|The club's first-round pick (15th overall) in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft, Alex Plante, will be making the jump to pro this coming season. |
What a difference a year makes – especially when that year includes a healthy 68-game regular season capped off by a stellar playoff stretch.
On the heels of a disappointing and injury-plagued 2007-08 season with the Calgary Hitmen, Oilers first-round draft pick Alex Plante
pulled up his bootstraps and his numbers in 2008-09, drawing accolades and attention for his bounce-back ability.
"The year after I got drafted wasn't the year I wanted to have but I had a bounce-back year last year and the team did really well which helped with my development," said Plante at the Oilers Development Camp on Tuesday.
In his first year as an Oilers prospect, a trio of injuries cut Plante’s season in half and limited the normally-dominant defenceman to two points and 28 penalty minutes in 36 games. The Brandon, MB native must have experienced a focused and effective off-season because this past fall, he excelled at Oilers rookie camp and survived two rounds of deep training camp cuts before being reassigned to the Hitmen in late September.
Plante carried his momentum through the season, eventually posting eight goals, 37 assists, and 157 penalty minutes in 68 games, good for first on the team in PIMs and third in points among defencemen. In the playoffs, the blueliner was a powerhouse, adding six goals, nine assists, and 41 PIMs in 18 games.
The season impressed many, including Oilers Assistant General Manager Kevin Prendergast.
“Talk about going from the scrap heap all the way up to the penthouse,” Prendergast says with a smile. “Knowing the kid personally from where he was last year at this time to where he is this year, we can’t say enough positives about him because he’s done everything we’ve asked him to do and everything that Calgary asked him to do.”
Plante was the picture of dependability in ’08-09, assuming an increased leadership role on arguably the best team in the Canadian Hockey League. Although the Hitmen were upset by the Kelowna Rockets in the WHL’s Ed Chynoweth Cup finals, the team roared through the first three playoff rounds with 12 straight wins.
According to Prendergast, the playoffs are a learning curve for many young players, and although Plante passed each test with confidence, the curve gets steeper following WHL graduation.
“It was a very good hockey team that he played on, they relied on him an awful lot, and his coaches spoke very highly of him this year,” Prendergast says. “It’s up to him now. He’ll turn pro next year and he’ll probably need at least a year in Springfield to own his game and get used to the pace of the game.”
Unlike some of Edmonton’s top prospects, size will not be an issue with Plante. At 6’4” and 225 pounds, the 20-year-old already looks the part – and Prendergast is confident a year with the club’s AHL affiliate in Springfield would secure him a spot in the big production.
“His skating has got to improve a little bit, but he’s got that long wingspan. Being 6-4, he uses his stick very well,” the Oilers exec observes. “Anytime you’ve got a guy of that size who can move the puck and shoot the puck, he’s an asset to your organization.”
Plante agrees that footwork is an issue.
"I'd say it's footwork and mobility, just being a bigger guy," he said. "It's always going to be a key to making myself better."
“As far as a comparison, he reminds me an awful lot of where Rob Blake was when he played college,” Prendergast adds. “Rob was probably a little bit more physical but they both move the puck well, they both had to improve their skating a little bit, and they both had to improve their physical play. Alex has done that this year. We’re really looking forward to seeing what he can do in training camp.”
Author: Jen Sharpe | edmontonoilers.com