SUN Hockey Pool

Down to the wire for Schremp, Rita

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 9:00 AM ET

Schremp or Rita. Rita or Schremp.

With 15 forwards in camp (excluding the injured JJ Hunter), the Oilers have one more cut to make up front and it's going to boil down to one of those two.

Jani Rita or Robbie Schremp. It's a decision management continues to wrestle with as the Oct. 4 deadline for setting their rosters fast approaches.

If they pick Schremp and play him in 10 games, they burn a year of service and he becomes eligible for unrestricted free agency in six more years, rather than seven more, while Rita would have to clear waivers.

If they keep Rita, Schremp goes back to juniors (he's too young for the minors) and can't be recalled until after their season is over -- and might not develop as quickly as he would in an NHL environment.

Rita helped his case with an inspired game in Calgary on Wednesday, driving hard to the net, setting up a couple of two-on-ones and basically playing the kind of game they've been waiting for for years.

What to do, what to do?

"The kid is showing a lot of jam," said general manager Kevin Lowe, who doesn't want to risk losing a player who might finally be coming around.

"We're not hanging in there because he's a first round pick, we're hanging in there because he has ability. The new rules are suited for him."

Schremp, meanwhile, has been good on the power play, but needs improvement in his five-on-five game. Will lighting it up against juniors make him any better next year?

"The risk and reward is how much does he develop here and how much does he develop in Junior," said Lowe. "Does it hurt his confidence to go back to junior? We've been analyzing some trends of players who have gone back to junior."

The Oilers close out the pre-season tomorrow in Vancouver and will make their final cuts Sunday or Monday.

Defencemen Dan Smith and Dan Syvret are still in camp, and have played well, but they're the only D-men left with two-way contracts.

SPLIT SQUAD: In sharing AHL affiliates with Dallas (Iowa Stars) and Montreal (Hamilton Bulldogs) the Oilers will not have complete control over their prospects. Coaches in the Stars and Habs systems will make the personnel decisions, an arrangement that's far from ideal.

"Players can't have the expectations that I almost made the NHL so I'm going to go down here and automatically be on the first line and be on the power play or the first string goalie," said head coach Craig MacTavish. "It's competitive. We try and prepare the players for that -- things aren't going to be given to them, especially when you're sharing an AHL team with another team. You're going to have to earn those minutes."

The Oilers plan on getting their own AHL entry in place for next season.

"We don't want this situation again," said Lowe.


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