St. Croix looks to stick

DEREK VAN DIEST, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:14 AM ET

A year ago, Michael St. Croix was in Edmonton to get a lay of the land.

This time around, he's looking to stay for a while.

Yesterday, St. Croix was among a number of Edmonton Oil Kings hopefuls on the ice at the club's annual spring camp taking place at NAIT. The fourth-overall pick in last year's Western Hockey League Bantam Draft is expected to play with the Oil Kings next season as a 16-year-old, his first year of eligibility.

"It's an exciting time for me," St. Croix said. "Last year, you come to the camp knowing that you can't make the team. Obviously you want to impress too, but this is a little different. This is when you're really pushing to make the team and show why they should let you play with the Edmonton Oil Kings. It's something that I'm really excited to be able to do and hopefully I'll be able to get the opportunity."

The son of former NHL goaltender Rick St. Croix, the five-foot-11, 170-pound forward led the Winnipeg Wild to a Manitoba midget triple-A league championship last season. He led the league in scoring with 56 goals and 47 assists for 103 points in 41 games, then added another 20 points in nine playoff games.

'GREAT TEAM'

"We had a great season," St. Croix said. "I got a chance to play with a great team, I was on a great line and we went on to win a championship. Lots of things went well for me.

"I was playing with guys that I had played with before. I had a really good coach and everything went really well. Right from our goaltending to our forwards, everything went as planned. We had to work really hard, but it was a really good year."

The Wild lost to the Notre Dame Hounds in the regional finals, denying the Wild a berth into the national championship tournament. The Hounds went on to win the Telus Cup beating the Calgary Buffaloes in the final.

Regardless, St. Croix made a lot of progress during the year and should be making the jump to the WHL next season.

"We think he's going to be here next year and he should be here next year," said Oil Kings general manager Bob Green. "But you can't take anything for granted either.

"This weekend is an opportunity for him to be a leader. He's one of the older guys here now, he's got the experience of being at this camp last year. We want to see where he's at physically, all these kids have a lot of work to do and we want to make sure he's going in the right direction off the ice in his preparation for the upcoming season."

St. Croix was called up and played a pair of games with the Oil Kings this past season, scoring a goal in his debut. He also played at the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge, collecting four points in six games for Team West.

"My goal is to make the team, I want to be an Oil King next year," he said. "Anything less then that, I'll be disappointed."

As a goal-scorer, making the jump to the next level can often be difficult.

He won't be getting the same ice time he was with his midget team, but will still be expected to contribute offensively.

'DIFFERENT SPEED'

"I think really good players like him have the ability to elevate their game and are able to play with older players," Green said. "I think he's going to have to adjust to the different speed. The puck is going to be moving faster, the players are bigger and stronger.

"It's going to be a good progression for him from training camp to the preseason to the regular season. I think he's got to get some confidence early, score early and he's going to get an opportunity to play in offensive situations, like the power play, and hopefully he can take advantage of that."

DEREK.VANDIEST@SUNMEDIA.CA


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