As expected it was a busy summer for GM Kirt Hill and the Edmonton Oil Kings. Coming off a rather improbable run to the WHL’s Eastern Conference Championship, the team lost a lot of key contributors over the last few months.
Vince Loschiavo, Andrew Fyten and Quinn Benjafield are no doubt near the top of that list, but the biggest hole comes from the departure of Trey Fix-Wolansky who is almost certainly not returning for his 20-year-old season and will go pro with the Columbus Blue Jackets organization. He posted over 100 points last season but his impact stretched far beyond just the scoresheet.
At the beginning of the season, when the young core around him was still coming into their own and some of the team’s new acquisitions were still getting adjusted to their new team, Fix-Wolansky was their best player every single night. If he wasn’t buzzing and producing chances, the team wasn’t either. He was their pulse.
As the season progressed the depth began to rise up and they became a much more well-rounded team, which led to more success, but Fix-Wolansky was still the straw that stirred the drink. Not having him around next season leaves a massive void that the teams next wave of young talent will need to fill.
As I said, off the top, it was a very busy summer for the organization. Here are some other notable headlines from the offseason:
THE ACQUISITION OF RILEY SAWCHUK
The biggest trade of the summer for the organization came in May when they announced the acquisition of 20-year-old forward Riley Sawchuk. The big centremen was coming off a 53 point season with the Tri-City Americans, which was a career-high for him. Given the amount of young, offensive talent this Oil Kings team has, the acquisition of a player like Sawchuk is perfect. He has experience, can be trusted in his own end, and he produces enough offense to play with skilled wingers. He should comfortably fit into the teams top six.
CALEB REIMER ADDED TO POOL OF PROSPECTS
With the 18th overall pick in the WHL’s Bantam Draft, the Oil Kings selected Caleb Reimer from the Delta Hockey Academy Prep program. The 15-year-old is already 6’2 and registered 18 goals and 27 assists in 30 games. Based on his size and ability to produce offense, I would think it’s safe to say Riemer has the potential to be at least a high-end second-line centre for this club.
They used their second-round pick on Ross Stanley out of the OHA Edmonton Prep program. He’s an averaged sized defenseman who can produce a little bit of offense. He doesn’t play a particularly flashy game, but he’s steady.
In the third round, they completed the positional trifecta, selecting goaltender Kolby Hay from the Yale Hockey Academy. The one thing I’ll say about this pick is you can’t teach size when it comes to goaltending and at 15-years-old, Hay is already 6’2. He could be a monster between the pipes once he gets to the WHL level.
They would add two more defensemen in rounds four and six (William Lee and Eric Johnston) before selecting four other forwards (Shea Van Olm, Kylynn Olafson, Flynn Maxcy, and Cade Littler) in rounds six through nine.
MATT ROBERTSON TO THE BIG APPLE
He stayed on the board a little bit longer than expected, but in the second round of the NHL Draft, Matt Robertson heard his name called as the New York Rangers selected him 49th overall.
Going through the draft process can be tough on a player and while Robertson handled it incredibly well, I can imagine he’s a little bit relieved to have it all finalized. Now he can set his sights on next season.
Oil Kings fans know what Robertson brings to the table. When he’s on, he controls the game from the back end. He skates well, he isn’t afraid to drive the puck up the ice on his own and his defensive game has grown very well. Next season, I want to see him push the offense a little bit more than he has to this point in his WHL career. Next year could be a very big year for the Edmonton defenseman.
JESSE SEPPALA DRAFTED & SIGNED
With the 52nd overall pick in the CHL Import Draft, the Oil Kings selected Finnish winger Jesse Seppala from the Tappara program. The 17-year-old had some really good numbers in the Finnish Junior ‘B’ league and appears to be a good option to slide into the Oil Kings top nine next season.
GM Kirt Hill described him as a strong 200-foot player. If I had one concern about Seppala it would be his size. Elite Prospects currently has him listed at just 5’8 and 148 pounds. Now, small players succeed in the WHL on a regular basis, so it doesn’t mean he won’t be an impact player but it’s something to keep in mind as we watch Seppala adjust to the WHL game.
Last season, the Oil Kings brought over Belarusian product Vlad Alistrov, who they selected second overall in the CHL Import Draft, and he produced 38 points in 62 games. I’m not sure if Seppala has it in him to produce that kind of offense, but he’ll be an intriguing story to follow next season.
MORE VETERANS MOVED OUT
They lost three of their biggest offensive contributors from last season, but this summer also brought the departure of important depth pieces for the Oil Kings as well. They dealt the WHL’s Humanitarian of the Year Will Warm to the Victoria Royals in exchange for a 5th round pick in the 2021 WHL Bantam Draft. That wasn’t a surprising move at all. Warm was heading into his 20-year-old season and with Connor McDonald, Dylan Myskiw, and Riley Sawchuk all on the roster for next season, they simply didn’t have room for Warm.
They’ll miss his steady, veteran presence but this is simply something that had to happen and it does open up some space on the blueline for one of their younger defensemen to take on a bigger role.
Andrei Pavlenko was also released after two seasons with the organization. Pavlenko dressed in a total of 71 games for the team and had some really strong spurts of offensive production but with Vlad Alistrov on the roster, this was a move they simply had to make if they wanted to add Jesse Seppala.
They also waived Zach Russell. This was expected as well. He was one of the better stories on the team last season. In September, he decided he was done playing hockey and decided to attend the University of Victoria but after a few weeks changed his mind and decided he wanted to give junior hockey one more go. He called up Oil Kings GM Kirt Hill and asked if there was a spot for him in Edmonton and when given the opportunity from the team, he did everything he was asked to do. He gave their forward group a little bit of bite when they needed it and off the ice, he stayed committed to his studies even flying back and forth between Edmonton and Victoria at one point to finish off his exam schedules.
Down the stretch and into the playoffs he didn’t get into too many games which is why I wasn’t surprised to see the team not hold onto a 20-year-old spot for him.
While a handful of veterans were moved on from, players like Conner McDonald, Dylan Myskiw, Jake Neighbours, Vlad Alistrov, Carter Souch, Matt Robertson and others remain. That group will be expected to take major strides forward in their development and be the next wave of leaders for the organization.
Fans can get their first look at the new-look Edmonton Oil Kings when training camp opens up at the end of August.