Saturday, December 29, 2007

Prospects and How They Can Bust

Lowetide had his top twenty earlier this month. I don't know if I look forward to posts more then these biannual looks at what Oiler kids are coming.
Things have become better for the Oilers in terms of player procurement, at least in amateur scouting (North American division). Since the summer 2006 list Marc Pouliot, Jean Francois Jacques and Denis Grebeshkov have graduated, according to LT's standards (played enough games in the NHL), although the jury is out on all three as to whether or not they will have NHL careers of any length.
From this past summer's list you can add Sam Gagner, Andrew Cogliano, Tom Gilbert and Kyle Brodziak. And Zach Stortini fits in there as well. I believe he has "graduated" or is pretty close. This group is certainly an impressive one. Gilbert is now in the top D pairing and doing a fine job. Gagner and Cogliano have looked like rookies but I think there are few doubts that they will be fine players. Brodziak looks to be a solid role player at worst.
What interests me, and this is something I posted on during training camp is how a player's fortunes can rise and fall. Lowetide's post on Jacques last night brought this back to mind, especially his comment that "prospects ebb and flow".
So true and we can focus on Marc Pouliot, Rob Schremp, Kyle Brodziak and Tom Gilbert, to illustrate LT's point.
We'll start with Gilbert because he is likely the best story of the year if you are an Oilers' fan. A kid who steps in, ends up playing tough minutes on the top pair, doing a fine job of it, and who is on pace for around thirty points to boot. He had a good first pro season last season with Wilkes-Barre and showed well in his cup of coffee with the Oilers before he got his bell rung. Having said that nearly everyone had him pegged for the minors this season, considering his contract and his lack of experience. Now what has occurred since September is quite interesting, especially when you consider what other players have said about opportunities and what excuses people will make for their failures.
Gilbert earned a spot in the opening night lineup. Amongst the players he bumped - Smid (sent out) and Grebeshkov (pressbox). He stayed in the lineup and when Pitkanen and Souray went down his responsibilities increased. He thrived, no matter whom he was paired with (Grebeshkov) or what type of minutes he was given. Now, paired with Pitkanen, he could be a fixture on the Oilers' blueline for years to come. All in the space of four months. From a likely ticket to the minors to a long term big money contract.
Kyle Brodziak was pegged to earn a spot with the Oilers last season. Instead he fell out of the running almost immediately, outplayed by Patrick Thoresen, among others. Shockingly he was one of the first cuts in camp and it looked like he was about to be buried (much like it seems Pouliot is right now). He bounced back with a strong season in Wilkes-Barre but there was no doubt that this fall would be his last chance with the Oilers. He came out ready, his skating and strength improved, impressed early and has only been scratched for one game thus far. He is a role player who has chipped in five goals so far. Not a world beater but a solid player.
Rob Schremp's issues have been well documented and coming out of camp this fall he looked like he had been passed by for good. And yet, the kid had a good camp despite rehabbing a knee injury. And he is lighting it up in the AHL. He may not make it but he is going to get the opportunity based on what he is doing this winter.
And then there is Pouliot. He had a fourth line role locked up in the spring of '06, if you recall, playing well enough to earn MacT's praise. Flanked by veterans who made his life easier, he looked set to contribute to the Oilers and then mono derailed his season. He wasn't ready for last season and found himself sent down. After a while he got it going and came up to the big club. In the HNIC game against Toronto he had a standout game - I was there and was excited to see the kid. Playing with Torres and Thoresen he brought energy and showed the ability to make plays at top speed in heavy traffic. He was one of the best players on the ice. He never built from that game however and so this fall he again found himself fighting for a job and once again he is in the minors. He may not be back with the Oilers again.
Or he might be brought up, end up on a line with Ethan Moreau and Brodziak, and prove that he can play for this team.
I have always believed that with a lot of these kids there is very little separating those who make it from those who do not. I have always thought that in most cases its the opportunity - the icetime, the linemates, being put into a position to succeed.
I argued this with Mike W. and sacamano in the fall. If Jacques were given forty games with Hemsky and Horcoff, I said, he would be successful, he would get his confidence, he would establish himself as a player.
They both disagreed; sacamano saying that if a guy is an NHL player then he is an NHL player. If he cannot make an impact, even with eight minutes a night, then he hasn't got it.
Looking at this sample, small though it may be, I have to admit the truth in what he said. Gilbert and Brodziak got no more of an opportunity then Pouliot, who has actually had many chances now. They just took what they got and ran with it. They forced the organization to play them, based on what they did.
It will be interesting to see what Schremp will do when his time comes.


Andy Grabia said...

I said this on LT's site, but Jacques has played 53 NHL games, with zero points. That's just mind-boggling to me. How do you play 53 games and not even get a shitty second assist? Schremp, on the other hand, has only played 3 NHL games. That's bullshit, if you ask me. No way he's worse than Jacques, right? Why not give him his 53 and see what he can do? We know the answer, of course. MacT's EdmonToby PetersOilers.

Black Dog said...

Well last season Schremp wasn't ready whereas Jacques had proven he could pretty well dominate in the A, where Schremp was scratched numerous times.

Then this season Schremp had his injury and was outplayed by two guys - Nilsson and Gagner - who could play the same role as him. Whereas Jacques can fit into that 4th line banging role, I think Schremp needs to play some bigger minutes in a different role. Giving him 5 minutes a game is no good to him.

I'd rather have him having the year he is now.

I think that unless Nilsson turns it around that he may get sent down and Schremp may finally get a real shot - decent minutes, good linemates.

And we'll see what he can do.

Mr DeBakey said...

Scattered prospect thoughts:

"..if I don't hit him, I don't play the rest of the game."
- Ducks' winger Ryan Carter after nailing Staios on Thursday.

I can think of a former Oiler - lets call him JF "Jock" Winchester - who didn't keep that at the forefront of his mind.

In the pre-game for yesterday's game MacT discussed line-up choices
- Sanderson's speed, or
- Stortini's physical play [see Ryan Carter above].

An interesting MacT quote in Wild pre-game - “And really there is not anybody there [Springfield] right now we think can come in and improve upon what we have here”

HHOF Jim noted in the Journal today that soon to be UFA winger JP Dumont should be available from Nashville. How many of these worse-than-Stortini prospects would it take to pry Dumont loose?

Black Dog said...

Mr. D. - yep - that would explain part of MacT's love for Stortini over JFJ and while I don't love Stortini, its a point well taken - guy knows his role and does his job

as a result he got a lot of icetime a month ago - wonder if Jacques would have liked to have that opportunity

I can see what MacT is saying to a point - hard to believe how far Pouliot has fallen - at least he had some success at the NHL level - hard to believe that there is no role for him - although if Torres, Hemsky and Pisani are all out for some period I would think he would have to get the call

Wouldn't he?