Rocky Thompson Promoted To NHL Assistant With Oilers

One of the good guys (who was an on-ice “bad” guy) in the coaching game, Rocky Thompson, has been promoted from assistant coach with the Oklahoma City Barons to the third assistant alongside Dallas Eakins with the Edmonton Oilers. Known for his grizzly ways as a player, Thompson has blossomed into one heckuva “X’s” and “O’s” type coach who mostly watches Oklahoma City Barons games from the press box. For all the gushing I do over Todd Nelson, the two assistants who have worked alongside him for the first four seasons of AHL play in OKC are equally as capable and highly sought after.

Typical gamedays were spent with Gerry Fleming and Todd Nelson behind the bench. There were times where all three were behind the crowded player pine, but those times were rare. However, when Thompson was rinkside he was known for donning a fedora of masculine proportions. A nod, most likely, to his colorful tendencies of old.

Rocky likes the chess match of the game, and was thus a great fit for watching games from the rafters. He would feverishly mark, chop, cut, and patch game footage to use for a later date. Even when the NHL lockout was a thing he was honing the positional strategy of players like Hall, Eberle, Nugent-Hopkins, and Schultz. They should shake his hand. He would take the good, the bad, and the entirely awful, and use those things as teachable snippets of time. The learning curve was lessened as a result, and players actually got better.

During practice Thompson was the coach responsible for coming alongside players, teaching them the proper way to check, nay finish a check. He was a fighting instructor. He was an energy guy. He was the third coach that the players really called one of their own.

He is a guy that is not only well-liked, but tenacious at every possible moment. When he laced up his skates for training camp you’d have thought he was going to join the squad in drills. His love of the game permeated his time spent with players, with coaches, and even with fans.

Off the ice he did so many things for the local OKC community including a “south campus” for the Rocky Hockey School that originated in Sherwood Park years ago. His dedication to the Habitat for Humanity builds, his desire to be a huge part of the Barons Buddies program, and his overall demeanor in public were a tremendous display of character. And perhaps he will be missed more for that than anything else.

The interesting turn here is that Todd Nelson remains the AHL coach, Gerry Fleming (for now) remains the assistant, and a new hire likely comes in before the season starts (Patricia mentioned the job posting many months ago). But stop the presses! Troy Mann, coaching Bakersfield last season, has snatched a job with the Hershey Bears, the most storied program in the American league. That leaves a huge vacancy in Bakersfield for the upcoming season. Wouldn’t Rocky Thompson have been the most logical choice for that job? Absolutely. Not only would he get a HC position, but he would take on that job knowing that the org is locally run well, and that Mann spent less than 80 games there before entertaining AHL HC jobs. That’s huge. I’m not sure he will get that much exposure with the Oilers. Then again, Thompson is an Alberta guy with roots in the Oil Kings organization, and we know how those bonds seem to be unbreakable of late. His paycheck is likely larger too, and maybe that has something to do with it. Regardless, the faster track to the head coaching somewhere might have been through ECHL, but I think Thompson is willing to gamble.

So as my brain cramps just a bit I think of Fleming and Nelson who have both chosen to stay in the minor leagues despite likely (this is me speculating grossly) being offered or at least considered for assistant jobs in Edmonton. Fleming is a great coach too, and perhaps he is sitting pretty, waiting for the ECHL HC job to open. Then again, that feels like a lateral move despite the high profile it gives his brand. For at least this season it seems that Nelson/Fleming will stay bosom buddies.

Congratulations to Rocky Thompson and his appointment to the Edmonton Oilers. As an assistant in the minors he did some incredible work, and I think that a portion of the Barons’ success is largely due to his critique of game footage. He will be a huge asset wherever he goes, and this is a fantastic celebratory graduation of an “original Baron”. Well done, Rocky. You will be missed.

Tyler Pitlick & Curtis Hamilton Re-Signed, Protection Is Important

Photo by Steven Christy

Following Andrew Miller’s resigning only hours prior, our attention shifted towards Tyler Pitlick and Curtis Hamilton. Issued qualifying offers, and likely “spreading their wings” just a bit, they eventually re-signed with the Edmonton Oilers for another season. Both have struggled to stay health in their early careers. For Hamilton it’s the knees, and for Pitlick it’s the shoulder. There is still a bit of a question mark attached to both players for the very reason mentioned in the previous sentence – health. So why re-sign these fellas?

