Update From Oil Camp
Training camp has only been on for a few days but already some noteworthy stories have arisen. The nearby suburb of Sherwood Park is playing host to the opening week of Oiler camp as the general public has free admission to the sessions.
The Oilers were scheduled to play their first exhibition game against the Calgary Flames this upcoming Sunday. However, with the league cancelling all the games this weekend, the Oilers will have their first game against the Minnesota Wild on Monday instead. The Oilers will then travel south to the “City of Cows” for the make up game on Wednesday.
One player attending camp without a contract is Kevin Brown. A former Oiler and Ranger, Brown played for Manchester of the British League last season. He comes to camp much beefier than anyone has seen him. he’s 6′ 1″ and 236 lbs, which is 24lbs heavier than the Oilers media guide has listed him. “I’ve put on a lot of muscle mass,” Brown explained. Kevin Predergast, the Oiler’s VP of Hockey Operations stated, “I don’t know where the wieght’s come from but he’s leading everybody in shots so far.” Brown is expected to end up with the AHL affiliate Hamilton Bulldogs.
The Oilers selected Michael Henrich with their top pick in ’98 but have yet to see why. Last year, Henrich played so poorly he was even put down to play in the ECHL. This year, Henrich has come to camp intent on erasing last year’s performance and also to show that he’s still going to be a player. Hall of fame journalist Jim Matheson and Oiler coach Craig MacTavish agree that Henrich has been the biggest surprise thus far at camp. He has reported to camp bigger than last year and is playing much grittier, something the Oilers like very much.
The back up goalie position appears to be Jussi Markkanen’s to lose. If he has a good camp, it will be his spot. If not, look for the Oilers to deal for someone else to back up Tommy Salo. Even with a decent tryout by Markkanen, the Oilers might try to nab another goalie in the waiver draft just for insurance. There are no goalies in camp, other than Salo and Markkanen who have much experience in a top level league.
Josh Green is playing confident for the first time in awhile. Both shoulders had surgery last season but have felt fine so far in a camp filled with physical scrimmages. Playing on a line with Rem Murray and Georges Laraque, a possible opening day 4th line, the trio connected for two goals against Tommy Salo yesterday.
On the injury front, both Mike Grier and Sven Butenschon are playing non-contact as they nurse sore shoulders. Grier still has not reclaimed full range of motion in the shoulder while Butenschon has very little strength in his. Grier’s status is questionable for the start of the season.
Janne Niinimaa’s chronic back has been flaring up again and he has yet to skate at all. Unable to even walk, Janne has been taking anti-inflamatories in order to try and skate by the weekend. Niinimaa’s back has been bothering him for the past three seasons but has not missed a single game due to the spasms.
Some “unknown quantities” are trying to make the squad this year. The Oilers need a goalie to back up Salo and have Finland’s Markkanen in camp to earn that (as I mentioned). There are three other Finns here getting a look. I’ve mentioned Kari Haakana in previous articles, he’s a big defencemen who proved yesterday that he is willing to fight. The 222 pounder dropped the gloves with another defencemen named Darren Tiemstra during a scrimmage. Jan Benda is a 29 year old center from Belgium who tallied 44 points in 52 games for Jokerit in Finland last year. He’s 6′ 2″, 208 lbs. who’s stats suggest that he is a playmaker. Could he possibly make an impact along with Jokerit teammate Jani Rita?
Tom Poti has still not reported to camp, the latest trade rumor has him going to Boston for Sergei Samsonov.
Steve Staios is pencilled in as the 5th defender (assuming Poti is still here). Behind him you can lump together previous Oilers with NHL histories: Sean Brown, Sven Butenschon, Scott Ferguson and Alain Nasreddine. Chasing them are the youngsters still trying to crack the lineup like Chris Hajt, Alex Henry, and Alexei Semenov. The new players at their first Oiler camp are Haakana, Jan Horacek, and Ales Pisa. This position is wide open and competition should be fierce.
Skyreach center received a new score board complete with state-of-the-art monitors. 11 new luxury boxes were also added to the rink which should increase capacity a bit. The Oilers now play in one of the smallest arenas in the NHL (17, 100 seats).
One quick personal note: My prayers go out to anyone personally affected by the events of the past week. When I think about it, who among us can say that they weren’t affected in one way or another?