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FUTURE WATCH: Saginaw soars with seven, open OHL semis in victory

Dmitri Samorukov had a solitary assist for the Guelph Storm and Oilers prospects in action on Thursday in Game 1 of the OHL semifinals

by Jamie Umbach /

EDMONTON, AB - Advantage Saginaw.

The Guelph Storm and the Saginaw Spirit were level with a goal apiece through 20 minutes before the Spirit soared with a five-goal second period en route to a 7-2 win in Game 1 of their OHL semifinal series.

Tweet from @SpiritHockey: Game One goes to the #Spirit!!!!#SAGvsGUE #SoarWithUs #OHLPlayoffs

Dmitri Samorukov had an assist on Guelph's second goal that cut the Saginaw lead to 3-2 just before the midway point of the middle frame. The Volgograd, Russia native increased his playoff point total to four goals and eight assists in 12 contests.

Oilers second-round, 40th-overall pick from 2018 and Saginaw centre Ryan McLeod went without a point and sits on four goals and six assists through 11 postseason games.

The QMJHL semifinals between the Halifax Mooseheads and Drummondville Voltigeurs, featuring prospects Ostap Safin and goaltender Olivier Rodrigue, begin their seven-game series tomorrow in Drummondville.

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BLOG: Draisaitl nominated for 2018-19 King Clancy Memorial Trophy

In addition to his 50-goal season, the German made an eight-year, $1.2 million commitment to support local charities including WE in Alberta and Hockey Helps Kids

by Jamie Umbach /

EDMONTON, AB - King Leon, meet King Clancy.

On Wednesday, Oilers forward Leon Draisaitl was named the Oilers nominee for the 2018-19 King Clancy Memorial Trophy, awarded annually in the NHL "to the player who best exemplifies leadership qualities on and off the ice and has made a noteworthy humanitarian contribution in his community."

Tweet from @EdmontonOilers: Congrats to Leon on his nomination for the King Clancy Memorial Trophy, awarded annually to a player that best exemplifies leadership qualities on & off the ice & who has made a significant humanitarian contribution to his community! #LetsGoOilers

The three finalists, selected by a committee of senior NHL executives led by Commissioner Gary Bettman and Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly, will be announced on Tuesday, April 23, with the winner to be revealed at the 2019 NHL Awards™ presented by Bridgestone on June 19 at Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino in Las Vegas.

Draisaitl recorded 50 goals and 55 assists for 105 points for the Oilers this season, playing all 82 games and becoming the 92nd player in League history to eclipse the 50-goal plateau.

Off the ice, the German forward made an eight-year commitment of $150,000 annually in support of local charities, starting with WE in Alberta and Hockey Helps Kids back in September. Over the next eight years, Draisaitl will donate $1.2 million to local charities, with the Edmonton Oilers Community Foundation (EOCF) matching the donations at 50% for a total donation of $1.8 million.

The first-place finisher receives a $40,000 donation from the National Hockey League Foundation to benefit a charity or charities of the winner's choice and the two runners-up will each receive a $5,000 donation from the National Hockey League Foundation to benefit a charity or charities of their choice.

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FUTURE WATCH: Bouchard, Knights can't weather Samorukov's Storm

Dmitri Samorukov had a goal and assist as the Guelph Storm completed the reverse sweep of Evan Bouchard and the London Knights after falling behind 3-0 in their OHL second-round series

by Jamie Umbach /

EDMONTON, AB - The London Knights weathered the storm early in the series, pulling ahead with a commanding 3-0 lead, but the eye of the Guelph Storm proved too powerful.

Dmitri Samorukov had a goal and assist, along with a +4 plus/minus rating, as Guelph completed the reverse sweep over Evan Bouchard and the Knights on Thursday with a 6-3 win in Game 7 of their OHL second-round series.

Bouchard had one helper, and finishes his junior career in the lead for playoff scoring this season with four goals and 17 assists in 11 games.

Samorukov, the Oilers third round, 84th-overall selection from 2017, opened the scoring in the first period by cutting across the slot and shooting back across Knights netminder Joseph Raaymakers for his fourth goal and 11th point of the postseason.

Tweet from @Storm_City: 🚨It's a bird! It's a plane! IT'S SAMORUKOV! @Samorukov_D gives us the 1-0 lead!! #GUEvsLDN

Bouchard delivered the primary assist on the power play early in the second period that evened the score 33 seconds off the restart.

Guelph and Samorukov advance to the semifinals, where they'll face the Saginaw Spirit and Oilers prospect Ryan McLeod later this week for a chance at the OHL championship.

