Oil Kings coming back bigger, stronger

DEREK VAN DIEST, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:51 AM ET

EDMONTON - Derek Laxdal likes what he’s seen so far at training camp.

The Edmonton Oil Kings head coach has high aspirations for his squad heading into their fifth Western Hockey League season.

In his second year at the helm, Laxdal expects his club to make an extended playoff run this season.

“Right from rookie camp we felt the intensity level has been a lot higher than it was last year,” said Laxdal. “(Assistant general manager) Randy Hansch and his staff did a good job of identifying a lot of quality kids with our draft picks.

“We have a good crop of draft picks and stepping into main camp with guys like Curtis Lazar, Mason Geertsen, Tristan Jarry, they all took another step. The guys know and understand that last year was a bit of a rebuilding year, and now this year, we expect results with the group of kids that we have.”

Heading into training camp, the Oil Kings are looking to improve on last year’s first-round playoff exit to the Red Deer Rebels.

It was the second time in modern franchise history the club qualified for the playoffs. However, they have yet to win a playoff game.

“Heading into our exit meetings last year all our kids were given the message to come back bigger, stronger and faster,” Laxdal said. “We can’t say we have one player that hasn’t come back bigger, stronger and faster.

“That’s a good sign for the Edmonton Oil Kings organization and it’s going to be a pleasure for our coaching staff to work with our kids.”

The Oil Kings had over 40 players attending their main camp, which wrapped up Wednesday with their annual intra-squad game.

They’ll pare it down to just over 30 for this weekend’s invitational pre-season tournament taking place Sunday and Monday at Servus Credit Union Place in St. Albert.

The Oil Kings open their regular season on Sept. 25 in Red Deer. They play host to the Medicine Hat Tigers in their home opener on Sept. 30.

“We told the kids coming into camp that no spot was guaranteed on the roster this year,” Laxdal said. “Obviously it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that Mark Pysyk, Griffin Reinhart and Kurtis Lazar are going to have a spots on this team. But there are some players that are wondering were they’re going to fit in the whole scheme of things. That’s the beauty of training camp; you have to come in and earn that spot, and if you step up to another spot at the start of the season, you have to earn that spot every day.

“We want that healthy competition in our group and we’ll probably carry 23 or 24 guys to start the season. That way, you’re always going to have guys vying to get in the lineup.”

The quality of the Oil Kings lineup can be measured by the number of players who will be temporarily leaving the club to attend NHL camps.

This year the Oil Kings will have nine players leaving for NHL rookie camps.

Among them is Pysyk, who has an outside shot at landing a spot on the Buffalo Sabres blue line.

“The beauty of the way the NHL is set up now, is that a lot of teams have prospect tournaments,” Laxdal said. “What they do is bring their kids in for four or five days for a quick tournament and then they usually send them back to junior. That really benefits us, it helps us for the start of the season.

“You’re going to get the odd player like Pysyk who will most likely stay longer and get a good look. He has the ability to possibly make that team.”

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