With the Edmonton Oilers organization undergoing a rebuilding process, Head Amateur Scout Stu MacGregor has been tasked with the most essential obligation.
Contributing to the turnaround will be his keen eye for skill, as his ongoing duty of talent evaluation reaches its most exciting point; the 2010-11 season is beginning to wind down, while the post-season excitement at the amateur level brings about renewed enthusiasm for the upcoming NHL Entry Draft. Taylor Hall
was crowned as the organization’s newest hero last June. He was one piece of the puzzle to help guide Edmonton into a new era of hockey in Oil Country, with a greater plan in tow. The development of bigger, physical players was reintroduced as the team looks to return to the level of a Stanley Cup contender.
"Our goal as a franchise when Steve (Tambellini) came in was to start getting bigger as an organization, which I think was one of the things we achieved in last year's draft," MacGregor said.
"We selected some bigger forwards and also some bigger defenceman, most notably Martin Marincin
. Add the acquisition of Colten Teubert
to the equation and we’re quickly seeing a turnaround in the makeup of our backend."
Marincin, 19, had a spectacular start to his first WHL season with the Prince George Cougars. Although his numbers have slipped over the past few months, his energetic start has still established his season as a success. In 61 games this year, Marincin has posted 13 goals and 52 points.
With Marincin coming over from Slovakia to learn the North American game, some obvious cultural challenges played a role in his adaptation to the style, according to MacGregor.
"Martin's had some challenges in learning the language. That's been a big challenge for him and he's now involved in an English learning program. That took some time to get organized, but he's now full-bore into that. That will help a lot in terms of communication with his coaches and with his teammates."
"It's a big, big transition for young players and in general, people at a young age, to move to a new country on your own. Learning a new culture and a new language is an arduous thing. Martin's had to deal with that," MacGregor explained.
"Overall as a hockey player, he's played extremely well. The rigors of a long season have been a challenge for him, but he's been adapting well and he continues to improve. I think he’s been great overall."
With the mix of size and skill on the blueline presenting an ever-increasing value, the organization may be potentially be given the opportunity to add both in a single selection. Swedish defenceman Adam Larsson is a player that MacGregor believes will be an all-world talent based on this assessment of his unique skill-set:
"He's a very intelligent hockey player. He moves and passes the puck very well. Good, solid defensive player. Very strong two-way play with an offensive side."
Although the physical, two-way rearguard has recently drawn comparisons to fellow countryman Victor Hedman, MacGregor believes a mix of the two would provide the most accurate representation of his exceptional talent.
"After watching and meeting with [Larsson], I don't think he's a player like Victor Hedman. He has a higher skill level than Hedman, but he isn't as big even though Adam is 6-foot-3, 209 pounds. He has size, no question about that, but we’re not talking the same size as Hedman."
| |Curtis Hamilton skates at HSBC Arena in Buffalo, NY in the 2011 IIHF World Junior Hockey Championship.
Oilers fans have likely been given the opportunity to get acquainted with top prospect Curtis Hamilton
this season. After a stunning performance at the 2011 World Junior Hockey Championship, Hamilton returned to the Saskatoon Blades to continue his incredible season with the Blades.
In 56 games this season, Hamilton has accumulated 23 goals and 78 points, along with a remarkable plus-46 rating with the WHL's Saskatoon Blades.
"He's had a great year. The WJC was a very good part of his season and he did extremely well. I'm wasn't surprised with how well he did because I always felt he was that kind of player and could play on that level. He's been a little bit quiet lately and it just could be that it's been a long season and he's regenerating for the post-season."
"[Curtis] has always been an intelligent hockey player and always will be. He's never going to be a player that's going to blast you off the puck, but he'll work for the puck and gain puck control by using his body to gain leverage, space and time," MacGregor described.
"He adds a real element of very good hockey skills, along with an extremely high hockey IQ. With time and continued development, he’s going to be a solid NHLer and provide you with that penalty killing ability, and maybe the opportunity, at times, to play on the second power-play unit."
Goaltending prospect Olivier Roy
also participated in the international tournament, but encountered the opposite experience in Canada’s drive for a gold medal this past January.
"He had a good start to the World Juniors and then struggled a little bit with, possibly, the pressure and weight of it all," said MacGregor. "Olivier is a real competitive guy and he takes these things hard sometimes, but he's a battler. That's what his game is built on."
That compete level has helped Roy establish such a successful season with the QMJHL’s Acadie-Bathhurst Titan. In 42 games this year, Roy has posted 27 wins, along with a .910 save-percentage and a 2.86 goals-against average.
"He came back after the World Juniors and helped turn his team around. He's won 27 games and he's the reason Acadie-Bathhurst is in the position they're in. They're going to compete very well in the playoffs and Olivier will be a big part of that. He's a battler and that's what makes Olivier what Olivier is."
With Edmonton’s growing need for greater depth at the centre position, Tyler Pitlick
has added a new dynamic to the Oilers prospect pool. Last season, Pitlick played with Minnesota State Mankato, posting 11 goals and 19 points in 38 games. Over the off-season, Pitlick elected to make the transition to the WHL with the Medicine Hat Tigers.
According to MacGregor, the transition presented an early challenge that was overcome with time and due-diligence.
"With it being his first year in the WHL, I think Tyler underestimated the quality of the Western Hockey League. He started slowly, but once he realized what the pace was like, he really took it forward and was playing extremely well."
"He was well over 20 goals by the time he broke his ankle in Red Deer last week. He’s a strong, straight-ahead player. He has excellent instincts to kill penalties and play on the power-play. To complement that, he's got an excellent shot with a really quick release."
"I see big things in the future for Tyler. He's going to be a real solid guy. With everything, Tyler needs time to adapt and see what the league is all about. He'll do that. He's a step-by-step guy and will do extremely well as he moves forward."
Looking ahead to the quickly-approaching draft in June, MacGregor says that his team’s plan is simple. The 125 players that the scouting staff have identified will continue to be evaluated, particularly with the post-season beginning in a few short weeks; an opportunity for some to showcase their talent one last time.
"You always see players rise and fall. It's the same every year. You have players that, throughout a season and even late in the season, rise and fall. Some players have the good fortune of being on good teams and are able to continue to move forward and play more games."
"The more games that you play, the better opportunity you have to get better and show more. It's good for the players that make the playoffs and not quite as good for the players that don't make the playoffs."Author: Ryan Dittrick | edmontonoilers.com