The Edmonton Oilers entered the 2017 entry draft badly in need of skilled forwards. In the first round, the club grabbed Kailer Yamamoto and continued to add skill throughout day two. The result is a more balanced prospect list and a big step forward in the battle to establish a system that can feed quality players to the NHL team on demand. Long way to go, this weekend helped enormously.
- Players over 50 games graduate
- Players who have been traded no longer appear.
- List is based on potential and gives zero weight to being close to NHL-ready.
- Previous ranking in brackets (previous ranking is from Winter 2016)
- This list likes offense.
- This list also likes prospects who can make the NHL in more than one way.
- This list punishes lack of speed. Hard. I mean really hard.
GRADUATES AND EXITS
- (No. 3 on winter list) L Drake Caggiula. Finished 60gp, 7-11-18 as an Oilers rookie, plus 13gp, 3-0-3 in the playoffs.
- (No. 4 on winter list) RD Matt Benning. Started well in the minors (6gp, 1-1-2) and then showed impressive range in the NHL (62gp, 3-12-15). Also went 12gp, 0-3-3 in the playoffs.
- (No. 8 on winter list) R Anton Slepyshev. Spent a little time (9gp, 3-7-10) in Bakersfield before spending half the season (41gp, 4-6-10) with the Oilers. Impressive playoffs.
- (No. 10 on winter list) R Tyler Pitlick. He is now a free agent but finally passed 50 NHL games to graduate as a prospect. Boxcars (31gp, 8-3-11) were beautiful.
- (No. 13 on winter list) LD Griffin Reinhart. He played in one NHL game (playoffs) and has since been lost in the expansion draft.
- (No. 23 on winter list) LD David Musil. In NHL circles, loaning a player is similar to cutting the cord. Speed is more important every season in the NHL game.
- (No. 26 on winter list) LC Bogdan Yakimov. He is listed on elite prospects playing next season for Neftekhimik, and I think that signals the end of his association with the Oilers.
- (No. 28 on winter list) L Mitch Moroz. Traded for Henrik Samuelsson later in the season.
- (No. 34 on winter list) G Zack Nagelvoort. A promising draft day selection in 2014. Signed with Missouri of the ECHL as he turned pro this spring.
- (No. 35 on winter list) LC Jere Sallinen. A disappointment because his offense was nonexistent on this side of the ocean. Pro scouts missed badly here.
- (No. 40 on winter list) L Evan Campbell. One of the humorous things about the Oilers is their tendency to draft players, not sign them, but ink one of their undrafted teammates. So, we’ve been following Campbell forever and the team signs fellow UMass-Lowell forward Joe Gambardella instead.
- (No. 41 on winter list) G Eetu Laurikainen. He signed in the days right after Peter Chiarelli took over, suspect the contract had already been agreed to and the shift occurred under his feet.
TOP 20 PROSPECTS, 2017 SUMMER
(Winter 2016 ranking in brackets)
- (1) R Jesse Puljujarvi. Posted 28gp, 1-7-8 in the NHL and 39gp, 12-16-28 in Bakersfield this season. JP wasn’t dominant in either league, but considering age (18) and usage (secondary role in AHL) the boxcars were satisfactory. All of his NHL assists were initial, he did well in possession and his AHL shots total (per game) aligned with Mikko Rantanen. He needs to have a productive offensive season in the NHL.
- (NR) R Kailer Yamamoto. Outstanding offensive potential in a small dynamite package. Yamamoto is a wizard with the puck and possesses great speed to go with it. Size is an issue but he’s been dealing with it (and flourishing) since putting on skates. His boxcars (65gp, 42-57-99) are fantastic. He was 28-20-48 at 5×5 this year, behind only Cody Glass among WHL players.
- (6) RD Ethan Bear. You could make a strong argument for Bear’s season as the best in the system (outside NHL). He ended up winning WHL Defenseman of the Year, posted 67gp, 28-42-70 and playoffs 17gp, 6-20-26. I am fairly certain he will need at least a year in the AHL to adjust to pro, we shouldn’t assume he’ll get power-play time as a rookie AHL blue.
