Deep pool of Edmonton Oilers prospects developing in NCAA and overseas

By Kady Hobbins

Bogdan Yakimov - Team Russia

Photo: Bogdan Yakimov (right), a 2013 third round pick by Edmonton, served as an alternate captaion for Team Russia at the 2014 WJC but contributed only two points on the score sheet (courtesy of LUDVIG THUNMAN/AFP/Getty Images)

The Edmonton Oilers have a healthy group of young talent in their European and NCAA prospect talent pools – while no single player stands out as a front runner for NHL success, a number of mid-rounders like Anton Slepyshev, Bogdan Yakimov, and Dillon Simpson show promising talent and a likelihood to at least earn a look at the top level.

Both the SM-liiga and Kontinental Hockey League have proven fruitful for prospect development for the Oilers, with a number of players getting ready to make the jump to North American hockey from their top European squads. In the NCAA ranks, John McCarron, Kellen Jones, and Joey LaLeggia all continue to improve as they near the end of their collegiate careers and set their sights on entry-level contracts.

Europe

Frans Tuohimaa, G, Vassan Sport (Mestis)
Drafted 7th round, 182nd overall, 2011

After two seasons with Jokerit Helsinki of the Finnish Elite League (SM-liiga), goaltending prospect Frans Tuohimaa began the 2013-14 season with the HPK Hameenlinna. The move proved to be beneficial for the Finnish prospect, who filled a starting role for the first time in his professional career. He played 19 games with the “Hockey Playing Knights” before being moved to the Vassan Sport of the Finnish Mestis league, which is a level below the SM-liiga.

With the additions of Ben Scrivens, Viktor Fasth and former Edmonton Oil Kings goaltender Laurent Brossoit this season, Tuohimaa finds himself farther down the Oilers’ depth chart. The 22-year-old netminder who has yet to play a game of North American hockey still has another year beyond this season on his entry-level contract with the Oilers and where he plays that out will be a key indicator of his future with this club. 

Niko Hovinen, Metallurg Novokuznetsk (KHL)
Claimed off waivers, January 2013

A former stalwart of the SM-liiga who also got his elite level start with Jokerit Helsinki, Niko Hovinen is playing his first season in the Kontinental Hockey League with Metallurg Novokuznetsk. The Oilers retained his rights with a qualifying offer this summer, but Hovinen and his camp deemed a return to Europe to be the best fit for him at this point in his hockey career. He earned a disappointing record of two wins and 13 losses in 18 starts on a team that’s 14-30-10, but his .916 save percentage indicates that it may be more of a case of a struggling squad than weak goaltending performances. Hovinen was also a practice goaltender for the Finnish Olympic team in Sochi prior to the arrival of their NHL goaltenders.

Antti Tyrvainen, Jokerit Helsinki (SM-liiga)
Signed as a free agent, June 2011

Antti Tyrvainen departed for the Finnish Elite League this summer after two seasons with the Oklahoma City Barons of the AHL. There is no question that he brought physicality to the lineup in Oklahoma City, but could not quite find his scoring stride and ultimately made the choice to try his luck across the pond in his native Finland with Jokerit Helsinki. It appears that his offensive production there has been more of the same – he has five goals and nine assists in 41 games – only marginally better than the three goals and two assists he managed through 32 games with the Barons in 2012-13. It is unclear at this point whether he will return to North American hockey.

Daniil Zharkov, Nizhny Novgorod Torpedo (KHL)
Drafted 3rd round, 91st overall, 2012

Zharkov was been largely inconsequential for the Nizhny Novgorod Torpedo of the Kontinental Hockey League this season, logging only two goals and three assists in 49 games – a big regression from his previous point totals with the Belleville Bulls of the OHL. As of now, his NHL career remains uncertain. His decision to depart for the KHL (and his subsequent limited usage) definitely slots him below fellow draft classmen Mitchell Moroz and Jujhar Khaira on the development scale, who both signed entry-level contracts with the Oilers in 2013.

Anton Slepyshev, Salavat Yulayev Ufa (KHL)
Drafted 3rd round, 88th overall, 2013

Russian prospect Anton Slepyshev began the 2013-14 season in the Kontinental Hockey League, seeing relatively sheltered ice time with Salavat Yulayev. He also skated with Salavat Yulayev’s MHL affiliate, Tolpar Ufa, where he managed to put up four points in two games. In the KHL, Slepyshev has managed eight points in 36 games, which sounds less than stellar, but is about on par considering his age and lack of ice time at that level. The big story for Slepyshev this season was his incredible showing at the 2014 World Junior Championships, where he racked up two goals and five assists in seven games. 

