Servus Credit Union Place in St. Albert was a-buzz on Wednesday as youth hockey players took to the Mark Messier and Troy Murray arenas for their afternoon on-ice sessions at the Oilers Hockey School.
A special guest was also in attendance this week as Oilers goaltender Laurent Brossoit took some time away from family and friends to join in on the activities with the eager, young players.
“My summer’s been excellent, it’s been long, so I’ve had a lot of time to catch up with family and friends and get a little relaxing in along with the training,” said Brossoit.
In town for the eighth annual hockey school, Brossoit found some time from his busy schedule to join-in on the 4-week program to spend some time and work with the kids.
The 6-foot-3 netminder said he was more than ready to get his skates on and was looking forward to getting involved in the on-ice sessions.
“I’ve had the itch (to play) for a while now,” said Brossoit. “This is the longest summer I’ve had since my professional career and…the eagerness is there and it’s been there for a bit.”
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Of the 36 prospects attending Oilers Orientation Camp this week, five are goaltenders.
Goaltending Coach, Dustin Schwartz, and Goaltending Consultant Sylvain Rodrigue have worked with each netminder, breaking down their strengths and weaknesses so each prospect can see the areas that need work and where there is room to improve.
“You kind of take each one as their own individual,” said Schwartz. “Ultimately, whether they’re a part of our organization or not, they’re here. In this moment, you’re working to help them all be better. If they can leave the camp and have a few things improved in their game I think that it benefits everyone.”
Two of the five goaltenders joined the organization this year.
Nick Ellis, 22, was a college free agent and signed a two-year entry level contract in early April. He recorded a 25-7-4 record, a 1.80 goals against average, a .936 save percentage and four shutouts playing for Providence College.
“He’s a wonderful kid, he’s got a great compete level,” said Schwartz. “He never quits on a play. He’s got a few things that he’s aware of and that we talked about even prior to him coming here that he wanted to improve on and we were on the same page right away, so it was good to have that dialogue before he came to camp.”
Meanwhile, Dylan Wells, 18, was selected by the Oilers in the fifth round, 123rd overall, at this years NHL Draft. The goaltender played 27 games for the Ontario Hockey League’s Peterborough Petes this season, recording a 9-13-3 record, a 4.59 goals against average and .871 save percentage.
“He’s a big kid, he’s pretty athletic for his size, he moves well,” said Schwartz. “There are things in his game that he needs to work on, but he’s still young so I think there’s lots of time to develop some of those skills. We kept it to one thing at a time with him this week, making sure that he understood and continued to build the reps in so he can make it become more of a habit. I think he’s going to put the work in this summer. He’s very diligent, a good athlete off the ice as well so there’s some upside there that I think is definitely a real bright future for him.”
Overall, Schwartz said it was important that he and Rodrigue looked beyond evaluating each netminder and really break down what each goalie could work on to improve their style of play.
“We’ve talked a lot about details in their game and development and for the importance of moving and take the next step in their career for some of them that’s going to be taking on a start job this year, for others its going from college to play pro hockey,” he said. “We’ve had a lot of conversations and all of them have been receptive.”
Oilers General Manager, Peter Chiarelli, said he has been pleased with how the events of Orientation Camp have unfolded.
“I think this is a good developmental tool, it does a couple of things that I see are significant,” he said. “It does bring all the prospects under the same umbrella for a good period of time where we can instil in them some principles and some skills and some kind of overriding philosophies we have as an organization.”
Chiarelli said he looks forward to watching tonights fourth annual Billy Moores Cup, which will split the prospects up into two teams to face off against each other.
“It’s not used as an evaluation tool but it will be nice to see a scrimmage,” he said.
Just as much as the camp is for the players, Chiarelli sees a great deal of opportunity during the week-long event.
“It brings all our coaches together…and they’re able to refresh and talk about a plan going forward,” said Chiarelli. “And it’s bit of a wrap up organizationally, everyone’s together under the same roof where we can talk about what we see on the ice…and how we’re going to plan going forward. It’s a great facility and a great area, it’s my first time, the people are really friendly and all the facilities are great and I think it’s been a pretty productive few days.”
Oilers goaltending prospect Nick Ellis’s season may have come to an abrupt end on March 25 when his team, the Providence College Friars, fell in a 2-1 overtime loss to Minnesota-Duluth in the Northeast Regional semi-final, but with the end of one hockey season, a new chapter is set to begin.
On April 7, Ellis signed a two-year entry level contract with the Oilers. Though he admits it was a difficult decision to part ways with his college team, he’s excited for the new opportunity.
“I’m really comfortable with my decision,” said Ellis. “Especially, coming to this camp, I really feel comfortable around the coaching staff. It was a really tough decision, but I know I made the right one.”
The netminder admits that a lot of what helped him make his decision came to rest on Oilers Goaltending Coach, Dustin Schwartz.
