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FIVE THINGS: Penticton comes to a close

by Chris Wescott / Edmonton Oilers

The Oilers Rookies crushed the Vancouver Canucks 8-2 in their opening game. They rallied with style against Calgary and finished strong in a 6-3 win in their second. A slow start doomed the Oilers against Winnipeg in the third game, although they battled back admirably and tied the game late. The Oilers dropped that one 5-4 in overtime.

Here are five observations from the tournament.

1. UNHERALDED UNDERDOG SHINES

Undoubtedly, the top storyline coming into this tournament for the Oilers was the debut of Connor McDavid in the team’s blue and orange. However, there was an unheralded player who, in my mind, deserves top honours. Braden Christoffer’s name didn’t jump off the page when the Oilers Rookie Camp roster was announced, he made himself get noticed.

Photo by Marissa Baecker

“I’ve always been kind of the back-door guy,” said Christoffer. “Coming into the WHL, I was just an unlisted player. I went in undrafted, made Regina and worked my way up. Now I’m here and it’s the same thing. Lower end, supposedly, and down the totem pole. I’m just going to work my way up now.”

Christoffer, 21, has been an underdog his entire hockey career. He was undrafted in the WHL and had to earn a spot with the Regina Pats. He worked his way up from the bottom of the lineup and became the team’s captain at the end of his career there. He had 59 points last season and earned himself an AHL deal with the Bakersfield Condors.

“It was fantastic,” said Christoffer. “I’m real happy to sign with them and be in this organization. I grew up watching (the Oilers) and fantasized about being here. To get that contract was pretty special.”

The Sherwood Park, AB native made a life-long fantasy come true when he pulled the Oilers jersey on and played for his childhood team. The best part of his story is that Christoffer did nothing but impress on the ice for the Oilers Rookies.

He finished the tournament with three goals, one in each game. Christoffer surprised everyone here in Penticton, including Oilers General Manager Peter Chiarelli.

Not only can he play well, he does everything the coaches ask of him, brings leadership and is well-liked in the locker room. The Condors might be getting a good player.

Read more about Christoffer’s story HERE.

Photo by Marissa Baecker
2. DRAISAITL FLASHES SKILL

Leon Draisaitl’s skill is well-known. It’s the reason he was taken third overall in 2014. Watching him play in Penticton, his hockey IQ was also on full display.

On Saturday night against Calgary, Draisaitl delivered a beautiful backhand pass out in front to Braden Christoffer, who had all the time in the world to pick his spot and score. Draisaitl says he knew that play would be open because of how Calgary’s defencemen had been playing all night.

“The puck came to my side and I had seen the defencemen cheat behind the net and I’d seen it wide open in front of the net,” said Draisaitl. “I just blindly kind of threw it in front of the net.”

But Oilers Rookies Head Coach Gerry Fleming didn’t buy the “blind-pass” angle.

“It might look like a blind pass, but he knows what he’s doing,” said Fleming. “It’s not going to be a turnover or a high-risk play. It’s a high-percentage play. He studies what’s going on. Like any good player does, they see the tendencies of other teams’ special teams and he knew that play was going to be open. He just fired it on the tape and it was a big goal.”

Draisaitl also deftly went five-hole on Mason McDonald to score on his game-winning penalty shot in the third period. He had scouted McDonald during the game and says he though the five-hole would be for the taking.

He nearly led the Oilers to a third victory in the tournament as well, but was stopped by Winnipeg goaltender Eric Comrie on a partial break late in the third period. He finished the tournament with two goals and three assists.

Read more on how Draisaitl impressed HERE.

3. PLATZER CONTINUES TO IMPRESS

Few players made a better impression at Young Stars than Kyle Platzer. The centre prospect finished with a goal and two assists in the tournament, but was singled out by coaches and management as a surprise player.

Platzer, 20, will turn pro this year after a monster season in the OHL for the Owen Sound Attack. Platzer exploded for 34 goals and 47 assists (81 points) in 68 games.

Photo by Oilers TV.

“It was just maturity I think,” Platzer said. “When I was a younger guy, I didn’t really know how to be a pro. Once I came to these camps, I figured it out and learned quick and tried to absorb as much as possible. I took all those lessons back to junior, they paid off and I had a great season.”

Platzer is seen by the Oilers as a potential two-way centre, likely a third-liner. He was taken 96th overall in 2013 and has made major strides in his development. His defensive game is still an area he wants to work on and an area the Oilers Player Development staff has told him to focus on. Platzer has confidence he can do it.

“I think I can be a two-way forward,” he said. “Put me on in the last two minutes and I can stop a goal for you. Put me on in the last two minutes and I can also score for you. That’s who I want to be. I want to be a reliable player. I think I’m heading in the right direction. I just have to keep plugging away.”

Platzer has five goals in his three Young Stars Classic tournaments, since being drafted. His performance this past season and this off-season has given the Oilers organization reason for optimism.

“He has a good shot,” said Chiarelli. “He’s very athletic. Good shot and goes to the spots. His skating seems to be improving from July so he’s on an upward trend.”

Read more about Platzer’s development HERE.

4. NURSE IS A BEAST

Maybe more important than Darnell Nurse’s play on the ice during the tournament was his leadership in the locker room. His work ethic is something younger prospects say they look up to. The work the 2013 seventh-overall pick has put in this off-season will help him compete hard for a spot on the Oilers in training camp and the pre-season games.

His game will continue to get better and better, and even if he doesn’t make the Oilers this year, he can perfect his craft in the AHL as so many great players have.

And if you need a reminder of just how strong and tough he is, just watch this:

Nurse was goaded into a fight with Calgary’s Rasmus Andersson and made short work of his opponent.

5. A LOT OF OFFENCE

As Oilers play-by-play guy Jack Michaels pointed out this weekend, 13 of the Oilers 14 forwards in Penticton have scored at least 25 goals in a major junior season. So it shouldn’t have come as a surprise that, barring the result of the late game between the Canucks and Flames, they scored the most goals of any team at the tournament (18).

Photo by Marissa Baecker

Josh Winquist led the way for the Oilers in scoring with four goals and an assist in three games. Winquist earned professional experience last season with both the Condors and the Oklahoma City Barons. Prior to that, he had a 93-point season in the WHL for the Everett Silvertips.

Draisaitl was bound to be near the top of the stat sheet for the Oilers and he finished tied with Winquist with five points (2-3-5) in three games. His penalty-shot goal against Calgary lifted the team to a 6-3 comeback win. Draisaitl is coming off a season in which he began the year in the NHL, but finished in the WHL where he gained offensive confidence and helped Kelowna to a WHL Championship.

Christoffer finished the tournament with three goals and an assist. He’s an AHL contract player who scored 26 goals for Regina last season.

Alexis Loiseau is another player on an AHL deal who shined in this tournament. Loiseau scored two goals and added two helpers. He captained Rimouski to a Memorial Cup appearance this past season, recording 35 goals in 68 regular season games.

In total, 10 players scored at least one goal for Edmonton in the three tournament games and 14 recorded at least a point. 10 had multi-point tournaments.

This was a more skilled and talented roster from top to bottom than in years past and it wasn’t just because of McDavid, Draisaitl and Nurse.

NEXT UP: The Oilers Rookies close out their camp with a game against the two-time defending CIS champion University of Alberta Golden Bears on Wednesday at Rexall Place. Game time is 7 p.m. MT.

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