This year’s Oilers junior update received a pretty big housecleaning from last year as a number of prospects graduated to the pro ranks.
Travis Ewanyk, David Musil, and Martin Gernat got their start in Oklahoma City this year while Daniil Zharkov departed for the KHL. Tobias Rieder was traded to the Phoenix Coyotes for Kale Kessy. This year’s new addition other than the 2013 draft selections is Jujhar Khaira, who left his NCAA career early to sign an entry-level deal with the Oilers.
A number of the Edmonton Oilers junior prospects are having breakout seasons. Perhaps most notable is Oilers second round selection Mitchell Moroz, who was branded as a bit of a reach pick when the Oilers selected him 31st in 2012, many wondering if he would ever reach the offensive production needed to crack the NHL and some going as far as to label him a “coke machine.” He continues to quell his critics as he breezes along at a point-per-game rate with the Edmonton Oil Kings.
Jujhar Khaira and Darnell Nurse both earned their stripes at this year’s preseason camp, both exceeding the already high expectations of scouts, coaching staff and the Oilers management. Another player of interest is seventh-round selection Greg Chase, who leads his team in points and plus-minus ratings.
Mitch Moroz, LW, Edmonton Oil Kings
Acquired: 2nd round (32nd overall) in 2012
Mitch Moroz is having the best season of his junior career and showing no signs of slowing down. A nagging knee injury kept him from participating in rookie camp, but he returned in time to score a goal in his first and only preseason game for the Oilers. With the Oil Kings this season, Moroz has 23 points in 23 games, 15 of those being goals – a stark improvement from his 13 goals in 69 games in the 2012-13 season.
Of course, Moroz has continued to bring his big physical presence to the ice, leading the team with 70 penalty minutes. He brings his intensity to the ice on every shift, drives hard to the net, and bangs away at every loose puck he can get his stick on. On top of his increased aggressive nature and desire to put the puck on net, Moroz has had great chemistry with linemates Henrik Samuelsson (PHX) and Curtis Lazar (OTT) who sit at +11 and +20 ratings respectively and lead the Oil Kings in scoring.
The 19-year-old winger was recently invited to take part in the Subway Super Series on November 27 and 28 along with teammates Griffin Reinhart (NYI) and Lazar to play the Russian national team. If Moroz can keep up this point production and level of play in what is likely his final junior season, he should see an NHL contract coming his way as well as a World Juniors audition.
Jujhar Khaira, LW, Everett Silvertips
Acquired: 3rd round (63rd overall) in 2012
Oilers left wing prospect Jujhar Khaira has had a fairytale hockey career thus far. After being drafted from the BCHL Junior A ranks, Khaira made a name for himself as a hardworking, aggressive power forward at Michigan Tech in the NCAA. At 6’3 and 195 pounds, Khaira has size on his side and uses it to his advantage.
After chalking up 25 points in 37 games in his freshmen college season, an Oilers contract came calling and Khaira cut his NCAA career short. Khaira made a big splash at Oilers training camp this fall, making his first NHL preseason appearance. Khaira did not look a step out of place and adjusted well to the pace and physicality of the game, made even more interesting by the fact that at that point, he had not played at a level higher than the NCAA.
The winger has scored four goals and five assists in 14 games this season for the Everett Silvertips. Like Moroz, Khaira will also be a member of the WHL team in the Subway Super Series at the end of November.
Jackson Houck, RW, Vancouver Giants
Acquired: 4th round (94th overall) in 2013
Jackson Houck is entering his third season with the WHL’s Vancouver Giants, a team that has struggled greatly in recent years. The team has made some improvements this season. They are 10-11-5 and right winger Houck is fifth in overall point production with 11 goals and seven assists in 26 games.
His minus-seven rating is somewhat worrisome, but it is interesting to note that in his 2012-13 season where he logged 57 points in 69 games, he finished the season at minus-16. At this point in the season and looking at Vancouver’s record from the 2012-13 season, the low rating could be a testament to the Giants’ somewhat shaky defensive play as a team, rather than a shortfall with Houck’s game. It is unclear at this stage whether or not Houck will have an NHL-level ceiling. He is a definite project-type within the Oilers draft pool and will have to prove he can overcome recent off-ice issues before being considered for a pro level contract.
Ben Betker, D, Everett Silvertips
Acquired: 6th round (158th overall) in 2013
Ben Betker is a 6’5, 200-pound hulking defensive prospect currently in his second season with the Everett Silvertips. Betker has managed seven points in 25 games thus far for Everett, which is more points than he accumulated through 68 games with the Silvertips last season.
