The Edmonton Oilers once again graduated elite NHL talent this past season, with #1 prospect (Nail Yakupov) and #2 prospect (Justin Schultz) making their debuts. Added to 2010-11 graduates Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, Magnus Paajarvi, Linus Omark and Jeff Petry and 2011-12 graduates RNH and Anton Lander the Oilers have an insane group of young talents in a cluster.
This is a quick spring update of the current list that takes out the graduates and re-sets the list with areas of strength and weakness in the system being the focus. This list is the update from my winter top 20 on this blog and is not related to the one I do at ON (slightly different).
- (3) D Oscar Klefbom: Impressive 2-way defender who fits the modern game. Good skater, physical and willing to jump into the play. Decision making has improved since draft day, injuries are a concern. Klefbom’s SEL totals (67, 3-4-7) give us an NHLE (82, 3-4-7) that suggests stay-at-home type. However, Euro leagues throw around second assists as often as I buy lunch, so that’s perhaps an unfair projection. Safe to say we should not expect a 20-point rookie season in the NHL. Based on MacT’s quotes after taking over the big job we should expect him to make a push for the big league roster this fall and he could graduate this list by next summer. Corey Pronman: ”NHL GM on newly signed Oscar Klefbom. “Physically mature, great skater. Projects to play against best players and some offense.”
- (4) D Martin Marincin: It’s been awhile since the Oilers had a defender play this well in the AHL debut. Marincin’s arrows are strong now–he’s healthy, has started to add weight for the pro game (AHL has him 6.05 196) and his boxcars (69, 7-23-30) and NHLE (82, 4-12-16) suggest he’ll bring some offense to the show–although playing with Justin Schultz padded his numbers. However, his point total in the playoffs was on par with regular season point-per-game. Should be the second member of the maligned 2010 draft to make the NHL. Todd Nelson: “His body has to mature (187 at the time). As long as his body keeps maturing, he’ll be able to sustain the game at the NHL level. He’s rangy and green still, but there’s tremendous upside. Everybody is looking for 6-foot-5 defencemen with offensive ability. I think he has great opportunity to see games in the NHL.”
- (6) D Martin Gernat: Overcame injury to have a nice season (WHL reg/playoffs combined: 45, 9-21-30, NHLE 82, 5-11-16) and is probably the most talented offensively of the ‘big three’ defenders who sit atop the prospect tree for the Oilers currently. Gernat has been a pleasure to watch as an Oil King, adding parts of his game as he matured. Fans in OKC will see a ‘riverboat gambler’ similar to Marincin (and with a similar mean streak that appears from time to time) and a player who will play in the NHL (should he make it) as a mobile 2-way defender. I spoke to an NHL scout about him (an eastern conference team) and he told me Gernat’s game has developed well defensively, his footspeed and size will be his pro calling cards and we should not expect a lot his offense to come with him to pro hockey. Remains a possible late round gem.
- (7) C Jujhar Khaira: An ‘ultimate sleeper’ pick by Redline before the draft, Khaira (according to Redline) “does the dirty work in the corners, bangs bodies and wins battles, and loves to initiate heavy contact. Powerful stride with great balance and gets leverage on his hits. Has surprisingly soft hands and puck skills with playmaking ability.” His boxcars (37, 6-19-25) and NHLE (82, 5-18-23) show nice improvement year over year and his range of skills makes him the top forward prospect in the system as we head to the draft. Khaira has gotten bigger (now listed at 6.03, 198–he was 182 at the combine) and his arrows are heading in a very good direction.
- (26) L Toni Rajala: I don’t recall moving a prospect up by 21 spots before, but then again Rajala’s had a tremendous season. He’s listed at 5.10, 163 which probably means he’s 5.07, 150. His OKC boxcars (46, 17-28-45) and NHLE (82, 13-22-35) are so impressive (and his playoff was too, as we discussed yesterday) I just can’t find a way to keep him outside the top 5. I have him behind Khaira because his road to the NHL is blocked and he is not guaranteed a second chance with another NHL organization (no draft pedigree). Cheering like hell for him, though.
- (10) D Dillon Simpson: This is such a nice player. Now 6.02, 200 and is playing a feature role on a strong NCAA club at age 20. He has one more year with UND and then will turn pro, and I’m having a hard time keeping him out of the conversation with the top 3 D in the system (above). The skating issues are no longer mentioned, his size is certainly not going to be a problem and his offense (boxcars: 42, 5-19-24; NHLE: 82, 4-15-19) have him near the top of the Oilers D prospect table offensively. I’m going to go ahead and suggest that Simpson hurt his draft number in 2010-11 by playing in the NCAA. The skating issue looked more pronounced against older players and he didn’t get the PP push he’d enjoyed in Spruce Grove. The Oilers got him in the 4th round in 2011, he’s a much better prospect now.
