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FUTURE WATCH | Building the blueline with Betker

by Meg Tilley / Edmonton Oilers

Ben Betker with the Everett Silvertips. Photo Getty Images.

What a difference a season makes.

In his final year with the Western Hockey League’s (WHL) Everett Silvertips, Oilers defensive prospect Ben Betker finished +19, scoring 6 goals and adding 25 assists for 31 points in 64 games.

It goes without saying, that a successful season in the WHL will open a door to opportunity for young players.

Such is the case for Betker, who earned a three-year entry-level contract with the Oilers in March 2015.

Now, the 6-foot-6, 223-pound player has taken up residency in Norfolk, VA, where he is halfway through his first professional season in the ECHL with the Norfolk Admirals.

“It’s been a good experience, something I think I’m still getting used to, but it’s a lot of fun so far,” said the 21-year-old.

“I think the most exciting part was getting to live on your own and kind of start being treated like an adult, and I think that’s something my junior team did really well, was treat us like adults. So it was a pretty easy transition overall but it’s been exciting and I’m having fun with it.”

His first year into his professional season, Betker finally feels as though he’s found a rhythm with his ECHL team.

“It was a bit of an adjustment I guess,” he said. “New coach, new players, had to feel out the league and what it’s like — but I think I’m adjusted now and I’m ready for the next challenge.”

Selected by the Oilers in the sixth round, 158th overall, of the 2013 NHL Draft, Betker said he was shocked to hear his name called and to see his name appear.

“That was a while ago now, but it was a really cool feeling,” he said.

“I wasn’t — obviously I was hoping I would get drafted — but I wasn’t expecting it…to get the phone call and to see my name kind of come across the ticker, that was pretty cool, that’s something that I’ll never forget for sure and it definitely made my mom and dad proud for all the work they had put into me as well.”

It may have come as a surprise to the hulking blueliner, but not so much to Rick Carriere, Sr. Director of Player Development, who said in June last year that he thinks Betker improved a lot over his junior year.

Ben Betker fights for the puck in front of the Norfolk Admirals net. Photo by John Wright / Norfolk Admirals.

“He’s a big, mobile defenceman. He’s got good footwork for his size and he moves the puck effectively. He keeps the game simple. He’s a very efficient puck-moving defenceman and he’s not afraid to get up on the rush. His skating allows him to do that to support the play.

“He’ll be hard on guys in the corner — it will be hard to get to the net in front of him. As long as he keeps improving and maturing, as a person as well, I think there will be an opportunity for him to play in the NHL one day.”

No doubt Betker is working hard for that opportunity. Having attended his third Oilers Rookie Camp in the summer of 2015, he explained how he wanted to improve and play with a physical and aggressive intensity so that it would translate to the pro level.

“I think that’s one of the things I’ve improved on most, being [in Norfolk],” he said. “For sure that’s something that I’ve improved on and I think I’m ready to take that to the next level now.”

The time he spent at rookie camp not only allowed him to train with new and familiar faces, but also gave him an idea of what’s expected from him in order to fill the role as defenceman at the NHL level.

“I think I just try to take the feedback you get from the coaches and apply it as best you can and as quickly as you can really,” explained Betker.

“You don’t really have a lot of time, you get a small window of opportunity so whatever they say you sort of take it down, you put it in your head and you just try to apply it every day at practice and translate it into games.”

With the Norfolk Admirals 35 games into their season, Betker is +3 and has potted one goal and added 11 assists for 12 points.

“We played pretty good going into the break,” he said.

“We didn’t have the results we wanted but so far, in the New Year, we’ve played two really good games and we’re 2-0. I think as of late, there [are] a lot of positives to take away from it. We had a really slow start at the beginning of the year so now we’re just trying to dig ourselves out of it.”

In comparing the ECHL to the WHL, there are some noticeable differences, from the age and physique of the players to the pace of play.

Photo by John Wright / Norfolk Admirals.

But in adjusting to the new league, Betker said that he’s found the ECHL games can vary, and in the WHL, it depended on what teams were pitted against one another when it came down to the style of the game.

“I think if you had, for example, if you threw us (the Everett Silvertips) and the Portland Winterhawks together, or us and Kelowna together, if you put two top WHL teams together you’re going to get a very high-pace game,” he explained.

Though the blueliner feels he’s played some of the fastest hockey against teams like the Winterhawks when he was in the WHL, he finds the pace of play in the ECHL to be a very controlled game — which only benefits his player development.

“I’m playing physically consistent all the time and making sure I’m moving my feet and having a good first pass and I think that’s something that I’ve been doing really well in my first year of pro,” he said.

What’s important to Betker now is being wary of any room for improvement and building off that will give him the edge and his team the advantage in the remainder of the Admirals season.

“I think I’m a [defenceman] who takes care of his own end first and can play against the top lines and shut them down physically,” he said.

“I just try to advance the puck forwards and then I follow the play up aggressively, whether it’s joining the rush or just making sure my gap is tight on the way back into our own end.”

A big, steady two-way defenceman, Betker isn’t afraid to get into the mix on the ice. And when opportunity knocks, he’ll be ready.

