Ever since he first put a puck on a string, second-year Springfield forward Rob Schremp
’s skills have cried out for attention.
Like most players, he loved it when the reinforcement was positive, which it almost always was. The real sign of Schremp’s evolution as a prospect, however, is coming this season as he smiles in the face of harsher assessment.
He nods his head when Edmonton points out his faults and when a province debates his readiness for the NHL. He welcomes his extra homework by asking for more. To be ignored is to be finished, and Schremp is just getting started.
“If they (the Oilers) didn’t care, they wouldn’t come down and give me their input,’’ Schremp reasoned. “As long as they are around, that’s cool. They care, right? There’s still hope for you. There’s light at the end of the tunnel.’’
The first half of Schremp’s season – 11 goals, 32 assists – suggests that light is a blowtorch of potential finally being harnessed in the right direction. It’s not subtle, but then again, nothing is when it comes to Schremp.
“He’s probably one of the most skilled players we have in the organization,’’ said Kevin Prendergast, vice president of hockey operations for the Oilers. “He’s an entertainer. He’s the one everyone in Edmonton talks about all the time, when’s he going up. He’s a Harlem Globetrotters type of kid.’’
Anyone in Edmonton who caught the recent AHL all-star game in Binghamton on TV -- Prendergast was there in person -- got even more fodder for chatter. It wasn’t just the goal Schremp scored in the shootout, the one where he picked up the puck on his stick lacrosse-style, dropped it and then still recovered in time to score.
It was also the way Schremp played cat-and-mouse with opponents who were committed to nothing more than pokechecks. Sure, Schremp had the time and space of a man with bad breath, but his utter control and yo-yoing of the biscuit was astounding in any setting.
The performance was Schremp’s equivalent of a Broadway show, the kind of YouTube programming he’s been practicing since he was half the size of his current stick.
“I love creating new stuff. You can’t do little tricks you would in juniors (in the NHL), but there’s still room for creativity,’’ he said. “I don’t want to be just an average player. I want to be above average, and bring the fans off their feet.’’
Ah, if only Edmonton’s Craig MacTavish were more fan than head coach.
Schremp, the Oilers first-round pick in the 2004 draft, got a brief, two-game trial from Edmonton earlier this season. MacTavish was underwhelmed, as he couldn’t toss Schremp on a plane back to Springfield quickly enough.
“He’s not ready for the NHL yet on a full-time basis. I think that’s clear. I can see him coming back up, but I think the things he needs to stay up here long term are not quick fixes, they’re longer-term fixes,’’ MacTavish told the Edmonton Sun. “He needs the strength base and the quickness. He’s got to be strong enough to battle at a standstill with players because he’s not going to outskate many players.’’
The words stung Schremp, and harkened back to his junior days in London where he was a point machine -- 145 in 57 games in his final year -- but was at times benched in clutch moments because of his lack of all-around play. Schremp slipped to No. 25 overall in the 2004 draft, about 20 slots below where his pure talent dictated.
Schremp started answering those challenges by producing 53 points for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton last season (Edmonton didn’t have its own farm team). This season, he’s kept the defiant grin on his mug while taking the Oilers’ concerns to heart.
“I feel confident I can play at that level,’’ Schremp said. “The first year is hard. This year, you know what to expect. I guess sometimes I put too much pressure (on himself), but it’s just competitiveness. Everyone in the game has it. It’s not a negative to want to be the best player.’’
Toward that end, Edmonton has cleared Schremp’s path in a couple ways. The first was to get him some serious skating instruction.
“His vision is unbelievable at this level. He passes the puck like a pro.’’ - Springfield coach and former Oiler Kelly Buchberger
Schremp, Prendergast said, had the bad habit of skating with his legs spread too far apart. That cut down on his top-end speed potential.
“He’s still going through a learning process. His skating is getting there,’’ Prendergast said. “We’ve tried to change his stride over the past couple of years. He’s working on it.’’
The Oilers also moved Schremp from center, his natural position, to wing. That takes a little costliness away from Schremp’s still too-frequent defensive lapses. And, Prendergast said, since Schremp has a tendency to chase the puck to the boards from his middleman position, he might as well play over there full-time anyway.
The move has turned Schremp into a more valuable team player than ever. His 3-to-1 assists to goals ratio is by far the best of his career.
“His vision is unbelievable at this level. He passes the puck like a pro,’’ said Springfield coach Kelly Buchberger.
“I’m getting better and better at it. I liked center a lot,’’ Schremp said. “It’s where I played my whole life. It’s how I know the game. But it (the change) is out of your hands. I just make the plays that are there. It (the urge to score) is not out of me. It’s just a little different when you play pro. You can’t score 100 goals a year.’’
But you can still be an all-star, as Schremp appreciated when he looked around the PlanetUSA dressing room and saw the company he was keeping.
And the peers who, in turn, were enjoying watching him. “Obviously, I’m not having that bad of a year,’’ Schremp said. “It’s kind of a reward, I guess. It’s a motivation to keep going.’’