- (NR) D Anton Belov. Russian defender who can skate and move the puck. There are questions about his defensive ability so this ranking is a guess, but his KHL numbers (46, 9-17-26) and his NHLE (82, 13-25-38) suggest he could have a major impact on the offense this season. 26 years old and 6.04, 216.
- (18) D Taylor Fedun: He played a feature role with the Barons this year and has been top 4D all down the line. I don’t know where he fits long term, but he is certainly in the mix for immediate NHL employment (depending on how active the club is going to be this summer). He plays in all situations, has improved his footspeed from the fall and his boxcars (70, 8-19-27) and NHLE (82, 4-10-14) suggests he’ll be able to contribute should he get an NHL job.
- (12) L Mitchell Moroz: Big, tough winger who played on the shutdown line for the Oil Kings this past season with Travis Ewanyk (and Klarc Wilson, later Edgars Kulda). Moroz had few opportunities to move up the depth chart and play with skill, but showed well in those moments and I think we’ll see his offensive production increase with so many Oil Kings heading out of town beginning this fall. His boxcars (69, 13-21-34) and his NHLE (82, 5-7-12) improved slightly but he’s still tracking with Zack Stortini as an offensive player. At this point, he projects as a fast 4th liner with legit fighting ability and size (6.02, 208). A player to watch this fall, as of now he’s in the ‘enforcer’ family of player types.
- (8) D David Musil: It’s all down to skating now. He provides reliable defense featuring an uncanny ability to defuse oncoming sorties, win battles along the wall and in front of the net, to calm the waters–and he delivers it consistently and effectively. However, when David Musil is tired or is matched up against a fleet winger, chaos often ensues. The same scout who told me about Gernat feels it’ll be an extreme test for Musil beginning this fall and he wondered if Musil would be an every game option. Interesting.
- (21) D Brandon Davidson: One of the major surprises this season, has overcome everything in life so I can’t imagine much on the ice will overwhelm him. Took a giant leap later in the season, ending the year on the top pairing for OKC in their playoff run. His boxcars (26, 2-3-5) and NHLE (82, 3-4-7) suggest pure stay at home, but Davidson had more offense in junior, and had a better run in the post-season so there could be more there as we move along. In a season of devastating prospect news on and off the ice, his story is a rainbow.
- (25) C Mark Arcobello: Enjoyed an exceptional season, moved past several players and found himself playing with the NHL guys during the lockout. Even more impressive, he maintained the offense when they left, finishing in the top 3 in both regular season and playoff scoring in the entire AHL. Arcobello’s signing a 2-way contract with the Oilers tells us he’s arrived and is a part of the future in OKC, and maybe in Edmonton too. Impressive career progression. Boxcars are incredible (74, 22-46-68) and his NHLE (82, 10-23-33) tells us he’s got enough of a bat to play in the NHL as a replacement level skill player. Best Yale prospect in the system, which didn’t mean a thing until recently.
- (NR) C Andrew Miller: Yale C signed as a college free agent this spring, 5.10, 180 and 24 years old, there is a player here. Corey Pronman: center is a classic small, skilled college player. Miller displays above-average qualities in terms of his speed, puck skills and overall offensive instincts. In his Senior season especially he showed the ability to consistently create scoring chances and keep the play flowing in the right direction.” Boxcars at Yale (37, 18-23-41) and NHLE (82, 16-21-37) suggest he has enough offensively to play in the NHL. Interesting prospect.
- (9) R Tyler Pitlick: It was a strange season. Here’s what it looked like at OKC TC: Coach Todd Nelson, pre-season–He has to play in a top-six role, that’s where we have him slotted. He might play in a line with Josh Green. We’re just kind of looking at things. Tyler Pitlick, we feel that he’s a top-six guy and he’s going to get an opportunity to prove that and play in that role.” Pitlick did nothing with the opportunity and then suffered an injury that cost him much of the season. He does some things that make him unique–bigger body, aggressive, works hard in the corners and he has a very good shot. However, his boxcars (combined reg/playoffs 60, 5-11-16) and NHLE (82, 3-7-10) are miles from normal. This coming season is going to be a major opportunity, I don’t think he gets another contract without showing some offense.
