PENTICTON, B.C. – Another year, a new Young Stars Classic tournament.
Tonight, the Oilers Rookies prepare to open the tournament against the Canucks Rookies in Penticton and by the end of the weekend hope to walk away with a third consecutive tournament win under their belt.
“I think it’s going to be a fun weekend,” said Oilers forward prospect Drake Caggiula. “Guys are over the summer training [and now] get to play some games. It’s something you wait for all summer long. It feels like it’s [been] a long summer, so it’s nice to finally get some games in and see some guys you either played against or played with in prior years and you get to mesh with them.”
FORWARDS FEEL OUT NEW LINEMATES
Caggiula, a college free-agent who signed with the Edmonton club in May, will be playing alongside new linemates Jesse Puljujarvi and Joey Benik.
“There’s a lot of talent on that line. All three of us have different dimensions to our game, so it’s going to be a lot of fun,” he said. “They’re two guys that I haven’t played with before but you watch them in practice you can see that there’s a lot of talent there. I look forward to playing with them both and hopefully it works out well.”
Offence came in waves for last year’s Oilers Rookies, who dominated the Oilers Canucks with an 8-2 victory in the first game of the 2015 Young Stars tournament, eventually leading to a final 2-0-1 record.
Although a record repeat would be welcome, Bakersfield Condors Head Coach Gerry Fleming cautions that the development staff is fully aware that it takes time for players to adjust to new teammates when immersed in a new environment such as the Young Stars Classic.
“There’s a lot of guys over the years that have done this tournament,” said Flemming. “It does take them a little bit of time to get comfortable with what’s going on.”
Benik, who had a chance to play out the rest of the Bakersfield season last year after completing his college season at St. Cloud State, was able to familiarize himself with Fleming and the development staff.
“They do a great job with Bakersfield and it was a lot of fun for me to go there after my college season ended,” said Benik. “It was good to see how the lifestyle is in professional hockey either at the rink or away from the rink. It’s a completely different environment from college hockey."
Fleming said they’ll be watching to see, overall, what it is each prospect can bring to the table at camp.
“We’ll be looking at what type of person they are, how they play, what their abilities are but [also] to put them in an environment where they’re going against other top prospects — it’s always nice to see.” ALL EYES ON PULJUJARVI
There is high anticipation as to what the performance will be like for this year’s Oilers Rookies, but even more-so on Oilers forward prospect Jesse Puljujarvi.
Unable to participate in the Oilers Orientation Camp in Jasper, this will be the Oilers number-four draft pick’s first appearance on the ice in the club’s jersey since using the summer to recuperate from a minor knee surgery.
“We’re looking for him just to go out and to have fun and play the way that he’s capable of playing,” said Fleming, who elaborated that the rookie shouldn’t be nervous about the upcoming game.
“[We just want him] to go out and do the things that he does well. Make plays, take the puck hard to the net, be a good net presence, play strong without the puck and see how he reacts to the North American game.”
The rest of the lineup is projected to be as follows:
OILERS TO WATCH: After missing the on-ice portion of Oilers Orientaton Camp in Jasper early July, Jesse Puljujarvi will finally hit the ice in Orange & Blue tonight in Penticton, BC. ... Tonight will be the first opportunity for Oilers fans to see off-season college free agent acquisitions Drake Caggiula, Matt Benning, Patrick Russell and goaltender Nick Ellis in action. Caggiula, of course, is coming off an incredible season where he helped lead the University of North Dakota to an NCAA Championship while netting 25 goals and 51 points in 39 games.
CANUCKS TO WATCH: This year's Canucks squad isn't quite as star studded as last season in Penticton when the likes of Jake Virtanen, Jared McCann, Hunter Shinkaruk and Brendan Gaunce skated but there are still some intriguing names on the list. Leading the way is fifth-overall pick, defenceman Olli Juolevi. ... Also, former Oilers second-round selection Marco Roy is in Canucks camp on a tryout. Roy spent last season with the Oilers AHL affiliate in Bakersfield and ECHL affiliate in Norfolk on a minor-league deal where he had 9 goals and 26 points in 52 games.