The Oilers' Wannabes took the ice for their second game of the Young Stars Tournament in Penticton minus most of their young stars, as management saw fit to sit out all three of the Sales Crew (Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, and Magnus Paajarvi) for what would have been their inaugural game against the hated red and black of Calgary. Kind of a rip-off for fans who bought single game tickets in order to catch a glimpse of the Oiler hot shots, but at the end of the day, they didn't get cheated at all, as the two teams treated them (and us poaching on the interweb) to an action-packed and surprisingly entertaining affair. The Oil Droplets came out on top for the second game in a row, earning a 5-3 victory over the young Flickers.
The penalty-pocked game featured lots of momentum swings. The young Oil dominated the first period, outshooting Calgary 16-7 and taking a well-earned 1-0 lead into the intermission. For a time it appeared the youngsters have the patented Oilers "second period suck" down to a science, beating a steady path to the sin bin and allowing a pair of powerplay goals in the process, but a terrific play by Ryan Martindale turned the tide, and the Oil roared back with three straight goals to assume command. The Flames scored a last-millisecond goal in the second to cut the gap to 4-3. There the score remained throughout the third until Alex Plante sealed it with an empty-netter, although not before quite a few nervous moments. That was the scoring, but the game also featured a number of big hits and three spirited fights.
A few half-baked impressions of individual Oilers prospects after the jump:
#1 Tyler Bunz: I was much more impressed with the young netminder than I expected to be. He was fighting the puck in the early going but soon settled in. There were a lot of shots through traffic in this one, and Bunz fought hard to track the puck and build a wall in front of the pipes. One of the Flames' goals kinda went through him from extremely close range, but he more than made up for that with a number of solid stops. He faced 37 shots on the night, and I thought he outplayed the older, more-hyped Leland Irving at the other end.
#48 Alex Plante: The big defender showed lots of poise. He scored the opening goal on a seeing-eye wrister into traffic, then closed the scoring with a slightly risky but ultimately successful neutral zone pinch that resulted in the unassisted empty-netter to put it away. He seemed calm and in control, good on the breakout, and a little susceptible to wide speed. Vaguely reminiscent of a young Jeff Beukeboom.
#55 Jordan Bendfeld: This guy is brutal. One of the more-experienced players out there was exposed time and again in the defensive zone. He did get a chance to do what he does best in a major tilt against Flames goober Ryley Grantham, but didn't show near enough "good at hockey". He was completely burned on the 1-1 goal by #57 in red who beat him three ways from Sunday before making an uncontested centring pass to the goal scorer (the impressive Greg Nemisz) who had also managed to beat Bendfeld to the inside. If you want to see an instructional video of how not to play defence, watch #55 in white from about 1:15 to 1:40 of the game highlights video embedded at bottom.
#60 Brandon Davidson: A mixed bag. He looked good much of the time, but occasionally was either a step slow or else a tad late making his decision, or as Derek put it, "caught between spaces". Also was on the receiving end of a couple of fearsome hits. He was pretty good with the puck. A project, but what else do you expect a just-turned-19-year-old defenceman to be?
#70 Martin Marincin: Ditto. He looked real solid at times, and I really liked his instincts to engage defensively. He looked good with the puck at times and horrible at other times, especially in a late third-period turnover which led to some frantic action around Bunz's crease. He's a gangly son of a gun with a build resembling a giant daddy long legs. There always seemed to be some extremity of his in the way. My first NHL comp to him was Kjell Samuelsson, of whom I was a huge fan. The Skating Tripod was one of those defenders I call a "thwart". There's obviously a very long way from here to there, and I don't mean to heap those sorts of expectations on the kid, just that he seems to be that type of player.
#72 Dominik Schlumpf: I hope he makes it just for his name alone. I'm pretty sure I once saw just that combination of letters as a sound effect in a Calvin & Hobbes cartoon.
#73 Nolan Toigo: I'll be surprised if he gets an invite to main camp. He didn't hurt his cause when he threw down with former longtime Vancouver Giants teammate Lance Bouma - isn't THAT a great name for a scrapper? - in response to a cheap hit on a current teammate, however temporary. Classic hockey player reaction to an opponent who has crossed the line.
#51 Philippe Cornet: To my eye he just seemed a day late and a dollar short most of the night. May have stalled as a prospect.
