The word of the day is "new" for the Edmonton Oil Kings.
New season, new players, new coaching staff, new beginning.
It induces a much better feeling than the word Oil Kings general manager Bob Green used to describe the summer.
"Long," Green said, with a laugh. "The off-season's been long, but you know what, one thing about years like last year, it answers a lot of questions for you.
"We knew we had to make some changes, so we went about that from both a player standpoint and a staff standpoint."
After making the playoffs in 2008-09, just the franchise's second year of existence in the Western Hockey League, the Oil Kings took a giant step backwards last season, finishing 16-43-4-9, the second-worst record in the entire WHL. It cost coaches Steve Pleau and Rocky Thompson their jobs and saw veterans Brent Raedeke, Brett Breitkreuz, Tomas Vincour and Clayton Cumiskey shipped out of town for youngsters and draft picks.
The result is a young team with a new coaching staff and plenty of opportunity as the Oil Kings hit the ice again starting this weekend with their 15-and 16-year-old rookie camp in Fort Saskatchewan.
"There's going to be kids that are going to play here this weekend that are going to be able to play on our team this year," Green said.
Among those names expected to have their first-full WHL season are goaltender Laurent Brossoit, forward Mitchell Moroz and defenceman Griffin Reinhart, the third overall pick in the 2009 WHL bantam draft. All three got a taste of the league last year, with Brossoit getting a pair of games between the pipes and Moroz and Reinhart finding themselves in seven and two games, respectively.
However, first-year Oil Kings head coach Derek Laxdal noted that he hoped the team would be less reliant on those players than they have been on former high draft picks like Mark Pysyk and last year's leading scorer, Michael St. Croix, when they were the same age.
"We've got to make sure that we know we don't want these kids to come in here and be the leaders of our hockey club at 16 or 17 years old," Laxdal said. " We want to make sure they have the opportunity to learn and to develop."
The rookie camp will also be a first look at the team's picks from this past April, including Curtis Lazar, a 15-year-old centre from Vernon, B.C., who was taken second overall, and fellow first-rounder Mason Geertsen, a blue-liner from Rocky Rapids.
With 80 players at the team's rookie camp, there is plenty of opportunity to make an impression, especially with an incumbent team that won only 16 games last season. Green noted that, with teenagers, many of the free agents invited to camp could have had growth spurts over the summer that make them more projectable as WHL players, while Laxdal made it clear that the door was open for player to make their mark.
"The biggest thing we're looking for is the detail, the hard work," Laxdal said. "We want to see the players who are going to put the effort in on and off the ice and fit into the culture we're trying to establish with the Oil Kings."
Rookie camp kicks off at 8 a.m. this morning at the Jubilee Recreation Centre and runs until Sunday.
The team's main camp will start with fitness testing on Saturday before the team takes to the ice on Monday, also at the Jubilee. The Oil Kings will host a four-team invitational exhibition series on Sept. 4 and 5 at Servus Place in St. Albert.
© Copyright (c) The Edmonton Journal