- (7) LD Caleb Jones. Jones has blossomed into a complete defenseman, making him that rare player who defies his draft day scouting report. Delivered 63gp, 9-53-62 in regular year, plus 11gp, 2-8-10 in the postseason. He may be the best skater among defenders in the system and that’s a big advantage when hitting pro. He enters pro hockey in what is basically a tie with Ethan Bear for ‘most promising defender’ and it will be interesting to see who fares best in year one AHL.
- (2) L Tyler Benson. Went 33gp, 11-31-42 with the Vancouver Giants before being shut down once again due to injury. He is apparently healthy after surgery and heading to Team Canada (WJ) summer camp, which is encouraging. I do think the Oilers would have strongly considered choosing Kristian Vesalainen if the news on Benson had been worse. He is the top ranked LW in the system.
- (NR) R Ostap Safin. There were maybe 10 guys who I liked as offensive wingers outside the first round and damned if the Oilers got the very last one available. High risk-reward player he has size, speed and skill, question being how much and can he post impressive crooked numbers at higher levels. Can’t wait to see his numbers. 5gp, 1-3-4 at U18s, bitches!
- (9) LC Jujhar Khaira. He is so close to being an NHL regular but battled injury this season. Posted 27gp, 8-12-20 in the AHL, showing real offensive growth in his third pro season. Has now played in 27 NHL games, played 10 NHL games and scored a goal in 2016-17. A lock for the roster this fall, he is the top ranked center in the system at this time.
- (5) LD Ziyat Paigin. After his watershed 2015-16 season, expectations were raised for Paigin. It’s important to remember a lot of his offense comes from power-play time (he has a terrific shot) and that appears to have dried up in 2016-17. Went 17gp, 1-3-4 while battling injury and handling during his KHL season. Signed with the Oilers and finished 5gp, 0-0-0 in Bakersfield. We have to get this player surrounded (shutdown capabilities, massive wingspan, big shot, not a puck mover) and that will happen this coming year. He is not a trad puck mover but can pass effectively and is a solid defender with impressive wingspan.
- (NR) G Stuart Skinner. His .920SP at 17 was a great season but this past year was .905, meaning this ranking is based on things other than performance. The collective scouting verbal on Skinner is impressive (from various scouts and services I have read), he clearly represents the modern prototype. Organization is high on him, his frame and movement are a cut above. “Saw him good” gets him inside the top 10, lack of consistency keeps him from being ranked higher.
- (NR) L Kirill Maksimov. An intriguing player with (continuing a theme) some risk-reward attached to him. His combination of size, speed and skill immediately makes him one of the most impressive prospects in the system. His ability to protect the puck and win battles along the wall make him a Chiarelli type. I’m not terribly comfortable with the ranking because the reason for it (spike after trade) is a small sample size. However, he also had a strong U18’s and is a June 1999 so more room to grow.
- (20) G Dylan Wells. An amazing year for Wells, especially considering the disappointment of his previous campaign. Year over year save percentage progress (.871 to .916) was amazing and his playoff performance (.930) added to the strength of his season.
- (NR) LD Dmitri Samorukov. Two-way defender with good speed, mobility and he can move the puck. Improved over the course of the season as a defender but some chaos remains in his game. Has a hard shot, not yet the sum of his parts. Has a risk-reward resume somewhat similar to Safin. Pronman has him ranked and that is part of the reason Samorukov is inside the top 12.
- (NR) LC Joe Gambardella. A quality addition for the Oilers who may be a bigger piece of the puzzle than it initially appeared. He is an aggressive forechecker and turns that skill into offense off turnovers. With an NHLE of 82, 13-25-38, he might be the most NHL-ready of the forwards who have yet to play a big league game. His time is now, but his potential lands him here.
- (12) G Laurent Brossoit. My line in the sand for goalies to graduate is 25 games, and LB is at 15. He performed very well in the AHL (21gp, 2.67 .908) although his boxcars were harmed by some wobble during Christmas week. In the NHL, he played in eight games, going 1.99, .928 and (I believing) earning a full season as backup to Talbot. Played 28 minutes during the playoffs. I would estimate him as an NHL backup at this time, that is reflected in this ranking.
- (11) RD Filip Berglund. He spent the entire season in Sweden’s top league (SHL) and even posted some crooked numbers (49gp, 0-7-7). Berglund has expressed a desire to remain in Sweden next season, which makes sense (he is clearly going to play based on his handling this season). He remains a solid prospect in my mind, ranking reflects an improving prospect pool.
