I don’t mention it, which is bad manners, but am indebted to readers for following me down rabbit holes and mine shafts of prospect evaluation and progress measurement over many years. I’ve never asked you once if you’re interested, nor poured you a drink, just got right into the weeds. And we’re back.
Great perspective from a ridiculous group of writers and analysts. I am proud to be part of The Athletic. Here are the most recent Oilers stories.
- New Daniel Nugent-Bowman: Setting the record straight: Why Caleb Jones revealed his COVID-19 test
- New Daniel Nugent-Bowman: A look at 5 questions facing the Oilers midway through their first week of camp
- New Lowetide: Zack Kassian’s role on Oilers top line must include responsible play
- Lowetide: What should Oilers fans expect from Connor McDavid in the playoffs?
- Daniel Nugent-Bowman: Oilers observations: Connor McDavid shines, Caleb Jones MIA and more
- Jonathan Willis: Oilers get good cap news: Long-term outlook is tight but workable
- Lowetide: The Oilers’ approach to Russians at the draft? Trust but verify
- Daniel Nugent-Bowman: Mike Green’s opt-out isn’t ideal, but Oilers defence should manage without him
- Lowetide: Joakim Nygard’s Oilers season reveals speedster with range of skills
- Lowetide: Dave Tippett’s postseason strategy against the Blackhawks
- Daniel Nugent-Bowman: Oilers notebook: Bear’s contract quandary, Broberg’s mini camp, bubble goalies
- Lowetide: Jesse Puljujarvi’s comparables suggest a possible future with Oilers
- Jonathan Willis: Every Oilers AHL prospect rated by how close they are to the NHL
- Lowetide: Setting the record straight on Oilers prospect Cooper Marody’s future
- Lowetide: Tough decisions face Oilers’ Ken Holland as cap forces painful choices
- Lowetide: How Oilers winger Kailer Yamamoto can increase his value
- Lowetide: Everything you forgot (but need to know) about Oilers’ 2019-20 season
- Lowetide: Injury is biggest factor in the Oilers’ hopes for extended playoff run
- Lowetide: Tyler Benson’s struggle to score might affect future role with Oilers
- Lowetide: Ken Holland’s second Oilers draft should deliver high-octane offence
- Daniel Nugent-Bowman: ‘It’s all surreal’: Kevin Lowe’s Hall of Fame nod nets surprise and satisfaction
- Lowetide: 10 things to look for at Oilers training camp and the 2020 playoffs
THE 2015 SPRING LIST
On April 10, 2015, I posted the following list of players who were either ready, close to ready, or had some travelling to do. Here are the words, with an update on how accurate my predictions were.
NHL READY NOW
D Oscar Klefbom. It seems silly to list him here but there were questions about development time at the beginning of the year and Klefbom did in fact spend time in OKC this season. He won’t see the minors again. Update: This is correct. Klefbom has been in the NHL since and delivered quality play.
C Anton Lander. The new contract signals arrival and if that wasn’t enough watching the games shows his growth as a player. My oh my, what a wonderful thing to see: An actual NHL player developed via the minor league system. Now that the club has done it, the trick is to repeat it. Update: Lander stayed in the NHL, and would last two more years in the organization, Todd Nelson the only coach who saw him as a top-9 solution. Foot speed was the issue.
R Tyler Pitlick. If the young man could stay healthy I’d be willing to bet Pitlick is on the opening night roster in the fall. This week’s games had value despite the standings, as the young winger has shown a range of skills (and scored a goal) to put his name front and center for next year. Update: Oh Pitlick! In 2015-16, he would spend the year (injury riddled) in Bakersfield before finally emerging as an NHL player in 2016-17. He might still be an Oilers winger but yet another injury meant he qualified as a UFA in the summer of 2017. He is now a productive NHL role player.