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FUTURE WATCH: Bouchard, McLeod feeling pressure as Game 6 approaches

Both held 3-0 advantages in their OHL semifinals with the London Knights and Saginaw Spirit earlier this week, but are feeling the heat as they each now head to Game 6

by Jamie Umbach /

EDMONTON, AB - Game 6 beckons for both Ryan McLeod and Evan Bouchard after failing to wrap up their 3-1 series advantages with the Saginaw Spirit and London Knights on Friday, while Dmitri Samorukov stays alive with the Guelph Storm.

Samorukov had four shots in a 3-1 win for the Storm, and stood his ground defensively against the Knights and the high-flying Bouchard. Volgograd, Russia product is a point-per-game player with three goals and six assists in nine games, and Bouchard continues to lead the OHL in scoring with four goals and 15 assists in nine games.

Tweet from @EDMFutureWatch: Guelph and London tied 1-1 after one. I wanted to showcase this breakout from Evan Bouchard. His straight line speed has become a major asset. Solid defensive play from Dmitri Samorukov too. #LetsGoOilers #OHLPlayoffs

Game 6 between the Knights and Storm goes tonight in Guelph.

McLeod and the Spirit suffered a similar fortune as the Knights on Friday, losing 6-2 and their second in as many nights to the Soo Greyhounds. The second round, 40th-overall pick had a lone assist on the Spirit's second-period goal that cut into the Greyhounds' 3-0 lead, but didn't fare much better after that by giving that goal back 2:09 later.

McLeod has three goals and six assists in nine games and is plus-11 heading into Game 6 on Sunday in Sault Ste. Marie.

If Olivier Rodrigue is to return between the pipes for the Drummondville Voltigeurs from injury, it'll be against the Halifax Mooseheads in the QMJHL semifinals after a 3-2 double-overtime triumph Sherbrooke Phoenix. Winger Ostap Safin, the Oilers fourth-round pick from 2017, has two assists for the Mooseheads in 11 playoff games this year after only playing 15 regular-season games and recording 11 points (3G, 8A).

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FUTURE WATCH: Adversity in second round testing Oilers prospects

Elimination factor for Ryan McLeod, Evan Bouchard and Dmitri Samorukov being felt on both ends of their 3-0 series after Thursday's results

by Jamie Umbach /

EDMONTON, AB - A little adversity never hurt anyone, and that goes for both sides.

Evan Bouchard and the London Knights failed to sweep Dmitri Samorukov and the Guelph Storm last night, and Oilers prospects on the verge of advancing around the OHL playoffs on Thursday didn't fare much better.

Ryan McLeod failed to secure the series sweep with the Saginaw Spirit after being blanked 3-0 by the Soo Greyhounds in Game 4 of their second round series. The speedy centre was minus-1, and has three goals and five assists in eight games this postseason campaign.

In the end, it was never a sure thing.

Both Bouchard and McLeod get another crack at series point tomorrow night with London and Saginaw on home ice for the right to square off against one another in the OHL semifinals.

A Kirill Maksimov-less Niagara IceDogs head home tied 2-2 in their series with the Oshawa Generals, with the sniper who scored 40 goals in the regular season for Niagara having yet to make is playoff debut.

Goaltender Hayden Hawkey, defenceman Vincent Desharnais, and the Providence Friars had their collegiate careers down in the NCAA ended in the semifinals of the Frozen Four by the number-one ranked Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs.

Up until the second period, Hawkey enjoyed a shutout streak of 115:31 dating back to the first period of the NCAA East Regional Semifinal against Minnesota State. But last season's national champions Minnesota-Duluth broke the streak in the second period, then scored two late empty netters to book their place in the championship with a 4-1 win. 

Hawkey finished the season 24-11-5 with a 1.87 goals-against average and .920 save percentage, leading all netminders with eight shutouts and helping guide the Friars to their sixth-consecutive NCAA Tournament.

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BLOG: Benson, Starrett earn AHL Second Team All-Star honours

Selection as AHL Second-Team All-Stars for forward Tyler Benson and netminder Shane Starrett on Thursday made it two accolades in as many days for the Condors duo

by Jamie Umbach /

EDMONTON, AB - It's two accolades in as many days for the Bakersfield Condors duo of Tyler Benson and Shane Starrett, being named AHL Second-Team All-Stars on Thursday after being selected to the league's All-Rookie Team a day prior.

Benson, a native of Edmonton, Alberta, retook the lead on AHL's rookie leaderboard for points with a pair of helpers in last night's 4-3 win over the Tucson Roadrunners, improving his season total to 14 goals and 51 assists in in 66 games.

Starrett is third in the league for goals-against average (2.31) and fourth in save percentage (.919), improving to 26-7-5 with 32 saves on 35 shots on Thursday.

With two games remaining in their regular-season schedule, the Condors are 40-21-3-2 and two points up on the San Jose Barracuda first in the AHL's Pacific Division.

