Nurse once again Edmonton Oilers’ top prospect in Fall 2014 Top 20

By Kady Hobbins

Darnell Nurse recorded 50 points in 64 games while also serving as captain of the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds. (courtesy of Aaron Bell/OHL Images)

Darnell Nurse recorded 50 points in 64 games while also serving as captain of the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds. (courtesy of Aaron Bell/OHL Images)

 

The Fall 2014 edition of the Edmonton Oilers Top 20 remained relatively steadfast among the top five spots save for the addition of newcomer to the list and 2014 third-overall draft selection Leon Draisaitl. Once again, the Top 20 is dominated by defensive prospects but two strong power forwards, Mitch Moroz and Jujhar Khaira (both drafted in 2012), continue to turn heads as they make a push up the rankings and look toward having a strong training camp performance. Goaltender Laurent Brossoit is pulling away from the pack of Oilers goaltending prospects, proving himself the clear front-runner for a chance at an NHL job after a strong rookie professional season.

1. (1) Darnell Nurse, D, 8.0C
Drafted 1st round, 7th overall, 2013

Defenseman Darnell Nurse leads the charge for the second edition in a row of the Oilers’ Top 20. A truly elite prospect, Nurse is looking to crack the roster after spending a year post-draft with his junior club, the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds. While Nurse has been a dominant two-way force for his OHL club for two straight seasons, he was a clear standout in 2013-14, often outmuscling, outworking and outclassing his opponents.

Nurse appears to have outgrown the OHL and looks poised to make the jump to the National Hockey League in 2014-15, assuming that all goes well for him during training camp. However, the Oilers are sure to err on the side of caution when it comes to the development of one of their most valuable prospects. The team is desperately lacking elite talent on the blueline, but the risk of overfacing a talented but still green 19-year-old is great, especially given that he will likely be heavily relied upon to eat up minutes with the Oilers.

2. (NR) Leon Draisaitl, C, 8.0C
Drafted 1st round, 3rd overall, 2014

2014 top draft selection Leon Draisaitl was in close contention with Darnell Nurse for the top spot of this edition of the Top 20. Draisaitl just recently inked a three-year entry-level agreement with the Oilers and is undoubtedly looking to make the team this fall. Born in October 1995, Draisaitl is among the oldest in his draft class, but has only played two seasons of North American hockey (he played for a junior team in his native Germany prior to this).

Immensely talented and as strong as he is big, Draisaitl seems poised to slot himself into a lower line center position, and could likely hold his own in the NHL with some strategic linemate selections. As with Nurse, however, the Oilers will likely be hesitant to rush another elite prospect. A team that has struggled for years is no doubt eager to bolster its lineup with promising talent, but needs to ensure that its top prospects receive the time necessary to grow and develop at the junior or minor level first and ensure that he is not give too much responsibility too quickly.

3. (2) Martin Marincin, D, 7.5B
Drafted 2nd round, 46th overall, 2010

A stalwart of the Oilers’ Top 20 list, Martin Marincin finds himself in the top five yet again after a strong debut season at the NHL level. He played a very simple, defense-focused game in his time with the Oilers in 2013-14. He did not exude offensive flair or play with much of a physical edge, but was smart, consistent and was extremely effective in his own zone, looking wise beyond his years on numerous occasions.

While Marincin is not quite a shoo-in for a long-term NHL job yet as he could still suffer from a sophomore slump he is likely looking to build upon his performance from last season and expand his game. Near the end of the 2013-14 season he was taking more risks, often jumping up into the rush and quarterbacking some plays in the offensive zone. Barring a disastrous training camp, there seems to be no reason why Marincin does not start out the season in Edmonton this fall.

4. (3) Oscar Klefbom, D, 7.5C
Drafted 1st round, 19th overall, 2011

Highly touted defensive prospect Oscar Klefbom spent most of the 2013-14 season with the Oklahoma City Barons of the AHL after losing most of the season prior to shoulder surgery. Klefbom had a 17 game stint in the NHL late in the season and fared reasonably well while logging sheltered minutes, often paired with a veteran defenseman.

Klefbom is a highly skilled defender with a high hockey IQ, but can sometimes get a bit lost in the speed and intensity of the game at the NHL level. Surely this will improve with more time spent on the ice, but with a strong contingent of other similarly skilled defensive prospects Klefbom could likely find himself spending the better part of his season in Oklahoma City again.

5. (4) Mitch Moroz, LW, 7.0C
Drafted 2nd round, 32nd overall, 2012

Hulking winger Mitch Moroz continues his upward climb after capping his major junior career off with a second WHL Championship and a Memorial Cup Win with the Edmonton Oil Kings. A fierce competitor who plays with an edge, Moroz brings the size and physicality the Oilers so desperately need, while still delivering some offensive production.

Tough to play against, unafraid to do battle in the tough areas of the ice, and with a knack for carving out a spot in the low slot, it’s likely that Moroz could find himself in at least a bottom-six role with the big club within a few years. He will likely head to Oklahoma City this fall to hone his craft and get his feet wet at the professional level.

