Changes in the wind for Oil Kings as team looks to build
The two-time WHL finalists could have as many as 10 new players on the roster
Rookie goaltender Tanner McCorriston follows the bouncing puck after a shot by Curtis Lazar during the opening day of the Edmonton Oil Kings’ training camp at the Jubilee Recreation Centre in Fort Saskatchewan on Monday.
Photograph by: John Lucas
FORT SASKATCHEWAN — The motto is build. Not rebuild. Not reconstruction. Not anything that would take away from the foundation that is already in place for the Edmonton Oil Kings.
After back-to-back 50-win seasons, which preceded consecutive appearances in the Western Hockey League championship final, the Oil Kings opened training camp on Monday at the Jubilee Recreation Centre with some significant missing parts.
In fact, as many as 10 roster spots may be needed to be filled before the Sept. 20 season-opener against the Calgary Hitmen.
Martin Gernat, David Musil and Travis Ewanyk are looking to secure roster spots with the Oklahoma City Barons, the Edmonton Oilers’ American Hockey League affiliate. Griffin Reinhart, the Oil Kings’ captain last season, is already on Long Island, awaiting the start of the New York Islanders’ rookie camp.
Curtis Lazar, selected 17th overall by the Ottawa Senators at the 2013 NHL entry draft, and Henrik Samuelsson (Phoenix Coyotes, 2012), like Reinhart, are likely going to be back in the Oil Kings’ lineup, but will be attending rookie camps with their NHL teams.
Keegan Lowe (Carolina Hurricanes), Laurent Brossoit (Calgary Flames) and Trevor Cheek (Colorado Avalanche) are among the players poised to turn pro.
If that list wasn’t long enough, the Oil Kings are also going to be without Stephane Legault, who elected to not return for another season. The Edmonton-born forward, who scored 108 points in 186 regular-season games, is registered at NAIT.
“I know he’s had a lot of people call him about the decision. It’s a tough one,” said head coach Derek Laxdal. “We wish he was here, but we do wish him the best of luck in his next chapter. Sometimes it’s hard for guys to quit and, sometimes, guys can make that decision and take that next step.
“It is another opportunity for another player to step up.”
Laxdal and his staff spent the weekend putting the rookies through their paces, then got on the ice for the main camp Monday morning. The sessions will wrap up with the annual intersquad game at 7 p.m. Wednesday at the Rec Centre.
“We’re just going to have to work harder. We’re going to have to work all season,” said defencman Cody Corbett, one of the players who will take on an elevated role this campaign.
Ditto for the likes of Cole Benson, Brandon Baddock and Luke Bertolucci.
“It will be good to give the younger guys their opportunity to prove themselves,” Corbett continued. “I know I’m excited about the playing time I’m going to get this year with all the guys being gone. I’m excited to take on that role.”
The players will get a test run later this week when the Oil Kings start their pre-season with a home game against the Swift Current Broncos on Saturday. They will host the Red Deer Rebels on Sunday before rolling out for a back-to-back road set against the Prince George Cougars.
“There’s a lot of turnover for our hockey club,” Laxdal said, “but we feel we have a pretty good base in place, a foundation, that we’ve had with the young kids. We have a chance to see some of them take that next step. It’s exciting for the players and it’s exciting for the coaching staff.
“Some of the players who have moved on were a big part of our success, so it allows those players who were here for their 16- and 17-year-old years to play a bigger role.”
Laxdal cites the Kootenay Ice as an example of a team that successfully went through a transition, although it took until Christmas for the players to find their legs. They were a solid team in the second half, advancing to the playoffs with a record of 35-35-2 last season.
“We do have to have a little bit more patience,” Laxdal concluded. “We’ll implement more teaching in practices and in games.
“We want to put the next layer on the foundation that we’ve build to keep that consistency, to keep up that winning tradition. It’s about developing players, but we have to have the right culture here to do that.”
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