Bogdan Yakimov, Nizhnekamsk Neftekhimik (KHL)
Drafted 3rd round, 83rd overall, 2013

Nineteen-year-old Russian prospect Bogdan Yakimov is 33 games into his KHL debut with the Nizhnekamsk Neftekhimik and putting up respectable numbers for a teenage rookie in a tough league. At 6’4 and 201 pounds, Yakimov is exactly the type of player the Oilers would like to add to their lineup – he has physicality, good on-ice vision and an intriguing offensive upside. It will probably be a year or two before Yakimov makes the jump to North American hockey, where he will likely spend some time in Oklahoma City, but at this point looks to have a bright future ahead of him.

Erik Gustafsson, Frolunda (SHL)
Drafted 4th round, 93rd overall, 2012

Swedish prospect Erik Gustafsson continues to plug away in Europe, often flying under the radar, but certainly not one to be overlooked. In his first of a two-year deal with Frolunda of  the Swedish Hockey League, the 6’0, 203-pound defenseman has 20 points in 50 games – 18 of which have been assists. While not overly flashy, Gustafsson has great hockey sense and is a natural playmaker. He is in the unfortunate position of having a number of blue-chip defensive prospects ahead of him on the development curve in the Oilers’ system, but if he continues to work and put up respectable numbers in one of the toughest hockey leagues in the world, he will no doubt garner some interest and may earn himself a ticket across the pond.

NCAA

Kellen Jones, Quinnipiac University Bobcats (ECAC)
Drafted 7th round, 202nd overall, 2010

Kellen Jones wrapped up the regular season of his senior year at Quinnipiac University with a career high 18 goals and 23 assists in 38 games. Along with his twin brother Connor, Kellen has been a key component of a dangerous top line for Quinnipiac. The Bobcats advanced to the ECAC semifinals before falling to Colgate. The team still earned a three seed in the NCAA tournament. Jones was a nominee for both the Hobey Baker Award and the ECAC Best Defensive Forward Award. The relatively undersized winger will be vying for an entry-level contract this summer.

John McCarron, Cornell University Big Red (ECAC)
Drafted 6th round, 153rd overall, 2012

John McCarron, junior classman and captain of the Cornell Big Red has been having the best season of his college career. The big power forward was a force to be reckoned with on a checking line for Cornell this season. He cut his penalty time nearly in half from the 2012-13 season, down from 84 to 43 minutes in the box and increased his point production to seven goals and 17 assists in 32 games. Cornell fell in the ECAC semifinals to Union, which ended the team’s season.

Evan Campbell, UMass-Lowell Riverhawks (Hockey East)
Drafted 5th round, 128th overall, 2013

Drafted as an overager out of the BCHL in the 2013 NHL Draft, Evan Campbell is now in his freshman season with the UMass-Lowell Riverhawks. Campbell has managed 10 points in 31 games, playing limited minutes in a lower line role for the Riverhawks. As he adjusts to the collegiate game, it is likely that the Oilers will not know for sure what they have in Campbell until he has a few more years of NCAA hockey under his belt.

Dillon Simpson, University of North Dakota (NCHC)
Drafted 4th round, 92nd overall, 2011

Senior defenseman Dillon Simpson continues to impress as he wraps up his NCAA hockey career and sets his sights on his professional debut. Like his fellow Oilers prospect Kellen Jones, Dillon Simpson was also a Hobey Baker nominee, but did not make the cut to the final 10. Simpson was named captain of North Dakota this season and has continued to be an integral part of his team’s power play unit along with filling a top-pairing defensive role. It seems likely that Simpson has the skill set to carve out an NHL career, but will be in tough to do so in Edmonton considering the stack of defensive talent in the Oilers’ pipeline.

Joey LaLeggia, University of Denver Pioneers (NCHC)
Drafted 5th round, 123rd overall, 2012

Denver University junior Joey LaLeggia is having another strong season with the Pioneers, despite having to overcome some adversity. He fell victim to an untimely shoulder injury in February in the middle of the Pioneers’ playoff run in the new NCHC conference, leaving his already injury-riddled team without one of their top rearguards. Despite his time spent on the injured reserve list, LaLeggia has been a valued member of this squad, playing top minutes and quarterbacking the power play on a nightly basis. He was recently named alongside fellow Oilers prospect Dillon Simpson to the NCHC All-Conference First Team. LaLeggia will play one more season with DU before pursuing an entry-level contract with the Oilers.

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