After strong performances at the 2014 Young Stars Tournament in Penticton, British Columbia where the team went 2-1 (which is a drastic improvement from last year’s 0-3 performance) and a 4-2 victory over the CIS National Champions, the University of Alberta Golden Bears, in an exhibition game, it is clear that the impressive crop of Edmonton Oilers prospects will be exciting to follow in the upcoming 2014-15 season.
Many of those mentioned below have earned a spot at Edmonton’s main camp, and it’s easy to see why; making a clear-cut selection for each top prospect category was difficult, as a number were certainly qualified to hold the title such as in the case of Bogdan Yakimov and Iiro Pakarinen.
Top Pro Prospect
Martin Marincin, D, Edmonton Oilers (NHL)
Martin Marincin earns the title of “Top Pro Prospect” as the 2014-15 season approaches where he will look to build upon a successful, if not surprising, rookie NHL season. While he certainly has all the right tools at his disposal to carve out a career at the top level, Marincin caught many off guard last season when he turned a corner and became a regular on the Oilers’ blueline amidst a tumultuous season for the struggling squad.
Marincin’s game is very fundamentally sound and without a lot of flair, but his positional awareness, strong stick-work and comfort playing in his own end made him an unlikely hero on a number of nights for the Oilers last year. This season, he will likely look to improve his two-way game, finding more opportunity to jump up into the rush and generate some offense.
Fresh off the 2014 NHL draft, third overall selection Leon Draisaitl has been the topic of much discussion this summer. Big-bodied and talented with great on-ice vision, the hulking centerman was a welcome acquisition to a team that’s been historically light down the middle, both weight-wise and numbers-wise. But the question remained for many: is Draisaitl ready to make the NHL jump already?
The Edmonton Oilers tried in earnest to acquire a bona fide second-line centerman this summer, but their efforts were for naught. As such, the spot remains open seemingly for Leon Draisaitl’s taking barring any injury or uncharacteristically poor training camp performance.
Bounceback pro prospect
Tyler Pitlick, RW, Oklahoma City Barons (AHL)
Tyler Pitlick has endured injury and bouts of lackluster performance to manage to hang on to a position as a legitimate contender for an NHL job, so he is no stranger to the term “bounceback.” The handful of NHL games he appeared in last season was arguably the biggest success story of his career to date after being drafted 31st overall in 2010, but another injury sidelined him before he could establish a permanent or even semi-permanent position in the line-up.
Pitlick is now healthy and participating in pre-season activity with the Oilers, skating at main camp on a line with fellow youngsters Ryan Hamilton and Will Action. He will likely be battling with Jesse Joensuu for a job at the NHL level. This season will likely make or break his NHL future with the Oilers. Staying healthy so that the coaching staff can attain a true sample of his ability and skill set will be crucial.
Top Junior Prospect
Darnell Nurse, D, Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds (OHL)
Defensive powerhouse Darnell Nurse is coming off a strong 2013-14 season with the Soo Greyhounds and looked top notch at the annual Young Stars tournament in Penticton, British Columbia. Of note was his physical edge nearly every time he took to the ice, altough it was not without a few questionable moments. A knee-on-knee hit during a game against Winnipeg was slightly cringe-worthy, but it’s clear that Nurse brings some of the muscle and grit that the Oilers have been lacking on their blue line for years.
Undoubtedly talented and surely to be a force on the Oilers blue line for years to come, off-season acquisitions like Mark Fayne, Nikita Nikitin and Keith Aulie all but removed a viable roster position for the young rearguard. While he would likely achieve success in the NHL with his current skill level, another year of development is a better problem to have than requiring a talented prospect to fill a role above his pay grade, so to speak.
It’s safe to say that Marco Roy, selected 56th overall at the 2013 draft, did not have the 2013-14 season with the Blainville-Boisbrand Armada that he was hoping for. Marred with injury from the start, Roy suffered a wrist injury and toughed it out to avoid losing his season to surgery, only to have his numbers suffer and ended up largely overlooked in favor of prospects whose seasons were trending much more favorably.
