Attention last June was generally focused on the ever-popular Taylor vs. Tyler debate. Beyond No.1, however, Edmonton made an additional nine selections nearly one year ago. A diverse and highly-talented pool of young prospects entered the organization, smiling from ear-to-ear as their name became engraved alongside one of the NHL's most successful organizations.
We recently had the opportunity to speak with Oilers Director of Player Development, Mike Sillinger, about the respective seasons and overall talent of 2010's amateur class.
TYLER PITLICK - C
Selected 31st overall, 2010
6'1", 190-pound centre Tyler Pitlick
opened his Oilers tenure with a switch to WHL competition. His 2009-10 campaign was spent with Minnesota State University, where he played 38 games and accumulated 11 goals and 19 points.
With a natural skill-set that oozes potential, Pitlick was counted on early to produce for the Medicine Hat Tigers. Perhaps under the impression that CHL competition would be an easier time, Pitlick struggled to discover his game in the opening few weeks of the season.
"At the start, I think he really underestimated the Western Hockey League," Sillinger said. "The CHL is a strong league and I'm not sold that he was ready to have to earn his ice-time with his coaches.
"Once he settled in as a regular top-six forward, he was dynamic. It's a real nice, versatile asset to have a player that can play in all positions up front."
Although Pitlick endured a tough start to his WHL career, Sillinger assured that it was not for a lack of compete or desire on the 19-year-old's part.
"He didn't care where he played. He just wanted to play in a scoring role because that's his game. He worked incredibly hard to earn that spot, and once he did, he produced."
Indeed he did. In an injury-shortened 2010-11 season, Pitlick amassed 27 goals and 62 points in only 56 games with the Tigers. The production was impressive enough, but considering he did so on the back of a slow start is downright astounding for a WHL rookie.
"It's amazing how he takes the puck to the net," said a gleaming Sillinger. "Your natural instincts are to look for your wingers when you play in the middle. But when he played centre, he drove the puck hard to the net and carried it well. He's a very strong skater and has great touch around the net."MARTIN MARINCIN - D
Selected 46th overall, 2010
Much like Brandon Davidson
and Curtis Hamilton
, Martin Marincin
also concluded the 2010-11 season with the AHL's Oklahoma City Barons. He dressed in one regular season contest, recording two penalty minutes and a +1 rating
Standing tall at 6'4" and weighing 187 pounds, Marincin is a force on the backend. The Kosice, Slovakia native played in 67 games with the WHL's Prince George Cougars this past season, recording 14 goals and 56 points. His scoring touch was in good form early, but slowly began to dry up as the season wore on.
"He was able to eat, sleep and breathe hockey," Sillinger said. "Coming into a new environment, he had no family or distractions. That allowed him to play and not worry about anything else."
As Sillinger alluded to, his strong start was obviously a challenge to maintain. Even so, Marincin's game continued to develop as he faced stronger competition in the ultra-competitive Western Hockey League.
"He really focused on playing solid defensively and playing his game simple. He was trying to get points, but other teams were driven to shut him down that way. As the post-season approached, he was certainly a guy that was being hit all the time and had his time and space limited because the other teams became aware of him."
It was a renaissance, in many ways. Marincin adapted to that challenge, eventually returning to his early-season form that saw him achieve so much success as a rookie.
"He didn't know what to expect," Sillinger remarked. "He went out and played hockey. He kept his game simple and didn't try to rush end-to-end. When the outlet pass was there, boom! He moved it quickly. He has a real good stick and uses his body when he needs to. Using that frame to his advantage will be key for him moving forward."CURTIS HAMILTON - LW
Selected 48th overall, 2010Curtis Hamilton
's 2010-11 campaign was a collaborative rebound. A year prior, the Tacoma, WA native was limited to only 26 games because of nightmarish pair of collarbone injuries. In that quarter-season, his stock plummeted and the Oilers took full advantage, nabbing the skilled winger in 2010's second round.
The 19-year-old set out to prove himself. He did that, scoring 26 goals and 82 points in 62 games with the WHL's Saskatoon Blades. He tallied an additional 11 points (four goals) in 10 post-season contests.
"Curtis had to find his way early on and I think he may have been playing a little timid or gun-shy," Sillinger said. "As the year went on, he really started to showcase his incredible skill. He's a big, strong guy and he quickly returned to form."
Hamilton's season was eventful in another capacity as well. The 6'3", 202-pound forward got the opportunity to skate in the 2011 World Junior Hockey Championship, collecting four goals and a +1 rating in Canada's silver-medal road.