Tyler Pitlick has only had one pro season (in three outings) where he played over 50+ games. That was his rookie season, and arguably a dandy of a first outing. This past season both Eakins and MacTavish liked him coming out of camp, but injury sidelined him quickly. His return to the farm was pretty impressive notching 22 points in 39 games. Not mind-bending for a third year pro, but a step in the right direction. His re-signing is a coin flip, but a less risky one than that of Curtis Hamilton.

Curtis has shown flashes of being a really good player. We just don’t see him flashing enough. Under fifty points in under 150 games has me curious as to where he might go from here. Back to the flashes. When we did see him good it typically occurs in small spurts, and then fades either with knee issues or lumpy play. Drafted the same season as Pitlick, the two aren’t comparable in terms of what’s under the hood. Hamilton is more of a third line forechecker with a quick foot. Handles the puck well, and isn’t afraid to rattle off offense, but he would rather play “in the trenches”, a role that Todd Nelson likes him in the most. Add to the list his penalty kill skills, and you have the makings of a pretty entertaining player. Again, we just have to see it more often.

With both players I think the question marks aren’t necessarily in what they can do, but if they can do it. You know what you are getting with each player, they just have to show us the things that make them 2010 semi-high draftees. I think I’ve seen enough, but I’m hopeful for the future. Fingers crossed.

Signing Miller, Pitlick, and Hamilton is wise in terms of warm bodies. They are capable players that contribute when able. That allows for all the younger players in the quiver to survive as pros at least one more season before being asked to shoulder the load. As colleague Eric Rodgers points out, they re-sign these fellas, and the protection begins for others. Agreed. This also points to the more prospect-friendly model that Craig MacTavish lauds as opposed to the Steve Tambellini model that protected prospects with seasoned veterans. MacT’s way of things gets things done a bit more cost-effective, and it also allows for ELC+ guys like Pitlick and Hamilton to perhaps up their value just a bit.

The season is rapidly approaching, and there might be some time to add a defensive vet to the OKC squad. THAT might be worth paying for in this environment. The speculation of ECHL-AHL-NHL placement has begun, and we will do our best to handle those with precision here on the site. Stay tuned.

NHL Bound? Jujhar Khaira, All The Right Moves

I pen you this piece as I watch “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone”. You will recall that it is the first chapter in the life of young Potter, his two good friends, and growing up questioning the backgrounds from which we’ve come. There is a fearlessness to which Harry goes about his curious ways. From constantly sneaking out at night to the invisibility cloak, Harry has a way of getting things done despite not having all the information. When he finally reveals the dreaded Voldermort, his arch enemy, he embraces the bravery that seems to be the X factor that not all wizards posses. He arrives, not only as a spell-caster, but as a human being in life. Alohomora!

To pull a page from J.K. Rowling’s books I too will fearlessly move into the darkness of uncertainty. I’ll pluck a prospect from near professional obscurity, and I’ll look into his future. My aim is true, but subject to debate. I don’t normally eat crow, but if I have to make it blackened.

Jujhar Khaira caught my attention not on draft day, not through video highlights on YouTube, but when he elected to leave Michigan Tech before completing his four years as a collegiate player. The reviews were glowing back then, and remained the same when he played in 59 games with the Everett Silvertips in the “W”. Leaving play at collegiate level meant that he would become an Oilers prospect to watch almost overnight. Why? Yes, he found success in his freshman year, but he had the smarts to pursue something that he was clearly qualified for.

We have seen players leave college level play early, fail to be successful, and then we all wonder why they left in the first place. That could be Jujhar Khaira, but I’m glass full and overflowing on both his decision and his future. Let me explain.

Fans in Oklahoma City had the privilege of watching Khaira play six games as a Baron during the final heaves of the regular season in 13-14. He added to that number with three games played in the postseason run. One goal and a few penalty minutes is what we see on the scoresheet, but what we watched with our eyeballs was something completely different.

Chris Dilks at Western College Hockey had the perfect one-line scouting report on Khaira at the time of his departure from Tech (via SBNation College Hockey):

Last season, as a freshman, Khaira scored 6 goals and 19 assists for 25 points for the Huskies, and the 6’3″ 194 lbs. forward developed a reputation as one of the heaviest hitters in the WCHA.