Fortunately, Roy has the opportunity for a fresh start in 2014-15. He earned himself a ticket to the Oilers’ main camp this fall, and will almost certainly play the remainder of his season with the Quebec Remparts of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.
Greg Chase, C, Calgary Hitmen (WHL)
While underdog prospect Greg Chase has never had lackluster offensive production by any means, there appears to be no slowing down for the 19-year-old winger. In fact, Chase signed a three-year, entry level contract on September 15th. He joined the Oklahoma City Barons for five games at the end of 2013-14, where he held his own better than many expected.
The seventh-rounder and quintessential pest has made a name for himself throughout the WHL as a tough-to-play-against opponent. Barring any injury, it appears that the sky is the limit for Chase as he continues to climb the ranks.
Hobey Baker Award nominee Kellen Jones leads the pack of Edmonton’s NCAA prospects, following a strong senior season at Quinnipiac University and a five-game stint with the Oklahoma City Barons. Jones, along with his twin brother and fellow Oilers hopeful Connor, played in the 2014 Young Stars Tournament this September and held his own against some of the top prospects in the NHL.
While certainly on the outside looking in at this point, Jones earned himself a ticket to the Oilers’ main camp this fall where he will have the opportunity to showcase his skills as he begins his professional career.
Freshman to Watch
Tyler Vesel, C, University of Nebraska-Omaha (NCAA)
After a season with the Omaha Lancers of the USHL, Vesel committed to the University of Nebraska-Omaha beginning in 2014-15. Vesel was an offensive force on his squad, second in scoring only to Jake Randolph. A true draft-and-follow type, Vesel was selected in the sixth round of the 2014 Draft and is likely years away from potential NHL consideration or signing a professional contract, but it will be interesting to see how his success at the USHL level translates to NCAA hockey.
Joey LaLeggia, D, University of Denver (NCAA)
Rising senior Joey LaLeggia now has three respectable collegiate seasons under his belt and is poised to take a step forward in his last year of NCAA hockey. A reliable defender who has always flown under the radar, he will be vying for a contract in the near future. While slightly undersized, he is a promising talent who projects to at least have the ability to become a fringe NHL player. An increase in offensive production for LaLeggia will be a key factor in his potential future as an Oiler.
Top European Prospect
Iiro Pakarinen, RW, HIFK Helskini (SM-liiga)
An innately physical player with a good shot and a strong finisher, Iiro Pakarinen was a nice off-season addition for the Edmonton Oilers. Filling a spot on a line with Mitch Moroz and Bogdan Yakimov at the most recent Oilers pre-season skate, many were able to get their first look at the Finnish winger who spent the last five seasons playing in the SM-liiga, Finland’s top hockey league. It’s not likely that Pakarinen will crack the Oilers’ roster immediately, though there is a chance that he eventually is called up to the NHL club.
Bogdan Yakimov, C, Nizhnekamsk Neftekhimik (KHL)
While also a contender for “Top European Prospect,” Bogdan Yakimov gets the nod for “Offensive Breakout” player. Yakimov continues to turn heads wherever he plays, including this year’s Young Stars tournament after a strong performance at development camp.
After a respectable season with Nizhnekamsk Neftekhimik of the KHL, Yakimov is making a strong case for himself to at least get a second look at Oilers’ main camp. It is likely that he will end up with the Oklahoma City Barons for the majority of the 2014-15 season, but do not be surprised to see him receive a call up at some point in the year, depending on how things play out.
Anton Slepyshev, LW, Salavat Yulaev Ufa (KHL)
Anton Slepyshev had a relatively disappointing second season in the KHL, receiving even less ice time than he did in 2012-13. It is not uncommon for a young prospect to fill a relatively peripheral role in the Kontinental Hockey League, but in terms of his development curve as a promising young talent it does not translate well to exponential success.
Slepyshev still has another year under contract with Salavat Yulaev, but is hopeful that he can earn himself some ice time, filling a more influential role before making the likely jump to North American hockey.