The good news is that the Edmonton Oilers finally drafted a Russian winger an NHL coach trusts. The bad news? It isn’t Nail Yakupov. Chosen in the third round of the 2013 NHL Entry Draft, and part of that crazy MacT trade, Anton Slepyshev appears to be that rare item: Not only a Russian the Oilers like, but a man who performs better in the NHL than the AHL.
PREVIOUSLY NO. 8 ON THE WINTER LIST
- December 2006: L Alexei Mikhnov (2)
- December 2007: L Slava Trukhno (0)
- December 2008: C Chris VandeVelde (216)
- December 2009: D Taylor Chorney (125)
- December 2010: L Linus Omark (79)
- December 2011: L Curtis Hamilton (1)
- December 2012: D David Musil (4)
- December 2013: D Dillon Simpson (0)
- December 2014: D Dillon Simpson (0)
- December 2015: D Brandon Davidson (64)
This is not a strong list, but we are at No. 8 and the list here contains failed first rounders, second rounders who couldn’t find a path, and three players who ground their skills into something useful after a long pro journey. Anton Slepyshev is 22, how old will he be on the night he plays game No. 216? Chris VandeVelde was 29 years, eight months. Brandon Davidson might be the best player on this list—he would be my choice—but health is an increasing issue for him.
WHAT THEY SAID ON DRAFT DAY
- Corey Pronman: Slepyshev was passed over in last year’s draft, mostly due to signability concerns. Despite being ranked 17th in last year’s Hockey Prospectus draft rankings, he falls to 45th this season, simply due to the depth of the draft class. He is an above-average skater, with agility and free movement, as his shiftiness makes him hard to check. He has a plus shot and he knows it, as his mentality is often shoot-first, even from distance. He can still make plays, and he does not have tunnel vision, but his playmaking skills are not his best element. His physical game has progressed, and he has added strength since last season. He can protect pucks moderately well. He will display physical effort, although it could be better at times. He also needs to work on his defensive game.
- ISS Scouting Report: “Perhaps the best player that was most shockingly left off the draft board last year, Slepyshev came back strong this year. A talented two-way player with good spirit, Slepyshev has great hands and can really make things happen from the perimeter with the puck. He shows good work ethic, can play physical and also can be a real pest to play against. He shows good power elements in his game and can protect the puck well and isn’t afraid to go into the dirty areas of the ice. Saw good minutes for Russia at this year’s WJC and should be in line to be one of their top weapons for next year’s event.”
PREVIOUS TOP 20 RANKING
- Summer 2013: 7
- Winter 2013: 17
- Summer 2014: 18
- Winter 2014: 17
- Summer 2015: 9
- Winter 2015: 4
- Summer 2016: 15
- Winter 2016: 8
Slepyshev moved up the rankings until reaching the AHL—and that is a league many third-round selections stumble on. We can factor in adjustment time to North America, and—as mentioned by Simon Boisvert on a recent Lowdown—lack of skilled teammates at the AHL level. Both of these issues could have derailed him and sent Slepyshev back to Russia. These entry-level contracts to Russian kids with attractive options back home are damn dangerous—witness Bogdan Yakimov—but credit to Slepyshev this seems to be his dream and he appears to be putting in the work.
Ferraro on Anton Slepyshev: "That kid's a player. I saw him at World Junior & loved him. He's not a 3 years in the AHL" project. #Oilers
— Bruce McCurdy (@BruceMcCurdy) May 28, 2015
SLEPYSHEV IN THE KHL
- 2011-12 (age 17) 39GP, 4-3-7 (8:55 TOI, 28 shots) (1.21 points-per-60) (4.83 shots-per-60)
- 2012-13 (age 18) 26GP, 7-2-9 (12:40 TOI, 63 shots) (1.64 points-per-60) (11.48 shots-per-60)
- 2013-14 (age 19) 36GP, 3-5-8 (10:18 TOI, 59 shots) (1.30 points-per-60) (9.55 shots-per–60)
- 2014-15 (age 20) 58GP, 15-10-25 (12:26 TOI, 129 shots) (2.08 points-per-60) (10.73 shots-per-60)
I tracked Slepyshev in the KHL and noticed (from year two) he seemed to shoot a lot. If you compare his KHL numbers to the 2015-16 AHL season and use estimates for the numbers unavailable, we get this:
- 2015-16 (age 21) 49GP, 13-8-21 (13:26 estimated TOI, 113 shots) (1.91 points-per-60) (10.3 shots per 60)
I honestly felt he would post better numbers but the AHL is a fine league, but the adjustment period and the lack of top end skill in the AHL (the Boisvert point) had us here at the end of the 2015-16 season.