Indeed what Dilks saw is what Barons fans saw, but with a few more wrinkles (the good kind). Heavy hitter, yes, but he is a very intelligent big fella. I hate to make the comparison, but organizationally most Oilers fans will understand where I’m coming from when I say that Khaira is a lot like Teemu Hartikainen. If you thought Hartikainen struggled with skating, Khaira doesn’t, and that’s good news for a player looking to seal a power forward position in the NHL.

Last week, during development camp, Khaira added sagely wisdom to the masses as well as a dose of honesty (via Edmonton Sun):

“It’s been a really good few years,” said Khaira, during a break in training at the Oilers Orientation camp in Jasper. “I had a strong season at Michigan Tech, really developed my game and matured as a player.”

“And playing the WHL got me used to the NHL schedule and style of play. I did a lot of video and practice for my defensive zone coverage. I thought I really improved on that. I didn’t get many points, but at the same time I think I had a really good two-way game and I played like a power forward.”

Rarely do you find a player that isn’t trite in regards to his own play, and where he needs to improve. In this case, Khaira is spot on. I love that, and I think it is a good indication of the headspace on this kid.

Coach Todd Nelson has noticed improvement, and he should know:

“I liked what I saw,” he said. “His skating was vastly improved from when I saw him before in Penticton and his overall confidence with the puck was better — the play didn’t die with him.

“He did a great job in playoffs against Texas just by ragging the puck down low. It’s nice having a big body up the middle. He centred Travis Ewanyk and Jack Combs against Texas. They were considered our fourth line but they were our most effective line because they owned Texas’s fourth line.”

Coach gives some attention to the both the placement of Khaira and his exceleration in that role. Indeed he centered Ewanyk and Combs which was an angst/skill combo to his left and right. Not the ideal situation for a nineteen year old to be thrust in to. In the end, as coach points out, that line carried the puck and thus the play even in a limited role. Steering the eventual Cup winning Stars fourth line to rough starts was a huge statement. I agree. Khaira also spent time with other prospects forwards including Josh Winquist and Greg Chase. Through their young ‘un shortcomings they still found a way to really overcome obstacles. A lot of that had to do with the feverish playmaking by Jujhar.

I wrote a brief seen-him-good piece, and noted (with images) exactly what Khaira does so right at such a young age. That piece can be read here. In one sentence he is smart, offensively tenacious, defensively wide, and a increasingly quick player for a guy with “size”. There isn’t much flash to his game, but there doesn’t need to be.

This is a role that the Oilers seemingly have wanted for some time (Abney, Hartikainen, O’Marra), that is a big guy with offensive upside. The truth is that size doesn’t matter, but it certainly does help (imagine Arcobello w/ 20 more lbs and 4 inches). Still a teenager, Khaira has some major “ups” in terms of future growth right now. He isn’t a skillful centerman in the traditional sense, so the Oilers can wait him out. That will be good for growth. Recent signings, as well, will protect his prospect cover for at least another season.

The ceiling on Khaira, in terms of points, could be near thirty in his first year as a full-time pro. That seems like a large undertaking, but even on a third line 5 on 5 Nelson will wrangle him into the power play as much as he can. That will help, and will give us hope. I choose you, Jujhar Khaira, to be the next Oilers prospect to hit the NHL soon.

Andrew Miller Signs One-Year Contract With Oilers

Photo by Steven Christy

Andrew Miller, extended a qualifying offer what seems like an eternity ago, has signed a one-year contract as the RFA closing deadline approaches at 5:00 Eastern today.

Used mostly as a versatile right winger, Andrew Miller was an important piece in Todd Nelson’s game plan of suffrage. Miller caught the eye of Craig MacTavish coming out of the collegiate ranks, and seemingly was poised to play a bottom center role with the Oilers “one day.” A wrist injury sidelined him for a spell in Oklahoma City, and while he was out, the team moved forward. The youthfulness caught somewhat of a rhythm down the stretch, and when he was inserted back into the fold his role slightly changed.

Still, he remains a quality, minor league two-way player with speed that the Oklahoma City Barons lacked during the 13-14 season. You will recall that the move to wing was out of sheer necessity with Nelson needing skilled players on the edges of the rink rather than the middle. This paid off as Miller scored 34 points in 52 games. Of those points, eight were goals which has you believe that Miller is a play making helper / space creator rather than a goal-scoring fiend. Which raises the question, shouldn’t he play more minutes at center? Certainly not in the upcoming season where the Barons already own five at that position – Will Acton, Travis Ewanyk, Connor Jones, Jujhar Khaira, and Bogdan Yakimov. That’s a full house.

