The odd man out

JONATHAN HUNTINGTON -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:59 AM ET

Living up to expectations as a first-round pick can be tough, but Rob Schremp is making major strides in the AHL this season.

From all accounts - the Edmonton Oilers' front office to the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins' coaching staff - Schremp's game at both ends of the rink is improving.

Nobody is going to say he's ready for the NHL right now - but next fall could be a much different story.

"He has made some really good progress this year," said Todd Richards, the head coach in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.

"I don't want to use great.

"I think great is too strong of a word.

"He is doing things right now that he wasn't doing at the start of the year."

On a scoring binge - with 13 points (seven goals and six assists) in 10 games - the 25th overall pick in the 2004 draft is also learning the finer points of playing in his own end.

"His defensive zone play has been better," admitted Richards. "One thing he does really well is support the puck. We ask our defencemen to be quick and physical and our support guy to come in. He has done a good job with that.

'MORE COMPETITIVE'

"And (he's) more competitive - going into the corners, winning the battles one-on-one.

"He is very good with the puck and very good in open ice. In the NHL you don't have as much time and you don't have as much space to make plays.

"He needed to get used to making plays more quickly and making them in traffic."

While Edmonton repeatedly passed over Schremp when calling up players from the minors this season, Kevin Prendergast - the Oilers' vice-president of hockey operations - refuses to label the centre's development as slow.

"In Robbie's case, they played a very run and gun offence in London (of the OHL) for a couple of years," remarked Prendergast, referring to Schremp's 145-point season in junior last year. "He didn't really have to do it all (be accountable at both ends) in his three years of junior.

"It is a little new to him.

"Every time I have seen him this year I have seen improvements in his game, especially in the little parts of his game.

"Obviously we knew the offence was there when we drafted him but in order to play in the NHL you've got to be good at both ends and accountable at both ends. Robbie is certainly going in that direction."

NOT COMPLAINING

Schremp isn't complaining about having to bide his time in the AHL.

"I'd love to be called up," said Schremp.

"But if they think those guys (Brodziak and Nilsson) are ready before me - then that is just how it is. They are good buddies of mine, so I am obviously happy for them."

Schremp still needs to work on some areas of his game, like being even more competitive on the puck.

But Richards believes Schremp has a legitimate chance of taking the next step to the Oilers next year at training camp.

"I think this is going to be a huge summer for him," said Richards.

"If he goes at it this summer and he trains with the intention of him playing in the NHL, I think he has got a really good shot of playing up there.

"If he goes into this summer thinking, 'while I had some good success this year, I'll be OK next year,' he won't make it."

Schremp seems dedicated to the cause.

"I am going to do everything I can in my power this summer to make sure I train hard enough, work hard enough to make it there."

JHUNTINGTON@EDMSUN.COM

"HE NEEDED TO GET USED TO MAKING PLAYS MORE QUICKLY AND MAKING THEM IN TRAFFIC."

- WILKES-BARRE COACH TODD RICHARDS ON ROB SCHREMP


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