An off-season to reload

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, Last Updated: 8:22 AM ET

You've now painted yourselves as a "plucky team," making a late playoff charge and battling hard in the first round against the best team in the league.

So, now that the 2008-09 season of the Edmonton Oil Kings has ended on that positive note, it sets up a whole new ideal to live up to for 2009-10.

"Even if we didn't make the playoffs this year I would expect that the fans, the media and the people around our organization would expect us to take the next step," said head coach Steve Pleau as the dressing room was being cleaned out yesterday.

"I think that's healthy. Expectations mean that you're improving."

General manager Bob Green - who built teams in a high-expectation environment in Medicine Hat - sees it, too.

"We'll have a good chunk of our team coming back. We'll have a solid core with some good, young kids coming," he said.

"That's good, but things don't always turn out the way you think they're going to turn out. So you go through the process of camp and see where guys are at."

The biggest question of where a guy will be at is Torrie Jung, the goalie who was acquired as a veteran presence and proved himself among the junior elite.

Jung was drafted by the Tampa Bay Lightning, who have several goalies in their system, and used a number of them this season.

The Lightning's depth might allow Jung a chance to return. Their desperation with injuries might mean they want him around.

That's part of the deal with a junior franchise, said Green.

"We're here to move guys on," he said.

"But if he comes back, good for us. We've got a goalie, Laurent Brossoit (a Surrey product who will be 16), coming up. And (current backup) Cam Lanigan is going to be 17."

Pleau laughed at the suggestion they search for a draft loophole and hold onto Jung. Then the coach got serious.

"We're here to teach them how to be pros on and off the ice.

"If Torrie's got a chance to be a pro, then we want him to be. He certainly took those steps, as was shown in that Calgary series."

Brett Breitkreuz will likely be one of those fighting for one of three spots as a "20." Already a team leader, he might be a good fit alongside skilled prospects Michael St. Croix and Dylan Wruck.

"I'm never one to put the cart before the horse," said the Saskatchewan-born winger. "I'm going to be playing hockey somewhere next year, and if it's Edmonton, that's definitely something I'll enjoy again."

While Mark Pysyk looked like the real deal already as a 16-year-old on defence, Slave Lake's T.J. Foster showed he can do the little things and should be able to step up as a "17."

"Ever since I was a kid, I've been taught that you have to play the defensive zone as well as the offensive zone," said Foster.

Pleau didn't hesitate to spot him on the wing with the vets.

"I guess he had confidence in me that he could throw me into those places.

"The first time it was announced that I was on their line I got nervous, like, 'What am I going to do?' They're role models. When you get on their line and they feed you the puck, it feels good."

St. Albert's Travis Ewanyk was not only surprised to get a late-season call-up as a 15-year-old, but surprised to get ice time.

"I got the call from Mr. Green and I was excited," said Ewanyk.

"Playing with the 20-year-olds, that was huge for me. That's a five-year gap and they taught me so much about the league and how to play.

"As a young player you don't expect to play ... but when you get the opportunity, you have to seize it."

DAVID.CAMERON@SUNMEDIA.CA


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