#53 Cameron Abney: Every time I see this guy he looks like a decent hockey player. He's big, aggressive, and to my eye, is an OK skater who packs a lot of foot pounds when he gets it into top gear. Tons of rough edges, and may well be a bust, as many third-rounders are. While it's pretty hard to see the top of the mountain from way out here in the foothills, I can see, or at least sense, what it is the scouts liked about Abney as a player. Tonight he also made his case as a fighter, outlasting the giant Chris Breen (6'7, 224) in a prolonged tussle that ended suddenly with one big shot from Abney. Like it or not, that will be Cam's ticket to wherever his professional career takes him.
#54 Chris Vande Velde: Solid on the dot, solid all over the ice to my eye. Had several shots on goal, decent ones too. Found the scoresheet when he was able to get a piece of a goalmouth deflection and bunt the puck over the line somehow. This after winning the draw in his skates and busting to the net, just like they taught him in college. Unfortunately he gave that one back right at the end of the second with a poor clearing pass that was instantly turned into Seabrook's last-heartbeat goal. Poor clock awareness there; he had to just eat the puck and the period was over.
#56 Teemu Hartikainen: Was robbed by Irving on a bad-angle bang-bang play midway through the first. He didn't miss the shot, he just got beat by what was likely the best stop of the night by either goalie. Harski's a big body who likes to battle on the boards and slot and is very effective, at least against guys his own age. Landed one very borderline hit which almost looked like a knee shot from one camera angle, not quite so severe from another.
#63 Kristians Pelss: For some odd reason I find myself really rooting for this kid. Maybe it's just that the Oil have never had a Latvian before (have they??). Since its independence from the USSR, the tiny
Balkan Baltic nation has become one my favourite "third world" hockey nations; it's my dream to experience a live Canada-Latvia game at the World Championships some golden spring. But for now, we have a promising young Latvian who is currently the property of two Edmonton teams. A nice bonus for local fans who can watch Kristians sharpen his skills as an Oil King for hopefully the next two years. No reason to fast track him unless he fast tracks himself, but he's a nice prospect well worth following. Tonight Pelss showed some legitimate speed and offensive moxy at times, playing on Pitlick's wing. After hitting the post earlier in the game, he made a real nice play to set up Pitlick's game-winner, beating the defenceman with a sharp cut to the boards, opening up a lane for a beauty backhand feed to Schlumpf right in between the circles.
#66 Ryan Martindale: After a very strong first period which had both Scott and me saying nice things about him, he made the play of the game in the second, which was also the play that turned the game. Midway through the period, Edmonton trailing 2-1 and on their heels, Martindale made a nice neutral zone steal, broke in on a clean 2-on-1, and when the Calgary defenceman dropped to the ice to take away both his shooting and passing lane on the forehand, he reacted by going behind the back and making a near-perfect feed to the breaking Mike Thomas, who finished the job against the startled Irving. A lovely deke and pass, but what I liked best was how he just instinctively made the right play, not to showboat particularly I wouldn't say, just because it was there. And it was all that was there.
#68 Tyler Pitlick: This guy got a head of steam going a couple times and I tell you what, he is a load. Normally I would add "when he fills out" except he already seems to be blessed with a fairly thick body which will make him very difficult to stop at speed, of which he has more than I expected - sweater was flapping there one time. He did some creative things with the puck too. He didn't make me notice him every shift, but when he did, I sure liked what I saw.
#69 James Livingston - Who he? Among the several unknowns like Chase Schaber or the aforementioned Mike Thomas, Livingston stood out by taking a couple of bad early penalties, but more or less redeeming himself with some good hustle and offensive creativity. Until, that is, he made what was likely the single worst play of the entire game, a brutal "no breakout" pass that went sideways from his own defensive boards right into the middle of the ice, after which all sorts of peril and mayhem ensued as Calgary battled hard for the tying goal. An horrific gaffe.
#71 Drew "Willie" Dzerwonka: To my eye this guy just looked real bad. Errors of commission, errors of omission, compounded by errors of enthusiasm. One time he tried to desperately recover against a lost check by making the hero play, a big sprawl through the slot, only to slide all the way into the corner while buddy made off with the puck with all kinds of space. He made any number of bad passes and worse decisions, and took way more grief in the often-humourous GDT than anybody. But at the end he did make a hero play, a backcheck at the doorstep which likely prevented a tap-in tying goal in the last 2 or 3 minutes. If nothing else, points for effort I guess.
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Give 'em all points for effort. That was as entertaining a game as you could hope to see in early September, and to beat Calgary was a nice little bonus, however meaningless. It just felt good not to lose to those red sweaters for a change. Gotta start somewhere, and the young Oilers are as good a group as any to develop good winning habits against Cowtown.
Next up: Oiler rookies vs. Shark rookies, Wednesday, 8:30 p.m. MDT, webcast through Oilers.nhl.com.