Edmonton Oilers Rookie Camp gets underway on Thursday with the medicals and physicals at Rexall Place and then the team heading off to Penticton, B.C. for the annual Young Stars Tournament.
This year, the rookie tournament includes Vancouver, Calgary and Winnipeg. In many ways, it signifies the start of the 2014-15 season and there are several storylines to follow.
To begin with, the Oilers should be icing a far more competitive team this year after a poor showing last September.
Last fall the Oilers sent a young squad that had a lack of proven scoring at the Major Junior level and Edmonton struggled as a result.
After watching Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle in Penticton in 2010, and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins in 2011; the Oilers lacked “star” power up front last year.
With the 2014 third-overall pick Leon Draisaitl on board and coming off a 100-point season playing for Prince Albert in the WHL, the Oilers will have an elite offensive presence to watch.
This year Draisaitl should have lots of help in terms of forwards capable of contributing at a rookie tournament level.
The Oilers have six forwards attending camp who scored 34 or more goals last season in the Canadian Hockey League at their disposal. The list includes the aforementioned Draisaitl (38), 2012 second-round pick Mitch Moroz (35) and 2013 draft picks Greg Chase (35) and Jackson Houck (34).
Western Hockey League scoring champion Mitch Holmberg (62 goals) and Josh Winquist (47 goals for defensive-minded Everett last season) have signed minor-league deals and should provide the Oilers Rookies with scoring depth as well.
To put things in perspective, if I recall correctly the 2013 Oilers Rookie team did not have a 30 goal scorer from Major Junior.
Here are five other things to watch for in Penticton:
1. LOOKING OUT FOR THE NUMBER ONES
You only get one chance to make a first impression. Penticton will be the first chance we get to see Leon Draisaitl in a competitive game situation as an Oiler. As a bigger-bodied centre with skill, Draisaitl should be fully capable of being a dominant player in Penticton.
Like Draisaitl, I see Nurse, the seventh-overall pick in the 2013 draft, making a real push to make the big club this season. Last September, Nurse started out a little shaky at the rookie tournament, but seemingly improved with every shift. He has an authoritative presence on the ice and is a “scary” athlete. Nurse will be the highest drafted defenceman in Penticton.
2. THE BIG CENTRES
Oilers fans have lamented the Oilers lack of size down the middle for ages.
Draisaitl is a stone-cold mortal lock to be a top-six NHL centre down the road, and at least two other players headed to Penticton could be in the mix in the future as well; Jujhar Khaira and Bogdan Yakimov.
Khaira, a 6-foot-4, 215lb centre, had 43 points in 59 games last season playing for defensive-minded Kevin Constantine in Everett. The 2012 third-round pick also had a strong showing to close the season down in Oklahoma City with the Barons.
Khaira was one of Edmonton’s best players at last year’s tournament.
Yakimov, who is 6-foot-5 and 202 pounds, is more of an unknown. He registered 12 points in 33 games playing in the KHL last season.
The Oilers organization needs at least one of these two guys to pan out to help supplement Nugent-Hopkins and Draisaitl for years to come.
3. THE WILDCARD
Martin Gernat and David Musil give the Oilers some AHL experience on the backend in Penticton.
Musil, the Oilers second-round pick in 2011, is what he is. He is a hard-nosed, shutdown bottom pairing defenceman that will probably find a way to carve out a career for himself.
Gernat, a fifth round pick in 2011, is a total wildcard in my opinion.
An argument can be made that the 6-foot-5 Slovakian defender has the best offensive instincts of any defenceman in the Oilers organization, with the exception of Justin Schultz.
It will be interesting to see if Gernat has had a good off-season of training and what kind of progression he has made over the last year.
4. NO LONGER A SLEEPER
Maybe the best thing that ever happened to Oilers prospect Greg Chase was that he fell to the seventh round of the 2013 draft. I have the distinct impression that Chase is driven to show a lot of people that they were wrong.
Chase had a strong showing in Penticton last fall and parlayed that into a stellar campaign in the WHL with the Calgary Hitmen, where he registered 35-50-85 in 70 games. He also earned a summer invite to the World Junior Camp.
Chase plays with the requisite edge that has been lacking from the Oilers lineup for a long time. He was a bit of a sleeper last year at this time, but for anybody who follows the organization closely, he is on their radar screen.
5. THE PUCK STOPS HERE
A year ago in Penticton, Laurent Brossoit was with the Calgary Flames and now he is the Oilers goaltender of the future. The Former Edmonton Oil King was dominant at the ECHL level last season, posting eight shutouts in 38 appearances between Bakersfield and Alaska. He needs to become a full-time AHL goaltender this season and split down in OKC with Richard Bachman.
Bob Stauffer is Radio Analyst of the Oilers Broadcasts on the Oilers Radio Network and Host of “Oilers Now” Monday thru Friday Noon to 2:00PM on 630 CHED. You can follow him on Twitter at @Bob_Stauffer