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Oilers look to add more youth

Monday, 08.04.2008 / 9:00 AM / Prospects

By Brian Compton - NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor


In the end, the Edmonton Oilers got their man.

While they entered Scotiabank Place in Ottawa for the 2008  Entry Draft with only five selections, the Oilers were ecstatic about the fact that they left Canada's capital city with high-scoring forward Jordan Eberle, whom they nabbed at No. 22.

"We zeroed in on a certain type of player," Edmonton Assistant General Manager Kevin Prendergast told NHL.com. "We felt we got lucky. Eberle was a kid that when he left our draft meetings, we sort of kept our fingers crossed that we'd be able to get him. We were lucky to get him. We got players that we had a lot of interest in, which is always good."

Eberle joins a group that includes three first-round choices from 2007 -- which included jewel Sam Gagner, who put up 49 points in 79 games for the Oilers as an 18-year-old.
 
Here is a look at Edmonton's top prospects heading into the 2008-09 season.

FORWARDS

Jordan Eberle -- The 5-foot-10 center scored 42 goals in his second season with his hometown Regina Pats of the Western Hockey League and added two goals and four assists in five playoff games.

Eberle also represented Team Canada at the 2007 Under-18 Ivan Hlinka Memorial tournament and played on a line with Sarnia's Steven Stamkos, who went No. 1 to the Tampa Bay Lightning.

"We have a lot of skilled players on the team, but not a lot of pure goal scorers," Prendergast said. "He sort of fits that bill. We think down the road, he's going to be a very good player for us."

Riley Nash -- The third of Edmonton's three first-round selections in 2007, Nash averaged nearly a point per game in his freshman season at Cornell University with 32 points (12 goals, 20 assists) in 36 games. It was just the step the Oilers were hoping Nash would make after he put up 84 points in 55 games for the Salmon Arm Silverbacks in the British Columbia Hockey League.
The only question now is, will this be Nash's final season at Cornell? If he continues to make strides at the college level, it sounds as if there's a chance he'll sign an entry-level contract with the Oilers sooner rather than later.
"Riley has a lot of potential to do a lot of things," Prendergast said. "I think at the end of this year we'll give some serious thought and seeing whether he wants to turn pro or not."

Rob Schremp -- A first-round selection from 2004 (No. 25), Schremp enjoyed plenty of success in his second season in the American Hockey League. In 78 games with the Springfield Falcons, the 5-foot-11 center scored 23 goals while adding 53 assists -- a strong indication of his playmaking ability. Schremp went 17-36-53 for the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins in 2006-07.

"Robbie's coming off a good year in Springfield," Prendergast said. "He played in every situation. He's been training really hard since the end of the season. He knew his strength had to get better. He's going to get every opportunity to make the team in September."

Ryan O'Marra -- The No. 15 overall selection in 2005, O'Marra was part of the deal that sent power forward Ryan Smyth to the New York Islanders in February 2007. In his first full season in the Oilers' system, O'Marra split time between Springfield and the Stockton Thunder of the ECHL. In 24 games for Stockton, O'Marra notched 20 points and was named to that league's All-Star Game. He went 2-7-9 in 31 games for Springfield before returning to Stockton for the Kelly Cup Playoffs, where he recorded nine points in six games.

"We needed to get him some playing time, and we went into Stockton and made the All-Star Team," Prendergast said. "We brought him to Springfield for the end of the year, and he played really well. At our recent prospect camp, he looked great. His biggest strength is he does all the little things well."

Liam Reddox
—The Oilers' fourth-round choice (No. 112) in 2004 took another step towards fulfilling a lifelong dream in 2007-08, as he made the jump from Stockton to Springfield and did not disappoint. In his first season with the Falcons, the 5-foot-11 left wing notched 16 goals and 28 assists. He appeared in one game for Edmonton.

"Liam had a great year in Springfield," Prendergast said. "Over the course of 80 games, he was probably our best player and sort of came out of nowhere from that standpoint. He's going to get a good opportunity to maybe win a job up here with the big team."

Chris Vande Velde -- The 6-2, 215-pound power forward had a breakout season in his sophomore campaign with the University of North Dakota, going 15-17-32 in 43 games. It was a huge jump for Edmonton's fourth-round pick (No. 97) in 2005, as he notched just three goals and six assists as a freshman.

"He had a great year and had gotten better each year," Prendergast said. "At our recent prospect camp, he was one of our top forwards. When we drafted him, he was 170 pounds and now he's 215 pounds. He's going to play a big part at North Dakota this year. He'll be one of their top-line players. We're very high on him."

DEFENSEMEN

EDMONTON OILERS
2007-08 SEASON STATS

Category Rank (Conference)
2007-08 Points 88
(9th West/19th NHL)
Change from 2006-07 +17
Home Points 47
(10th West/18th NHL)
Away Points 41
(9th West/20th NHL)
Alex Plante -- Edmonton's top defensive prospect had an extremely rough year with the Calgary Hitmen (WHL), as a charley horse, a back injury and a concussion limited him to just 36 games.

