EDMONTON, AB – Better, faster, stronger.
That was the common goal echoed by most of the Oilers prospects Wednesday after fitness testing ahead of Oilers Rookie Camp and the Young Stars Tournament in Penticton. For a group comprised of the Oilers best and brightest 18-to-24-year-olds who have not yet become mainstays on the big club — the camp represents an opportunity to show off their literal offseason gains.
“Yeah, I put on some pounds for sure,” Oilers 2019 first-round pick Philip Broberg said. “Maybe 12 pounds, something around there.”
The 6-foot-3, previously 203-pound defenceman had his first taste of the National Hockey League last year, suiting up for 23 regular season games and recording his first NHL goal on April 28 against the San Jose Sharks. Broberg even garnered enough trust from Head Coach Jay Woodcroft that he was able to slip into the line-up for an elimination game in Round 1 of the playoffs against the Los Angeles Kings.
Broberg’s offensive resume speaks for itself, with 23 points (4G, 19A) in just 31 American Hockey League games last year, so his attention this offseason turned to becoming a more complete defenceman.
Video: RAW | Philip Broberg 09.14.22
“I want to take a step in my defensive game. I think getting stronger is a big part of that,” Broberg said. “Being able to play hard down low and get better at boxing out guys. I really pushed with trying to get stronger in the summer and I’m happy with the results.”
For a player like Xavier Bourgault, who just completed a long junior hockey season with the Shawinigan Cataractes which featured a QMJHL championship and a Memorial Cup run, the offseason focus was entirely aimed at getting his body right. The Oilers 2021 first-round pick had just played a combined 63 games between the QMJHL and the Memorial Cup, spanning from September 2021 to June 2022.
In response to the grinding season, the L’Islet, Quebec product decided to forgo the World Juniors in Edmonton — instead preparing his body for a vital Oilers Rookie Camp, with all eyes set on the big club.
“I think it was the best decision for me in my long-term career. It was better for me to rest and spend my summer in the gym,” Bourgault said about the decision. “I took a couple days off, I went on the ice, and I went in the gym for the rest of the summer. I spent the summer with some NHL guys from (Quebec). It was pretty fun and I learned a lot from those guys.”
Video: RAW | Xavier Bourgault 09.14.22
Bourgault racked up the points when the puck was on his stick, finishing the year with 50 goals and 54 assists in just 63 games. Despite his obvious offensive skills, it’s the work a player does when he isn’t filling the scoresheet that often gains a coach’s trust.
“I want to show them I can be good without the puck,” Bourgault said. “I can be intense without the puck, I’ll go in the corners, and I can play both sides of the ice.”
When a player is already bigger than most, like the freshly selected Reid Schaefer who checks in at a solid 6-foot-3 and 213-pounds, the offseason focus is different.
“For me, (my biggest advantage) was my size. I definitely felt I was a bigger player in that league and I used my body to my advantage,” Schaefer said. “Obviously, I like to play physical and create space for my teammates and myself as well.”
Video: RAW | Dylan Holloway 09.14.22
Schaefer says he isn’t just a big body who was able to punish smaller junior players into submission, citing his excellent shot and solid offensive skills which helped the 18-year-old pot 32 goals and 26 assists in 66 games with the Seattle Thunderbirds.
Still, it was the ‘faster’ that was the big offseason focus for the power forward looking to take the next step. While the 32nd overall pick is a longshot to break camp with the Oilers, as most recent draftees are, the priority was to make sure he can keep up with the game’s best players.
“I think just my footspeed, those first three strides. That has been a big focus for me this offseason,” Schaefer said. “For me it’s a lot of strength and explosiveness drills in the gym. Using bands and resistance stuff is huge, but also technique within the stride.”
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