So we await the contract negotiations (or something) for Curtis Hamilton and Tyler Pitlick, two players extended qualifying offers, but with nary a peep to show for it. Soon, very soon, we will hear news. No doubt.

AHL Rule Changes & Re-Alignemnts, Off-Season Trolling

Photo by Steven Christy

The American Hockey League Board of Gov’nas has approved a handful of rule changes as well as some tweaks to better re-align the changes in hockey destinations on the map. These things are all good, and things that are continually in flux. With rule changes, the minor leagues have always been a prepping ground for future NHL manipulations, and thus we see a ton of these “try and see” type of situations. I kind of like that. With hybrid icing we saw that it worked, and worked well, in just about every situation. In the end the goal is to keep players safe, healthy, and free from expensive, bone crunching procedures.

To the details.

Let’s begin with rule changes, and a bit of commentary on each.

The most obvious change is to overtime, which is one I really like in theory, but find a bit odd. Per the league:

Rule 85 (“Overtime”)
During the regular season, the sudden-death overtime period will be seven minutes (7:00) in length, preceded by a “dry scrape” of the entire ice surface.

Teams will change ends at the start of overtime.

Full playing strength will be 4-on-4 until the first whistle following three minutes of play (4:00 remaining), at which time full strength will be reduced to 3-on-3 for the duration of the overtime period.

If the game is still tied following overtime, a winner will be determined by a three-player shootout.

Seven minutes of overtime? That’s weird. Adding to the maniac tendency of it all is the final four minutes, where the teams go full-strength 3 on 3. That will be highly entertaining.

What is curious, however, is that the league has made statements regarding this specific rule change before. It typically boils down to “we want to lessen the number of shootouts”. The novel solution would just be to get rid of the shootout all together. 4 on 4 for ten minutes, 3 on 3 for ten minutes, and then a shootout might be more arousing. Then again, that ultimately pushes us towards the shootout, so maybe we just play “normal” hockey until someone wins. Genius thought.

Two additional rule additions / changes:

Rule 20.4 (“Major Penalties”)
An automatic game misconduct will be applied to any player who has been assessed two major penalties for fighting or three major penalties for any infraction in the same game.

Rule 9.6 (“Helmets”)
A player on the ice whose helmet comes off during play will be assessed a minor penalty unless he immediately (a) exits the playing surface or (b) puts the helmet back on with the chin strap properly fastened.

Two fighting majors or three majors results in a game misconduct. That makes sense, and it will kill the goonery when folks get suspended for longer stretches as well.

Helmets, to put it slyly, is a no-brainer. Just wear your helmet properly, and things will be fine. That’s pretty cut and dry. “But what if I take a hit, and it pops off, boo hoo me?” If you’re wearing the lid correctly, a hit pops it off, you’re going to want to flee the ice as quickly and coherently as possible any way. Simmer down.

The newly aligned Conferences look like this:

The changes versus last season are noted below:

  • Calgary’s affiliate relocating from Abbotsford, B.C., to Glens Falls, N.Y., and playing in the North Division
  • Philadelphia’s affiliate relocating from Glens Falls, N.Y. to Allentown, Pa., and playing in the East Division
  • Syracuse moving from the East Division to the Northeast Division
  • Lake Erie moving from the North Division to the Midwest Division
  • Iowa moving from the Midwest Division to the West Division

Defunct Abbotsford brings us Iowa in the West Division. I love that move. Charlotte simply doesn’t fit anywhere, and thus remains in the West. Moving Erie from the North to the Midwest almost guarantees more match-ups with the squad from Cleveland (whom always playing a rough game), and that could re-energize a bit of a rivalry (similar to that of Peoria years ago).

Changes to rules and alignment means one thing – the season is approaching. With dev / rookie camps winding down (much to the chagrin of Panthers prospects on the beach), we march boldly towards training camp, perhaps a few more signings, but ultimately the last week of September when we see Oilers prospects on the ice in Oklahoma City. Can you feel the excitement? (or is that my body being betrayed by the Oklahoma heat, craving orange Gatorade and a Slim Jim?)

