The strongest Oilers prospect list (using my format) was probably Winter 1980. That list would have included Paul Coffey, Jari Kurri, Glenn Anderson, Andy Moog and Walt Poddubny, among others. The 2015 list (one year ago), boasted Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, Darnell Nurse and a few other interesting names. Impossible and unfair to compare across decades, but that 2015 list should be a lot of fun to track over the next 15 years.
This year, there are some quality prospects, and the college men help the depth in important areas. Still, there are clearly issues and work to do in the procurement department.
- Current Prospects: Laurent Brossoit (No. 12) remains the top goalie prospect in the system, and it is likely we will see him in the NHL sometime this season. Nick Ellis (No. 14) is the rising name at this position, and there is at least some evidence that he belongs on the same plane as Brossoit. It makes for a fascinating fight for an NHL job and this should be fun to follow over the next 18 months. Dylan Wells (No. 20) is posting a strong recovery season, and the tough draft year performance may have allowed Edmonton to steal a gem. Miroslav Svoboda (No. 22) plays in an obscure league, but deserves a spotlight for his fantastic save percentage. Zach Nagelvoort (No. 34) is playing well in college, but not enough—and it is anyone’s guess about whether or not he will sign here in the spring. Eetu Laurikainen (No. 41) seems to be near the end of his time with the organization.
- Is this an area of strength? It is still a problem area, I think that is fair. The club has a good AHL tandem now, and some real competition at that level. Wells looks like a bona fide prospect and Svoboda is stopping all pucks in dimly lit rinks in Bohemia as we speak. The list is better, but needs an impact prospect, a No. 1 goalie of the future. Is that man Wells? The Bohemian?
- What’s the next step? Talbot has a contract and a good Edmonton resume, but he needs a strong backup to push him. Edmonton does not have that, but the AHL duo are the best minor league pairing for this organization since Dubnyk—Jeff Deslauriers. Getting one of the AHL goalies established in the NHL as a backup is probably the next step. I want to mention here that the Oilers would be wise to cast about looking for even stronger solutions if they are available at reasonable cost. Brossoit is a good prospect, but Chad Johnson is a better option for 2017-18 (as an example).
- Will everyone be back next season? Talbot, Brossoit and Ellis are locks, signed and under control for 2017-18. Wells and Svoboda will continue to matriculate, and we will find out about Nagelvoort in due time.
- Will anyone be gone next season? Jonas Gustavsson is extremely likely to be gone by this time next season, and we could say the same for Eetu Laurikainen.
- Current Prospects: Matt Benning (No. 4) has been a Godsend, a true blue NHL RHD grabbed from US college hockey. That was a pretty cool signing. Ziyat Paigin (No. 5) is a big, strong and reliable defender with a big shot as offensive kicker, he is a player I would love to see signed this summer. Ethan Bear (No. 6) is having another strong junior season and figures to patrol the Bakersfield blue beginning next season. Caleb Jones (No. 7) might have the highest outer marker of the entire group, with his wheels I expect we could see him get NHL time in 2017-18. Filip Berglund (No. 11), another RHD, is playing in the SHL this season, and that is a terrific sign. Griffin Reinhart (No. 13) had a poor start, and is just now settling into his role with Bakersfield. William Lagesson (No. 16) is having a good year, but should probably be signed this summer—that is a theme here, and not every blue is going to get a contract. Expect a cull. Dillon Simpson (No. 17) made his NHL debut earlier this year, and performed well. He is likely to be an NHL option for the next couple of years. Markus Niemelainen (No. 18) is big and mobile, he has another year of junior after this one.
- John Marino (No. 21) is posting a successful freshman season in Harvard, David Musil (No. 23) is trying to push his way up the depth chart while also having his skills duplicated up and down the pro system. Matt Cairns (No. 24) is just getting started on his USHL career and Jordan Oesterle (No. 25) was probably closer to an NHL career two years ago—such is the existence of a talented but one dimensional defender in the Leftorium. Ben Betker (No. 31) is big mobile and lefthanded, which is impacting his race up the depth chart. Joey Laleggia (No. 32) is losing the battle for playing time (and deployment) in Bakersfield and would appear to be in his final months in the system. Vincent Desharnais (No. 37) is a more mature prospect than Matt Cairns, but in a way he is just getting started, too. He is a righty, and we wait.
- Is This an Area of Strength? Yes, I think this is the deepest area among prospects, No. 2 (behind C) if we include young NHLers. At the big league level, the Oilers have Oscar Klefbom, Darnell Nurse, Brandon Davidson and now Matt Benning. I think the group that includes Paigin, Bear and Jones may fetch one, possibly two legit NHL players. After that, we will see. The sheer numbers here—16 of 41 players on this list are defensemen—probably mean we see a solid number of pro players.
