This year’s list is dominated by Connor McDavid, with Leon Draisaitl and Darnell Nurse adding a stunning kicker to what is absolutely the best prospect list of the century. I called last year’s the weakest since 2010 or before, but this group, the one this December, will be remembered in this city for a long, long time.
- Current Prospects: Laurent Brossoit (No. 6) and Anders Nilsson (No. 7) could be part of the solution if things break right, and it has been a very good season. Eetu Laurikainen (No. 22)—just recalled to the Condors—and Miroslav Svoboda (No. 32) are distant bells, but you never know. Zach Nagelvoort (No. 35), Keven Bouchard (No. 36) and Ty Rimmer (No. 40) are curios in need of a contract not yet earned. We may not be talking about any of the three a year from now.
- Is this an area of strength? It remains an area of weakness, although I would suggest Peter Chiarelli has improved the quality of the bets. A year ago, Brossoit was flanked by Nagelvoort, Frans Tuohimaa and Tyler Bunz (last year is here).
- What’s the next step? Edmonton needs to make the call on Cam Talbot and Nilsson. If both are retained, that gives Brossoit another season in the AHL to push, and maybe he does it during the year (or in TC). Another draft pick spent on a goalie is likely in 2016. The surprising recall of Laurikainen suggests they want to get a longer look at him.
- Will everyone be back next season? Aside from Talbot and Nilsson, Edmonton has to decide on Keven Bouchard and possibly Zach Nagelvoort. Ty Rimmer does not have an NHL contract and is unlikely to get one.
- Will anyone be gone next season? Ben Scrivens was traded this morning, he was the only certain exit. I can see a future with Talbot, Nilsson (NHL) and Brossoit, Laurikainen (AHL) as the batting order.
- Current Prospects: Darnell Nurse (No. 3) is spending his rookie NHL season with the team now, likely to graduate from the list this summer. A splendid young player. Griffin Reinhart (No. 5) has played a dozen games with the Oilers this season and could be a callup soon. Brandon Davidson (No. 8) is an overnight sensation after more than five years in the organization. Crazy how good he is. Ethan Bear (No. 9) was a great pick where they got him and he has posted some good boxcars and solid play based on reports. A few years away, but promising. Caleb Jones (No. 13), Ziyat Paigin (No. 15), William Lagesson (No. 16), Joey Laleggia (No. 17), Dillon Simpson (No. 18), John Marino (No. 20), David Musil (No. 21), Jordan Oesterle (No. 23), Ben Betker (No. 31), Brad Hunt (No. 33) and Martin Gernat (No. 38) represent 15 of the 40 men (37.5%) and an enormous piece of the prospect pie. There is a very real chance Peter Chiarelli culls this group in the near future.
- Is This an Area of Strength? Yes, defense is the second strongest position among prospects, and then only because of McDavid’s addition this past summer. Recent grad Oscar Klefbom adds to the overall strength of the group, and it is reasonable to suggest PC will be able to trade from this area to address weakness in the coming years.
- What’s the Next Step? The team is spending this season with Darnell Nurse, Brandon Davidson and Griffin Reinhart playing big league games and getting comfortable. Next step is to see if any of the bubbling under group can push up from the minors. Ziyat Paigin, Dillon Simpson, David Musil and Jordan Oesterle would appear to be the obvious candidates.
- Will Everyone be Back Next Season? Brad Hunt is UFA, cannot see him here next year (Laleggia, Oesterle and others duplicate his skills) unless he saves the power play in the coming weeks. Martin Gernat, Jordan Oesterle and David Musil are RFA, I expect Edmonton to cut loose Gernat (unless he has a crazy second half), possibly do the same with Oesterle and probably bring back Musil.