Tweet from @Condors: The awards keep rolling in. Shane Starrett and Tyler Benson have been named to the 2018-19 @TheAHL Second All-Star Team! #CondorstownDETAILS ��������

First Team
G - Alex Nedeljkovic (Charlotte Checkers)
D - John Gilmour (Hartford Wolf Pack)
D - Zach Redmond (Rochester Americans)
LW - Daniel Carr (Chicago Wolves)
C - Carter Verhaeghe (Syracuse Crunch)
RW - Jeremy Bracco (Toronto Marlies

Second Team
G - Shane Starrett (Bakersfield Condors)
D - Aaron Ness (Hershey Bears)
D - Ethan Prow (Wilkes-Barre Scranton Penguins)
LW - Tyler Benson (Bakersfield Condors)
C - Chris Mueller (Toronto Marlies)
RW - Andrew Poturalski (Charlotte Checkers)

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BLOG: Hitchcock "invigorated" by Oilers opportunity

"Just to see how important the game is and how much it means in this city and Northern Alberta has really given me a new perspective on the game of ice hockey," Oilers Head Coach Ken Hitchcock said.

by Jamie Umbach /

EDMONTON, AB - From the moment he took office in November as Oilers head coach, Ken Hitchcock had an arsenal at his disposal.

Taking the mantle of bench boss came with inheriting the club's extensive coaching and training staffs, from the assistant coaches all the way to equipment managers. The job of making them all work in tandem to his liking would also be a task.

The transition proved seamless.

"I think for me, I didn't know one coach very well here when I came in," Hitchcock said in his Sunday exit interview with the media. "I didn't know the support staff, and I got to tell you this became a very tight-knit group. I'm really impressed with the job they did to help me, the way we were able to formulate game plans, and the way we were able to work together.

"They worked really well in cohesion with [Todd McLellan], then it wasn't long before we were able to put things together and work in cohesion too. It was a really good group to be around, very professional, and very accomplished."

Video: RAW | Hitchcock 04.07.19

The 67-year-old Hitchcock came out of retirement to take on the challenge with his hometown Oilers, and immediately tapped into Edmonton's extensive hockey culture. Harnessing the city's energy and its love for hockey has been a high point for the 22-year NHL coaching veteran and third-winningest head coach in League history (849 victories).

"For me, this has really invigorated me," Hitchcock said. "I think it's because I came here, and I've never experienced anything like this in my life where you're on every day all the time, and I really enjoyed it.

"Just being here, coaching here, living here, it's been really invigorating. In my own way, it's been a lot of fun. Just to see how important the game is and how much it means in this city and Northern Alberta has really given me a new perspective on the game of ice hockey."

A rejuvenated Hitchcock hasn't swayed his willingness to return behind the bench next season, and touts a strong Oilers cores following multiple career years as a foundation that can improve with the addition of role players.

"I know we're not far away, I know it feels like we're a little ways away, but I feel like we're not far away and need to add," he said. "We need to help the players that are here. We have a lot of our top players playing at the top of their game. They're playing awful well and they're really had great seasons, so you feel there's a lot to build around."

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BLOG: Oilers look to learn to "stop the bleeding" sooner

"It takes maturity to do that, and I think the players learned a lot about that this year," Oilers Head Coach Ken Hitchcock said.

by Jamie Umbach /

EDMONTON, AB - When it rains, it pours.

In the case of the Oilers, letting a few too many losing streaks drag on without an answer was a crutch this season after having five separate streaks go above the four-game mark.

They were holes players couldn't dig themselves out of fast enough, and in the NHL that can prove costly to your playoff outlook.

Video: RAW | Larsson 04.07.19

"If you look at the season as a whole, our downs were too big and we had to dig ourselves out of that hole for most of the year," defenceman Adam Larsson, who recorded 20 points (3G, 17A) in all 82 games for the Oilers this season, said in his exit interview on Monday.

"Throughout the 82 games you go through that, but we had some troubles coming out of losing streaks. The league is too good if you slip like that, and it's tough to bounce back."

Going through losing streaks is one of the only ways you can learn how to avoid them and turn the tide quickly, said Oilers Head Coach Ken Hitchcock.

"I look at two or three things where having a game plan is one thing to stop the bleeding, whether it's during the actual game or to stop it the next game," Hitchcock said. "It takes maturity to do that, and I think the players learned a lot about that this year. That's a step to help them understand, that's a teaching moment that takes a little bit of time, you have to go through it before you learn, and I think the players understand that's the key to getting into the playoffs."

The Oilers finished 11 points back of a playoff spot, with the deficit coming close to about one-less loss in each of this season's dry spells.

Video: RAW | Hitchcock 04.07.19

"You're talking about one win a month, and that's the reality to get into the playoffs," Hitchcock said. "But you're also talking about turning things around a bit quicker and not letting it bleed out. There were a few times this year where we took a bit longer to recover." 