Richard Bachman Talks Europe, OKC, & (ugh) BTO

Recently signed goaltender, Richard Bachman, phoned in to the Oilers Now radio show yesterday, and it was a 6:00 golden nugget. Why? Because he is just so darn fantastic, that’s why. Man crush aside, he had some nice things to say about his recent one-year contract, the city of OKC, his potential in the NHL, and that dreaded BTO bumper music.

via Bob Stauffer on Oilers Now:

On that BTO song:

“I’ve heard it quite a bit since joining the Oilers, it’s a Canadian thing.”

On Oklahoma City as a good fit:

“The main goal is to get up with the Oilers, and play in the NHL, but being here is a great fit for me. I’ve got a twin brother that lives here, he’s in med school here so he’s close by, and my family lives in Colorado”

(Stauffer “complains” about the one time he went to Denver not on the team plane, “I got lost.”)

On European money:

“I think I can play at that (NHL) level, and until I feel like I can’t do that or it’s not going to be a good fit for me and my family, I want to stick it out over here. I want to be with Edmonton. I think it’s a great place for a good opportunity.”

On Todd Nelson:

“He’s an amazing coach. Just seeing what he did last year with a young team, and how he coached / ran the ship, he was great. I was glad he got that contract extension.”

On NHL game in Edmonton:

“That’s something I’ll remember for a very long time”

On his size:

“My idol was Patrick Roy growing up. Also Andy Moog. (Stauffer refers to Andy as not a “technically superior guy“). He battled though. I know I’m not the biggest guy out there, but I can control how you battle and compete.”

On the difference between NHL vs. AHL shooters:

“The biggest difference is the crispness of the play. There is a bit more of an unkown in the AHL. Also, purely size. Guy in the NHL are just bigger.”

On the number of guys in the AHL that can “really shoot the puck”:

“It is getting better every year. 2/3 of guys can really shoot, and about 1/3 are close to an NHL shot.”

On his plans for the next couple of months:

“I’m in OKC, I’m actually at the U.S. Senior Open. Beginning of August I’m going to head out to Colorado and begin skating. Scrivens is out there, he bought a place there. A bunch of Denver U and Colorado College guys are out there as well.”

Richard Bachman Signed To One Year Contract With Oilers

After a prospect heavy season of play in Oklahoma City, Richard Bachman emerged beaten, but not bruised, by the whole ordeal. Two seasons ago he was cut loose by the Stars organization when he became a UFA, and immediately the Oilers went back to the “vet well” as they had done with Martin Gerber and Yann Danis before. Announced today, Richard Bachman will get to lace ’em up as an Oiler once again. The one year deal for Richard comes on the heels of his qualifying offer only weeks ago.

This is important news, and it was expected. Laurent Brossoit is the goaltending golden goose right now, but there has been some struggle to his story. The Oil Kings prospect, drafted to the foreign enemy in Calgary, was swapped last season in a multi-player trade. The Oilers like this kid, perhaps because he has always felt like one of theirs, and after seeing his comments at dev camp the feeling is mutual.

Brossoit has been unapologetic in his speech – he wants 50% of the starts in the AHL this season. That’s a tall order, and by golly he is going to have to earn it. Nelson, like most coaches in the last 10 years, builds teams from the net out. The problem with last season was that the Oklahoma City Barons gave up a league high in shots, and this buried Richard in a nearly three goals allowed in 50+ games. That was a product of the defense in front of him that, until February, played insufferable ugly minutes. The steadying of the roster this season, and simply by maturing, I think Bachman is poised for a stellar year.

I believe Bachman still shoulders nearly 60%-65% of the starts mainly because Brossoit has yet to prove that he can indeed make a difference in net. The competition will be worth watching, and that always makes for high entertainment.

Oilers Release:

The Edmonton Oilers announced today they have agreed to terms with goaltender Richard Bachman on a one-year contract.

Bachman, 26, appeared in 52 games for the Oklahoma City Barons last season, posting a record of 26-19-6. He also recorded a .908 save percentage, and 2.99 goals against average, as well as two shutouts.

The 5’10”, 176 pound goaltender played in three games with the Oilers last season, registering a .916 save percentage and 3.02 goals against average. Bachman made 47 saves in his Edmonton Oilers debut on October 27, 2013 against the Los Angeles Kings.

The Salt Lake City, Utah native has accumulated a 14-12-2 record in 35 career NHL games, including a .903 save percentage, a 2.95 goals against average and one shutout.

