Time to shine at Oil camp

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 8:20 AM ET

Rookies at training camp are as wide-eyed as kids at Christmas.

Even when the door to the big team is slammed in their faces before a skate blade ever hits the ice because all the roster spots are filled by veterans on one-way contracts, the excitement on their faces could light up a small city.

So you can imagine how the Edmonton Oilers top prospects are feeling this year, with a handful of NHL jobs right there for the taking.

Forget defence and goal; there's no room at either of those inns. But the Oilers parted ways with a whack of forwards in the last few months (and Fernando Pisani's health issues pulled him out of the mix at the 11th hour), leaving plenty of holes up front that need to be filled.

And yesterday GM Kevin Lowe said Plan A is to fill them internally.

"(In past years) there would be one (opening), maybe, but there's spots for sure this year," said Lowe, who parted ways with forwards Toby Petersen, Brad Winchester, Petr Sykora, Joffrey Lupul, Ryan Smyth and will be minus Pisani for at least the first month of the season, leaving him with just 10 forwards currently signed to one-way contracts.

"There's going to be more competition. And there's no time better than after a season like last year. There's no guarantee with anybody. Sure, guys have guaranteed contracts, but we can make changes."

Lowe added a couple of forwards, Dustin Penner and Geoff Sanderson, but there are still plenty of third- and fourth line spots available, plus a couple of seats in the press box.

"There are a lot of guys I'm excited about seeing," said Lowe, who has a lot to look at in Ryan O'Marra, Andrew Cogliano, Robert Nilsson, Rob Schremp, and talent from previous crops, like Kyle Brodziak and J.F. Jacques.

"I see a lot of guys who are champing at the bit to get that opportunity."

Cogliano isn't hiding the fact that he's one of them.

"There are some spots open and a lot of the prospects have the opportunity to take them," said the 20-year-old centre, whom the Oilers coaxed out of college two years early with a four-year contract worth $850,000 a year at the NHL level.

"I'm coming in with a good head on my shoulders, realizing I could take a spot. I'm just going to work hard and get noticed by the brass and hopefully I do really well.

"This is a young team and this is a perfect situation for guys like me and other prospects."

Cogliano, like the rest of the kids, followed Edmonton's off-season moves very closely.

"You watch SportsCentre and see who they've acquired, things like that," he said.

"I know all the prospects, I know basically who I'm going to go head to head with for a spot and who I'll be battling against.

"Even though we might be friends, this is a job."

The job interview begins this morning, in Yellowknife, when the Oilers open their three-day rookie camp. Given the situation, their NHL dream close enough to touch, expect to see a little extra spring in their step.

"Big time excitement," said O'Marra, the Islanders' first pick, 15th overall, in 2005.

"There's some spots there ... and that's definitely an incentive. It's also my first impression (with Oilers coaches since being traded for Smyth last year). I'm thrilled."

They all are. And even if they don't make it right out of camp, it doesn't mean they won't be here by Christmas.

"There are going to be some guys who go to the American League this year who are really on the cusp of playing for the big team," said Lowe.

"The big team is going to have to produce or we're going to have to make a decision to make those changes pretty early on."


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