Sunday, August 14, 2016

2016-2017 Pre-Season Western Hockey League Report(Team 14)

14.Edmonton Oil Kings-Eyebrows were raised when the Edmonton Oil Kings elected not to trade some of their veterans at the expense of  immersing in a short lived playoff run. While most pendants, myself included classified this as a misstep for long term aptitude, it nearly amounted to sheer genius as the Oil Kings gave the heavily favoured Brandon Wheat Kings a scare and then some. The veterans I'm referring to were Brett Pollock, Aaron Irving and Dysin Mayo. There is a high probability that both Mayo and Irving will return for their twenty year old season but it greatly diminishes the trade value if that's something General Manager Randy Hansch wants to explore closer to the January trade deadline. Scoring goals, a requirement in the wonderful game of hockey that Edmonton WILL skirmish through. A little later on this preview, I will ideally illustrate the verdure of the Oil Kings back end however their forwards is a work in progress to put it lightly. The rookies and second year players will be given ample opportunity to strut their stuff and that's exciting because opportunities allow roles to be defined that otherwise couldn't of existed.The structure that the Oil Kings exhibited in recent memory will be vastly different. The big, gnarly style the EOK preached just isn't applicable for the current players on staff and I for one am intrigued what the post Pollock era will look like.

How about this for an interesting theory, there will be some people who will entertain the notion that the Oil Kings fully immersed in a rebuild are moving to the new state of the art Rogers Place at the wrong time. These same people will believe that it would've been wise to capitalize on the excitement of the new arena by fielding a competitive turn. I for one have taken the adverse opinion where this is actually a GREAT time for a rebuild because whether this team is looking like the '95 Bulls or the '99-current Cleveland Browns fans will flock the facility due to the brand new look and excitement that facilitates such a move. What a tremendous feeling for some of these younger more appealing forwards such as Kobe Mohr and newly acquired Russian Artyom Baltruk  who regardless of standing will play to a packed house. Let's discuss Mohr specifically. Part of the issue with Kobe last year plagued a lot of their younger players and that was coach Steve Hamilton's insistence on riding his older players to increase the playoff chances. I feel like I'm profiling an abundance of Lloydminster born  players and that speaks to their prospering minor hockey system where Mohr is just another success story.  The message with Kobe is that he plays a lot bigger then his size specifies. A great skater, a seeming pre requisite to crack the Oil Kings lineup ever since their inception. I know I'm contradicting myself when in the opening I stressed that a change of philosophy would be promoted but in all reality the style of Mohr correlates to the penchant players of a previous generation remember when suiting up against Edmonton. I'm curious asto how he'll be utilized here I presume for this year he'll work his way up to a third line role likely starting with Colton Kehler and Kole Gable who I foresee transitioning to center and planking the two. It's more important then ever to allow Mohr playing time with players his age as if the cards are dealt right this group could be a threat to win the Central divison in time for the 2018-2019 when teams like Calgary and Red Deer expect to be in the same stage Edmonton is situated in now.  The theme I wanted to parlay in these Oil King forward preview is roles. Aside from the aforementioned in your face reputation the Oil Kings have carried historically, the roles, more clear cut then most other junior organizations have largely stayed in tact. Heart and soul players featuring Luke Bertolucci, Brandon Lockerby and Dylan Wruck have enamored this organization throughout the years and the difficult part about assessing this year's squad is they lack a lot of what defines a typical Oil King. Getting back to Mohr, he has a particular skill set is filled with contrivances that on the surface don't appear to meet the Oil King eye test, but in the end play right into the strength of Coach Hamilton. I'll elaborate on what I mean by this, as much as I maintain Mohr can fill a feisty role that Bertolucci left open, the stingent Oil fans won't agree because they weren't able to see Kobe in an actionable role last season but they're soon going to find out that Kobe has the pertinent skills to be that aggravating presence that every team needs and dare I prognosticate has more skill then Kobe. I'm reading this back and am realizing I've spent waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay too much time describing the escapades but it's due to the cupboards being primarlily bare.  Back to the word of the hour, role, Kobe can fulfill one but can any other reciprocate the feat? Not sold yet. One other forward that deserves my attention is Belarusian Artyom Baltruk. With Dario Meyer's announced departure this off-season an open import spot was created for Artyom. As general managers across the Canadian Hockey League have long stated, the chances of landing an impact European is slim to none, a crapshoot if you will. For every Pavel Brendl who heads West and wipes the competition to the floor, there are a million others, to name a few, Kamil Vavra(Regina), Roman Prazak(Portland) and Anders Lovdahl(Lethbridge) that succumbed to the North American game and could be considered "draft busts". From what I've gathered pertaining Baltruk and keep in mind that although Edmonton isn't always guaranteed to hit a home runs, they sprinkle in the occasional single and double but something that is important to touch on is the market size is very prevalent when an import weights whether or not they want to make the leap to North America. With the brand new center set to debut that was an added perk when recruiting their Europeans. I don't know whether he'll manufacture a home run or a triple etc etc in Artyom's short stay in Northern Alberta but the scouting report I've read is he possesses a big shot to go along with gargantuan body. Referencing some Oil King alumni, Hansch and company would be ecstatic if Artem delivered productivity similar to Thomas Vincour. I'm unsure why Tomas couldn't hold down a spot with the Dallas Stars and has since jettisoned back to Europe as I remember how dominant he was donning the Oil Kings logo. Baltruk will at times, and he'll have to show signs of adaption, allocate first line minutes. In an area of weakness Mohr and Baltruk will have to skate their way to career years if not the goal scoring department will run completely dry and fans will resonate their thoughts to why management didn't smell the coffee in 15/16 and make the necessary moves.

