The Oil Kings won their second preseason game in a row on Friday night at the Edmonton Downtown Community Arena. The team handed the Calgary Hitmen a 3-1 loss, as Liam Horrobin wrapped up for the DUBNetwork here.
The win came at the hands of some of the team’s most prestigious incoming rookies, experienced veterans, and inspired overagers fighting for an opening day roster spot. Here are some players that fall into those categories who stood out during Friday night’s preseason game.
Dylan Guenther – 2003 Draft Class
Guenther is an expected standout candidate who delivered once again this preseason after coming off a fresh two-goal performance against the Red Deer Rebels this past Wednesday. Guenther and Jake Neighbours were both lethal options on the power play, taking up territory just above the faceoff circle on both sides of the ice. The two offensive weapons were ready to delivery a one timer at any moment while on the man advantage. This is precisely how Guenther potted the Oil Kings’ first goal of the game when his shot rifled past the right pad of Carl Stankowski.
Guenther possesses the tantalizing ability to create scoring chances off the rush. However, it was evident in this game that he’s the most dangerous when he has control of the puck down low in the offensive zone. In the opening minutes of the first period, he was able to use his quick hands and elusive speed to create space behind the net. He then positioned his body to protect the puck as he skated around the net to create a wrap-around scoring chance. There were also several different occasions throughout the game when Guenther was controlling the puck down low with his head up, looking for an open player in the slot. You could tell how comfortable he was just by watching him. Guenther is a kid that has control of the game when he has control of the puck.
However, I believe the best trait about Guenther’s game that fans will come to appreciate is that the play never dies on his stick. I can recall a scenario back from main camp when Guenther had appeared to be seconds away from being pinched off by a defender along the wall. With no support and the opposing team’s forward also applying sufficient pressure on him, it looked like a guaranteed defensive zone turnover. But instead, Guenther pulled off a no-look backhand pass right to the tape of the winger breaking out through the middle of the ice. Not many players can make plays like that with such a limited amount of time and space.
Another example of this happened in Friday night’s preseason game. Guenther had been hit to the ice while breaking in alone to the offensive zone. Instead of the puck being turned over and heading the other way, Guenther was able to find the puck laying behind him while on his back and swatted it down an extra 10 feet to dump it in behind Calgary’s net.
Those are the plays that put the combination of Guenther’s talent and determination on full display.
Riley Sawchuk – 1999 Draft Class
The fourth-year WHL veteran has made his presence known from the moment the puck dropped at the Downtown Community Arena. Sawchuk was strong on pucks, showed an immense compete level in all areas of the ice, and was great at making plays down low. These three things contributed to Sawchuk picking up two primary assists on goals by Guenther and Neighbours in Friday night’s matchup
What impressed me was that Sawchuk’s leadership abilities were not only backed up by his talent but also by his actions on the ice. In the third period, a Calgary Hitmen player came after Guenther after the whistle. Before Guenther even had time to defend himself, Sawchuk was already in the opposing player’s face, standing up for the young talent.
Sawchuk has proven that he will be an invaluable veteran piece down the middle for an Oil Kings team that should be injecting a large amount of youth into its opening day roster. Sawchuk’s game has been trending in a promising direction since joining the WHL in 2016, as his point totals have more than doubled each year. He finished last season with an impressive 53 points in 67 games. Sawchuk looked good playing with some of Edmonton’s most talented wingers in preseason action and should have a promising opportunity to build off last season’s totals.
Jesse Seppala – 2003 Draft Class
The 17-year-old Finnish forward showed he has a lot of promise, as he put his elusiveness and puck skills on full display for fans at the Downtown Community Arena. The way he moved around on the power play was fascinating to watch and opened up space for snipers Guenther and Neighbours to be fed passes in the slot. Seppala was not afraid to hold back his creativity and showcased his raw talent. This made him noticeable in a game on which he didn’t have a significant impact.
Being listed at just 5-foot-8, 148-pounds, Seppala was a victim to a large number of hits in this game. There was one shift where he was thrown off the puck and into the boards twice within 30 seconds.
He’s a player that has all the skills to be successful, but he is going to have to make some adjustments to his game in order to adapt to the WHL. You are looking at a player that has a ton of potential to be a contributor to the Oil Kings regularly if he can make those adjustments to his game that will help him avoid hits and better protect the puck.
Jalen Luypen – 2002 Draft Class
Luypen stood out during the main camp skates last weekend, and he made himself noticeable again during preseason play against the Hitmen. After battling to maintain a roster spot in his rookie year, this is a player who looks motivated to earn full-time deployment with the Oil Kings this season. With a burst of speed, he propelled himself into a partial breakaway during Friday night’s game, using his body to create enough space between himself and the oncoming defencemen that he could put home a beautiful goal over the shoulder of Ethan Hein. Luypen’s goal gave the Oil Kings a 3-1 lead late in the third period.
Parker Gavlas – 1999 Draft Class
While it will be extremely tough for the 20-year-old to beat out one of Dylan Myskiw, Riley Sawchuk, or Conner McDonald for an overage spot, his fighting effort was evident from the stands. Gavlas played a physical brand of hockey and made some impressive breakout passes throughout the course of the game, even adding an assist on the power play.
The Edmonton Oil Kings will be back in action September 6th for a Saturday night battle in Calgary. That game will be followed by a road trip to Dawson Creek to round up their preseason against the Prince George Cougars before their home opener on September 22nd at Rogers Place.