- (20) L Daniil Zharkov: One of the more promising offensive players from last season’s draft ran in place in the same league he’d played in at 17. It isn’t catastrophic, but it isn’t a great sign either. Off to Russia, who knows if we’ll see him again. His boxcars from the OHL (59, 25-18-43) and his NHLE (82, 10-8-18) should have been better based on age and experience.
- (15) D Joey Laleggia: Undersized skill D who plays for U. Denver, Laleggia’s numbers were off this past season but there’s little doubt he’s an exceptional offensive weapon on the PP. The big question for Laleggia will be how well he can play defense (he’s 5.09, 180) and he’s in the ‘longshot’ area of the top 20 because of it. However, his boxcars (39, 11-18-29) and NHLE (82, 9-16-25) are the strongest offensive numbers among defenders in the system. If he can figure out how to survive in the NHL defensively, Laleggia could be a gift to big league powerplays.
- (16) G Olivier Roy: Built on a strong ECHL season in 11-12 with some nice work in the AHL behind Yann Danis, but eventually was sent back to Stockton because of struggles there. Roy found his groove and enjoyed an outstanding season and playoffs. A .902SP in the AHL isn’t going to get the job done, but Roy has earned a season in OKC to showcase his skills.
- (NR) R John McCarron: NCAA power winger (6.02, 225) hasn’t found his offensive game but plays a physical style and should adjust well to the pro game. Oilers have two more years (he was a sophomore at Cornell this winter) to make a decision on him. 33, 7-12-19 at Cornell, that’s NHLE 82, 7-12-19 too.
- (23) G Frans Tuohimaa: The tall, lean Finnish goalie (6.02, 180) went 13, 2.29 .912 in the SM-Liiga this year and was exceptional in a brief period in the playoffs (2, 0.77 .960). Tuohimaa’s signing by the organization is obviously a clear indication they hold him in some esteem. I am uncertain about the plan for the coming year–will he come to North America?–but he does seem to have a promising future.
- (30) D Erik Gustafsson: 49, 7-16-23 +12 in the Allsvenskan (league below SEL). Swedish puck mover had a terrific start and then fell off offensively. Then he caught fire again and went 22, 4-11-15 to end the year–Corey Pronman was impressed with him, saying “has a fair amount of skill and mobility. Several times he showed the ability to be an effective puck carrier who can make impressive plays and be a starting point for offense. He’s a little undersized which won’t help him, but considering that I thought he defended at an ok level as his reads were fine.” Oilers haven’t talked about him, so we have no idea how they feel about him, and considering the sheer number of blue ahead of him on this list we may never see Gustafsson.
- (29) L Phil Cornet: Won a skill line job in OKC after the lockout and played well again in that role. His boxcars (46, 15-18-33) and NHLE (82, 12-14-26) suggest he is a ‘tweener’ offensive winger and not likely to make the NHL grade. Certainly has enough skill to hook on with another AHL team and could get a callup or two along the way, but we have seen him for three seasons now and have a good idea about him.
- (28) C Ryan Martindale: Part of the 2010 draft, Martindale is still looking for regular work as a pro. Battled injury but also lost playing time this year due to period of ineffective play. His boxcars (41, 6-8-14) and NHLE (82, 5-7-12) aren’t close to good enough and despite size (6.03, 207) no one ever talks about his physical play.
- (NR) L Kale Kessy: Big forward with toughness and an ability to agitate/fight. Oilers got him this spring in a deal for Tobias Rieder. Kirk Luedeke had a nice profile of Kessy in his draft year, including a quote from a scout that went like this: “this is a kid who’s legitimately tough. Last year, he’d blast people and then turn around, looking for someone to take him on. And, he fought some guys older than him and more than held his own. He can go.” Kessy is 6.03, 202 and his boxcars (60, 21-22-43) and NHLE (82, 9-9-18) tell us we should expect a 4line pugilist in OKC next year. If he does have more offense as the playoffs implied (15, 11-3-14) he may take Moroz’ slot as the top ranked enforcer in the system.
- (14) G Tyler Bunz: The Roy-Bunz race was once touted (by me) as ‘JDD-DD 2.0′ but the second edition is awesome only in the sense of awe on gets watching a train wreck or a car crash. Bunz had a terrible year. 37, 3.35 .886 in Stockton (ECHL), the last Oiler prospect to post that kind of number in Stockton was Bryan Pitton. His junior numbers suggested a better player, we are left to wonder if the concussion issues had a greater impact than expected, or about maturity and the usual issues that derail prospects. Certainly not a player to flush, but he needs to show much better this coming season.
