Youth has been served

JASON HILLS, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:04 AM ET

Their statistics may not be bursting at the seams, but it's not always about the stats.

The Edmonton Oil Kings are arguably the youngest team in the Western Hockey League, but the contributions the team is receiving from many of their first-year players are speaking volumes.

"They're all contributing. They understand the game and when you understand the game you can understand your role within the game," said Oil Kings head coach Steve Pleau.

'MAKE SAFE PLAYS'

"They don't make lot of mistakes, they chip pucks out, they make safe plays and when they are in the offensive zone and they get a chance, they take it."

The Oil Kings have 10 players entering their first full season in the WHL.

Standout rookie defenceman Mark Pysyk is playing a regular shift, playing in many key situations, and rookie forwards T.J. Foster and Colton Stephenson are forging their way into the everyday lineup and have found a real strong energy role as 16 year olds.

"We knew they were pretty good players, and it's our job to instil the confidence in them. They have to feel that if they make a mistake they can get right back out there. We need to continue to give that to them, and they need to continue to improve," said Pleau.

"They've been an inspiration to our older guys because they watch them do the simple things and have the success and they get fired up on the bench."

Foster and Stephenson each recorded their first WHL points Wednesday night in a 5-4 loss to Medicine Hat.

Playing on the same line, Stephenson fed a nice pass to Foster, who fired the puck top shelf past Tigers goaltender Ryan Holfeld.

Rhett Rachinski, 17, is playing his first full season in the WHL and is quietly emerging into a very strong two-way player for the Oil Kings.

Last season during his brief call-up he looked like he was afraid to make a mistake.

PLAYING WITH A PURPOSE

This season, he's playing with poise, confidence and when he skates to the net, he goes there with a purpose.

"I have a lot more confidence this year. A big part of it is because I am in better physical shape," said Rachinski

"Knowing that I have a spot, I can play with confidence."

Through the early portion of the season, Rachinski has moved up to the third-line centre role and is one of the key penalty killers on the Oil Kings.

He's been given the chance to have a bigger role, and he's flourishing.

"It's been a part of my game, and I've never really had to work on stuff like that. It's just the way I've always played," said Rachinski.

"Part of our role as young players is to provide energy, and coach Pleau has told us up front that it's our most important job."

Many WHL rookies face a transition period and spend many nights in the press box as they learn the major junior game.

Some players only dress in 40 games during the 72 game WHL schedule and their rookie campaigns in the WHL are not always something to write home about.

DIFFERENT EXPERIENCES

For many of the Oil Kings rookies, Pleau has shuffled his youth around to give them different experiences.

"You have to realize they are only 16 and 17 years old, and it's early ... we've only played nine games and there are 72. We want to monitor their progress and try and minimize the bumps along the way," said Pleau. "It's a long season and you have to give them a rest, even if they don't need it ... they really do.

"It won't hurt them to watch sometimes from the press box or go over some video or have a bag skate with Rock (Rocky Thompson). It will all be positives in the end."


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