Bachman was selected by Dallas in the 4th round, 120th overall, in the 2006 NHL Draft.

Barons Goaltending: Quality Starts and Bail-Outs

Photo courtesy Steven Christy Photography, All Rights Reserved

With the lack of detailed statistics in the American Hockey League, I get to take a lot of what I see in the NHL advanced statistics and convert them myself to get an idea of how certain players did during the season. One I ran across lately was Quality Starts for goaltenders. Seeing as how the Oklahoma City Barons had quite a carousel in net last season, I was interested to see how they all measured up.

Here’s how everything breaks down, from Robert Vollman of Hockey Prospectus.

Quality Start (QS): A Quality Start is awarded when a goalie stops more than the league-average percentage of shots OR gives up less than three goals, while still stopping 88.5% of shots faced. The league average Saves Percentage was a .910 last season.

Really Bad Start (RBS): Also known as a Blow-Up. A Really Bad Start is given when the goaltender stops less than 85% of shots faced. Cam Charron and Thomas Drance added to the stat by awarding a goalie this measure when he gives up 5 or more goals on 39 or fewer shots.

Bail-Out: A Bail-Out is awarded in the case that a goalie earns a win, but does so in a game that he does not earn a Quality Start.

Name Sv% GS Shutout Shutout% QS QS% RBS RBS% Bail Outs BO%
Bachman 0.908 51 2 3.92% 22 43.14% 6 11.76% 10 19.61%
Brossoit 0.888 7 0 0.00% 2 28.57% 3 42.86% 0 0.00%
Roy 0.897 4 0 0.00% 2 50.00% 1 25.00% 0 0.00%
Bunz 0.901 4 0 0.00% 2 50.00% 1 25.00% 1 25.00%
Pickard 0.854 3 0 0.00% 1 33.33% 2 66.67% 0 0.00%
LaBarbera 0.953 2 0 0.00% 2 100.00% 0 0.00% 0 0.00%
Rimmer 0.930 2 0 0.00% 1 50.00% 0 0.00% 0 0.00%
Bryzgalov 0.880 2 0 0.00% 1 50.00% 1 50.00% 0 0.00%
Tuohimaa 0.950 1 0 0.00% 1 100.00% 0 0.00% 0 0.00%
Totals 76 2 2.63% 34 44.74% 14 18.42% 11 14.47%

Oilers Orientation Camp Quote Round-Up

Dallas Eakins

On who makes the cut, even the new players – “In the end, all this is settled in training camp.”

On Darnell Nurse – “I remember sending him back last season. He was really upset.”

On who stands out – “Forwards don’t stick out quite as much…you gotta be careful. I have high expectations for our high picks. I have no expectation of when that will be.”

On off-season moves – “MacT has been busy. He’s extremely passionate about getting us better.”

On development camp in general – “These development camps are tough. I think it’s unfair to judge them on the ice right now. Not all of these guys will make the NHL, but many of them will. Hopefully these are very fruitful relationships down the road.”

Greg Chase

On Jasper – “This is one of the nicest places in Alberta!”

Describing his year – “The team kept in touch with me all season. That gave me a lot of confidence.”

On what he is working on – “I had to change a few things in my game. I had to become more sound defensively. I have to round it out to help with offensive production too.”

On the outdoors – “Being from the city…I don’t come out here much”

Laurent Brossoit

On his first Oilers rookie dev camp – “I was with the Flames organization long enough to feel comfortable. I come to this organization and it feels like the same thing. The Oil Kings are a bi-product of the Oilers, and I’ve always felt like I was a part of the Oilers organization.”

On his first full year as pro – “It was a perfect year – not from a numbers stand point or winning a championship – from a development stand point. I learned so much this year playing on five different teams, two different organizations, three different leagues.”

On next season – “For me, I understand it will most likely be me and Bachman fighting for ice time. I want to at least win 50% of the starts.”

Jujhar Khaira

On growth – “I feel like I’ve changed a lot. I feel like my two-way game has gotten better. When I went to the “Dub” I got used to the NHL schedule, and the NHL style of play.”

On Rocky Thompson / Todd Nelson – “It’s awesome having those guys around. I spent a lot of time with them in Oklahoma. Those guys are awesome. They gave me a lot of opportunity.”

