Connecticut Oilers: Junior teams a ‘work in progress’ in first year

Connecticut Oilers: Junior teams a ‘work in progress’ in first year

The Connecticut Oilers are only 4-10-0-2 through 16 Eastern Junior Hockey League games.

While their record isn’t flashy, assistant head coach Chris Gragnano believes the Oilers are in good shape as they go forward.

“Teams are always a work in progress, and our team is no different,” Gragnano said. “Our players are finding their way in this league and I think that, every weekend, we learn about ourselves as individuals as well as a team. We have a great bunch of guys and we are definitely headed in the right direction.”

Reed Harper has played a key role offensively for the Oilers early on. He had nine goals and nine assists through 16 games.

“Reed is a goal scorer, plain and simple. He’s a threat to score every time he has the puck,” Gragnano said. “A part of his game that gets overlooked is his vision and passing. He’s able to put his linemates in better positions with his ability to find seams and put the puck into space.”

Jeremy Heinle and Dylan Smith have also played key roles in the offense. Heinle came through with five goals and four assists in the first 16 games of the season while Smith scored five goals and 11 points in 15 games.

“Heinle’s contributions come in many forms. He’s able to put up points, but with him, it’s all about the little things,” Gragnano said. “He’s great defensively, in the faceoff circle and supporting the puck. Not to mention that he is a great teammate. Dylan is another player with a great offensive sense.”

The Oilers scored 43 goals in their first 16 EJHL games. They have allowed 66 goals. Nik Nugnes gave up 25 goals and tallied 259 saves in 16 games, including one shutout, while Bruce Racine allowed 39 goals and racked up 334 saves in 14 games.

Conor Lamberti and Danny McMullan have stepped up defensively as well.

“Conor is such a composed player that he seems to stabilize whoever he is out there with,” Gragnano said. “He’s been a great leader for the team as an assistant captain and will be a huge part of our success this year. Danny is a first-year player that seems to get better every day. He’s very responsible defensively, but is very fast and reads his opportunities to jump up in the play very well.”

The Oilers know they have their work cut out for them if they are to be in the conference title mix at the end of the year. For now, the focus is on being consistent.

“Winning this league is difficult. There is so much parity and we see it every single weekend,” Gragnano said. “The key is finding consistency in our play. That is what will lead to more wins.”

The Empire Junior Hockey League Oilers have had mixed results, as well, early on. The Oilers were 4-11-1-1 through 13 games and Gragnano said youth has had a lot to do with it.

“We are making progress, but we have a lot of players learning the ropes of junior hockey,” Gragnano said.

Stephan Seeger, Philip Prins and Ryan Harper have anchored the offense. Seeger had seven goals and 25 points in 17 Empire League games. Prins and Harper each scored five through 14 games.

The Oilers have 43 goals as a team.

“As a whole (offensively), we need to find a way to get that turning point kind of goal that swings the momentum in our favor,” Gragnano said. “All of our games seem to come down to just a goal or two, and I think as the guys get more experience, we will see those scores end up in our favor.”

The defense has been led by David Landau and McKay Flanagan, who have used their versatility to their advantage.

As for going forward, gaining experience is key for the Oilers.

“We would like to see the team continue to develop and gain valuable junior experience as individuals and as a team,” Gragnano said.

By Brian Lester

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