Exciting times ahead for Oilers

DEREK VAN DIEST, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:48 AM ET

EDMONTON - There’s reason for optimism.

Not just because in Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle and Magnus Paajarvi the Edmonton Oilers have the brightest crop of rookies this town has seen in more than 20 years.

Not just because after finishing at the bottom of the NHL standings last season, things couldn’t possibly get any worse.

One of the biggest reasons the Oilers are optimistic heading into the 2010-11 campaign is the chemistry their three highly touted prospects seemed to have with each other at the rookie development camp.

“It was exciting,” said Oilers general manager Steve Tambellini. “Just to see them in one spot and to see the reaction of the fans, I thought that was wonderful. I thought the coaching staff did a great job of putting this together. We touched a lot of areas from strength and conditioning to expectations from coaches and I know they got a lot out of it.”

On Friday, the Oilers wrapped up their four-day camp with a three-on-three tournament that saw the trio skate on different teams.

The players will now go their separate ways and reconvene in September for the start of rookie camp.

“Those three players are obviously highly skilled, but there is a lot more past that in these players that we were looking at,” said Tambellini. “Some of those kids are a lot more mature than what we thought.”

Paajarvi was perhaps the most impressive.

Looks ready

The 19-year-old winger, having played for the past three years in the Swedish Elite League, looks ready to make the jump to the NHL in terms of his size and maturity level. He has a great, infectious personality as well, which quickly became evident at the development camp.

“The camp was really good,” Paajarvi said. “I came here with an open mind and wanted to enjoy the experience and see what it was all about. I’ve been bonding with a few players, especially Hall and Eberle, they’re really good guys. Hopefully all three of us will be able to make the team.

“I’ve faced them before in different tournaments and I know they’re really good guys and really good hockey players. It’s been good to play and train with them, see what they do and try to take something from them to try and make my game even better. It’s great to have them here.”

Hall was the big attraction at the camp and the main reason fans packed the Clareview Arena throughout the week. They all wanted to get a glimpse of the first overall pick in June’s NHL Entry Draft.

Having had little time off since leading the Windsor Spitfires to a second consecutive Memorial Cup championship in May, it’s understandable he felt a little sluggish and didn’t exactly dazzle or dominate at the camp.

However, there’s no denying his talent and there’s little chance he won’t be on the roster next season.

As a matter of fact, it would be surprising if any one of the three were left off.

“Things were good this week, I haven’t been on the ice a whole lot,” Hall said. “I wasn’t coming here to impress a whole lot of people, I just wanted to come here, meet everyone, meet the personnel and just keep working on my game. It’s been a while since I’ve been on the ice, but at the same time, I expect to be better when I go to training camp and I have improved my fitness.”

The next time the trio are on the ice together will be at the Young Stars tournament hosted by the Vancouver Canucks in Penticton, B.C., in September.

There, the Oilers will get a better gauge on exactly how ready they really are and what kind of impact they can all make in their rookie seasons.

Plenty of pressure

Being counted on to resurrect a club that has fallen on hard times, there is plenty of pressure on the three of them to succeed.

“There is, but for us three, I think it’s something that we can take that pressure and not just have it on one guy, but we can spread it out,” Eberle said. “I think that helps when we have guys coming in together and hopefully we will be coming in together next year.”

Notes … The Oilers continue to restock their farm system, signing winger Ben Ondrus to a one-year contract. The Sherwood Park native has spent most of his career in the American Hockey League in the Toronto Maple Leafs system. The 28-year-old has played in 52 NHL games, registering two assists.

derek.vandiest@sunmedia.ca


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