lisa McRitchie
I was fortunate enough to be able to attend day on of the Edmonton Oilers' prospect camp held this week at Millenium Place in Sherwood Park, along with many, many other Oilers' fans. There was not nearly the same interest for this camp as there was for the day that I attended last year with Bruce McCurdy, but it was still fun and excitement for anyone who made the trek down. People were in the seats shortly after 9am, craning and hoping for a glimpse of Ryan Nugent-Hopkins or any of the other newly drafted Oilers. Of course there were to be a few familiar names and faces in Oilers' jerseys, but who are we kidding, The Nuge was the main attraction.
The Oilers PR address on the camp said that it would run 10am - 12 noon, but I had the feeling that I should be down there a little earlier. I was really glad I made it work. At 9:15 four of the Oilers' prospect goaltenders hit the ice to work on some lateral movement drills and get some one on one coaching from Freddy Chabot the Oilers' goaltending coach.
Olivier Roy, once he removed his mask looked older than the last time I saw his face. It is remarkable how quickly these young men change and grow especially while chasing their hockey career dreams. Roy will likely start next year in Oklahoma City. Tyler Bunz will likely return to Medicine Hat until he is old enough to transition to the AHL. The Finnish goaltenders will likely remain in Europe and Dustin Butler from the University of Calgary is a tough one to call. There were four goaltenders at camp today, Samu Perhonen, newly aquired goaltender was not on the ice for one reason or the other. I think likely to keep the numbers even, to make it easier to run drills.
Goaltender prospect Tyler Bunz bats away a puck that was shot his way. Likely trying to work on his puck handling skills.
The Oilers were using both rinks, which added to the confusion, but really didn't seem to be that big of an issue. At first. One rink has three rows of seats and nets everywhere. This is where the goaltenders started their day. The other rink has 7 rows of seating, and a fair bit of glass access. This is where the skaters started their morning, which was also early. Things were completely under way by 9:30am, not 10am.
Skating coach extraordinaire Steve Serdachny lead the skaters through some interesting to watch drills. For one drill, the players had to start at one end of the ice, then swing their sticks in a complete circle, jumping over their stick and keep skating to the other end of the rink. Some found this drill a little trickier than others.
As you can see, number 72, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins got through the drill alright. While at the same time, number 88, Brandon Davidson didn't.
Anton Lander really got the hang of the drill and was able to get some air. I did comment to Bruce that I felt a little bad for Lander, he didn't have any fellow Swedes with Oscar Klefbom not in attendance and Magnus Paajarvi already on the Oilers' regular squad.
As this was just the first day of development camp, Bruce and I were just struggling to remember names and numbers of the players in front of us, and struggling to keep up with what was happening on both rinks. Bruce did do a phenomenal job tweeting the events as I tried to take photos that I can use throughout the year, or as these prospects develop.
The photographers and cameramen from the local television stations and newspapers asked me which player was Ryan Nugent-Hopkins once they arrived. I quickly pointed him out, but I was surprised that that seemed to be the only draw for some. I quickly pointed out that Anton Lander was a high profile prospect. There were some that were quite interested in Colten Teubert. Tuebert of course from the Dustin Penner trade, so of interest to several Oilers' fans.
Bruce and I had a chance to quickly catch up with Oilers' prospects Drew Czerwonka and Tyler Pitlick. Czerwonka is still slightly disappointed with his team's early exit from the Memorial Cup, but proud of how far his team made it. Pitlick said that he will be going for x-rays on his ankle which has kept him off of the ice since March 2nd. With any luck Pitlick will be cleared to take to the ice before the end of the camp, that is a player who can't wait to make the next step and he is now eligible to play in the AHL this coming season.
Overall, it's not a bad experience if you want to head to the camp to see the players for yourself or to bring your children. The team makes a few of the players available for autographs at the end of each camp session and to see the kids get a chance to interact with the prospects is something else. The best day to attend will be next Saturday at Millenium Place when the Oilers' prospects will participate in a tournament. You never know who you will see in the crowd. Oilers' GM Steve Tambellini, president of hockey operations and head coach Tom Renney were all just sitting in the stands smiling and Hockey Night in Canada's Craig Simpson was playing the role of proud father. He watched his son with great interest and interacted with fans, signing shirts and jerseys.
The Oilers have a strong crop of prospects on their farm teams, and playing on various other juniors teams which is to be expected after having poor years in the NHL for the last number of years. The future looks bright folks, and it's exciting to watch it grow from the ground level.
EDIT: After regaling my tale a few times, I've realized I forgot to mention something that stood out for me by the end of the skating session. As you try to follow everyone, and at the same time focus in on a dozen or so players, you feel overwhelmed. So, at some point I had to just sit back and try to just enjoy the experience. It was at this point that I looked down at the ice between drills and saw Anton Lander showing another prospect some hand positioning and stick handling skills.
Most of us have heard about Lander's leadership qualities, but to see it casually happen in front of you is something else. It wasn't a big production, just a short interaction between two players trying to make the best they can of their time in front of the decision makers for the Oilers organization.