The Edmonton Oilers have four prospects spread over the three CHL leagues, one more than they had last season. Although former CHLer Sam Gagner has star potential, and the Oilers have a few other promising youngsters on deck (Rob Schremp, Devan Dubnyk, Theo Peckham), they have not drafted an impact player from the CHL since Ales Hemsky in 2001. The organization has drafted six players out of major junior in the last two drafts (including Milan Kytnar, who was drafted out of Europe, then went directly to the WHL), but with Gagner’s quick ascent to the NHL and Jordan Bendfeld, drafted as an overager and assigned to Stockton of the ECHL, only four remain.
Aquired: 1st Round, 22nd Overall, 2008
Eberle is undoubtedly the most skilled and highest profile player of the group. Powered by a 42-goal campaign with the Regina Pats, along with a strong performance at the under 18 tournament, he became the Oilers first-round selection in June. He is the type of player that the team desperately needed —- a pure goal scorer.
So far he hasn’t disappointed. With 19 goals in his first 26 games, he is on pace for over 50 in a very tough league. Armed with a deadly wrist shot and an uncanny knack for finding openings, he is a smart player that thinks the game at a high level and can make the pretty pass.
The knocks against him are his skating and his relatively small stature at 5’10. His skating has improved this year and isn’t bad, but he doesn’t yet have that breakaway gear that a lot of players his size do. He also added 10 pounds over the summer, making it harder to knock him off the puck.
He attended the Canadian World Junior camp in August and is a strong possibility to be on the team next month in Ottawa. He has also been named to Team WHL in the ADT Canada/Russia challenge that takes place this week (Nov. 26 and 27).
Aquired: 1st Round, 15th Overall, 2007
Plante is another first rounder that entered the new season with high expectations, but for a different reason. The 2007-08 season was a complete bust for the huge Calgary Hitmen defender, scoring only two assists in an injury-riddled year. He is now out to prove that last season was an anomaly, and not the norm. Considered a somewhat controversial pick at 15th overall in 2007, he remains a player with a tremendous upside. He’s huge, thinks the game well, and has a big shot.
At the start of the season, it looked like he may miss even more developmental time, when he demanded a trade from the Hitmen. Plante has since rescinded his trade request, has fully recovered from his injury, and is having a much better year both offensively and defensively. Usually paired with Keith Seabrook on the Hitmen’s second power-play unit, his stats have greatly improved since last season (15 points in 23 games), and he has even scored in a shootout. His summer training regime has improved his strength and he is playing a more physical game.
His skating remains his biggest roadblock to a successful NHL career. His stride is awkward, slow and lacking a quick first step. If he can improve his skating, he could be a formidable force on Edmonton’s blueline in a few years.
Aquired: 5th Round, 127th Overall, 2007
After tearing up the under 18 league in Slovakia as a 17-year-old, Milan Kytnar became the Oilers fifth-round selection in the 2007 draft. He went on to have a very unspectacular year with the Kelowna Rockets, notching only 22 points in 62 games.
Over the summer, he was traded to the Saskatoon Blades and is having a much better year. He has become one of the Blades most well-rounded players and currently sits third in team scoring with six goals and 12 assists in 25 games. Although his stats are still nothing to get excited about, he brings a more complete, consistent game than many players in his age group. He’s strong on faceoffs, skates well, and is a presence on both the penalty-killing and power-play units. He’ll probably never be a top-six forward in the NHL, but he could find himself a niche on the third or fourth line as gritty, defensive specialist.
Aquired: 5th Round, 133rd Overall, 2008
Cornet is the lone CHL prospect not playing in the WHL. A fifth-round selection in this year’s draft, the Rimouski Oceanic winger is the wild card of the group. He had a strong training camp which has continued into the regular season, surprising a few people with his skill level, and a willingness to battle for pucks against much larger players He was slated to appear for team QMJHL in the ADT Canada/Russia series, but had to pull out due to injury. He was the Oceanic’s leading scorer at the time of the injury with eight goals and 17 assists in 20 games.