- Todd McLellan: “Yes. When I look at his game, and I watched the video again—the video doesn’t lie. He did a lot of the things we worked on today in the game. He’s a young player but he’s played pro hockey before. You can see it, he’s been around pro players for awhile.”
- Todd McLellan: “He has the ability to play a heavy game and use his shot. He’s played with speed guys and with grinders … he’s getting better night after night and he’s really opening the coaches’ eyes.” Source
- Slepyshev on what he needs to do in order to get back to the NHL: “When the Oilers management sent me down to the AHL to play in Bakersfield they clearly let me know what I did well and what I needed to work on. I took what I needed to work on and have been developing those skills in the AHL. In my time in the AHL, I have learned to think faster on the ice and make quicker decisions. I also learned how to play stronger and win battles against the boards. I now understand what a smart decision in this kind of hockey is and I understand what an unwise decision is. I am trying to find the keys to success in this league. I have been working on things that will translate into points. Points are what I really lack.”
- Condors Coach Gerry Fleming: “He’s got good skill assets. He just has to bring it on a consistent basis. There’s times when he was caught just standing around but I think that was just getting used to the league and the way the North American game is compared to the KHL where a lot of guys showcase their talents individually. Here it’s a smaller area to work with so you’ve got to use your teammates and you’ve got to always come to the puck and play on the inside. It just took him a little while to understand but he’s starting to grasp the concept and as a result his play has been better.” Source
- Todd McLellan: ‘He’s an NHL prospect and looks more confident because he understands our game and the language now. I expect him to push really hard this year. I thought he did a lot of good things on the ice today — by himself, rushes, one-on-one play. That will evolve into good team play.’ Source
SLEPYSHEV THE OILER
Slepyshev has found some real chem with Leon Draisaitl (2-1-3 51.5 Corsi for 5×5 percentage in 52 minutes with the German) and even more important a coach who is giving him a full chance. This is a very small sample, but encouraging just the same. The Pronman and Ferraro verbal above has always impressed me, even during post-draft seasons when the offense was not strong.
In the fall of 2015, the Edmonton Oilers, of sound mind and body, chose to keep Anton Slepyshev over Leon Draisaitl. At the time, I thought it was about cap (it may have been, Edmonton kept Griffin Reinhart too), but it is clear that Peter Chiarelli and Todd McLellan like the Russian winger. The question that needs to be answered is this: Can Slepsyhev find a consistent role on the NHL Oilers, and how much offense will he bring?
This is important stuff, finding useful wingers from previous drafts who can play the game, provide offense and be considered value contracts. Slepyshev can solve some real issues for the Oilers if he comes through as an actual NHL player. We have been in this place with any number of promising young players going back to the turn of the century—Marc Pouliot is an example—but Edmonton has been very poor in successfully developing players via the AHL.
THE 2013 DRAFT
- Darnell Nurse, No. 7 overall. His rookie NHL season was inconsistent, but he appears to be growing into the role this season. Graduated.
- Marco Roy, No. 59 overall. Didn’t earn an NHL deal, played on an AHL contract and has since moved on to the Canucks organization (another AHL deal). No longer in organization.
- Bogdan Yakimov, No. 83 overall. Mammoth Russian back in KHL, but he remains a player of interest for Edmonton. A candidate for the Winter Top 20.
- Anton Slepyshev, No. 88 overall. Slick Russian winger impressed in camp and won an NHL job—again! The coach likes him, but we don’t know about the offense. No. 8 prospect, Winter 2016.
- Jackson Houck, No. 94 overall. Playing with Colorado Eagles in the ECHL. No longer in the organization.
- Kyle Platzer, No. 96 overall. Second year pro playing some in Bakersfield. A candidate for the Winter top 20.
- Aidan Muir, No. 113 overall. College winger having a good year, recently suffered a wrist injury. A candidate for the Winter top 20.
- Evan Campbell, No. 128 overall. College winger with decent results so far this year. A candidate for the Winter top 20.
- Ben Betker, No. 158 overall. Big defensive defender with good speed is now a full time AHL player. A candidate for the Winter top 20.
- Greg Chase, No. 188 overall. In his second AHL season, he is playing more, shooting more, but has not yet had offensive success. A candidate for the Winter top 20.
ROLLING TOP 20
- Slepyshev’s ranking reflects both his potential and the concerns about offense. If he can deliver consistent offense (15 goals a season), Edmonton will have terrific value from the 2013 pick.
- His combination of size and speed are clearly attractive to management and coaching staff. Slepyshev’s career path took a spike the moment new management took over. He is lucky to have arrived during this period, as opposed to 2009 or 2010.
- It appears unlikely we will see him on the summer list based on his showing so far, and that might be the most surprising item in the Top 20 since the season began.
- He is a shooter—9.59 shots per 60 at even strength this season.