EDMONTON, AB - Camp season is starting.
On Wednesday, 28 players will converge at Rogers Place for the commencement of Oilers Rookie Camp, which will transition into Training Camp, the pre-season and finally, the 2021-22 National Hockey League regular season.
Rookie Camp is an exciting time for Edmonton Oilers Assistant General Manager Keith Gretzky. It presents an opportunity for the long-time hockey executive to view each of the organization's prospects and where their game is after an off-season of training.
"You want to see the kids you've drafted, the kids you bring as an invite and to see their development in a year," Gretzky, talking to 630 CHED Oilers Now Host Bob Stauffer, said. "There are big changes for guys. That's the exciting part about Rookie Camp."
The 2021 edition of Rookie Camp will last seven days, beginning with medicals and fitness testing. The 28 skaters will take to the ice on Thursday and Friday for practices before facing the Calgary Flames Rookies in tune-ups Saturday at Rogers Place and Monday at the Scotiabank Saddledome.
With names like Xavier Bourgault, Philip Broberg, Dylan Holloway, Dmitri Samorukov, Raphael Lavoie and more in the mix, Gretzky and his staff will be evaluating with watchful eyes.
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"We've got guys that we haven't seen in a while. That's why it's good for them to get their feet wet with guys their age instead of going right into the main camp where you have the heavyweights," Gretzky said. "They get their feet wet and can show what they can do in the two games against the Calgary Rookies. It's a great chance for them to show everybody what they're capable of."
Prospects that impress at Rookie Camp will receive an invite to Oilers Training Camp for a longer look. But for many of those skaters, including each of the first-round talents, development is priority No. 1.
"We have to be patient with all the kids," Gretzky said. "You can't race them up. It started with (Kailer) Yamamoto going back to the American League a few years back. They have to be ready."
One such player is Broberg, who is expected to be part of a tall and puck-moving cast of Bakersfield Condors defenders this season. Among all the defencemen participating in Rookie Camp, just invite Yanni Kaldis is listed at under 6-foot-0.
"That has changed a little bit in the last couple of years. Most of them are over 6-foot-3 and they're mobile," Gretzky said. "You think you can get by a guy and all of a sudden Niemo's (Markus Niemelainen) stick is flying out of left field because he's so big. They have size and it does help to defend."
With October just around the corner, camp season is just getting started. Gretzky had one final message for all the hopefuls looking to crack the roster or put their best foot forward:
"When you come here, do your best and show what you can do."