I'm thoroughly enjoying the Future Watch series currently being featured on the Oilers' official website; Jen Sharpe is writing the articles but there's a ton of input from Kevin Prendergast and he's doing what he does best: making positive, reassuring sounds about every prospect until they eventually drop off the face off the Earth.
That's a little harsh and not entirely accurate, but Prendergast does tend towards wildly optimistic in the majority of his public evaluations, and last Friday's feature was no different, with the Oilers' assistant general manager comparing junior prospect Alex Plante to future hall-of-famer Rob Blake:
“As far as a comparison, he reminds me an awful lot of where Rob Blake was when he played college. Rob was probably a little bit more physical but they both move the puck well, they both had to improve their skating a little bit, and they both had to improve their physical play. Alex has done that this year. We’re really looking forward to seeing what he can do in training camp.”
Let's take a quick moment and compare the numbers between Plante and Blake for the two seasons after they were drafted.
- Plante: 104GP - 9G - 38A - 47PTS
- Blake: 88GP - 34G - 57A - 91PTS
Of course, that's not entirely fair, either. Alex Plante has played junior-age players on a powerhouse team, while Blake played against men on a team that was merely good. So let's view that comparison for what it is: rubbish. Not only was Blake a more willing physical combatant, but he was a better playmaker and had a better shot.
That said, Alex Plante is still a heck of a prospect. Going back to Prendergast:
"Talk about going from the scrap heap all the way up to the penthouse. Knowing the kid personally from where he was last year at this time to where he is this year, we can’t say enough positives about him because he’s done everything we’ve asked him to do and everything that Calgary asked him to do...."
“It was a very good hockey team that he played on, they relied on him an awful lot, and his coaches spoke very highly of him this year. It’s up to him now. He’ll turn pro next year and he’ll probably need at least a year in Springfield to own his game and get used to the pace of the game.”
It's rather significant that the Calgary coaches had good things to say about Plante, because that was far from the case this past summer. From Lowetide's December profile on Plante:
This past summer became something of a soap opera, as Plante requested a trade and (for a time) indicated he would not return to the Hitmen. Calgary coach Kelly Kisio: "You sit back and scratch your head and wonder what you have to do to make kids happy. We played him with Karl Alzner so he could have a big draft year, then he gets hurt and has trouble getting back into game shape and we're getting blamed for it."
Of course Kisio wouldn't play Plante with Alzner just to have a good draft year; show me a coach who puts an individual player's wellfare ahead of the team good and I'll show you a coach who isn't long for his profession. That said there was clearly bad blood between the two parties, something that seems to have been cleared up this winter (Plante even got a letter in Calgary). That says nothing but good things about the young defenseman.
What we're left with is not a player in the mold of Rob Blake, but the player who Sports Illustrated columnist Allan Muir described shortly before the Oilers selected Plante:
Although he's not as inclined to drop the gloves, he's a hard-hitter who makes life miserable for opposing forwards. The knock on him at this point is that he has no offensive game, but that won't keep him from being a reliable No. 4 blueliner in the Sean O'Donnell mold.
Plante has size, reach, an emerging physical game and the events of this past season also show a level of maturity that will only bode well for his professional career. I'm sure the Oilers know that, and however overblown Prendergast's comparison to Blake was, he was certainly accurate with his closing comment:
“We’re attempting to sign him. It’s up to him and his agent, whether they’re on the same page as we are. But we certainly feel that he’s going to be part of the organization.” (bolding mine)