Final Roster Taking Shape

The Edmonton Oilers have two more games to play before the new season begins, and yesterday they made another wave of roster cuts. The Oilers go into Cowtown tomorrow with only 29 players left on the preseason team.Yesterday’s cuts were: goaltender Ty Conklin, who played well in every game he was in, defencemen Alex Henry and Chris Hajt, as well as centermen Peter Sarno and Brian Swanson.

The two toughest cuts of the day were to Michael Henrich and Ales Hemsky. Henrich was a standout in camp but fell victim to the numbers game. The organization feels it is better for him to play on Hamilton’s top line than to sit in the pressbox in Edmonton.

Ales Hemsky will rejoin his junior club in Hull, and is expected to dominate the Quebec league. Coach Craig McTavish commented “He has elite level skill, I hope we are not making a mistake with him.”

With all 12 starting forward positions secured already, there are 5 players left on the bubble. Shawn Horcoff and Dominic Pittis have the inside edge to make the big team as the two extras. Jason Chimera, Jan Benda and Jani Rita are the other three candidates.

On the blueline, the top 4 positions, or 5 if you include holdout Tom Poti, are filled. Sean Brown and Scott Ferguson are the front runners to take the 6/7 (or 5/6) spots because of their NHL experience. Kari Haakana, Ales Pisa and Sven Butenschon are the other three guys still in camp.

The waiver draft may not affect the Oilers at all, only a few members of the team may be of slight interest to other teams. Butenschon is a big capable defencemen but he has a bad shoulder which will likely keep him in Hamilton and scare other teams away. Jan Benda is a 29 year old quality center from the Finnish league. He still has a slim chance of making the team but would certainly make some of the weaker teams in the league. Brian Swanson started last season off with the Oilers and may attract attention from former Oiler management. Glen Sather (NYR) and Doug Risebrough (MIN) originally drafted the native of Alaska.

The Oilers appear happy with the efforts of Mark Lamothe and Jussi Markkanen and may not explore the waiver draft for a goalie. However, if the Oilers choose to stick with Lamothe, Markkanen will likely return to Europe leaving Hamilton short a goalie. In that case, the Oilers might be interested in Jamie McLennan. But for the same reason, I expect Markannen to be the one who stays, while Lamothe is given a AHL contract to play for the Bulldogs.

Most people, myself included, expected that Ryan Smyth would be named the captain this year. All signs now point towards Jason Smith wearing the C on his jersey. Todd Marchant was also in the running.

The Oilers play a back to back, home at home series against the Flames this weekend. Then the two teams will clash for real on Wednesday night, one of the three games that will kick off the new season.