D Martin Marincin. There are gaps in his game (awareness, strength) but it’s my guess he’ll settle in as a solid top 6 defenseman for many NHL seasons—hopefully with the Oilers. Update: I missed by a little, he is more a No. 8 NHL defenseman. He has played in every NHL season since 2013-14 and continues to have the wingspan of a massive jet airliner.
D Brandon Davidson. I think he’s ready for the 7D role, but that job is likely to be gifted to a veteran like Nikitin or Ference next season. Davidson has impressed me with his mobility, grit and passing. Far better player than I thought he’d be, Davidson has a chance to have a career. Update: It happened just this way, Davidson emerged as the best defenseman Edmonton drafted in 2010. Injuries kept him from staying in the lineup but there was a time when this player looked capable of a career as a top-4 NHL defenseman.
ANY DAY NOW
D Darnell Nurse. I think it makes worlds of sense to place him in Bakersfield, but if Nurse arrives in training camp and is clearly among the six best defensemen? Keep him, even if it mean placing a veteran on waivers—up to and including Niki Nikitin and Andrew Ference. Update: Nurse played nine games in Bakersfield and 69 in Edmonton. Seems I had this covered.
C Leon Draisaitl. I have a feeling the big man is going to make it very difficult to send him back this fall. Leon’s performance this season showed he wasn’t ready but there were exceptional elements to his game. He’s not THAT far way. Update: He played just six games in Bakersfield and has blossomed into one of the best players in the NHL.
A YEAR OR LESS
- R Andrew Miller. His NHL audition recently suggests we’re looking at an NHL-ready player. Update: Played six NHL games in 2015-16, got himself dealt to the Charlotte Checkers and is currently in the KHL. He played 15 NHL games, all with Edmonton.
- G Laurent Brossoit. He has showed a lot this winter and spring but caution is always a good idea with goaltenders. Update: I think the Oilers were too careful, Todd McLellan rarely played him and the young man struggled when he did get in. Now a Winnipeg Jets backup and has posted one quality and one suspect season in the prairie city.
- R Iiro Pakarinen. Brings a unique phyical element married to some skill. I wouldn’t be shocked if he won a job in TC. Update: He did in fact play for the Oilers in 2015-16, and for parts of the two seasons that followed. He was a little shy of grabbing a job and holding it but he found a way into 135 NHL games, one in the playoffs..
- L Curtis Hamilton. One healthy season has him heading in a good direction and another should get him closer to his goal. Update: He played one NHL game in 2014-15 and that was it. By the time I wrote this, his NHL career was done.
- D David Musil. Getting his first cup of coffee and looking good as an NHL player. Update: He spent two more years in the minors but the four games in 2014-15 were it.
- D Jordan Oesterle. He’s in the range with Musil in terms of being NHL-ready. Update: Oesterle continued to play very well in the minor while getting cups of coffee with the Oilers in 2015-16 and 2016-17. He has been an NHL regular with the Chicago Blackhawks and then Arizona Coyotes since.
SUMMER 2020 LIST
I think the estimates were close for the most part, Curtis Hamilton’s NHL career was done and David Musil got passed by too many defenseman to get another shot. Other than that, the predictions are in the range. Now, let’s try the current group.
NHL READY NOW
RD Evan Bouchard. His on-ice splits in the first and second half (First 27 AHL games: 18-29, Final 27 AHL games: 23-22) are proof of progress in the minors. It’s especially impressive considering the Condors were a trainwreck in the second half. He’s NHL ready.
LW Tyler Benson. I’m less convinced he’ll play on a scoring line but it’s clear now Benson has an NHL future that can start anytime. He wins battles, his passing is exceptional and he’s always been capable as a two-way forward. The concern I have surrounds how he’ll score goals. Per 82 games in the AHL, he is averaging 197 shots and 16 goals (8 percent). Magnus Paajarvi didn’t have a long NHL career, partly because he didn’t score enough. Per 82 games in the AHL he averaged 201 shots and 19 goals (9.45 percent).