“He made me feel really comfortable coming here, and he knew my game and what I needed to change and I really agreed on that,” said Ellis.
Ellis, 6-foot-1, 180 pounds, appeared in 36 games this season with Providence, posting a 25-7-4 record, a 1.80 goals against average, a .936 save percentage and four shutouts.
“It was just so much fun, we had a great team both on and off the ice. It was really fun to play a lot of games and just go out there and have fun.”
He was a two-time Hockey East goaltender of the month winner after his performances during the months of December and February.
Tonight is the night as all 36 prospects, who have been split into two teams all week, — Team Gretzky and Team Messier — gear up to play one another at tonight's fourth annual Billy Moores Cup.
Stay tuned for news, videos and more throughout the day.
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As Oilers Head Coach Todd McLellan continues to watch the 36 prospects perform on ice and participate in a week-long session of team bonding, one question hangs in the balance, will the Oilers 2016 NHL draft fourth-overall pick, Jesse Puljujarvi, crack the lineup for the start of this season?
“That’s a difficult question for me to answer at this point because he hasn’t been on the ice,” said McLellan.
Puljujarvi went under the knife following the U18 World Championship for a minor knee surgery and has been working on regaining his strength.
"The words I keep hearing are complete player... We feel he has the opportunity to compete for a spot." Coach McLellan on @Jpuljujarvi— Edmonton Oilers (@EdmontonOilers) July 5, 2016
Though he may not be participating in the on-ice drills, he has been soaking in the week-long experience, bonding with a number of the prospects.
“Obviously, we’ve done our homework video-wise and through the scouting staff and the words that I keep hearing are [that he’s a] complete player,” said McLellan.
“He plays a full 200-foot game and has an energy and a passion level that is real strong and high and a skill-set to go with it. We feel that he has the opportunity to compete for a spot this season. We need to get him healthy here and get him up and running. But once that happens the rest will be up to him and his teammates to make sure that he feels comfortable and I hope that he can challenge for a spot and make our team out of camp, but that’s yet to be seen.”
Hectic was the word Oilers Head Coach Todd McLellan used to describe the last few weeks that saw big changes to the team roster.
“I think when you fail to reach your goal, and we did that last year, then changes have to be made and there’s a number of different avenues that happens,” he said.
The 2016 NHL Draft saw the Oilers come away with nine new prospects, one of them being their fourth overall pick, Jesse Puljujarvi. Less than a week later, Oilers General Manager Peter Chiarelli announced they had acquired right-shooting defenceman Adam Larsson from the New Jersey Devils, in exchange for Taylor Hall.
Finally, on the commencement of the NHL’s Free Agency Day, the Oilers hooked highly coveted free agent Milan Lucic and have signed three more free agents since then.
“We were lucky enough to get Milan and his family to join ours in Edmonton,” said McLellan. “
“We wouldn’t have gone through what we did to acquire him. I know that his thoughts are identical to ours, so that’s a good marriage right off the bat. I probably don’t have to explain to the fans very much about what his assets are: his size, his strength, his skill-set, his ability to score goals while providing that physicality and toughness. He’s also been in some really good winning environments. We think those are the intangibles that he can bring. Leadership and accountability to the locker room.”
“Losing Taylor in the trade, we knew we had to replace some of that ruggedness and that care-free play, if you will, and Milan does that as well, so, really happy about getting him.”
The 36 prospects may be working to one day fill a spot on the Oilers future roster, but for Oilers Head Coach Todd McLellan, he feels it’s equally important that the coaches give these players exposure to what their teaching philosophy is like.
“It’s an opportunity for us to be involved and create some relationships with our future prospects and it also gives us a chance to sell our identity to these young players, because some of them are going to be Oilers for a long time,” said the bench boss.
“There’s no better time than now to get them learning and understanding what our language is and what our habits are, how we want to play the game and more specifically, the skill-set that’s needed to play the game within our system.”
As players work hard in hopes of making long-standing impressions on the 10-man on-ice coaching staff, McLellan chose to sit just within reach of the rink, watching and providing feedback when necessary.
“I’m not evaluating, I’m not sitting here saying that this guy has a chance to play or that guy does, that will happen at training camp,” said McLellan. “We have to remember that it’s very early in July and we encourage these players to step outside their comfort zone, think outside the box a little bit. We want to see them make mistakes and try things, so the biggest thing that we have to do is come in with an open mind and not an evaluation mind.”
As day four’s on-ice sessions wrap up from the morning, McLellan said he’s pleased with what he’s seen both from the players and the staff.
“The coaching staff has done a really good job preparing meetings and drills and video sessions, really breaking down individual skills and the players in turn have been extremely receptive.
“To this point, we’re really happy with it and we’re hoping that it finishes on a positive note so these guys can take what they learn here and apply it to their games in the winter.”