Wednesday, September 19

People of Winnipeg: Made Happy

Today a guy I work with SHOCKED me by telling me he loves hockey. I live in Los Angeles, and, here's a 60 Minutes Exclusive, that doesn't happen very often. Toronto came up and he asked me if I was a Leafs fan, and as I began to show him the things I had on me embossed, emblazed, and em-bettered by the Leafs logo, he whipped out his phone to show me the Sharks' shark on the screen saver. Well quel surprise.

Trying to connect with other hockey fans L.A. is like fishing off the end of a pier; you know there are things out there, but you have to get the clumps of seaweed (Dodgers fans), and old rubber boots (Lakers fans), before you catch something. And even then, you might get a used diaper (Moose).

He started talking about the Sharks and he was using the word "us" a lot, which I liked. It shows a lot about your level fandom when you take it that personally; I just know where you're coming from when you say that. It's also especially poignant if your team hasn't just come off an orgy of bandwagon jumping success. You just have to earn your "us" I guess.

I asked him about Vesa Toskala, and he said he likes him a lot. He told me that of the two Sharks goalies, he wished they'd kept him and traded Nabokov. He said Nabokov always freaked him out because he was always wandering around, and would go super cold after super hot. He said that Toskala would play great for us and that we'd like him, so you know, there's that.

We won in Winnipeg tonight, 3-2. I'm really happy for Alex Steen, who was born and raised in Winnipeg as his father played there for 14 years and was the Captain of the Jets. Credit to Paul Maurice to sit him in Edmonton and play him tonight. Steen scored on the power play, and it must have just felt amazing. My Dad was visiting me a few weeks ago, and I scored in a game he was at, where I was instantly reduced to pre-pubescent levels of "hey Dad, watch me!" excitement. It was so awesome, when we got home I got out my bike and made him watch me do pop-o-wheelies.

"Wanna go, pretty boy?"

Oilers counting on young blood to make an impact.

With the loss of Fernando Pisani, the Oilers have all of eight proven NHL forwards on their roster. Ouch. If you count Patrick Thoresen (68 games) and Marc Pouliot (54 games), that makes ten, although Pouliot's inconsistency means his spot is hardly etched in stone.

So, there's four spots open in the forward ranks, although with nine NHL-calibre defencemen on the books, Kevin Lowe has mentioned the possibility of carrying eight D-men (at least until a trade is made, one presumes). The Oilers need a couple of young players to make an impact in a big way and thus far, quite a few kids have made impressive showings in the pre-season. Let's sort through the sixteen young players still left in camp:

The Next Cut:

Most likely headed to Springfield in the next round of cuts are Adam Huxley, Tim Sestito, Liam Reddox, Fredrik Johansson, Tyler Spurgeon and Troy Bodie. None are ready for the NHL, nor are they considered high-end prospects, although Bodie and Spurgeon both drew some complimentary words from MacT last year after successful seasons split between the ECHL and AHL. Both have improved their games at the pro level. Sestito was a fan favorite in Stockton (ECHL) last year, and got into the first pre-season game against Florida and scored a goal. That probably earned him another look, possibly tomorrow night in Vancouver.

On The Cusp:

Jonas Almtorp -
The Swede made a good impression at last years' camp before returning home. He's signed this year and will play in North America. By all accounts he's well coached and good on the defensive side of the puck. He's probably a longshot to make the Oilers based on the need for offense, but he's a guy who probably doesn't need too much seasoning and could be an effective call-up, playing 4th line minutes.

J.F. Jacques - The big guy needs to make something happen in a hurry. Despite being close to a point-per-game player in the AHL, he spent 44 games with the Oil last year without a single point (isn't that Anson Carter's job?). That wouldn't be cause for so much concern if he had put his 6'4"/220 to good use, but he was rarely physical, fought sparingly and just looked timid. With the addition of Penner, a healthy Moreau, and the emergence of Zack Stortini, you can't justify keeping him on the roster because of his size alone. It's a critical year for him. At age 22, he's reaching the outer limits of his development curve and needs to start producing or re-invent himself as banger/energy guy. My guess is he starts in Springfield to get some confidence.