- Will Anyone Be Gone Next Season? At the NHL level, a bunch of decisions including Nikita Nikitin (for sure), Andrew Ference (likely), Mark Fayne and Eric Gryba (maybe) sitting here in limbo. There will also be additions to what is becoming the center of the cluster (Sekera, Klefbom, Nurse, Davidson, Reinhart) and the club will have to figure out what to do with Justin Schultz—if they flush him they need to replace him. Great opportunities for Nurse,Reinhart and Davidson this and next season, but the group below that will have an awful time of it. Why? The Oilers have four young blue (and Sekera) ahead of them, the job openings will be scarce for years.
- Current Prospects: Connor McDavid (No. 1) isn’t a prospect, he is a force of nature. Yeah. The fact Leon Draisaitl (No. 2) emerged the same year as the draft is too perfect and should sustain this organization for a decade (or more). Incredible luck, and a tip of the hat to Craig MacTavish for choosing the German. Bogdan Yakimov (No. 11) may have seen the writing on the depth chart wall, but this move to the KHL is beyond troubling. The Oilers have too many exceptional center options his age to make allowances for Yak 2.0, and the NHL isn’t every man’s dream. Rock, meet hard place. Kyle Platzer (No. 14) is having a good pro debut and may end up playing the Kyle Brodziak role eventually. Andrew Miller (No. 26), Tyler Vesel (No. 28), Alexis Loiseau (No. 30) and Marco Roy (No. 40) populate the long shot portion of this position.
- Is This an Area of Strength? Yes! Finally, the Oilers at center look locked and loaded for an extremely long time. The last time Edmonton’s center cluster looked this promising, giants walked among us. Strength may not be a strong enough word.
- What’s the Next Step? Edmonton is investing (wisely) most of their NHL at-bats on McDavid and Draisaitl this season, but are also getting good mileage out of Platzer in the minors. Miller is in place as a callup option and I like the low-cost bets on Loiseau and Roy. Vesel is an interesting player with a range of skills, smart thing to do is let him finish his college career.
- Will Everyone be Back Next Season? Anton Lander is having a poor offensive season, he is the most vulnerable at this time. Edmonton needs his defensive acumen and he plays with some edge, so maybe he stays. All others remain in my mind, although the Nuge rumors are out there and may have (crazy) legs. Yakimov is now a wild card, it could go any way.
- Will Anyone Be Gone Next Season? A position change (RW for Leon) is more likely than a trade out in my opinion. The Oilers have impact youth that is NHL-ready. A wonderful spot to grow from.
- Current Prospects: Anton Slepyshev (No. 4) is a promising prospect at an area of need (he can play either wing) and spent significant time in the NHL early in the year. Jujhar Khaira (No. 12) might be the most pleasant surprise among the forwards this year, emerging as a real bottom 6F option at the NHL level. Kale Kessy (No. 24) is in the window where an NHL cup of coffee is possible, and is just ahead of Mitchell Moroz (No. 27), Josh Winquist (No. 29), Braden Christoffer (No. 34) on the pro depth chart. College men Aidan Muir (No. 37) and Evan Campbell (No. 39) round out the group.
- Is This an Area of Strength? No. In terms of prospects, there are no sure things, although Slepyshev looks like a bona fide player. The bets made by Edmonton at this position before Chiarelli’s arrival have limited potential as offensive contributors.
- What’s the Next Step? Oilers have to make sure the Russian doesn’t bolt, and I do think we will see activity on the draft floor at the LW position. The continuing development of Khaira is intriguing.
- Will Everyone be Back Next Season? The NHL depth chart is quality and looks set, with Taylor Hall, Benoit Pouliot and Matt Hendricks all helping in various ways. Fourth line LW Luke Gazdic might be vulnerable.
- Will Anyone be Gone Next Season? Gazdic aside, Rob Klinkhammer is UFA and may not return (hard to get a feel for his value, as injury has impacted his season). On the minor league level, Ryan Hamilton (I do not have him listed as one of the best 40 options) is a UFA and Kale Kessy is RFA. I think Kessy might return, depending on the second half of this season.
- Prospects: Iiro Pakarinen (No. 10) is a gritty player with some skill, there could be an NHL job for him in Edmonton. Greg Chase (No. 19) is a similar player, although there may be more offensive potential based on his resume. Tyler Pitlick (No. 25) is one of the best AHL forwards in the organization, but whenever he gets a chance injuries impact him.
