The Edmonton Oilers’ rookie camp gets underway on Thursday and Jay Woodcroft, head coach of the Oilers’ farm team in the American Hockey League, says he hopes to see some competition bring out the best in the organization’s young hockey prospects.
“It’s sure to be a very competitive camp, and the one thing I like is that when it is a competitive camp, I believe that competition brings out the best in everybody,” the head coach of the Bakersfield Condors told 630 CHED’s Reid Wilkins on Inside Sports on Tuesday.
This year’s rookie camp will see 23 players take part and will see players play two games against Calgary Flames prospects by next Tuesday.
“The first thing that we have to get across to the players is that unlike development camp, which happens in July, this rookie camp is an evaluation camp, so it’s their opportunity to come in here and show their skill-set to the Bakersfield coaching staff, the Oilers’ coaching staff and to some of our new management group that’s up top,” Woodcroft said.
“I believe our goal heading into these games… we want to establish and grow our game… we want to establish good habits right off the bat… we want to have the mindset of maximizing our daily opportunity.
Woodcroft said while he and the other coaches know the rookies won’t be perfect, they would like to see improvement every day.
“We want them to play.”
Listen below: Jay Woodcroft appears on 603 CHED’s Inside Sports with Reid Wilkins on Tuesday.
The rookie camp will feature some of the Oilers’ most highly-touted prospects like defenceman Evan Bouchard, forward Kailer Yamamoto and their second-round draft pick in 2019, Raphael Lavoie. Three Edmonton natives are slated to take part as well: goaltender Stuart Skinner, forward Liam Keeler and forward Tyler Benson, who played a starring role on Woodcroft’s Condors last season.
“I’m sure he’ll get a very healthy opportunity here over the next few weeks,” Woodcroft said of the 21-year-old player, whom the Oilers drafted 32nd overall in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft. “Not only was he one of the top rookie scorers in the American Hockey League, he led our team in scoring down there.
“He took a huge step in his 200-foot game,” Woodcroft added. “Everyone always talks about the points and the vision and the plays that he can make, but just in terms of the subtle little intricacies in his game — his wall-work, his decision-making at both blue-lines — that came a long way.
“What I really like about this player is that he gives himself every opportunity to succeed. He does that through his work habits, he does it through surrounding himself with top people who can push him in different ways, whether it be skating coaches, strength coaches, nutritionists — he’s trying to find anything he can do that’s going to give him that little edge to fulfil his lifelong dream of playing in the National Hockey League.”
Watch below: (From June 2016) Edmonton native Tyler Benson speaks to the media after he’s drafted in the second round of the 2016 NHL Entry Draft by the Edmonton Oilers.
Once rookie camp concludes, some players who took part may be invited to the Oilers’ main training camp.
“I think you’ll see congruity and alignment between the way the Condors play and the way the Oilers play,” Woodcroft said. “There’s a very, very similar belief system and we’re going to make sure that everyone gets on the same page so that when a Bakersfield Condor gets called up to the Edmonton Oilers that he’s ready professionally to produce in the present.
“When an organization can do that, I think it’s extremely positive.”
Woodcroft suggested the Condors’ success in the 2018-19 season can only benefit the Oilers organization as a whole. The team made the AHL playoffs for the first time since calling Bakersfield home and tied that league’s second-longest winning streak at 17 games at one point in the season.
“Our group of young players came together and played meaningful hockey down the stretch, played meaningful hockey deep into the month of May and I think that was a positive step forward for our organization,” he said. “A lot of individuals took personal steps — there were a lot of career years.”
Among the people who will be evaluating players at rookie camp alongside Woodcroft are the Oilers’ new head coach, Dave Tippett, and new general manager, Ken Holland.
Woodcroft said he has worked with both men before and that will help him understand what they value in a player.
“It feels like Christmas morning right around the corner,” Woodcroft said of the busy days ahead.
The Edmonton Oilers’ main training camp will begin later this month with the team’s first of seven pre-season games scheduled for Sept. 16 against the Winnipeg Jets.
On Tuesday, a number of the Oilers’ bigger stars took part in the team’s first larger informal skate ahead of the pre-season at the Downtown Community Arena in Ice District.
Among those who laced up their skates on Tuesday were goaltender Mike Smith and winger James Neal, two new Oilers who came to Edmonton after playing for the Calgary Flames last season.
WATCH BELOW: Coverage of James Neal on Global News