A look at the Oil Kings
The Edmonton Oil Kings didn't win the Western Hockey League's regular season title by accident.
They are a talented, young team that has managed to add some quality players without really giving up anything substantial in return.
And like the Moose Jaw Warriors, the Oil KIngs didn't have a first-team Eastern Conference all-star despite having a league best record of 50-15-3-4.
In goal, Laurent Brossoit proved that his future was now as the 6-3 puck stopper made overeage goalie Jon Groenheyde expendable early in the season. Groenheyde was dealt to Swift Current for fellow 20-year-old Jordan Peddle.
The defence is loaded with high-end talent, but they only have one 1992-born player. That is Mark Pysyk, their captain. The Canadian world junior veteran forms a very good top pairing with Keegan Lowe — son of Edmonton Oilers player and president of hockey operations Kevin Lowe. Lanky Martin Gernat — a 6-5 Slovak rookie — is an Oilers draft pick who was plus-41 with 46 assists during the regular season. He may not be the heaviest player, but Gernat is an effective open-ice hitter. Gernat pairs with Cody Corbett, a 6-1, 210-pound tank who is simultaneously the shortest and heaviest member of the Oil Kings starting defence corps. Corbett joined the Oil Kings midway through the season from his Minnesota high school.
Griffin Reinhart — a potential lottery pick in the upcoming NHL draft — plays beyond his years and adds size (6-4, 202 lbw.) and strong skating to the defence. He pairs with former Moose Jaw Generals midget player Ashton Sautner.
They are a lot younger than the defences the Warriors have faced to date, but they also have more size despite their youth.
Up front the Oil Kings juggled their lines and seem to have come up with some quality pairings.
With the addition of Henrik Samuelsson late in the season and the return of Travis Ewanyk following shoulder surgery, OKs head coach Derek Laxdal needed to make some changes. He made a lot of them.
Their most consistent line during the regular season was their checking line featuring 20-year-olds Peddle and Rhett Rachinski along with Klarc Wilson. Ewanyk ended up taking Wilson's spot on that line and right now Wilson isn't even making the roster.
Rachinski (a four-year OKs veteran and an Edmonton product) and Peddle (a feisty checker with speed) are the OKs top two defensive forwards and their best penalty killers. They've been joined by rookie Mitch Moroz who has three goals in the playoffs.
With leading scorer Michael St. Croix struggling early in the playoffs, Ewanyk moved to centre his line along with T.J. Foster.
The OKs two fastest players — Latvian Kristians Pelss and Dylan Wruck — are on the wings with Tyler Maxwell. Maxwell is the Everett Silvertips leading scorer, but after a rough road trip for the struggling Tips, he asked for a trade and Maxwell was sent home before his wish was granted. Maxwell formed a great combination with St. Croix and Foster and it's possible they could be reunited if the OKs are looking for a spark.
If the St. Croix-Ewanyk-Foster line and the Wruck-Maxwell-Pelss line form a nice one-two punch, then the line of Samuelsson, Curtis Lazar and Stephane Legault offer a potential knockout blow.
Samuelsson is the son of former NHL defenceman Ulf Samuelsson. He is a tall, skilled player who grew up in Arizona, but left the U.S. national team development program to play in his father's native Sweden. Late in the season he decided to leave Sweden and come to the WHL.
Lazar spent much of the regular season in the bottom six, if not the fourth line. The 1995-born, former second overall pick in the WHL bantam draft still scored 20 goals. He has been turning heads in the playoffs where he leads the team in scoring with 10 points. Legault added 15 regular season goals and the new combination has arguably been the Oil Kings' best unit to date.
The OKs don't have a lot of size up front. Ewanyk and Moroz are the only two that could be considered power forwards, but they have more speed up front than maybe any team in the league. While they aren't the two fastest players in the league, Pelss and Wruck are in the conversation. Add in Foster, Maxwell and St. Croix and Edmonton has five forwards under six feet whose speed with give anyone some problems.