Peckham a project for Oil

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 10:33 AM ET

For any highly touted prospect, one of the keys to making the big leagues is keeping on the straight and narrow -- finding the right path and sticking to it.

For Theo Peckham, the right path turned out to be the long stretch of highway between Toronto and Edmonton.

He completed the three-day drive on Saturday, in time for the Edmonton Oilers prospects camp at Millennium Place, and will stay here all summer, away from the distractions out east and close to his new mentor, Kelly Buchberger.

"Theo has a lot of skill and he brings a lot to the game, I think he has a great chance of playing in the NHL," said Buchberger, Peckham's coach in Springfield last season.

Peckham is big and strong and blessed with an abundance of talent, but he isn't always the most focused player in the room.

Rather than risk letting the six-foot-one, 223-pound defenceman fritter away his gifts, Buchberger made him his personal project, a process that began last winter.

"He's a good person, no question. I just felt he might have needed a little more attention," said Buchberger.

"He's not a bad apple; he just needs some guidance and that's what we plan to do.

"It goes for a lot of young players. It's a 12-month job now, there's no time off, no time to relax, especially if you're trying to make a team."

Buchberger stayed on Peckham like Ted Green used to stay on Georges Laraque, back when Laraque was leaner and faster and a threat to score 15 goals.

BRIGHT AND EARLY

He made sure Peckham was at the rink bright and early, made sure he wasn't out late, made sure he stayed fit and always trained to exhaustion.

"He's teaching me how to become a better professional," said Peckham, who had a dreadful start to last season and realized he'd better listen to Buchberger's advice.

"He teaches you the pro side of the game. In junior, you're living with billets or family members and all of a sudden in the pros you're living on your own.

"You have to make your own meals and it's your responsibility to be at the rink on time. You have to stay away from the parties. You have to make sure you're doing your workouts every day, and not just doing your workouts, but giving them 110% every day, which is probably the hardest part.

BETTER CONDITION

"He definitely showed me a lot of things about the game that I didn't know before and he helped me get into a lot better condition than I was in before. He just helped me out all around."

The results have been dramatic.

"To be honest he's ahead of schedule now," said Oilers vice-president of hockey operations Kevin Prendergast.

"This is where we thought he'd be at the end of this season. He's come so far since training camp. He brings that element of being tough, and he can move the puck and shoot it. He's got all the ingredients."

Rather than lose any ground over the summer, Peckham and the Oilers agreed that he would come to Edmonton, move in with a family just down the street from Buchberger, and continue where he left off in Springfield.

"By the end of the season he was one of our best defencemen," said Buchberger.

"It's pretty good for a 20-year-old to develop that quick, so we just want to make sure we keep him on the right path.

"He's a good kid and a hard worker and we think he's going to be a good NHLer. Some players just need a little more attention."


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