6. (5) Jujhar Khaira, LW, 7.0C
Drafted 3rd round, 63rd overall, 2012

On paper, 21-year-old Jujhar Khaira looks like a solid, but perhaps not overly impressive left wing prospect. Respectable point production, good two-way play, and decent skating and puck-moving ability seems to be the common descriptors, but he’s the classic case of the player that you need to see in person to truly appreciate.

His on-ice vision is apparent from shift beginning to end, and his time spent in the WHL after an early exit from his NCAA career seems to have served him well. Let’s not forget that Khaira also stands at a staggering 6’4 and 215 pounds, making him a valuable commodity for a relatively small Oilers team. If he can continue to trend upwards, the Oilers may have a strong contender for an NHL future in Khaira.

7. (6) Laurent Brossoit, G, 7.0C
Acquired in trade with Calgary Flames, 2013

Spending nearly an entire season in the ECHL, the lowest caliber league in the Oilers farm system, usually is not a good sign for most prospects, but for Laurent Brossoit it seemed to be exactly what he needed. Instead of sitting on the bench in Oklahoma City, Brossoit logged valuable time in the net, putting up extremely impressive numbers for the Bakersfield Condors. He finished the 2013-14 season with a .923 save-percentage and a 24-9-2 win-loss record.

Although he was acquired from the Flames, many Oilers fans were already familiar with Brossoit as they watched him win a WHL Championship in 2011-12 as the Edmonton Oil Kings’ top goaltender. In 2014-15, Brossoit will likely be rewarded for his strong performances in the ECHL with an opportunity to see some ice with the Oklahoma City Barons.

8. (13) Tyler Pitlick, RW, 6.5B
Drafted 2nd round, 31st overall, 2010

Tyler Pitlick has shown that, if nothing else, he has mastered the art of facing adversity. A highly regarded prospect since being selected in the early second round in 2010, Pitlick has suffered from his fare share of injury trouble. The 22 year old finally had the chance to make his NHL debut after looking like he may be down and out for good following a debilitating knee injury.

In his time with the Oilers, Pitlick showed that he had the chops to become a solid contributor at the NHL level but the biggest question is his ability to stay healthy (another knee injury cut his NHL stint short). Pitlick is definitely a contender and brings a lot of intensity every time he is on the ice, but the Oilers will have to decide if he is worth the risk as he has a higher-than-normal likelihood of suffering a career-ending injury before his career really gets going.

9. (9) Dillon Simpson, D, 7.0C
Drafted 4th round, 92nd overall, 2011

Dillon Simpson continues to show promise, signing a three-year entry-level agreement in April of 2014 following a commendable senior year at the University of North Dakota (NCAA). He served as team captain in his final season at North Dakota.

Simpson will likely be joining the Oklahoma City Barons at the beginning of the 2014-15 season, where the Oilers will have the opportunity to see how he fares against some bigger, stronger competition. With a number of highly skilled defensive prospects ahead of him in the Oilers’ pool at this point, he’s likely to spend at least a few seasons as primarily an AHL player.

10. (11) Bogdan Yakimov, C, 6.5C
Drafted 3rd round, 83rd overall, 2013

Another prospect trying to turn some heads and make a name for himself at the upcoming Oilers training camp is Russian prospect Bogdan Yakimov. After a strong season with the Neftekhimik Nizhnekamsk of the KHL and a World Junior Championship outing for Russia, Yakimov is ready to make the jump to North American hockey.

At 6’4 and 220 pounds, Yakimov truly is a force to be reckoned with. Yakimov has spent the majority of his summer in Edmonton, eager to acquaint himself with the city, the team and to show his commitment to the organization. His likely landing spot will be Oklahoma City, though he does stand a chance to at least be considered for a lower-line center role.

11. (7) Marc-Olivier (Marco) Roy, C, 7.0D
Drafted 2nd round, 56th overall, 2013

Marco Roy was an intriguing prospect at the time of his draft selection; obviously skilled with a strong offensive upside, but in need of some fine-tuning. Unfortunately, 2013-14 was not the breakout season Roy had hoped to have, falling victim to some inconsistency and injury trouble.

Roy will return to play another season with the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada in 2014-15 and will seek to make his mark as a legitimate member of the Oilers’ talent pool.

12. (8) David Musil, D, 7.0D
Drafted 2nd round, 31st overall, 2011

David Musil is entering his second professional season with the Oilers organization and the 21-year-old rearguard is looking to carve out a path for himself and increase his role with Edmonton’s AHL squad.

A true defensive defenseman, Musil’s game is physical and far from flashy. For that reason, he seems to have gotten a bit lost among the ranks of other highly-regarded Oilers defensive prospects. Exacerbated by the lack of depth at the NHL level, many have searched for a white knight in the pipeline that could lead the Oilers out of the basement. Unfortunately, Musil is not usually the first that comes to mind. His skating is somewhat sub-par, and while his on-ice vision is good he is not always great at generating the first pass out of the zone and creating offensive opportunities for his team.