"He got his game going about a month in, and when he got the opportunity to represent Canada, he was playing at such a high level. It seemed that as every month went by, his game kept elevating to the next level.
"He's a great role player. He can play in any situation. He kills penalties and does so extremely well. More than anything, he's got great hockey sense. That's his biggest asset, as far as I'm concerned."
Like Brandon Davidson
and Martin Marincin
, Hamilton concluded the year in Oklahoma City. Unlike the other two, he was not able to skate in any game action, but he was provided with valuable practice experience in the pro, post-season atmosphere. RYAN MARTINDALE
Selected 61st overall, 2010
Ottawa's Ryan Martindale
had a fantastic season with the OHL's 67s, producing 34 goals and 83 points during the 65-game regular season. In addition to the showcase of his dynamic scoring touch, the Brooklin, ON native amassed an impressive +38 rating.
"[Martindale's] instincts, puck skills and hockey sense is how he gets his points. It's a tough league and he's been able to produce," Sillinger said.
Although the initial review was positive, Sillinger cautions that Martindale's game is a work in progress. Early sessions at last year's mid-summer Development Camp revealed concerns about his skating.
"He doesn't get the accolades that our other prospects do because he doesn't move very fluently. He's not a stopper and starter. He does lots of swooping, swinging and curving to keep his momentum.
"He has to develop his body and build up his leg power. That's all part of the improvement process. At camp last year, he knew this was an area that he needed to work on. He's done that and is continuing to get better each day."
Even with mild questions coming to roost, Sillinger couldn't hide his impression of Martindale's obvious skill and attention to production on the scoresheet.
"Ryan's a big kid with lots of skill, there's no question there. Guys that always seem to get on the board are valuable, so he's a solid piece in our organization."JEREMIE BLAIN - D
Selected 91st overall, 2010
Since being selected by Edmonton, Jeremie Blain
struggled to stay in the lineup early in 2010-11. That certainly didn't mean he had been passed on the depth chart, but rather a slow-to-heal foot ailment kept him on the sidelines for a lengthy period to start the season.
Upon his return, Blain provided a stable presence on Acadie-Bathurst's blueline, in addition to impressing the Oilers' brass with his dynamic, all encompassing style. In only 40 games this season, Blain amassed two goals and 37 points, along with a +17 rating that improved from a dismal -22 mark a year prior.
"When Jeremie came back, boy did he make an impact," chuckled Sillinger. "He plays with lots of bite, he's pretty good offensively and he's a great puck-mover."
Such is the case with many developing prospects, skating and foot-speed in general are primary themes. Blain is unique, however, in that he's a strong skater but lacks the essential east-west quickness in a defensive posture.
Sillinger added: "He's tough to play against but I think he's a little slow moving laterally. He's a good, powerful skater but he needs to work on his lateral movement and trust his skating when closing the gap against a guy one-on-one."
That's a step that requires time and practice. Blain has already helped speed the process by pinpointing these downfalls, fully embracing the opportunity to better his game.
Sillinger agrees that he's eager to learn.
"He's well aware about how to get to the next level. That makes him special. He's a student of the game and his own critic; he's working hard to improve."TYLER BUNZ - G
Selected 121st overall, 2010
For many Oilers fans, the team's future in goal is a need best addressed through player development. Nikolai Khabibulin
won't be around forever, and Devan Dubnyk
is now making an impact as Edmonton's potential long-term solution.
Beyond that, Tyler Bunz
is leading the rush up the Oilers' pipeline. The St. Albert native exceeded his own expectations, notching career-bests with 35 wins, a 2.47 goals-against average and a .919 save-percentage.
"The big thing with him is consistency," Sillinger explained. "When he got back from training camp, I think he had a tough time because he was trying to do too much with all the new information he got."
The Oilers helped strengthen some early-season struggles with a dedicated program designed by Fitness Consultant Simon Bennett.
"Simon helped him with a stretch routine that's helped him with his preparation. That seemed to get him back on track and he had a solid, solid year in Medicine Hat. He was easily one of the best goalies in the WHL."
Perhaps most impressively, Bunz has enthralled the organization and fans across Oil Country with his well-spoken and committed attitude. With the potential to lead Team Canada at next winter's World Junior Hockey Championship on home soil, this is a quality that will help him achieve greatness there and on his path to a potential NHL career.
"He's got a great head on his shoulders," Sillinger explained. "Tyler is a guy that 'gets it.' That's not to say our other prospects don't, but Tyler is really assertive with everything. When you make communication with him, he's really on the ball with emails and phone messages. He's totally dedicated to getting to the next level."BRANDON DAVIDSON - D
Selected 162nd overall, 2010
Following a strong campaign in which Brandon Davidson
scored eight goals and 51 points in 72 games, a pro taste was provided when he signed an Amateur Tryout Agreement with Edmonton's farm club, the Oklahoma City Barons.