Statistics For In The System Through Past Seasons: 14-15 | 13-14 | 12-13 | 11-12
Stats Updated as of Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Bakersfield (AHL) - Forwards


Name POS age GP G A P +/- PIM
GREG CHASE C 20 17 1 6 7 +4 15
BRADEN CHRISTOFFER LW 21 25 1 3 4 -8 57
JOSH CURRIE* C 23 17 3 1 4 +1 21
LEON DRAISAITL C 20 6 1 1 2 -5 4
MATTHEW FORD*   RW 31 27 15 11 26 0 10
RYAN HAMILTON   LW 30 27 8 6 14 -3 30
KELLEN JONES*   LW 25 1 0 0 0 -1 2
ZACK KASSIAN   RW 24 2 1 0 1 0 4
KALE KESSY   LW 23 27 5 4 9 +5 45
JUJHAR KHAIRA   LW 21 16 3 4 7 -1 7
ALEXIS LOISEAU*   C 21 12 1 2 3 +1 2
ANDREW MILLER   RW/C 27 21 7 12 19 0 10
MITCH MOROZ   LW 21 23 2 3 5 +1 50
PHILIP MCCRAE* C 25 9 2 0 2 -4 4
IIRO PAKARINEN   RW 24 4 1 2 3 0 4
TYLER PITLICK   RW 24 7 0 0 0 0 0
KYLE PLATZER RW 20 28 5 7 12 -2 8
MARC-OLIVIER ROY* C 21 15 3 0 3 -2 6
ANTON SLEPYSHEV LW 21 20 4 1 5 -9 12
JOSH WINQUIST*   LW 22 8 3 4 7 +3 20
BOGDAN YAKIMOV   C/W 21 19 3 4 7 -5 8
DANIIL ZHARKOV (INJURED)
LW 21 - - - - - -
Bakersfield (AHL) - Defencemen


Name POS age GP G A P +/- PIM
MARK FAYNE   d 28 4 0 1 1 0 4
MARTIN GERNAT   d 22 16 0 3 3 3 6
brad hunt   D 27 26 6 17 23 -6 8
JOEY LALEGGIA   D 23 29 4 9 13 +10 20
DAVID MUSIL D 22 28 3 2 5 +3 21
NIKITA NIKITIN   D 29 16 1 8 9 -7 0
DARNELL NURSE   D 20 6 0 1 1 0 7
JORDAN OESTERLE   d 23 21 0 9 9 -2 6
NICK PAGEAU*   D 27 12 0 1 1 -5 2
GRIFFIN REINHART   D 21 9 0 4 4 -1 8
DILLON SIMPSON
D 22 19 0 5 5 -2 2
Norfolk (ECHL)


Name POS age    GP G A P +/- PIM
BEN BETKER D 21 35 1 11 12 +3 21
GREG CHASE F 20 10 4 2 6 -3 18
Canadian Hockey League
Name POS age GP G A P +/- PIM team
CALEB JONES  D 18 38 7 24 31 +4 33 PORTLAND WINTERHAWKS (WHL)
ETHAN BEAR  D 18 37 11 26 37   +3 20 SEATTLE THUNDERBIRDS (WHL)
NCAA & USHL
Name POS age  GP G A   P +/- PIM team
EVAN CAMPBELL   LW 21 18 2  4 6 0 14 UMASS-LOWELL (NCAA)
WILLIAM LAGESSON
D 19 18 2 4 6 -2 14 UMASS-AMHERST (NCAA)
JOHN MARINO d 18 26 1 11 12 +5 16 TRI-CITY (USHL)
AIDAN MUIR LW 20 17 1 2 3 -8 8 WESTERN MICHIGAN (NCAA)
TYLER VESEL   C 21 18 2 10 12 +2 9 NEBRASKA-OMAHA (NCAA)
Europe
Name POS age GP G A P +/- PIM team
ROMAN HORAK C 24 43 9 11 20 -6 26 CHEKHOV VITYAZ (KHL)
PHILIP LARSEN   D 25 38 6 20 26 +13 8 JOKERIT HELSINKI (KHL)
ZIYAT PAIGIN  F 20 23 6 11 17 +2 4 KAZAN AK-BARS (KHL)
ANTTI TYRVAINEN  F 26 3 2 0 2 +1 4 FARJESTADS BK KARLSTAD (Sweden)
  13 5 1 6 +1 53 ILVES TAMPERE (finland)
2016 World Junior Hockey Championships
Name POS age GP G A P +/- PIM team
WILLIAM LAGESSON
D 19 2 0 1 1 +1 2 SWEDEN
Goaltenders
Name age GP w l T GAA SV% team
KEVEN BOUCHARD   19 2 1 0 1 2.91 .885 MONCTON WILDCATS (qmjHL)
  21 4 13 2 3.97 .872 baie-comeau (qmjHL)
LAURENT BROSSOIT 22 18 10 5 2 2.52 .928 bakersfield (AHL)
EETU LAURIKAINEN 22 1 0 1 0 4.02 .818 BAKERSFIELD (AHL)
8 3 5 0 2.16 .920 HPK HAMEENLINNA (FINLAND)
ZACH NAGELVOORT   21 9 5 2 1 3.14 .888 michigan (ncaa)
MIROSLAV SVOBODA   20 1 0 1 0 6.00 .750 TRINEC OCELARI (CZECH)
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