- (32) L Joey Laleggia. A revelation this season, especially with his move to LW mid-season. From Boxing Day forward, he went 43gp, 18-13-31. That works out to 16 goals NHLE for 82 games. That has value. He shoots like a maniac too (153 shots in 67 games) and that includes his time on defense. Big rise on this list, on merit. He deserves a long look in training camp.
- (14) G Nick Ellis. A strong first season of pro has Nick Ellis in the conversation for NHL employment. He posted superior numbers (34gp, 2.69 .918) to Brossoit and that came in Ellis’ debut season in the AHL. Although he is the fourth goalie listed here, not certain to me there is a massive gap between any of them. Ellis will improve rank by grabbing that AHL starting job and running with it.
- (15) RC Aapeli Rasanen. He had some injury problems this year, but performed well when healthy. One of the few noticeable Finns at the WJ’s, he played very well in the USHL (38gp, 7-18-25) and we can hope for progress at Boston College in the fall. He is progressing as a checking center with skill, speed being the one nervous item.
- (21) RD John Marino. A strong freshman season for Harvard has Marino’s stock on the rise. A mobile two-way defender, he showed slickness at both ends of the ice. His boxcars (35gp, 2-13-15) were very strong for a first-year college man and should spike as his usage increases over time.
- (NR) RD Ryan Mantha. He blossomed this year (65, 17-41-58) with the Niagara Ice Dogs and he’ll get a full AHL season in 2017-18. Important not to overreact to a 20-year old dominating junior, but if reports of improved development (foot speed) are true, the 6.05, 225 defender could be a real find.
- (16) LD William Lagesson. He signed with the Oilers, who promptly loaned the Swede to Djurgardens IF in Sweden. The key item for a DD is speed and Lagesson is fast and mobile. A little strange that he was sent to Sweden though, Oilers may have a value on him that is lower than some of the LHD prospects I have below him.
- (25) LD Jordan Oesterle. He has defensive holes, but the man can wheel. I hope the Oilers sign him. Went 44gp, 7-25-32 in the AHL and played a couple of NHL games. If you believe a player can improve defensive coverage this man is a good bet, because his foot speed will be NHL calibre for the next decade.
- (17) LD Dillon Simpson. Played in his first three NHL games this season and was quietly effective. He would be a solid first recall option out of Bakersfield, but the organization may want to bring in a defender with more potential. Has value as a first callup and may grow into a depth role.
- (30) L Graham McPhee. It would be easy to look at his boxcars (39gp, 2-8-10) and see him as shy offensively, but freshman forwards play sparingly for the big programs (Boston College). The most encouraging thing about him is that Corey Pronman liked him as a USHL player and I trust his opinion. Still, needs to score.
- (NR) G Shane Starrett. In his two NCAA seasons, he posted .924 and .925 save percentages, suggesting this is in fact his quality of play. At 22, he is a solid pro prospect. He’s tall and thin (6.05, 180), getting mighty crowded at his position.
- (19) RC Tyler Vesel. Enjoyed a breakout (39gp, 14-21-35) college season with Omaha. The numbers say he is emerging and the ranking reflects his season. It might be telling that the Oilers didn’t sign him this spring, perhaps they will sign a teammate (hey, they do it a lot!)
- (18) LD Markus Niemelainen. He had one of the most baffling seasons by an Oilers prospect in recent memory. His point total went from 27 to nine, but the reports I got about Niemelainen had him playing well, or at least well enough to make the dive in points mysterious. He has signed with HPK in the Sm-Liiga for next season and his stock has certainly fallen. Will the Oilers sign him?
- (NR) LC Skyler Brind’Amour. This is one of my favorite moves, the draft and follow. The evidence on Brind’Amour is razor thin, but the blood lines are quality and the bio on him (responsible player) interesting. Not much tape on him, complete wild card but a good risk late in the draft. Described as a 200-foot player, he could rise up on this list in a quick hurry.
- (29) L Aidan Muir. Went 20gp, 2-9-11 for Western Michigan this season, suffered a hand injury that derailed him. He is 6.04, 212 and has one more year of college eligibility. His NHLE (18.5) suggests he may have pro-level offense, we may see him in Bakersfield come spring.
