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FEATURE: New pads between the pipes

by Meg Tilley / Edmonton Oilers
OIlers goaltending prospect Dylan Wells with Goaltender Development Coach Sylvain Rodrigue. Photo by Ryan Hrycun / OIlers TV.

Dylan Wells’ status is changing.

Entering his third season with the Ontario Hockey League’s (OHL) Peterborough Petes, the goaltender — who was selected 21st overall in the 2014 OHL Draft by the Petes — has acquired the starting position for his team for the 2016-17 season.

“It’s a big weight lifted off your shoulders when you see that [your coaches] have the trust in you to start and play games,” said Wells. “I think — over my two years of gaining enough experience to know how the league works and kind of get my crack at playing a lot of games — I’m really excited and honoured that the team has the confidence in me to play all the games.”

Stepping into the position after Petes veteran goaltender Matt Mancina was traded to the Mississauga Steelheads this summer, Wells brings both size and athleticism to the crease, having worked hard to make improvements over his first two major junior seasons.

Last year, Wells appeared in 27 games with the Petes, posting a 9-13-3 record, a 4.59 goals against average and an .871 save percentage. He did, however, backstop Hockey Canada to a gold medal at the 2015 Ivan Hlinka tournament with a 1.33 GAA and .930 save percentage.

A highly-touted goaltending prospect, the 6-foot-2 netminder was selected by Edmonton in the fifth round, 123rd overall, at this year’s NHL Draft.

“[This year] we want to see a game plan in his game,” said Oilers Goaltender Development Coach Sylvain Rodrigue. “It’s important to have a good game plan, to bring consistency.”

Attending his first Oilers Rookie Camp, the 18-year-old said he feels good, is focused and is ready to get to work.

“For me, personally, I try not to set too many expectations… I think I play my best when I don’t,” said Wells. “My goal for the weekend is just to come here and kind of take everything in and learn a lot from all the older guys who have been through it before and play the best hockey I can. It’s a good experience and you’re around a lot of good players, so I’m just going to try and have fun.”

Wells isn’t the only goaltending prospect looking to make a good first impression at this year’s Young Stars Classic.

Nick Ellis. Photo by Ryan Hrycun / Oilers TV.

Nick Ellis, who made a challenging decision to part ways with his collegiate team, the Providence College Friars, signed a two-year entry level contract with the Oilers in April.

Though the two netminders are attending Rookie Camp for the first time together, Rodrigue said there’s a definitive five-year age gap between the two, which means their level of experience demands different coaching needs.

“They’re not in the same place,” said Rodrigue.

“Nick, he finished college, he’s older, he’s ready to play pro, so he’s more mature physically and his game reading is better than a young goalie who is coming for his first training camp. [At] the first training camp… the most important [thing] is to leave a good impression — a good first impression — and so far so good for both goalies.”

The 22-year-old appeared in 36 games last season with Providence, posting a 25-7-4 record, 1.80 goals against average, .936 save percentage and four shutouts.

“I definitely took away a lot of things from development camp [in Jasper] with [Dustin] Schwartz and [Rodrigue],” said Ellis. “They’re both great goalie coaches, both on the same page and I really took a lot away and tried to implement that stuff in my game over the summer.”

Securing the starting position for the game against the Vancouver Rookies in Penticton on Friday night, he echoed the same sentiments Rodrigue said prospects should be looking to make at this year’s camp.

“I want to make a good impression, [show] that I work hard, that I can compete and that I’m really coachable,” said Ellis.

And impress he did, making 29 saves on 30 shots, backstopping the Oilers to a 4-1 victory to open the Young Stars Classic.

Nick Ellis. Photo by Marissa Baecker.

“I thought it [went] pretty well,” said Ellis. “It was my first game back since the end of March, so I had to get my legs under me and I was cramping a little bit, but I think once I keep playing a couple more games then I’ll be fine.”

But there is always room for improvement, and the 6-foot-1 goaltender said that this weekend it will all barrel down to working on the details.

“Going into shots instead of pulling away, getting my feet set every time, being explosive — just small details that will make a big difference when stopping the puck,” said Ellis.

Although the over-arching goal for the tournament is to see what these prospects can do in high-intensity game situations, Rodrigue said that more than anything, it’s an opportunity he wants these goaltenders to remember.

“It’s the experience — it’s like an all-star game with the good CHL players or the guys from college — so for sure the level is better,” he said.

“It’s not summer hockey, they’re in shape but it’s not game shape right now, so we might see some mistakes, but from there they have to learn and make sure they’re not doing the same the next game.”

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