The 19-year-old Taber, AB native skated in one post-season match in OKC against the eventual series-winning Hamilton Bulldogs. Although his season concluded on a high, Sillinger was eager to critique, as well as commend.
"Brandon really has to understand that less is more," he said. "Regina was a team that struggled early, and they looked to the team's veterans for leadership. A lot of prospects return to their clubs and feel as though they have to do too much, so I think Brandon got caught up in that a little bit."
That could potentially explain his slower start, but the good news is that the 6'2", 194-pound blueliner rebounded to succeed with an outstanding season.
"When he moves the puck, gets up ice, plays tough and solid in front of his net, he seems to play very, very well. I think at the start of the year he was trying to carry the puck too much. Instead of making an easy play, he was trying to do something more complicated; keeping it simple is key for him."
While his defensive play seemed to shore up, Sillinger would still like to see him play with more of a physical edge.
"He's a guy that we want to play with more bite. He's a big, strong guy. He was really good defensively, but you also want to make sure the other team pays a price sometimes. As the year went on, he did really well in that area."DREW CZERWONKA - LW
Selected 166th overall, 2010
In 56 games this season with the WHL's Kootenay Ice, Drew Czerwonka
posted 13 goals and 43 points in 68 games. He recorded an additional five points in 13 post-season contests before his Cranbrook squad advanced to the Memorial Cup. It was an impressive season overall considering his year was plagued with bothersome injuries.
"He had several injuries that he was forced to deal with throughout the season. There was always something nagging with him, injury-wise." Sillinger said. "This guy's a warrior. He worked hard to play through those issues and saw the success come because of it. As a big guy, he's committed to pay the price."
While Czerwonka possesses the skill necessary to compete for an NHL spot in the future, Sillinger believes more work is required to iron-out some issues with his skating. Even so, improvement has been made and he's beginning to advance a solid, two-way game.
"As the year went on, he was a pleasant surprise as far as working on his skating, because the speed of the game is very, very fast and there was no issue."
Czerwonka can now keep up, but he still needs to develop some more quickness. If he's able to do so, his stock will rise as one of the Oilers' more complete, two-way prospects in the pipeline.
"He does a good job defensively and in front of the net, but a lot of his game is being able to get there," Sillinger said. "He's a physical guy that pays the price and comes to play every night."KRISTIANS PELSS
Selected 181st overall, 2010
Playing close to his NHL home with the Edmonton Oil Kings, Kristians Pelss
concluded the 2010-11 season having produced 14 goals and 33 points in 63 regular season games. The skilled Latvian struggled early but continued to develop his game all season, eventually landing in a regular top-six role.
"He wasn't making the most of his opportunity early," Sillinger explained. "He's a skilled player, really offensive minded, but I think he had a tough time finding his way. He needs to play a tougher game and he needs to understand how to play in his own end a little better."
Such is the case with many young prospects that make the hop across the sea, learning a new style and new culture can sometimes be challenging. Like anything else, practice eventually leads to–well, near perfection anyway.
"The North American game is north-south. Once he got that, he was really dynamic. He creates so much from his speed; he's very, very explosive."
The 5'10", 175-pound winger likely won't be in contention for a roster spot this fall, but his drastic improvement is encouraging for the organization. The way in which he developed over the course of one season, ultimately gaining the trust of his coaches and teammates as a regular contributor, can only mean good things moving forward.
"It was a case of trying to find his way and earn his ice-time."
Sillinger added: "He's done that. Now he looks like he could be something pretty good."KELLEN JONES - F
Selected 202nd overall, 2010
Selected 181st overall in 2010's seventh round, Kellen Jones
is relatively unknown to many Oilers fans.
He played four seasons with the BCHL's Vernon Vipers before moving to Quinnipiac University of the ECAC last season. There, he scored eight goals and 22 points in 38 games as a rookie.
Sillinger provided a detailed scouting report of the 5'9", 165-pound forward:
"He's a small, skilled guy with great speed. He has lots of compete in him. He had a pretty successful year overall, but he has to work on his strength; because as a smaller guy, you have to be highly skilled to play at the next level."
In addition to skill, Jones most certainly possesses the will.
"He understands that he needs to get stronger," Sillinger said. "This kid, with his compete, should get to the next level. He creates lots from his speed and leaves everything he has on the ice."