-- Patience has paid off for the Edmonton Oilers
and 23-year-old forward Chris Vande Velde.
Selected in the fourth round of the 2005 Entry Draft, Vande Velde has arrived in Penticton to play with the Oilers prospects in the Vancouver Young Stars Tournament after completing his four-year college career with the North Dakota Fighting Sioux.
Though later to the party than most other prospects here, Vande Velde is proving he belongs as a pro.
"I definitely think I' m ready to take the next step after a full college career," Vande Velde said. "I think UND got me prepared really well, and obviously that's a great program and I'm excited to get in here and maybe crack the big team."
Edmonton Director of Player Development Mike Sillinger
played more than 1,000 NHL games and watched Vande Velde last season with the Fighting Sioux and followed him when Vande Velde moved to AHL Springfield when the NCAA season ended.
"He's definitely ready for the American Hockey League," Sillinger said. "He played a couple of games at the end of last year with the farm system, he finished four years (of college). He's a big guy, strong guy, protects the puck really well, plays his position really well. He's not overly flashy, but he's very noticeable in doing the little things well. Decent on the faceoffs and, with his size (6-foot-2, 190 pounds), he's just so big and strong in front of the net."
Vande Velde's description doesn't seem to overlap very much with the skill set of Edmonton's "Big Three" prospects -- Taylor Hall
, Jordan Eberle
and Magnus Paajarvi
-- which may be a good thing for Vande Velde as he tries to crack the Edmonton roster this season.
“You never know; if I start in the (AHL), obviously I'm going to be working my butt off to be getting back up (to Edmonton)," Vande Velde said. "They might need a third-line forward or a guy on draws. Anything could open up.
"It's an exciting time to be an Oiler, and I'm just excited to be here."
The native of Moorhead, Minn. led the Fighting Sioux in scoring with 41 points in 42 games last season, and was an alternate captain for the NCAA power.
"I'm very comfortable with (a leadership role); I’m wearing an 'A' here as well," he said. "I'm one of the older guys here, so I'm prepared to take that role if it comes to me."
With Fighting Sioux alumni like Jonathan Toews
, Zach Parise
, T.J. Oshie
, Drew Stafford
and Travis Zajac
all making waves in the NHL, the route to the NHL from Grand Forks is well documented.
"It helps to know that there are guys out there that have done that path that I have," Vande Velde said. "I wasn't drafted as high as them, but I've had a good career and I just have to go out and prove myself."
The program run by coach Dave Hakstol has gained notoriety as a hard-nosed, intimidating team that places a premium on winning. Vande Velde and the Fighting Sioux went 25-12-5 last season, won the WCHA Conference Championship, and advanced to the Frozen Four Tournament, where they lost to Yale in the regional semifinals.
Vande Velde speaks highly of his time as a member of the Fighting Sioux.
"It definitely teaches you to be a tough player," he said. "That’s what you need to play in the NHL. They do it the right way there. Dave Hakstol is a great guy and a great coach and he definitely knows how to lead a team."
While many players are rushed along to get to the professional ranks, the Oilers weren't in a hurry to yank their 2005 pick from such the UND hockey factory.
"As far as UND, we all know it's a fantastic college," Sillinger said. "They groom their players for the National Hockey League. Organizationally, we're excited about that."