- (19) L Curtis Hamilton: Had a poor season and then lost his season to injury. The Oilers are likely tiring of his lack of production, and depending on how his rehab goes there’s a chance Hamilton’s Oiler career is over before it began. His boxcars (61, 5-4-9) and his NHLE (82, 3-2-5) scream NP, but my guess is the Oilers give him one more chance if he’s healthy.
- (NR) C Travis Ewanyk: He has struggled with injuries during his junior career, and I don’t think he’s going to score enough to play in the NHL. Oilers have liked him since drafting him and he’s a tough, rugged C who can agitate; but his boxcars (58, 8-15-23) and NHLE (82, 3-7-10) suggest he will not be an NHL player.
- (27) C Chris VandeVelde: The longest running prospect in the system (he was drafted in 2005 and turned 26 in March), VV is a depth player who gets a cup of coffee from time to time (up to 27 NHL games now). I don’t know that he’ll be back, but hope he is–VandeVelde plays tough minutes and the PK.
- (17) D Colten Teubert: When an NHL team hires a coach to develop talent–as they did with Todd Nelson–and the coach chooses to play 26-year old ECHL callups in front of a highly touted former first round pick–they’re either sending a message or they’ve decided to cut him loose at the next stop. Unless he’s hurt–and he’s apparently healthy–Colten Teubert is in a lot of trouble as an NHL prospect.
- (NR) F Kellen Jones: Undersized skill F who hasn’t gotten a lot of mention since draft day, he has one more year before graduating. His boxcars (43, 13-14-27) and his NHLE (82, 10-11-21) suggest he can post some offense but is unlikely to be an NHL player on skill alone. His size (5.09, 165) is also considered a negative.
- (NR) R Cameron Abney: Fighter has played only 18 AHL games since turning pro 2 years ago and is unlikely to be part of the organization after his entry level deal expires at the end of the 2013-14 season. He was a feared fighter in junior, I don’t know if injury impacted him or the Oilers felt he would improve as a player, but at this point there’s no way to get him to the NHL from where he is right now.
- Center: MacT is right, the Oilers at center are not strong. The current NHL depth chart has youngsters RNH, Gagner and Lander waiting in the wings, but that’s not exactly the 1984 Oilers up the middle. The top C’s on this list are Khaira (#4), Arcobello (#12), Andrew Miller (#13), Martindale (#22), Ewanyk (#26) and VandeVelde (#27). The number of prospects (6) is about right, but the quality just isn’t there. Adding Sean Monahan would be a major item.
- Goalie: Oilers have no goaltenders with NHL calibre resumes. Olivier Roy (#17), Frans Tuohimaa (#19) and Tyler Bunz (#24) are not tracking as NHL starters and that’s an area of need too. I think most of us believe Edmonton will use one of their 2nd rounders on a goalie (Jarry, Comrie).
- Left Wing: The top portside option for the Oilers on this list is led by Rajala (#5) with Moroz (#12), Zharkov (#15), Cornet (#21), Kessy (#23), Hamilton (#25) and Jones (#29) following. The organization has devoted two very high selections (Hall, Paajarvi) on the position in recent years, so need only a 2-way type to develop behind them. Rajala’s skills are not a match, and Moroz appears to be more of an enforcer/policeman/4line option. I don’t see the club spending a high pick on this position, but perhaps they will use their second 2nd round selection on one if someone falls to that spot.
- Right Wing: Starboard is not well represented here and those who do populate the top 30 have not delivered as hoped. Pitlick (#14), McCarron (#18) and Abney (#30) are the extent of the RWers (although several C’s can move over) and I think we should expect Edmonton to draft one or more this time. This position has enjoyed two impact selections (Eberle, Yakupov) in recent years so–like LW–is well covered at the skill positions.
- Defense: The Oilers have spent much of their draft bullets on defensemen in recent years and that is reflected all over the top 30. I’m not going to list them all, but would point out that 7 of the top 10 on this list are defensemen. Eleven of the 30 names on the list are blueliners. I don’t think the Oilers need to add to the talent pool on D, as the club has all kinds of player types and sizes already in the fold.
Based on need, I think we’ll see Center, Goal and to a lesser extent wing addressed at the draft and over the summer. Craig MacTavish’s words are borne out by the facts: Edmonton is extremely weak at center and in goal.