Ben Carroll's offence will sorely be missed as he's one of the few in this regiment that possessed natural offensive instincts. Stopping the opposition isn't so much of a concern, it's assisting the fringe forwards with puck movement that leaves me petrified. Readers of this entry will look at the Edmonton Oil Kings statistics from last season and conclude that in actuality, Carrol was only third in defenceman scoring but noticed how I used the words "natural instincts" because while Aaron Irving and Dyson Mayo are simply better hockey players leading to more playing time, Carroll was the only one who displayed a competence with carrying the puck and having enough foot speed that he can jump into the play at no disservice to his defensive responsibilities.  I've already provided the indisputable notion that Mayo and Irving are this club's two best d-man who are legitimate professional prospects however in my viewings last year, Carroll always dazzled. Whomever you felt the best defenceman was last year, it's a moot point now as we must now jump ahead to thoughts for 16/17. It's not difficult when clamoring for the bigger picture that the Oil Kings would've been wise to trade one or both of Aaron and Dysin because even with these exceptional leaders, I don't see it changing the plight of this year's struggles. Irving is somebody I want to touch on as I remember getting crucified last year for mentioning that I thought he was the  best defensive defenceman in the league. In  a one on one battle, there isn't anybody right now in the league I'd rather have then Irving back skating against some of the higher echelon forwards. His active stick is an asset, the hand eye coordination rivals that of a tennis player, it's absolutely stunning how quick it is. Presuming that Irving is paired alongside the aforementioned Mayo, although an argument could be made they'd be better off dispersing the wealth, the two are terrific compliments because of Aaron's penchant for his slithering puck stealing abilities and Dysin's hard hitting reputation. Steve Hamilton when analyzing the hand he's been dealt defensively will likely call upon Brayden Gorda to provide him the luxury of splitting up his two veterans whilst allowing Gorda a chance to strut his abilities in the top four. Growing up in Saskatchewan, my familiarity with a lot of the prospects in the Alberta Bantam leagues is faint at best but Brayden was one that I was eager to follow his development as I considered him going in the third round as a mega steal. If  he was weighing NCAA options and would only play for his hometown Edmonton Oil Kings then this information was unbeknownst to me but otherwise the Oil Kings appraised his glowing skillset correctly.  Surely, conveying that patience should be preached with Gorda is an obvious assertion as most sixteen year olds enter the league with caution but the poise that he put on display the majority of the season would have you believing you were looking at a eighteen/nineteen year old defenceman.  My report on Gorda has been appobrative but it leads me to a different discussion, are Oil Kings fans ready to be patient with young Brayden, all of their young defenceman to be more specific. The Edmonton fan base, very much unlike their senior circuit club have been blessed with veteran contending teams and don't know to handle a retooling enterprise. Aside from a difficult 2009-2010 campaign, the Oil Kings who were granted a franchise before the 07/08 season weren't shrouded in the expected bumps that precede an expansion franchise. Right off the hop, even in the opening year they only amounted twenty two wins but from watching that team closely it was a competitive 22 W's and the direction was clear, a team with strong ties to a NHL franchise was not going to accept losing seasons.....perhaps they should've relayed that memo to the Oilers.  Gorda allocating first line responsbilities will be a tough pill to swallow for the City of Champion but a necessary evil as the plan is to re stock the fridge en route to replicating the 2014 Memorial Cup Championship. The point is that Gorda in all actuality is not ready for the added resposnbility and the onus is on Irving and Mayo to ensure they can pass down what they learned from their own predecessors.  Brayden is a very aggressive individual, a trait that scouts look for. The talent is their but what's important to most is does have he the confidence to put what he shows in practice into high pressure game situations. On a couple of occassions, shifting away from said aggressiveness, I find when he's in the other teams end he resorts to the pass too often and isn't willing to let his shot loose. Funny enough, I know a lot of the "experts" had similar reservations regarding Calgary Hitmen star defenceman Jake Bean two years ago and in his draft year, his willingness to shoot seemingly came out of nowhere. In my 2016 draft rankings blog, my draft rankings shed a negative light on what I thought of Bean and by no means am I ready to compare the two however I will buy into the similarity that in order for Gorda to raise his draft stock, he just needs to play his own game and by doing so, NHL scouts will flock in spades.

I'd love to know how Edmonton supporters felt about Patrick Dea's progression,or lack thereof from a year ago. In 2014-2015, when filling in for incumbent starter and current Wilkes-Barre/Scranton goaltender Tristan Jarry was remarkable, posting  a 11-5-1 record.  Last year however when given the starting role,  the record doesn't indicate how porous he actually was.  The team in many facets had holes to fill but that doesn't forgive Patrick for the lack of preparedness he entered the campaign with.  Edmonton needed a backstop who could stomach a hefty load each night even though they were largely a veteran team, skill was a missing link and due to that reason they were hemmed in deep needing herculean netminding from Patrick, which he didn't deliver. The struggles bring us to an interesting dillema heading into this season, what do the Oil Kings do with twenty year old Alec Dillon.  The internet records that I bustled through indicate hasn't been signed by the Los Angeles Kings who own his National Hockey League rights but if he was this is a moot point. Dillon fought through nagging injury issues a season ago and could use another year of junior conditioning and if all holds true, what message is that sending to Dea who saw the bulk's load of work in 15/16. My gut says, and once again apologies if Dillon isn't expected back and I'm talking out of my you know what is that the Victoria native will get every opportunity to exhaust his junior eligibility by being Edmonton's starter. On a team that will navigate through growing pains, a twenty year old as the last resort isn't the worst schematic ever drawn up.

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