- (NR) RD Phil Kemp. He sounds like a classic shutdown prospect, with shot blocking and defensive positioning among his bullet points. Good skater, defense first, 6.03 and 201. Miles to go and he is a 1999 so is just getting started.
- (31) LD Ben Betker. Big man (6.06, 228) played for Bakersfield (mostly) this winter, going 30gp, 1-5-6 and playing a depth role. Had a good EV GF-GA ratio, will be interesting to see what role he plays this coming season.
- (33) R Greg Chase. Went 48gp, 3-11-14 this season, his first full season in the AHL. He has now played 76 games for Bakersfield, posting 5-18-23. Chase has talent but this final year of his entry-level contract has to count.
- (36) R Patrick Russell. In looking at his overall numbers first season pro (68gp, 8-9-17) there is disappointment. However, he shoots the puck a lot (150 shots, 2.21 a game) and the Oilers need to cultivate those players. I am looking forward to his second season.
- (27) RC Kyle Platzer. He has not progressed through two pro seasons and time is running out for him in the organization. Needs to establish himself as a regular in the AHL and hasn’r been able to do it through two seasons.
- (24) LD Matthew Cairns. Cairns started in the USHL but wasn’t playing enough, so zipped over to the BCHL,where he posted 18gp, 2-14-16. He is big, got flagged for speed in some of his draft day scouting reports and has a big shot but scored two goals all year. Fell sharply on my list and will need to recover from what was a difficult season.
- (37) RD Vincent Desharnais. It is difficult to get much information on players like Desharnais (college men who play a defensive style) but what we read about him this season was solid. I’m not sure when he plans to turn pro but tracking him is going to be an exercise in frustration during his NCAA time.
- (38) L Joey Benik. He is not an NHL contract, but is an interesting player because of his scoring ability. Went 21gp, 4-1-5 at the AHL level and was quality in the ECHL. I don’t think he gets an NHL contract but interesting player.
- (NR) L Evan Polei. An AHL contract, his size and skill (6.02, 227 and 33 goals) are intriguing. Good hands, speed the issue and we’ll see in a year. He was a quality junior.
- (NR) R Dave Gust, Ohio State (NCAA). He is 23, 5.10, 174 and had a big college season (39gp, 18-23-41). AHL contract.
- (NR) R Chad Butcher. Small winger with range of skills, good offense. He is an AHL contract for 2017-18. Speed main weapon, he posted more than 100 points this year.
- (39) L Braden Christoffer. Signed in a training camp fever, Christoffer has been unable to score enough (49gp, 5-3-8) or get enough playing time (9:06). Has to be a great experience for him an earning an NHL contract is a dream.
- (NR) R Henrik Samuelsson. Acquired in the Mitchell Moroz deal, he is RFA and they basically shut him down five games into his Bakersfield career. Not a good sign.
- Goal: 5
- Left Defense: 9
- Right Defense: 6
- Center: 6
- Left Wing: 8
- Right Wing: 8
We are approaching balance here in the prospect pool, strongest positions at first blush would appear to be RW, LD, Goal. Edmonton needs LW’s (despite the number here) and puck-moving defenders of any stripe. One of the things we’ll talk about moving forward is Edmonton’s large group of defensemen best described as two-way or shutdown types. No Torey Krug yet!
NHLE’S FOR THE NEWLY MINTED PROSPECTS!
- Kailer Yamamoto 36.2
- Ostap Safin 17.8
- Kirill Maksimov 14.2
- Dmitri Samorukov 7.3
- Phil Kemp 3.5
- Skyler Brind’Amour 2.8
We are now years past the player type who has significant skating issues, haven’t seen one of those fellows since about 2012. Edmonton does take defensemen who can skate but have shy offense and that continued this season. As always, it is very difficult to assess these talents and put them in order the day after they are drafted, I’ll suggest we will have a much better idea about the new arrivals when we meet again in December for the winter Top 20. Expect Jesse Puljujarvi, Jujhar Khaira and Laurent Brossoit to graduate by Christmas.
One final note: I don’t think this list is complete. We could still see a trade or two and they might involve a prospect coming in or heading out. And there are still college kids to sign. I will update when those things occur. Thanks for reading!