13. (14) Martin Gernat, D, 7.0D
Drafted 5th round, 122nd overall, 2011

A fellow teammate of David Musil both in Oklahoma City and during their time with the Edmonton Oil Kings, Martin Gernat has worked his way up from a relative unknown, drafted in a lower round, to a key component of a successful Barons squad.

The 6’5 defender has a lengthy wingspan, great footspeed and a decent shot. He utilized all of these skills to rack up some decent offensive numbers in Oklahoma City in 2013-14 (21 points in 57 games). The biggest knock against Gernat is often his size; not vertically, but when he steps on the scale. He struggles to add mass to his tall, lanky frame which may translate to trouble against some of the big defenders he will come up against at the NHL level. He likely needs a bit more time for both he and his game to grow and develop at the minor league level.

14. (15) Greg Chase, C, 6.5C
Drafted 7th round, 188th overall, 2013

Greg Chase seems to have set out to prove his critics wrong. He followed up his underwhelming draft position at 188th overall by leading the Calgary Hitmen in scoring in 2013-14 and receiving the opportunity to join the Oklahoma City Barons during their playoff run in May.

Chase still has another season with the Hitmen where he will look to continue the upward trend in his play. His offensive production combined with his pesky nature on the ice makes him a valuable commodity for the Oilers, and he continues to prove himself to be one of their greatest steals in the draft in recent years.

15. (17) Joey LaLeggia, D, 6.5C
Drafted 5th round, 123rd overall, 2012

Despite his small stature, LaLeggia has excelled at the NCAA level as a solid, puck moving, offensive defenseman. Although he’s already 22 years old, LaLeggia still has one more season with the University of Denver as he was an overage selection at the time of the draft. While this puts him at a slight disadvantage when it comes to the number of years he will have at his disposal for development post-collegiate career, LaLeggia has proven to be a perennial success story for the Pioneers, breaking the 25-point threshold every season. It will remain to be seen how that translates to the minor professional level.

16. (NR) Brandon Davidson, D, 6.5C
Drafted 6th round, 162nd overall, 2010

There’s no questioning Brandon Davidson’s work ethic. The Canadian-born defenseman has worked his way from the Alberta Junior Hockey League and overcome a cancer diagnosis to find himself with a legitimate chance to carve out an NHL career, at least on some level.

Another player whose character seems to make up for what he lacks in natural talent, Davidson is a tireless competitor who has honed his game to highlight his strengths. He plays a sound positional game and engages in some tough battles that his peers may be inclined to shy away from. Davidson will look to play heavy minutes for Oklahoma City this year, potentially spending some time on their special teams units and developing his game at both ends of the ice.

17. (NR) Erik Gustafsson, D, 6.5C
Drafted 4th round, 93rd overall, 2012

Gustafsson is a 22-year-old defenseman currently playing in Europe with Frolunda of the Swedish Hockey League. He is a big point producer who brings an element of physicality to the ice. He earned some minutes on his team’s second power play unit in 2013-14, proving to be at the very least competent at generating offense and quarterbacking the play.

Unfortunately for Gustafsson, he finds himself near the bottom of a logjam of solid defensive talent in the Oilers system despite having decent statistics and good size. With no sign of an entry-level contract coming his way, it appears his days as a member of the Oilers organization could be numbered.

18. (NR) Frans Tuohimaa, G, 6.5C
Drafted 7th round, 182nd overall, 2011

Finnish goaltender Frans Tuohimaa made his North American debut in March 2014 with the Oklahoma City Barons after a few seasons in the SM-liiga in Finland. Despite being assigned to a team a level above goaltender Laurent Brossoit he appears lower on the depth chart, having posted average to above-average numbers through his last two seasons.

In watching both goaltenders, now both playing minor professional hockey in North America, it seems clear that while Tuohimaa has a good toolkit Brossoit’s skillset is much more robust. At this point, Tuohimaa is a longshot for an NHL career, at least with the Oilers.

19. (12) Anton Slepyshev, LW, 6.0C
Drafted 3rd round, 88th overall, 2013

Anton Slepyshev is likely to play another season in Russia in the Kontinental Hockey League after a relatively disappointing year in which he received significantly less ice time than many expected. Offensive production was his calling card in his junior years, but understandably tapered off as he found himself in a lower-line role in 2013-14.

2014-15 will truly be a make-or-break year for the 20-year-old prospect, as his performance will influence whether or not the Oilers perceive enough value to bring him to North America.

20. (NR) Iiro Pakarinen, RW, 6.0C
Free agent signing, 2014

Acquired as a free agent in June 2014 (he was drafted in 2011 but not retained by the Florida Panthers), this is Iiro Pakarinen’s debut on the Oilers’ Top 20 list. The 23-year-old has had a successful professional career, playing most recently in the SM-liiga in Finland and was a member of the Finnish World Championship squad.

Pakarinen has a well-developed two-way game and an accurate, heavy shot which has translated to some solid offensive production this past season; he logged 20 goals and 10 assists in 60 games with HIFK Helsinki. Whether or not he can top out as an NHL-caliber player at this point remains a bit of a mystery, but he will have a bit of an upward climb before he finds himself in any serious discussions for a job with the Oilers.

Follow Kady Hobbins on Twitter via @KadyDH

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