SUN Hockey Pool

Great Stortini?

ROBIN BROWNLEE -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 6:32 AM ET

Zach Stortini arrived in town last week hoping to make an impression at rookie camp with the Edmonton Oilers. Suffice to say, the big right-winger succeeded. Stortini is on his way back to the Sudbury Wolves today after last night's game with the Alberta Golden Bears, but he's leaving for his fourth OHL season with a contract from the Oilers.

The Sudbury captain, a banger with willing fists, a tireless work ethic and good hands for a big man, has a future in the NHL, and it might arrive way sooner than the Oilers anticipated when they took a chance on him with the 94th pick in the 2003 Entry Draft.

The question isn't if, but when?

"I'd love the opportunity to play pro hockey. There's nothing I want more than to be a pro hockey player," said Stortini, who has until tonight at midnight to complete the paperwork and have his contract filed with the NHL.

WORK TO DO

"There's still a lot of work to do. Whenever they're ready to have me, I'm more than willing to help them out."

Stortini, who celebrated his 19th birthday last Saturday, didn't arrive anywhere near the top of the marquee when 30 prospects hit the ice at Millennium Place last Friday.

He didn't get the ink first-rounders Devan Dubnyk and Robbie Schremp did coming in, but the six-foot-four, 225-pounder made a quantum leap in the pecking order.

If Stortini was a year older, he'd be staying for camp with the Edmonton Road Runners.

"What you see is what you get with Zach," chief scout Kevin Prendergast said.

"He comes to work. He plays hard all over the ice. He's one of those kids who'll do anything to win. It's his willingness to compete that's just incredible."

His nose covered in bloody tape after taking a puck in front of the net in a 5-4 loss to the Calgary Flames on Monday, Stortini looks like a throwback. He is.

His game is about physicality - with the gloves on or off - but Stortini had 21 goals and 37 points to go with 151 penalty minutes last season.

He's not simply a heavy-handed hammer.

"That's part of my game and it'll never change," said Stortini, averaging about a dozen scraps a season for Mike Foligno's Sudbury squad. "It's a part of the game I enjoy.

"I really enjoy playing the game as a power forward. You can't just fight. You have to bring other skills to the game and contribute in other ways."

The weakness in Stortini's game is his skating, but he's attended a skating camp put on by Lian Davis in Regina the past two summers with Schremp, who's become a pal despite playing for rival London in the OHL.

Stortini still needs another step to make the jump to the NHL. If he finds it, he could turn out to be a player in the mould of blood-and-guts leader Ethan Moreau. That ain't bad.

HEART, CHARACTER

"He's maybe a year or a year-and-a-half away," Prendergast suggested.

"He has something that makes you want to find a place for him. He doesn't skate as well as Ethan does, but he's got the same kind of heart and character.

''He's a warrior."

Stortini got a taste of the pros last season, playing two regular-season games and three more in playoffs with Toronto. He fit right in. Of course, he dropped the gloves in his first game.

"He's going to dominate in junior this year. That would be my prediction," said Rocky Thompson.

"I can't see anybody being able to handle him down low. I don't know if he'll be a goal-scorer, but he's definitely more than a tough guy."

It looks like the Oilers will find out soon enough.

"I really like the team," Stortini said.

"They have a great bunch of guys who compete hard every night. That's something I strive for. I'm really proud to be a part of the organization."


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