|Restriced free agent Rob Schremp registered three assists and two penalty minutes in four games with the Oil last season.
As he describes it, Rob Schremp had "life by the balls" coming out of Junior. In 2005-2006, the Oilers first round draft pick had 145 points (57-88) in 57 games with the London Knights in the OHL. Following the season, he signed a three-year entry level contract with the Oilers and got ready to make the jump to "the show". Since that moment, Schremp has played precisely seven NHL games, been publicly ridiculed by former Oilers coach Craig MacTavish and registered a measly seven goals in his most recent AHL season. It's been a show, alright; just not "the" show.HUMBLED HOT SHOT
In between summer training sessions with Oilers teammate Sam Gagner
, Schremp paused for half an hour to chat with me today. ( Listen to the interview
) He's busy working out with Gagner at a gym in London, Ontario owned by Sam's dad. He's pushing himself as hard as he knows how because it's the biggest summer of his life. Training Camp in September will likely settle his future with the Oilers organization and, quite possibly, his NHL future. And, he knows it. "I have a lot of fire in my game and a lot of hunger in my belly to get ready for next year and prove I can have a better season," Schremp says.
But, the question begs, what went wrong last year in Springfield? "We lost 55 games last year. We lost 33 games combined in three years when I played for the London Knights," recalled Schremp. "I'm not used to losing." Truly, it was ugly. After starting the season well, things went south and ultimately cost Jeff Truitt his job as head coach. "Things just started tail spinning. We started losing games and losing games and losing games," Schremp says. "We couldn't score goals, we couldn't stop from getting scored on."
"We weren't out there lolly-gagging. We weren't out there being a bunch of poor sports. We were giving an effort, we just weren't winning. You sit back now and say it makes you tougher as a player, but when you're sitting there during the season losing 8 games in a row you're ready to jump off a balcony."
Not that it's an excuse for individual performance, but even those within the Oilers management team admit that those were tough circumstances to expect results under. Schremp admits, by the time Christmas rolled around, the attitude within the team had soured. "We were out of the playoffs by January," he says. "We played the last few months for nothing. It was one of those years that you dread and just want it to be over with."
To make matters worse, Oilers head coach Craig MacTavish dropped a bomb on January 11th. Tired of fielding questions from the media about Schremp, MacTavish sounded off. "I guess every time we call somebody up we've got to explain why it's not Robbie, but the bottom line is it's up to Robbie to be a decent player down there. We all know what he can do, he's got decent hands, he can work a power play okay, but he's slow, he's not a physical player, he's soft at this level. There are a lot of things in his game he needs to address before he becomes that player who gets called up. It's getting to the point where you've gotta be honest: he's not helping them particularly down there right now and there's no reason to think he'll be able to come up here and help us."
I remember talking to Robbie right after those comments were made. He played it cool; he said it didn't bother him. But those close to him tell a different story, and even now that it's long gone, Schremp isn't open to discussing how it made him feel. "It was obviously a setback. Was it called for? No. Was it professional? No," was all Schremp would offer on the subject.A BRIGHT SPOT
When he reflects on last season, Schremp picks out a period of 8 days in December as the only bright spot. It was about a month before Craig MacTavish ripped him in the media and an injury to Robert Nilsson earned Schremp a call-up to the big club. And, to his credit, he didn't disappoint. He put up three assists and a +2 rating in his first two games before tailing off a bit in the last two. "It was fun," smiles Schremp. "I knew the situation. I was there to replace Robert Nilsson while he was injured; I knew I only had two weeks to do something. It proved to me that I could play in the NHL." Schremp is at a loss to explain why his game went south after that and why his lackluster minor-league performance continued. But, he maintains that, even today, he carries around confidence from those four games. "Sometimes you wonder if you have what it takes. I felt like that was a big confidence booster for me that I can play at that level and I can play with those guys and I can produce," he says.CLEAN SLATE
The good news is, improving on last year isn't a high bar. His remarkably poor season (seven goals, 35 assists in 69 games) has a number of the decision-makers within the Oilers organization wondering whether or not he can play at the NHL level. The rest of the teams around the league apparently feel the same way; trade offers for Schremp to this point haven't amounted to anything higher than a mid or late round draft pick. Schremp says there isn't anything he can do about it now, other than put it behind him. "The season I had last year is not OK with me," he explains. "I expect more out of myself and I have a lot higher expectations."
"You know, some kids make it through that crack at 18 and make it right to the show. I've had a longer way, and gone through a tougher road," Schremp says. "It humbles you and makes you a better person. It makes you appreciate what's ahead of you."
And, there's the big question. What's ahead for Rob Schremp? With a new coaching staff in place at the NHL level, it's the ultimate clean slate for Schremp, who recalls how he felt when the coaching change was announced. "This is good," he said. "My game didn't work for Craig and sometimes that's going to happen. He didn't feel like I was going to help him win. I've never been so excited for a camp, I'll say that."
And, if it doesn't work this time around, he's not likely going to end up back in the minors right away. His three-year entry level contract has expired and he's about to sign a new deal that won't allow him to be shuffled back and forth between the NHL and the minors. And, no, he doesn't anticipate any trouble coming to terms with the Oilers. He says, though, that the prospect of getting a fresh start somewhere else if he doesn't make the big team out of training camp is absolutely a motivating factor. "With waivers, at least I get the opportunity. If it doesn't work with Edmonton, maybe it'll work somewhere else," he admits.
For now, he's working out hard. He wishes he had an assurance that he'd be wearing an Oilers jersey next season, but he doesn't. "To be honest with you, I don't know where I stand," he says. "That's my own problem. I should have had a better year last year. But, whatever, it's over with. I have ability. They drafted me for a reason."
"Obviously, I can play the game. I'm just still trying to prove it to them."> Read more blogs by Dan Tancer