Five alive!

ROBIN BROWNLEE -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 9:37 AM ET

It took Alexei Mikhnov six years to arrive. Ladislav Smid needed just three months.

Mikhnov and Smid travelled different routes and had distinct timelines, but they're two of five rookies - Jan Hejda, Patrick Thoresen and J.F. Jacques are the others - who'll open the 2006-07 season on the Edmonton Oilers 23-man roster.

That's an unheard of number around here.

"It's the new way in the NHL," said vice-president of hockey operations and chief scout Kevin Prendergast.

"We've got nine or 10 players from last year's team who aren't here, so you have to replace them. You go the free agent and trade route, but we've got a lot of kids who are coming. It shows depth."

Mikhnov, 24, the Oilers first selection, 17th overall, in the 2000 entry draft, won't dress against Calgary tonight, but after spending six seasons working his way through and, finally, out of the Russian system, the big winger did enough to earn a longer look.

OPENED EYES

After much delay and consternation with Mikhnov toiling for the Moscow Dynamo and Novosibirsk, the six-foot-five, 223-pound behemoth from Kiev opened a lot of eyes in his first NHL training camp after serving his club team in Yaroslavl with notice he was Edmonton bound.

"It means a lot to us," Prendergast said of Mikhnov. "The kid has fought through a lot of adversity.

"He was kind of lost in Siberia for a couple years, but when he went to Yaroslavl it was like his career got jump-started.

"He's still learning the North American way, but he's got skills and hockey sense. We're prepared to wait for him to come along."

Smid, 20, took a more direct route, grabbing the seventh roster spot on defence after being obtained, along with Joffrey Lupul, from Anaheim in the Chris Pronger trade on July 3.

"No," says Prendergast, when asked if Smid took him by surprise in winning a roster spot.

"He's a kid we had on our radar screen since his draft. We've loved the kid since we first saw him."

SMID WAS A PIRATE

Smid, originally drafted ninth overall by Anaheim in 2004, did enough to stick after spending last season in the AHL with the Portland Pirates.

"We feel he's a high-end player," Prendergast said. "Obviously, a 20-year-old is going to make some mistakes, but he played a full year in the AHL as a 19-year-old. When the trade with Anaheim became available, obviously, Lupul was the biggest part of it, but we considered this kid one of the top prospects in all of hockey."


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