LD William Lagesson. He really is a good NHL defensive prospect but it’s hard to get anyone’s attention with the current LH depth chart in Edmonton. How ready is he? In 92 AHL games, Lagesson’s on-ice even strength goal differential is 82-58, +24. In the same two year period, Ethan Bear (43-29, +14 playing just 2018-19) and Caleb Jones (59-46, +13 in a year and 14 games 2019-20) flourished and found NHL employment. Lagesson is NHL-ready and NHL-calibre.
RC Cooper Marody. This is all about injury. If Marody is healthy then we’re going to see him play some NHL hockey based on his outstanding rookie season in the AHL 2018-19 (58 games, 19-45-64 and an on-ice even strength goal differential of 60-36).
RW Jesse Puljujarvi. I can’t imagine any push back on this claim. NHLE from his Liiga season (35.1) lands him No. 202 among NHL forwards (30 or more games) in 2019-20 points-per-game. That’s a third-line winger. He’s beyond ready for that role.
A YEAR OR LESS
LC Ryan McLeod. I mentioned it all during the spring, McLeod’s rookie AHL season was very impressive. His on ice even strength goal differential (27-27) was slightly superior to other rookie forwards on the team (Kirill Maksimov 26-30; Jakob Stukel 14-16) and his estimated NHLE (all of this via our friend Eric Rodgers) was 15.83. That number is also superior to Maksimov (12.85) and Stukel (10.71). Note: This could flip a year from now. What won’t flip is that McLeod is a center, and he does have some things to recommend him at the position. In just under 80 preseason minutes over two seasons, McLeod’s five on five offense (0-3-3, 2.26 points per 60) and shot differential (52 percent) are rock solid. His faceoff percentage (46 percent) is lagging, and he’ll need more time, but man this looks like a good second round pick. Like Benson, I now believe McLeod will have an NHL career. His speed is the most compelling bullet point on the resume.
G Ilya Konovalov. I’m convinced of this guy. Honestly. In the last two seasons in the KHL, a very good league, he has stopped 92.1 percent of the shots headed his way. That’s 167 goals against in 2120 shots. He just turned 22, I don’t think Ken Holland is wondering what to do. Konovalov is free to sign in Edmonton 2021 offseason.
LD Theodor Lennstrom. A solid resume but he may not receive a recall even when he’s ready. Based on success and experience it’s difficult for me to imagine he’s less NHL-ready than Joel Persson but there are minor league games in Lennstrom’s future.
The organization badly needs these young prospects to play and the Covid-19 impact will decide how much and how long we see leagues operate across the hockey world. I think the club’s loaning of Dmitri Samorukov to the KHL reflects the uncertainty of North American hockey.
The goaltending depth chart is in a real state of flux. Konovalov and Olivier Rodrigue are the top prospects but the organization clearly still believes in Stuart Skinner. For me, goalies are a lot like pitchers in a baseball farm system: Whether it’s a kid with a 95 MPH fastball or a youngster who can paint the edges of the plate with his pitches, staying healthy and remaining in the league (AHL) increases chances of success. Skinner’s numbers aren’t grand, but Laurent Brossoit and others had some struggles before settling in. I think it’s safe to say that Skinner’s first two pro seasons have him on a career path that will see him finish shy of the NHL. Either way, the only goaltender I can project into the queue is the Russian at this time.
Defense also has a vague quality to it. Philip Broberg is currently impressing at training camp and is the highest ranked blue outside of Bouchard among prospects. However, I think he’s likely more than a year away and getting excited over small sample sizes is unwise. Thrilled at his speed, see you at 2021-22 training camp. Samorukov and Filip Berglund are more than a year away.
The forwards who didn’t make the list include some promising youngsters (Raphael Lavoie, Kirill Maksimov) but it’s hard to project them as flying through the AHL in a year or less. The two players I did wonder about are Ryan Kuffner and Joe Gambardella. The fact neither man received a camp invite is perhaps a tell.
We’ll have a look at this list in five years and I thank you for reading.