Slava Trukhno - The 4th round pick in 2005 has made a nice showing thus far in camp and pre-season. Has size and skill and can make plays, as evidenced by his goal and assist performance against the Leafs last night. Probably needs a year in the AHL after three seasons in the 'Q', where he increased his point production each year. Not out out of the question that he gets a look later in the year.

Ryan O'Marra - A little quiet thus far, but coming off an injury plagued season during which he played just 46 games, he probably needs some AHL time to round back into form. Has a good all around game and WILL play in the NHL, it's just a matter of when. A natural Center but he's been given a chance to fill the RW hole. Will most likely play in Vancouver tomorrow. I like this guy a lot. Hopefully he can do a little more of this:

Subtraction By Addition:

Realistically, the four open spots come down to six guys, with a couple of specific jobs that need to be filled (two RW spots and an energy/enforcer) and specific guys already pencilled in to fill them.

Zack Stortini - MacT likes the kid, and you can't blame him. He comes to do his job, and it's a difficult one. While he's not a true heavyweight, he's game, sticks up for his teammates, and showed a lot of moxy in playing the disturber role last year. It's hard knowing when to push the envelope, when to fight, and when not too. Guys who can do that job without hurting their team are valuable. Three open jobs.

Robert Nilsson: A spot on 2nd line, to the right of Stoll and Torres, is screaming for a skilled playmaker and it's Nilsson's spot to lose. He did nothing to hurt his chances last night, impressing MacT, who called him "dangerous all night". He can definitely help the PP, but his consistency and ability to be strong on the puck will determine if he can stick for 82 games. He's a key player for the Oilers this year. Two open jobs.

Kyle Brodziak: Pisani's unfortunate illness opened the door for another kid, and Brodziak gladly came in. In fact he tried to slam it shut and deadbolt it behind him with what MacT referred to as a near "perfect" game against Florida on Monday. It's hard not to root for guys like this. A 7th round pick (214 overall), he's improved every year, became a go-to guy at the AHL level, and seems determined not to go back. In the past the only thing holding him back from full-time NHL employment was his skating, but he's improved his quickness and that seems to have made the difference. At this point, he and Nilsson would have to stink the joint out not to make the team. It should also be noted that when you're faced with icing a team full of youth, an extra couple years in the AHL can only help ease the growing pains. They both have that and it shows. One open job.

Last Man Standing:

The final spot will most likely come down to three guys: Rob Schremp, Andrew Cogliano and Sam Gagner.

Schremp: He and Gagner have similar skill sets, which tells you there probably isn't room for both just yet. While Gagner is a little better skater, Schremp has the benefit of a year of pro hockey. Coming off the knee injury, he had an abbreviated off-season training program and that put him at a disadvantage, especially in comparison to Gagner who came to camp on the heels of his MVP performance at the Canada-Russia 'Super Series'. He needs to make an impact in the next couple pre-season games. If he made the team, he would likely see time on the 4th line and PP, and of course become our resident shoot-out specialist.

But can he do this?

Cogliano: Made himself a factor in the win against Toronto by using his incredible speed. Set up the winning goal by driving wide and going to the net as he did several times during the game. What made it more impressive was his confidence in taking it to the net on good NHL defencemen like Colaiacovo, Kaberle and McCabe. Although the jury is still out on his ability to finish, his speed brings a different dimension than the other two guys, and to the team in general. He's responsible defensively and that doesn't hurt either. An attractive option.

Gagner: The next few games will determine whether the Oilers sign him and give him the nine game look (at minimum) at the beginning of the year, or send him back to tear up the OHL. He has a great head and outlook on the game, and has done nothing wrong since putting on the Oil drop at the draft. The question will come down to where he will develop best. He can't go to the AHL, so it's the NHL or back to London. It will be interesting to see him play more as pre-season rolls on and teams begin to dress more veterans.

Verdict: My gut says Cogliano and Schremp go to Springfield and Gagner gets the nine game look to start the season. I don't think he sticks though. I think Cogliano comes up, with Schremp waiting in the wings for an injury or one of the other youngsters to slump (which will happen).

I could have actually finished this 4 hours ago, but I became to engrossed in clips of Rob Lowe's naked ass. A CLASSIC film.

Uh, what's with the gay fencing?