- What’s the Next Step? There could be one or less NHL jobs available next season, and the cull should come for the AHL group. If we project the NHL roster (Klefbom, Larsson, Nurse, Sekera, Russell, Davidson, Benning) then there is no room at the Inn. Bakersfield is going to be flat out crazy, unless Edmonton chooses to sign no defenders in the offseason. If Edmonton does move an NHL defenseman, logic and reason suggest that player will be a lefty—one of Klefbom or Nurse most likely.
- Will Everyone be Back Next Season? No. Not one chance in hell. This roster has to cull the Leftorium, there is simply no way to avoid it. Minor league players under contract for next season include Ben Betker and new pro’s Caleb Jones and Ethan Bear. Ziyat Paigin and William Lagesson are probably ready for pro hockey, don’t think there is going to be room.
- Will Anyone Be Gone Next Season? This is going to be epic. Among NHL defenders, Eric Gryba probably doesn’t return and I bet Peter Chiarelli will be aggressive about moving Mark Fayne. RFAs include Griffin Reinhart, Dillon Simpson, David Musil, Jordan Oesterle and Joey Laleggia. All five men are lefties. Beyond that, I do think Brandon Davidson is an expansion worry and Mark Fraser (UFA) is unlikely to return.
- Current Prospects: Drake Caggiula (No. 3) has NHL speed and a lot of gumption, we will see about the offense. Jujhar Khaira (No. 9) is NHL-ready and waiting for a chance—he may not be on next winter’s list. Aapeli Rasanen (No. 15) is a promising two-way player who is probably several seasons away. Tyler Vesel (No. 19) is a late-breaking college man who is scoring well enough to get contract consideration. Bogdan Yakimov (No. 26) is probably as close to NHL-ready as Khaira, but we may not see him again. Kyle Platzer (No. 27) is a good two-way prospect but isn’t getting a lot of AHL playing time. Jere Sallinen (No. 35) hasn’t shown much in the AHL this season, but has had some KHL success.
- Is This an Area of Strength? If you include Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, this is one of the deepest positions in the entire NHL. Edmonton has no impact prospects bubbling under, but McDavid and Leon are clearly a big part of the future. I think Caggiula and Khaira are pretty good bets for NHL careers, not sure if either man will spend a lot of time on the top two lines. The rest of long shots, although Rasanen may end up being a better bet than the rest.
- What’s the Next Step? NHL level is taken care of, AHL at-bats being spent this season on Khaira, Anton Lander, Josh Currie, Platzer and Sallinen. Platzer and Tyler Vesel may be playing larger roles in Bakersfield next year, but it is impossible to see from here.
- Will Everyone be Back Next Season? Leon Draisaitl is RFA, reasonable to expect a bridge. Khaira is RFA, but he will be signed.
- Will Anyone Be Gone Next Season? Anton Lander is in a bit of a pickle, although you can make a case he should be on the NHL roster right now. Bogdan Yakimov is an RFA, but his decision to play in Russia this year probably means this will end in divorce.
LEFT WING (8)
- Current Prospects: Tyler Benson (No. 2) is a talented player, he could make it as a top 6F or as a two-way checker, and that is what we are about to find out. Anton Slepyshev (No. 8) can play either wing, I am listing him here because this may be his easiest route at this time. Mitchell Moroz (No. 28) remains a fourth line winger in the AHL but is having a little more offensive success now. Aidan Muir (No. 29) had a strong year going, a breakout season, but is now injured and we will have to see about his signability in the spring. Graham McPhee (No. 30) has a checking resume and some skill, we have miles to go before we really know about him. Joey Benik (No. 38) has scoring skills but no NHL contract (AHL), Braden Christoffer (No. 39) is similar to Moroz but older and with less offense. Evan Campbell (No. 40) appears to have been relegated to part-time duty in his final college season—not a good sign.
- Is This an Area of Strength? This position could be the weakest in the organization. The trade of Taylor Hall means the NHL team has no LW younger than 28 (Lucic, Maroon) on the everyday roster. Benson is an excellent prospect but no sure thing, Slepyshev is the only other substantial prospect in the system. Caggiula could also be an option and Jujhar Khaira has plenty of experience on LW.
- What’s the Next Step? Benson continues to develop, Slepyshev should see more NHL time later in the year. LW has to be a position of real interest for Edmonton at the 2017 entry draft.
- Will Everyone be Back Next Season? Lucic, Maroon and Pouliot are all under contract for next year, although it is not certain all will return.
- Will Anyone be Gone Next Season? Matt Hendricks seems unlikely to return, as Edmonton has plenty of less expensive options. Never say never though, Todd McLellan clearly values the veteran. Benoit Pouliot is less than 50/50 to return by my estimate.
