It's time to shine

DEREK VAN DIEST -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 8:24 AM ET

Traditionally, Western Hockey League rookie camp is used to keep lambs from the slaughter.

In this case, 15-year-olds away from bigger, stronger, tougher 19-year-old veterans.

It's unlikely any of the players taking part in the Edmonton Oil Kings rookie camp, starting today at Servus Credit Union Place in St. Albert, will have a big impact on the upcoming year.

But they are taking the first strides in the team's inaugural season.

"This is almost like an information session for some of these guys," said Oil Kings head coach Steve Pleau.

HOW DO YOU DO

"For most of them this is their first (WHL) camp, so we want to introduce them to how things go at the WHL level. You just hope they have a good experience and they learn to compete and they learn to compete against guys their own age."

Most teams in the WHL have some form of rookie camp. Close to 100 players will be attending the Oil Kings camp. Many of them - as 15-year-olds - are still ineligible to play in the league.

"Instead of throwing them against 18 and 19 year olds where they're going to be out-classed against in every category, it's good to see these guys competing against guys their own age," Pleau said.

"I'm sure there'll be some kids that jump out at us and we do have the ability to ask some kids to come out to the main camp. We're hoping some guys will bring themselves out and we can look at them against some older guys and against better competition."

A few players will earn invites to main camp starting Monday.

There's always that hope of finding that one player overlooked in the draft which can compete for a roster spot.

The goal for most of the players at rookie camp is to get an invite to play with the veterans. That goes for the ineligible players as well.

Often 15-year-olds who impress enough to earn an invite to main camp get a good, long look when competing for spots the following season.

Rookie camp also serves as a way for the Oil Kings to get their first look at the players selected in the WHL Bantam Draft - who are also too young to play in the league this season.

The evaluation process will be quick. Those players eligible to make the team this season will only have three days to impress.

"For me it's extremely tough to evaluate these kids because (assistant coach) Rocky (Thompson) and I have never seen these kids play," Pleau said.

"We'll rely on (general manager) Bob Green and (assistant GM) Randy Hansch to help with evaluations at rookie camp.

"If someone jumps off the page at me while I'm watching a game, certainly I'll inquire about them and try to get more information on them."

Today's camp marks the beginning of the hockey season for Pleau and the Oil Kings.

The expansion team will be making its debut this year with their home opener on Sept. 20 at Rexall Place against the Kootenay Ice.

PRE-SEASON TOURNAMENT

They'll wrap up their main training camp by hosting a three-day pre-season tournament featuring the Kamloops Blazers, Regina Pats, Kelowna Rockets, Prince George Cougars and Swift Current Broncos.

"It's going to be great to get on the ice, that's exciting," Pleau said.

"It's fun to get camp going and start teaching a little bit. It's been a long summer and there has been a lot off-ice preparation for us.

"It's going to be fun, but I don't think the real adrenaline starts to go until you put guys on the ice against another jersey."


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