Oil Kings' 20-20-20 vision

DEREK VAN DIEST -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 8:45 AM ET

They can't all stay.

Not because they're not good enough, willing enough, or won't help win hockey games.

The five 20-year-olds currently attending the Edmonton Oil Kings training camp can't all stay because Western Hockey League rules allow only three overage players per team.

"We have a little while until that works itself out," said Oil Kings head coach Steve Pleau. "That's the tough thing. That's why this camp is a competitive camp. They're all good kids, they all played last year and we can only have three.

"Right now I'm not sure any of them have the upper hand. You have to just let them play."

Cameron Cepek, Brandon Lockerby, JP Szaszkiewicz, Brenden Dowd and Jeff Lee all played with the Oil Kings last season and are all fighting -- some literally -- to earn a spot on this year's roster.

MUST CONFORM

As an expansion team the Oil Kings were allowed to play with five 20-year-olds in their inaugural season, but must conform to the league-wide three this year.

"It's a little bit nerve-wracking knowing that there are five good players looking to get that 20-year-old spot," Cepek said.

"It would be a little bit of a different story if the players weren't all that good. But any one of us can make the squad. I just have to try and focus on what I can do, and not what they do.

"There is only so much that I can do. I try to leave it all out on the ice and leave the decision making up to the coaches and the scouts because that's all that's going to matter in the end."

Cepek, a native of Huntington Beach, Calif., was the Oil Kings assistant captain last season. He scored seven goals and added 18 assists in 58 games.

The six-foot-two, 181-pound defenceman played three years with the Portland Winter Hawks before joining the Oil Kings.

Lockerby, a Winnipeg native, played with Cepek on the Oil Kings blue line last season. He scored seven goals and added seven assists in 36 games.

"We all want to be here and we're all competing really hard in order to stay here," Lockerby said. "I think it shows on the ice how hard we are competing. You have to go hard and work as hard as you can out there."

The Oil Kings can start the year with all five overage players on the roster, but may only dress three for games up until Oct. 16. At that point they have to determine the three players they will keep and release the others.

"You have to get through this (camp) and get them out there against someone wearing different jerseys, because we have to evaluate their leadership too," Pleau said.

"When you're taking about 20-year-olds, you're not just talking about on the ice. You have to have their character and their leadership off the ice as well. They have to believe in what you're trying to build and they have to be a part of it.

"They have to have good character. You team takes on the personality of your 20-year-olds. Those guys have to be leaders and have to be what you're looking for as far as in the locker-room."

Szaszkiewicz, Lee and Dowd are vying for roster spots up front. There will either be one or two forward positions available depending on whether the Oil Kings decide to keep both overage defencemen.

SECOND IN SCORING

Last season Dowd finished second in team scoring with 16 goals and 23 assists in 70 games, Szaszkiewicz had five goals and 10 assists in 65 games while Lee finished with seven goals and 12 assists in 47 games.

"You can't really worry about it," Szaszkiewicz said. "We're all aware that two of us aren't going to be on the team this year. There's not much you can do other than do your best and hope everything works out for all the guys."

Making things even tougher is the fact all five became close during the Oil Kings expansion season. Expectations are higher on the team this year.

"We're all very well-liked on this team and I think we all get along together," Dowd said. "It's going to be a sad day to see who actually goes."


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