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Not So Indifferent to Belgium

Captain America, as the author saw him two years ago. By Benjamin Massey (Lord Bob).
Captain America, as the author saw him two years ago. By Benjamin Massey (Lord Bob).

So, farewell then, Rob Schremp. Oh, you're not gone yet, of course. But you were placed on waivers as part of the general cull of NHL rosters over the last couple days. However much you might like to leave the Oilers organization by now, I bet you're going to clear too. Not many teams looking to round out their fourth line with a powerplay specialist, this time of year, and if you were good enough to be worth a flyer on skill alone, well, you wouldn't be booking a Greyhound ticket to Springfield. Could happen, though. Maybe somebody will take a flyer on you, a lower-tier team that can work you into the lineup and is convinced you still have potential.

But at some point, you're not a prospect, you're just bad at hockey. Rob Schremp, unfortunately, reached that point a long time ago. And it wasn't even his fault.

It's funny how you never notice the warning signs until it's too late.

In his draft year, Robbie Schremp (as he was known then) was slow, short, somewhat stocky, largely ineffective at even strength, and fell like a cinder block in the draft because of a perceived attitude problem. The London Knights, during his time in the OHL, was probably the most bizarrely lopsided team in Canadian junior history, skating its skill players like Schremp and Corey Perry into the ground, particularly on the power play, and producing boxcar numbers which boggled the imagination. Schremp was not the first player whose scoring was inflated in London, nor was he the last.

Most of this is obvious in hindsight, but at the time I and the majority of Oiler fans were ecstatic. Personally, I was cheering for Schremp even earlier in the draft and cursed when the Oilers took lanky goaltender Devan Dubnyk instead. Never in my wildest dreams did I think that oh-so-talented centre would fall to the Oilers' next first-rounder, and when he did it was like an extra Christmas. Those amazing numbers, those YouTube clips that just oozed sex and skill, made everything else seem insignificant.

"Lots of great players weren't the best skaters," rationalized I. "And height isn't much of an obstacle for a stickhandling skill centre. So he has an ego? Good for him! He's earned one!"

I'll be convinced until my dying day that it wasn't lack of effort that held Schremp back. He spent his share of summers training with Chad Moreau and the other Mandelbaums, and the September story about how Schremp had taken power skating drills with one famous coach or another was practically a rite of passage for the Journal sports section. He'd become a star in the OHL with sub-par physical assets and he had worked hard to do it. His skating and defense improved palpably during his time in the minors.

He just wasn't good enough. In the AHL, taking on rookies and other sub-par talents, he could tread water at even strength. On the power play, when put with talented players he was an assassin. He had the "eye for goal" everyone talks about when they can't think of something tangible to put on a scouting report. But he was never an exceptionally accurate shooter, nor the best playmaker. His stickhandling was flashy but ineffective against those who'd been around long enough to see through the tricks. He has a decent minor-league offensive package, but no single skill strong enough to ensure an NHL career. Not Jason Chimera's speed or Zdeno Ciger's hands or any of the other ways so many one-dimensional talents have made the show. With his lack of defense, that is a career-killer.

Captain America will probably end up playing out the string back in Springfield. He'll doubtless get some looks from NHL teams when his contract expires but I see his career ending up in a good European league, like Finland or Sweden, where the players aren't so fast and the defensemen aren't so clever and he can go back to ripping through defensemen like they were tissue paper. It's not a bad life. But all those years ago, it's not what any of us were expecting.