RIGHT WING (4)
- Prospects: Jesse Puljujarvi (No. 1) is the youngest player in the NHL, and has an exceptional skill set. We don’t know when he will be a productive NHL regular, but when he arrives look out. Tyler Pitlick (No. 10) had a breakout season going before his injury, and has a foothold in the NHL for the first time since being drafted in 2010. Greg Chase (No. 33) is getting fairly regular work in the AHL this season, we have yet to see the offense he displayed in junior and the ECHL. Patrick Russell (No. 36) has some speed issues but some offensive promise.
- Is This an Area of Strength? It was the weakest position one year ago, but the addition of Puljujarvi moves RW ahead of the port side. Tyler Pitlick also helped the position this year and could do the same in the years to come (assuming good health).
- What’s the Next Step? Edmonton doesn’t have enough depth at this position, NHL, AHL and below. Puljujarvi is a potentially massive addition to the RW depth chart, and he should be ready to pull a heavier load in 2017. Jordan Eberle remains available for top 6F duty, but after those two men there needs to be additional help.
- Will Everyone by Back Next Season? Edmonton said goodbye to Nail Yakupov before the season, so the rest of the group should be fairly safe. After Eberle and Puljujarvi, I expect the team will make every effort to sign Zack Kassian—possibly long term. Adding Pitlick, also an RFA, makes sense and Iiro Pakarinen needs a contract but could be added for additional depth.
- Will Anyone be Gone Next Season? Since this time last season, Yakupov and Teddy Purcell are gone and have not been replaced with outside options. Good in a way, as Puljujarvi, Pitlick and even Taylor Beck have played a little. However, the position is not deep at the NHL level, and (JP aside) lacks top end potential.
THE 41-MEN WHO MAKE THE 2016 LIST
I count 50 games as graduation day, so Tyler Pitlick has reached that level and will not be considered a prospect for next year. We could see a bunch of these young players graduate, as Puljujarvi, Caggiula, Benning, Slepyshev, Khaira and Reinhart all within range to do it this year.
- Jesse Puljujarvi 24
- Tyler Benson
- Drake Caggiula 17
- Matt Benning 24
- Ziyat Paigin
- Ethan Bear
- Caleb Jones
- Anton Slepyshev 26
- Jujhar Khaira 15
- Tyler Pitlick 58 (graduated)
- Filip Berglund
- Laurent Brossoit 6
- Griffin Reinhart 37
- Nick Ellis
- Aapeli Rasanen
- William Lagesson
- Dillon Simpson 3
- Markus Niemelainen
- Tyler Vesel
- Dylan Wells
- John Marino
- Jaroslav Svoboda
- David Musil 4
- Matthew Cairns
- Jordan Oesterle 23
- Bogdan Yakimov 1
- Kyle Platzer
- Mitchell Moroz
- Aidan Muir
- Graham McPhee
- Ben Betker
- Joey Laleggia
- Greg Chase
- Zach Nagelvoort
- Jere Sallinen
- Patrick Russell
- Vincent Desharnais
- Joey Benik
- Braden Christoffer
- Evan Campbell
- Eetu Laurikainen
This is not a strong list overall, Oilers will need to get some good surprises in the group after Jesse Puljujarvi. The best list in memory? A year ago, and here is their update.
GRADUATE UPDATE—LAST YEAR’S LIST
- No. 1 C Connor McDavid, graduated to the NHL. Now at 80 games (88 points).
- No. 2 C Leon Draisaitl, graduated to the NHL. Now at 144 games.
- No. 3 D Darnell Nurse, graduated to the NHL. Now at 96 games.
- No. 7 G Anders Nilsson, traded at the deadline (pick was Graham McPhee) and now with Buffalo Sabres. 62 NHL games.
- No. 8 D Brandon Davidson, graduated to the NHL. Now at 68 games.
- No. 10 R Iiro Pakarinen, graduated to the NHL. Now at 80 games.
- No. 24 L Kale Kessy, Oilers did not retain him, he is now in the Winnipeg Jets organization.
- No. 26 C Andrew Miller, he moved on to the Carolina Hurricanes organization. Now at 15 NHL games.
- No. 29 L Josh Winquist, he moved on to the Islanders organization this past summer.
- No. 30 C Alexis Loiseau, AHL contract the Oilers set free. Now in ECHL.
- No. 33 D Brad Hunt, went unsigned and is now in the St. Louis Blues organization. Now at 25 NHL games (four this year with STL).
- No. 36 G Keven Bouchard, Oilers did not sign him, he went back to junior.
- No. 38 D Martin Gernat, Oilers dealt him to Anaheim in the Patrick Maroon deal, he now plays in the Czech league.
- No. 40 G Ty Rimmer. He was not on the 50-man list and was not signed by Bakersfield. Not playing this year.
- No. 40 C Marco Roy. Former second-round pick, Bakersfield signed him but he moved over to the Vancouver Canucks organization this past summer.