Nonetheless, the Oilers believe the No. 14 overall selection in 2007 will be a major contributor down the road. Plante, who stands 6-foot-4 and weighs in at 225 pounds, is expected to return to juniors for another season due to the setbacks suffered in 2007-08. He could also represent Canada at the World Junior Championships.

"Alex had a nightmare for a year last year," Prendergast said. "It was like nothing could go right for the kid. But he came back at the end of the year and played very well. We've kept a close eye on him this summer, and he's training very hard. There's no after-effects from his injury. He knows as well as we do that this is a big year for him. He's got a lot of making up to do this year. He understands more so than anybody else what he has to do this year. We're expecting a good year out of him."

Taylor Chorney -- The smooth skater and puck handler recently signed an entry-level deal with the Oilers after being the franchise's second-round selection (No. 36 overall) in 2005.
Chorney joins the Oilers' organization after three solid campaigns at the University of North Dakota, including three goals and 21 assists in 43 games in 2007-08. He's expected to start 2008-09 with Springfield, but Chorney could be in Edmonton in the near future.

"He's very similar in the mold of personality to Andrew Cogliano," Prendergast said. "He has that pro mentality. He skates so well and does everything almost effortlessly. We think it was time for him to come out of school, and he'll probably need a little time at Springfield to adjust to the pro game. But I don't think it's going to be long before he's in the NHL."

Jeff Petry -- The Ann Arbor, Mich., native opted to play college hockey -- at Michigan State. So far, it's turned to be the right choice as Petry posted 24 points in 48 games for the Spartans as a freshman. A second-round choice (No. 45) in 2006, the 6-foot-3 blueliner prides himself on his ability to play in all situations.

"He's another one we're going to keep a close eye on this year," Prendergast said. "He's got to get a little bit bigger, but at our recent camp he was up around 190 pounds. For a kid to step into Michigan State and play on their first power play and first penalty kill is a tribute to the type of player this kid's going to be."

Johan Motin -- The Swedish defenseman was Edmonton's second selection (fourth round, No. 103), in 2008, three rounds after Eberle was taken. At 6-foot-1 and 202 pounds, the 18-year-old is viewed to be a goaltender's best friend.

"He's an old-school type of defenseman in that he's a stay-at-home player," Prendergast said. "He doesn't carry the puck a whole lot, but he moves it quickly. Defensively, he's more than adequate. He's very strong for his age."

Theo Peckham -- At 6-2 and 216 pounds, Peckham is an enforcer type who loves to be in the middle of everything. Edmonton's third-round choice (No.75) in 2006 racked up 174 penalty minutes in 59 games for Springfield. He also had six goals and seven assists. Peckham, who turns 21 in November, appeared in one game for the Oilers in 2007-08, but could be spending a lot more time in Edmonton next season.

"Theo came a long way last year for us," Prendergast said. "We had a lot of injuries down there, and he had to assume a lot of extra ice time. I think it really helped him. He's been out in Edmonton now for over a month, training out here. With Matt Greene being traded to Los Angeles, he's going to have an opportunity to fight for that job with the big team."

GOALTENDERS

Devan Dubnyk -- It's been a long process for Edmonton's first-round selection in 2004 (No. 14 overall), and the 6-foot-5 netminder is entering a make-or-break season with the organization as he becomes the No. 1 goalie in Springfield.

After using all of his junior hockey eligibility, Dubnyk headed to Stockton in the ECHL, where he went 24-11-7 with a 2.56 goals-against average and a .921 save percentage in 43 games in 2006-07. This past season in Springfield, Dubnyk won just nine times in 33 appearances. He had a 3.12 GAA.

 The Oilers, though, are not about to throw in the towel. They're curious to see how Dubnyk will handle the No. 1 duties at the AHL level, one spot below Edmonton.

"He's going to be the guy in Springfield," Prendergast said. "We expect him to play at least 60 games down there. When he did play (last year), he played very well for us. At 6-5 and 200 pounds, that covers a lot of room. He's got a great attitude and he knows what he has to do. We fully expect he's going to do it."

Bryan Pitton -- The 20-year-old is coming off another solid season with the Brampton Batallion of the Ontario Hockey League, where he went 22-13-2 with a 2.54 GAA and a .911 save percentage. The Oilers' fifth-round selection (No. 133) in 2006 is headed to Stockton of the ECHL for 2008-09 as the Thunder's No. 1 goalie.

"He's come a long way," Prendergast said. "He's signed and he'll be the No. 1 goalie in Stockton this year. He's very athletic. We signed him because of his athleticism. He's just so quick and has all the basic ingredients to be a good goalie. It's just a point of getting the fundamentals down and him having confidence in his own game."

Contact Brian Compton at bcompton@nhl.com.



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