He plays a solid shutdown game, but his skating needs work and his shot is nothing to write home about. He is definitely a longshot to ever crack even the Oilers third or fourth defensive pairings, but that is not to say that Betker has not shown improvements as of late. He finished the 2012-13 season at a dismal minus-21, spending more time in the box than he did on the ice. Thus far in 2013-14, he has still amassed 34 penalty minutes, but has kept his rating at a respectable plus-five.
Unless Betker makes a huge jump in this season or next, he is likely to spend some time in the ECHL before earning a spot in the American Hockey League.
Greg Chase, C, Calgary Hitmen
Acquired: 7th round (188th overall) in 2013
Originally projected by some to go as high as the third round in the 2013 NHL Draft, Greg Chase was a steal for the Oilers in the seventh round. Chase has quick feet, a wicked shot, and plays about 30 pounds and three inches bigger than he is. Chase makes his presence known on every shift. He has mastered the art of being a pest and has branded himself as a tough guy to play against on a nightly basis.
At first blush, Chase is an agitator in the truest sense of the word, but he is not without offensive skill. Chase is cruising along with 25 points in 22 games for the Hitmen and has kept his time spent in the box to 1.2 minutes per game on average. He has the highest plus-minus rating among the Hitmen at plus-nine and is playing an increasingly smarter game from a few years ago.
Chase is a great asset to the Oilers’ pipeline. He is crafty, he is versatile, and he is tough – something the Oilers need more of in their bottom six.
Darnell Nurse, D, Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Acquired: 1st round (7th overall) in 2013
Oilers 2013 first round draft pick Darnell Nurse is continuing to turn heads everywhere he goes. He has 24 points in 23 games with the Soo Greyhounds of the OHL – an impressive total for any player, let alone a defenseman. He is already more than halfway to his point totals from last season in under a third as many games.
Nurse plays a smart, yet physical game and evidently has a strong offensive upside. He is reliable in his own end and plays a very positionally sound defensive game. He brings all of the size that the Oilers desperately need on their blue line.
Nurse is arguably the strongest defenseman in the OHL at this point in the season and does not appear to be slowing down anytime soon. He did not miss a beat in his appearances with the big club during the 2013-14 preseason, sticking around longer than any other prospect his age and performed better than even his biggest fans expected. He adjusted well to the pace of the game, used his size to his advantage, and showed off his great hockey sense on a number of occasions. Following this junior season, Oiler fans are likely to see Nurse suit up for them with the big club, barring any major blips in his development.
Kyle Platzer, C, London Knights
Acquired: 4th round (96th overall) in 2013
Kyle Platzer is in his second full season with the London Knights, looking to get a bit more recognition and ice time after spending his rookie year with the team near the bottom of the depth chart on a very strong London team.
This season, Platzer has amassed seven goals and six assists for 13 points in 22 games with the Knights. He is another smallish center with some compete to his game, but his offensive production is not exactly chart-topping. He is always on the move, the first one to the puck and he creates good chances for his linemates night in and night out. At this point, Platzer is a longshot for an NHL future but he is an intriguing prospect to watch in his development.
Marc-Olivier Roy, C, Blainville-Boisbriand Armada
Acquired: 2nd round (56th overall) 2013
Marc-Olivier Roy’s quick feet and relentless pursuit of the puck has been paying off for him lately. He missed the first 15 games of the season due to a wrist injury, but he now has 13 points in eight games with the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada of the QMJHL. The Armada are steamrolling opponents all over the league, often led by Roy who has already had four multi-point nights in his short time back.
Roy has decent size and while he is explosive and drives hard to the net, he is quick to backcheck and is a good two-way player. He had a very strong 2012-13 season with the Armada and as long as he can stay off of the injured-reserve list, he is on track to add another point-per-game season to his resume. While he is not the big, hulking centerman the Oilers are looking for, he has the biggest offensive upside among his fellow Oilers prospects on the dot.
Aidan Muir, LW, Indiana Ice
Acquired: 4th round (113th overall) in 2013
Aidan Muir was an anomaly on draft day – he was the only prospect to be drafted out of the Midget AAA system. While many predicted that he would go much deeper in the draft, if he would even be drafted at all, he has made the jump from Midget hockey to the USHL quite seamlessly. The caliber of play, the speed and the size at the USHL level is a large enough jump from Midget that one could expect some time spent adjusting, but such is not the case with Muir. He has nine points in 13 games with the Indiana Ice of the USHL. Muir has also committed to Western Michigan University for 2015-16, leaving him two years to develop in the USHL.
Muir is a tall, rangy forward with a 6’3 frame that could use some muscle. He definitely has grit and is not afraid to grind it out in the tough areas of the ice. His skill level and long-term projection with the Oilers club will become more apparent as he continues to get ice time at the USHL and eventually NCAA level.