- Is This an Area of Strength? Weakest position on the club, there is no player on the list of 40 prospects we can safely project into an NHL career.
- What’s the Next Step? All three prospects are playing pro and more at-bats are required. We are talking 3line and 4line players but that has value, too. I think Peter Chiarelli reflected the extreme need at this position with today’s trade, as Zack Kassian immediately steps into a substantial opportunity.
- Will Everyone by Back Next Season? At the NHL level, Jordan Eberle and Nail Yakupov would appear to be part of the future. Below the NHL, Kassian is a major question mark, and fellow RFA’s Pakarinen and Pitlick are also a little up in the air.
- Will Anyone be Gone Next Season? Teddy Purcell is on track for a 50-point season, so could be signed or dealt at the deadline. I always felt Nail Yakupov was in a bad spot (third winger among the top group) and that may cost him this summer (or earlier).
GONE BABY GONE
Graduating from one year ago (with last year’s winter ranking) are:
- D Oscar Klefbom (No. 3) exceeded 50 NHL games and graduated
- R Jackson Houck (No. 12) was not signed by the Oilers, playing in WHL at 20
- L Curtis Hamilton (No. 19) was not re-signed by the Oilers, playing in Czech
- R Steve Pinizzotto (No. 27) is playing for Munich in the German DEL
- G Frans Tuohimaa (No. 30) was not re-signed by the Oilers, playing well in the SHL
- R John McCarron (No. 33) was not signed by the Oilers, playing in the ECHL
- C Travis Ewanyk (No. 34) was traded to Ottawa, and is playing in the AHL
- G Tyler Bunz (No. 35) was not re-signed by the Oilers, currently sitting out (I think it might be due to concussions and he could re-appear, but that is a guess)
- L Daniil Zharkov (No. 37) came to Bakersfield camp and was injured.
- C Liam Coughlin (No. 38) was traded to the Chicago Blackhawks for G Anders Nilsson, a trade that looks brilliant from here. Coughlin is playing pretty well for Vermont (NCAA).
- F Kellen Jones (No. 39) was not re-signed by the Oilers, although he has played one game for the Bakersfield Condors this year. ECHL the rest of the time.
- C Connor Jones (No. 40) was not re-signed by the Oilers, he has played for the Bridgeport Sound Tigers of the AHL this season.
PLAYERS WHO MAY GRADUATE BY THE SUMMER LIST
I use 50 games as the line in the sand for prospect graduation, but if McDavid ends up with 45 games due to injury, he won’t be included on the summer list.
- Connor McDavid (13 games)
- Leon Draisaitl (64 games—already graduated)
- Darnell Nurse (30 games)
- Anton Slepyshev (11 games)
- Griffin Reinhart (20 games)
- Laurent Brossoit (1 game)
- Anders Nilsson (44 games)
- Brandon Davidson (35 games)
- Ethan Bear
- Iiro Pakarinen (46 games)
- Bogdan Yakimov (1 game)
- Jujhar Khaira (9 games)
- Caleb Jones
- Kyle Platzer
- Ziyat Paigin
- William Lagesson
- Joey Laleggia
- Dillon Simpson
- Greg Chase
- John Marino
- David Musil (4 games)
- Eetu Laurikainen
- Jordan Oesterle (6 games)
- Kale Kessy
- Tyler Pitlick (27 games)
- Andrew Miller (15 games)
- Mitchell Moroz
- Tyler Vesel
- Josh Winquist
- Alexis Loiseau
- Ben Betker
- Miroslav Svodoba
- Brad Hunt (14 games)
- Braden Christoffer
- Zach Nagelvoort
- Keven Bouchard
- Aidan Muir
- Martin Gernat
- Evan Campbell
- Ty Rimmer, Marco Roy
This is the best list I have seen in the dozen (or so) years of compilation. As it turned out, it was easy: Draft Connor McDavid!