On his golf game – “I said ‘NO’ to the golf. I’m luck if I get the ball off the ground.”

Mitch Moroz

On starting the pro career – “I want to make them have a hard decision. Everyone expects to go down to Oklahoma in their first year. I wanna force their hand.”

On physical prep – “I’ve been working on my quickness, getting a little leaner.”

The organization – “The spot for a big power forward is there. I don’t want to let that slip away. I wanna play that role.”

On health – “I’m pretty beat up through playoffs. I’d do it all over again. Now it’s time to get healthy. Time to get ready for next year.”

On ending season in juniors vs. AHL – “I think being a part of a championship team is important. I know others enjoyed going to Oklahoma City. In a way you wish you could have done it, but I’d never give the season we had up. I’m luck with how it turned out for myself.”

Thoughts On Oilers Orientation (I Prefer Acclimation)

When the roster, dates, and global positions of the Edmonton Oilers Rookie Orientation Camp were published I gazed at the list, briefly pondered the attendees, then quickly went about my business. For me, these camps that call themselves development camps are really nothing more than an opportunity for media, coaches, and fans to ogle a fresh crop of prospects. In turn what we get from this week-long event is nothing more than a few glances at young players in non-threatening environments where they aren’t ask to do much or be much, nor do we get an actual good looksee at what they bring to the table. In the end, Colten Tuebert looks fantastic, and the world continues to spin.

In other words, these dev camps feel like a waste of time. Until now…

The Edmonton Oilers, in a quick ‘we changed our minds’ sort of blog post, made a return on their previous trumpet blowing by claiming a new type of orientation camp was taking place in Jasper for the Oilers prospects. Honestly, the idea is a smart one.

Per the Oilers website:

The Oilers have made some changes to their July Rookie Development Camp. It has switched over from a camp for learning and on-ice tutoring to more of an orientation camp where the young future of the Oilers get to know one another and learn what it takes to be a pro.

“We don’t do as much of the on ice curriculum that we have followed in the past,” Oilers Sr. Director of Player Development Rick Carriere said. “It’s more of the culture of the Oilers and the things that we feel are really important to have going away from the camp. That’s 2-3 fundamentals and some cultural things that we feel are really important.”

Carriere added, “We’re downsizing the on-ice part a little bit and emphasize the team building. We’re going to do some activities there. We have a golf tournament, we’re going to be biking around Jasper together and the guys are going to enjoy their time there. Part of the real focus off the ice is strength and conditioning this year.”

There is also a smattering of player comments that backstop this idea as well. They say things like “more fun”, and “not evaluation, but orientation”, and that has me hopeful for the future of these things.

Head coach Dallas Eakins made it very clear that the goal of camp was vastly different from years gone by, and he gave good reasons why (Note: Todd Nelson ran on-ice drills on Wednesday, Eakins did not).

“I like that we’ve pulled back and they’re not on the ice every day,” Eakins said. “Some of these guys have been off the ice for a long time and it is unfair to judge them on the ice right now because some of them haven’t skated at all. For me, it’s more to come in and start those relationships with these players. Not all of these guys will make the NHL but hopefully a lot of them do. I think it’s important for me to be around and, more or less, it’s about me talking and getting to know them and starting those relationships because hopefully these are going to be very fruitful ones down the road.”

I like the idea of giving players, especially new ones, the slow jog towards becoming an Edmonton Oiler rather than the 50 yard sprint. Imagine if you were a pharmaceutical sales rep for the Northern half of the Great Plains. You traveled tirelessly, gave all that you had, sacrificed even more, and then suddenly you were called in to manage accounts for Southern California. You might be doing the same job, but the span and reach of the responsibility is far greater. There is likely an acclimation period. Acclimation Camp, I like that.

So many of these young fellas know that they have eyes watching them. Many deal with that well, still many do not. The temptation is to throw them into the deep end of the ocean, demand that they swim, and tell them they are likely going to be feasted upon by a herd (pack? galleon?) of Great White sharks. Scary, unpredictable, impossible to evaluate – that’s what you get. I believe the Oilers are taking a step in the right direction with this, and if the players lives on Instagram (I see you, Jujhar, in those mountainous pics) are an indication – I think it is working. There will be a time, a place, a moment for you to work on your hockey skills as an Oiler. Now just isn’t that moment, and that’s okay.

More thoughts on camp in the coming days. Thanks for watchin’.