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FIVE THINGS: Orientation Camp Wrap-Up

by Meg Tilley / Edmonton Oilers

This year, 36 prospects found themselves in the quaint and scenic surroundings of Jasper for Oilers Orientation Camp. As they embarked on a week-long trip of team bonding and on-ice work, coaching and development staff came together to really see what these prospects had to bring. Here are five standouts from the Oilers Orientation Camp this week.

 

5. OILERS SIGN BEAR

 

It was a pretty exciting start to camp for defensive prospect Ethan Bear . The Ochapowace, SK, First Nations native signed a three-year entry-level contract with the Oilers on July 2.

 

"It feels amazing," said Bear. "You know, I work very hard during the season and in the off season and it feels really rewarding to sign with Edmonton - [it's] a really big honour."

 

Coming off a strong season playing for the Western Hockey League's Seattle Thunderbirds, where he recorded 19 goals and 46 assists for 65 points in 69 games, as well as 22 points (8G, 14A) in 18 post-season games, Oilers Senior Director Rick Carriere said the 19-year-old's overall player development is what contributed to the team's eagerness to sign him.

 

"Ethan's offensive game really evolved and he was able to contribute offensively but more than anything else I think he rounded out his game away from the puck too," he said. "[He] is a lot better in the d-zone, checking down low, he had good corner battles, he was tough in front of the net, but his game's all about the puck and transition, moving his feet and he did a really good job with that throughout the year and he was able to put up some offensive numbers."

 

As Bear prepares to return for his fourth season with the Thunderbirds, he said he's really embraced what camp has to offer.

 

"I'm working really hard and I want to make a name for myself," said Bear. "Most importantly, I'm here to take part just like everybody else, so I don't treat myself as any more special than the other guys. Just work hard and take it day-by-day."

 

4. PULJUJARVI RECOVERING

 

Fan excitement bubbled around Jasper's arena as the 36 prospects took over the facilities for on-ice and off-ice sessions. The town folk, who were eager to find a spot inside to watch each practice, were quick to notice one player's ice presence was missing.

 

Where was Jesse Puljujarvi ?

 

Selected fourth overall by the Oilers at this year's NHL draft, the 6-foot-4, 203-pound Finn was unable to participate in the on-ice sessions this week due to an injury he was recovering from.

 

Puljujarvi went under the knife following the U18 World Championship for a minor knee surgery and decided to turn a lot of his time and energy on conditioning and rehabilitating his knee throughout the camp.

 

"[It] feels good - better and better," he said.

 

Puljujarvi, who has high hopes that he'll return to the rink within a month, may not have been able to showcase his skill on Canadian soil this week, but it's not to say that an impression hasn't already been made with the coaching staff.

 

"He plays a full 200-foot game and has an energy and a passion level that is really strong and high and a skill-set to go with it," said Oilers Head Coach Todd McLellan.

 

"We feel that he has the opportunity to compete for a spot this season. We need to get him healthy here and get him up and running. But once that happens the rest will be up to him and his teammates to make sure that he feels comfortable and I hope that he can challenge for a spot and make our team out of camp, but that's yet to be seen."

 

Keep your eyes open, as he'll certainly be one to watch come Oilers training camp in September.

 

3. COLLEGE NO MORE FOR CAGGIULA

 

After a successful senior season with the 2016 national champion University of North Dakota Fighting Hawks hockey team, Drake Caggiula is ready for the first chapter of his professional hockey career.

 

"It's a dream come true," he said. "Obviously, you want to be a professional hockey player since you're a young kid, that's what you dream about and the National Hockey League's the biggest goal. Now that school's all done, I just have to worry about focussing on hockey and I couldn't ask for anything more than that. Hockey is what I love, it's my passion."

 

One of 36 prospects that attended this year's Orientation Camp, Caggiula is preparing himself physically and mentally for what can only be perceived as a change of pace in the world of hockey, transition from college to the professional realm.

 

"It's been a long camp, it gets a little tiring, but guys are working on and off the ice, whether it's in the gym or watching video or on the ice," he said. "Just having the coaches here - I don't know if too many camps have their NHL coaches around - leading the video sessions… it's definitely been a top-notch camp here that everyone's learning a lot of stuff, you're getting a lot of information, but I know it's been a great camp on and off the ice."

 

Caggiula, who signed with the Oilers as a college free-agent on May 8, wrapped up his senior season with the Hawks recording 25 goals and 26 assists for 51 points in 39 games and helped lead the team to a national title. The 22-year-old said his first camp as a piece of the Oilers organization felt good and believes it will facilitate his transition from college hockey.

 

"[Professional hockey], I think it's a little different than college hockey," he said. "It's a much bigger, faster, stronger, smarter [game], and I know there's going to be an adjustment period. But at the same time I think I'm a quick learner and hope I can learn as quick as possible and really get accustomed to the pro game and hopefully it turns out well for myself."

 

2. ALL HANDS ON DECK

 

The 36 prospects used the week to work hard in hopes of one day filling a spot on the Oilers roster. Although each player worked hard to make their mark, a more telling impression was made on the players themselves by the Oilers coaching staff, Head Coach Todd McLellan and Assistant Coaches Jay Woodcroft, Ian Herbers and Jim Johnson.

 

"It's an opportunity for us to be involved and create some relationships with our future prospects and it also gives us a chance to sell our identity to these young players, because some of them are going to be Oilers for a long time," said McLellan.

 

The bench boss, who wasn't on the ice but did occasionally interject with feedback from between the benches, said that he and the staff felt it was equally important that the coaches give these players exposure to their teaching philosophy.

 

"I think this is a good developmental tool, it does a couple of things that I see are significant," said Oilers General Manager Peter Chiarelli. "It does bring all the prospects under the same umbrella for a good period of time where we can instil in them some principles and some skills and some kind of overriding philosophies we have as an organization.

 

"[But it also] brings all our coaches together…and they're able to refresh and talk about a plan going forward. And it's bit of a wrap-up organizationally, everyone's together under the same roof where we can talk about what we see on the ice…and how we're going to plan going forward."

 

"I think that as much as it is an introduction for these players to the organization, it's also an important introduction for the coaches to the players," added Woodcroft.

 

"These are the players that are going to be coming down the pipeline for us so it's important for us to get to know these players as, first of all, human beings, to get to know them as people, to understand what makes them tick, to have a comfort level, to share teaching points, and I think one of the ways you can do that is by getting involved right off the bat."

 

1. BILLY MOORES CUP

 

It was a packed house at Jasper Arena for the fourth annual Billy Moores Cup.

"It's great. It's a hockey town and everyone loves the Oilers here," said Caggiula. "Just being part of the organization here, people are starting to recognize who we are and [we're giving out] autographs for everyone around here, it's fun you know…I couldn't ask for a better game day."

 

The 35 on-ice prospects were divided into two teams throughout the week: Team Gretzky (Blue) and Team Messier (White). Signalling the wrap-up of Orientation Camp, the teams faced off in the annual Billy Moores Cup.

 

An exciting game unfolded as each team brought not only the skills and tools they learned from the week, but plenty of physical play - drawing a penalty or two in the process - that fans took in with enthusiasm.

 

Josh Melnick and Scott Allen led Team White in scoring with two goals each as they helped secure the Billy Moores Cup in a 6-2 victory over Team Blue.

"Both teams got off to a good start I thought, we were going back and forth, the pace was definitely high," said Melnick, an Orientation Camp invite who was a freshman at the University of Miami (Ohio) this past season. "We've been working hard the full week here, so just putting in a game situation you could really tell the pace elevated a little bit. It was an exciting experience… A lot of fans coming out, it's good support."

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