Cooked Schremp?

Edmonton Oilers coach Craig MacTavish yesterday made it sound like the best thing for Rob Schremp...

Edmonton Oilers coach Craig MacTavish yesterday made it sound like the best thing for Rob Schremp would be a stint in the minors. (Edmonton Sun/Darryl Dyck)

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 8:49 AM ET

Craig MacTavish's history in this situation says Rob Schremp will start the season in the AHL.

And yesterday after practice the Oilers' head coach almost said it himself.

He didn't - no coach worth his salt makes his final cuts with three pre-season games to go - but MacTavish certainly made it sound like the best thing for the 20-year-old Ontario Hockey League scoring sensation would be a stint in the minors.

"The jury is still out on him, we're going to see how he plays in the remaining three games," said MacTavish. "But I don't think it would be hurtful in any way, shape, or form for anybody to start the year in the American League. Not that he's going to, but that's obviously one of the options we have."

It's the option MacTavish has ALWAYS taken, on teams nowhere near as deep as this one. Jarret Stoll, Shawn Horcoff, Fernando Pisani, Brad Winchester, Matt Greene and every other kid who tried to make the team in his first year as a pro had to start out on the AHL busses. The last player to make the Oilers straight out of junior was Ales Hemsky, five years ago, only because they couldn't send a 19-year-old to the minors - it was either the NHL or back to junior.

HISTORY LESSON

They faced that decision with Schremp last season and sent him back. Now that the A is available, history says they'll use it.

"I think it's easier to do that than to put them in a situation that's tenuous and they fail, and then they go down," said MacTavish. "That's a lot tougher on the player. I think it ultimately hurts their development.

"It's all a process and I'll err on the side of sending somebody down rather than erring on the side of thinking maybe he's ready."

And it's not like the Oilers are hurting for an offensive specialist.

"Our options are pretty good here one way or the other," said MacTavish. "It's not as if we don't have a power play, or a guy who can work the half boards."

Indeed. All the jobs are filled except one fourth-line winger and two seats in the press box, and there are more experienced prospects ahead of him who've paid their dues in the minors - Marc Antoine Pouliot, J.F. Jacques, Brad Winchester, Toby Petersen and Alexei Mikhnov (Russian Elite League).

He has two games, tops, to prove he's every bit as reliable, five on five and in his own end, as they are - to dazzle MacTavish enough to change his M.O. on player development.

"All I can do is go out and produce a little bit and play my game," said Schremp, who'll centre Mikhnov and Patrick Thoresen tonight against Vancouver. "There's a few spots open for some of the young guys, so we'll see if I can grab one."

Schremp has been much better in this camp than he was last year, but it's asking a lot of him to crack the deepest Oilers lineup in 15 years.

"I think he's a lot more mature as a player and a person," said MacTavish. "He's made a lot of strides and as a coach that's what you want to see. Whether he's progressed to the point where he's ready to step in, in a fourth-line role and help us on the power play, remains to be seen. But he's very much in the mix."

BROUGHT ALONG CAREFULLY

He's also a rare talent that must be brought along carefully.

"Ultimately we see him being a huge player for us down the road, it's just how we're going to handle him early in his career," said MacTavish. "I've seen a lot of players ... Marc Savard is a very good example of a player who had similar characteristics coming out of junior. He went to New York, maybe made the team a little prematurely, (struggled), and they gave up on him too soon. Then he scores 95 points on the next team he's on. You want to make sure that you bring him along so he can help you when he gets here.

"You also have to have some confidence in the coaches down in the American League that they're able to iron out some of the things he needs to do."

If he gets cut again, Schremp will bite his lip and have faith that the Oilers have his best interests at heart.

"It was pretty tough last year because there was no possible way I could get called up (from junior). It's not going to be easy this year, but it would be easier. Hopefully I can perform well if I get sent down and get called right back up. You never know. But it still sucks getting cut."


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