Despite a 6-4 win over the Colorado Avalanche on December 11, the negative feeling was palpable after losing both Oscar Klefbom and Kris Russell on the back end due to injury with Andrej Sekera already nursing a torn Achilles.

It was the start of a slide that Hitchcock exemplified as a big teaching moment this campaign.

"The other thing, frankly, is that we weren't able to absorb significant injuries," Hitchcock said. "When I look back, I know the feeling everyone had on the bus in Colorado when we lost the two defencemen and had the one already out. We had trouble recovering from significant loss of players, especially on the back end.

"We held it together for a couple of games, but that kind of started the slide and we weren't able to maintain the competitive level that we'd shown."

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BLOG: Benson, Starrett named to AHL All-Rookie Team

Benson has tallied 63 points and a plus-19 rating in 65 games for the Condors, while Starrett has stood tall with a 25-7-5 record in 40 appearances this season

by Jamie Umbach /

EDMONTON, AB - The individual accolades are pouring into Condorstown as the AHL regular season winds down.

On Wednesday, forward Tyler Benson and goaltender Shane Starrett were named to the 2019 AHL All-Rookie Team after stellar full debuts with the Bakersfield Condors.

Tweet from @Condors: They're roommates, teammates, and today, both Shane Starrett and Tyler Benson were named to @TheAHL All-Rookie Team! #CondorstownDetails ��������

Benson's selection to the All-Rookie Team comes after being named the CCM/AHL Rookie of the Month back on April 1 after registering 18 points (5G, 13A) in 11 games last month.

The winger from Edmonton, Alberta was drafted in the second round, 32nd overall by his hometown Oilers in 2016 and has tallied a team-high 63 points (14G, 49A), along with a plus-19 rating, in all of Bakersfield's 65 games this campaign to sit second among all rookies in league scoring. His 49 assists are the most by an AHL rookie since 2009.

Last season, Benson recorded three assists in five games with the Condors after completing his final season in the WHL as captain of the Vancouver Giants.

Starrett's 25-7-5 record with a 2.29 goals-against average and .919 save percentage in between the pipes for the Condors this season has assisted in the Bellingham, Massachusetts netminder being touted as one of the emerging goalies in the AHL.

The 24-year-old's 40 appearances this season include a personal 14-game winning streak as part of a 17-game run for the Condors earlier this year that tied the AHL's second-longest streak set by the Philadelphia Phantoms back in 2004-05.

Before signing with the Oilers as an undrafted college free agent in 2017 and completing his first full pro season with the Wichita Thunder in the ECHL, Starrett finished two years with Air Force Academy with a combined 1.95 goals-against average and .925 save percentage.

2018-19 AHL All-Rookie Team
G - Shane Starrett (Bakersfield Condors)
D - Jake Bean (Charlotte Checkers)
D - Mitch Reinke (San Antonio Rampage)
F - Drake Batherson (Belleville Senators)
F - Tyler Benson (Bakersfield Condors)
F - Alex Barre-Boulet (Syracuse Crunch)

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FUTURE WATCH: McLeod, Safin on the verge of series sweeps

The forwards and Oilers prospects took 3-0 series advantages in their OHL and QMJHL second rounds with Saginaw and Halifax

by Jamie Umbach /

EDMONTON, AB - The Saginaw Spirit and Halifax Mooseheads are both one game away from sweeping their respective OHL and QMJHL second rounds after increasing their series advantages to 3-0 on Tuesday night.

Centre Ryan McLeod was a solitary plus-one and took a team-high 26 draws in a 7-5 win for the Spirit in Game 3 against the Soo Greyhounds. The Spirit have nipped the twine 17 times in their last six periods, and could face off against the London Knights and defenceman Evan Bouchard in the OHL semi-finals if both teams can cap off their three-game leads.

The Niagara IceDogs dropped a 4-1 scoreline to the Oshawa Generals to drop their lead to 2-1 in their series on the other side of the bracket, with Kirill Maksimov being ruled out prior to game time due to injury.

The Halifax Mooseheads and winger Ostap Safin know they'll be in this year's Memorial Cup as hosts, but there's no reason to slack in their race for the QMJHL championship. After needing seven games to get by the Quebec Remparts the series prior, Halifax looks to make quick work of the quarter-finals after trouncing the Moncton Wildcats 4-2 in Game 3 of the semis.

Tweet from @HFXMooseheads: Final 4-2 Mooseheads and we have a 3-0 stranglehold on this series vs Moncton! #GoMooseGo

A clean bill of health for Safin throughout these playoffs is a boost to Halifax as they hope to have a fully-able Safin at their disposal for the remainder of playoffs and into next month's hosting of the Memorial Cup.

The Prague, Czech Republic product and Oilers fourth-round pick from 2017 has two assists in nine games this QMJHL post-season.

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